Priests serve as role models for undergraduate students
One unique aspect of Notre Dame residence life remains the presence of priests in residence halls. These priests, while retaining their specific professional vocation, choose to live in a dormitory to be present for the students residing there. While both are priests, the rector and resident priest fulfill different roles within the dorm.
The Congregation of Holy Cross’s community mission includes assigning priests and brothers to live in residence halls with the students. Notre Dame has seventeen men’s halls and sixteen women’s halls. Every men’s hall has a priest in residence, and, additionally, eight have a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross as a rector.
Of the 16 women’s halls, three do not currently have a room for an in-residence priest (Breen-Phillips, Howard, and Lyons), and three halls have had in-residence priests in the past, but are temporarily without one (Farley, Lewis, and Pasquerilla West).
The role of the resident priest differs distinctly from that of a rector, even if the rector is a priest. Fr. Chris Rehagen, director for hiring in Residential Life, remarked in an interview with the Rover, “I think the thing about being a resident priest as opposed to being the rector is the focus on the sacramental life.”
Fr. Rehagen previously served as the resident priest in O’Neill, alongside Fr. Paul Kollman, the rector. From that experience, Fr. Rehagen noted that “a priest in residence and a rector work very closely in hand. The priest in residence can highlight different things. Fr. Paul … has a lot of wisdom; he’d been in O’Neill longer and could mentor me on hall culture. He and I could take different approaches to pastoral problems, [and] I think the residents benefited from different perspectives in preaching and in faith-related issues.”
Fr. Bob Loughery serves as the rector of Sorin College. He echoed Fr. Rehagan’s sentiment, remarking that, “The [role of] rector is his job, [whereas] the priests in residence are there to support and counsel [the residents]. They share in saying Mass, and … they can determine what they want to do to offer support to the rector.”
He continued, “We have Mass Sunday through Thursday, [and] I’ve had in the past folks for spiritual direction … [I love being] a resource for people, especially when it comes to questions of faith. It’s a very privileged place to be in their lives and knowing we’re a part of that journey; I like that image of the garden—tilling the soil, planting the seeds and letting God [work] … we have no idea where that’s going to go with people.”
The priest in residence offers students a unique opportunity to engage with the Catholic culture of the university in an interpersonal fashion. Particularly for women’s dorms, where priests do not serve as rectors, having a priest in residence allows students to build a relationship with someone who has dedicated their life to guiding others in their journey of faith.
In an interview with the Rover, Maria Sermersheim, a senior and RA in Lewis Hall, emphasized the importance of having such spiritual role models in the residence halls: “The presence of priests is always important. I love being around people who dedicate their lives to God. Those are the best people to surround yourself with.”
While the former resident priest in Lewis, Fr. Michael Sullivan, C.S.C., had since moved out, Maria noted the impact he had on the community dynamic in the dorm: “We’d always have ‘Parties with Padre’ after Mass on Wednesday, and I appreciate[d] having a priest in the dorm.”
For Sermersheim, the crucial aspect of having a resident priest lay in his constant availability, which built a consistent relationship from which the students could seek support or guidance. She remarked, “The consistency point is a matter of relationship, the consistency of simply saying hello twenty times.”
Sermersheim also emphasized how priests served as a “prophetic witness” which would help hold students accountable to making decisions that would support and maintain their dignity. “Simply their presence is a sign of someone who is giving their life to God. To see that choice and have that choice manifest in a person … we have to trust the providence of God that somehow that [presence] seeps into their consciousness and prompts questions,” she said.
Fr. Bob Dowd, C.S.C. Vice President and Associate Provost of the university, serves as the religious superior of the Holy Cross Community at Notre Dame and the resident priest for Cavanaugh Hall. He shared the same insight to the Rover from the priest’s perspective: “I see the role of resident priest as being there for the entire hall community, especially for the students … regardless of their religion. It’s really important to send that signal that we are there for everybody as much as Catholics. [For students] to turn to and talk with regarding anything in their lives.”
Fr. Dowd further noted that students in a residence hall who are seeking support might feel more comfortable around someone they interact with often and who does not have the same disciplinary responsibilities as a rector. He continued, “Apart from rector and assistant rectors, [the] resident priest is not an authority figure in the same way. This may be important for some students in terms of seeking out something in their lives that may be sensitive.”
He concluded, “We are as a congregation committed to this residentiality model of having C.S.C. priests and religious in halls as rectors and residents. I think it’s something that has made Notre Dame special because, if you look around different Catholic colleges or universities, you’ll find that very few of them have priests as rectors and resident priests. We think it’s so important for us to live in solidarity with the students and to be there to serve them.”
Luke Dardis is a freshman from Louisiana majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. He is in the market for more interesting details to put in his bio. Suggestions can be made at email@example.com.
Photo credit: University of Notre Dame Residential Life