Institute for Church Life hosts lecture series dedicated to Mary

The annual Saturdays with the Saints series, presented by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, has dedicated this year to fostering greater intellectual curiosity about the Virgin Mary through its series titled “A Season with Our Lady.” 

The hour-long lectures with McGrath Institute staff and other academics (many of whom are Notre Dame professors) on home football game days began in 2010. Saturdays with the Saints aims to offer students and football fans alike the opportunity to learn about exemplary figures in Church history and regain perspective of Notre Dame as a Catholic university. 

In an interview with the Rover, Professor John C. Cavadini, Director of the McGrath Institute, explained the motivation for this year’s theme, reflecting on the institute’s desire to “nurture the study of Mariology … and help us remember our roots.” 

Cavadini noted that Father Sorin dedicated the entire University of Notre Dame to Our Lady in 1888—the dedication of the basilica was extended to the surrounding buildings, the statue of Mary on the dome, and the very ground on which the university stands. This dedication is depicted in “Father Sorin’s Votive Window,” a stained glass window in the basilica.

Cavadini continued: “You have to understand who Mary is and her care for us, out of which you kind of get a re-birth of awareness of what our university is. …Mary has been dropped out of a lot of western theological discourse and western ecclesial life … since the second Vatican council.” He hopes that Notre Dame can embrace a “renewal of Mariology and of devotion to Mary in an idiom that’s appropriate for our time and our students.” 

The first Saturdays with the Saints lecture of this season was titled Tota Pulchra: Immaculate Conception. The five remaining lectures will explain other Marian titles: Mother of Mercy, Mother of the Church, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, and Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope. 

These titles help to remind the faithful that the Incarnation is not just a concept, but a person—Jesus Christ—who became “as utterly dependent on his mother as any newborn,” explained Cavadini. “The Almighty became weak and dependent for us … that’s how far He bent down.” This “very concrete mystery at the heart of our religion [is] why devotion to Mary fosters adoration of Jesus, of the Incarnate Word,” Cavadini said. 

“When you remember Mary as Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church—Mother of Jesus, Mother of the Head, and of His members—you realize the Church herself is a Mystical Body, something which is not our creation but which comes from the very concrete person who emptied Himself and, in that self-emptying, bound us together in His love.”

The first lecture, presented by Sister Ann Astell, a theology professor at Notre Dame, took place on Saturday, September 2nd before the Tennessee State football game. Sister Ann detailed the origins of the title “Tota Pulchra,” the complete and absolute beauty of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, and how this title has been celebrated since the fourth century. 

Sister Ann said that, similar to the recent regilding of the golden dome, the lecture series “wants to renew the memory of Mary.” She told the Rover, “[Mary’s] many titles capture different aspects of her wonderful beauty. Reflecting upon them helps us to discover Mary’s beauty in ourselves and in others. Mary is our mother, model, and educator.”

Will Hunter, senior philosophy-theology major, has been attending Saturdays with the Saints since it was revived in the fall of 2021. He told the Rover, “The speakers are not interested in giving purely academic lectures, nor are they willing to water down the content of their presentations. What results is something that can be appreciated equally by students of theology and by football fans exploring the spiritual heritage of Notre Dame.”

Saturdays with the Saints remains “a wonderful encounter with the Mystical Body of Christ and an invaluable part of my football Saturdays,” he says.

Anne Marie Bollman, senior in the Program of Liberal Studies, echoed Hunter’s love of the series and its representation of Notre Dame’s Catholicism on football weekends: “It’s like getting to see the players who have already won the game and are yet still teammates who guide us to victory too. It adds an eternal dimension to the prospect of victory we are already excited about on gameday.” 

Cavadini concluded with an optimistic message about the potential fruits of the series: “I think that from an increased focus on Mary, many graces will flow for this university—graces of healing and of rebalancing in a charism that … we never talk about.” 

Saturdays with the Saints lectures are held on home football game weekends at 10:30 am (for afternoon games) and at 3:30 pm (for night games) in the basement of Geddes Hall. 

Past lecture recordings are available to watch on the McGrath Institute website

Merlot Fogarty is a senior studying theology, political science, and constitutional studies. After visiting two Marian apparition sites this summer, she would love the opportunity to rave some more about Mama Mary. Email her at

Photo Credit: McGrath Institute

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