Students Gain International Research Experience Exploring Catholicism in Ireland

BY Maggie Writt ('12)

While Catholicism is practiced all over the world, each country has its own way of practicing it. Twelve Loras students and two professors had the opportunity to conduct research on the topic of Catholicism in the United States and Ireland, comparing the traditions, culture, history and practices of the two countries. Along with research during the spring 2009 semester in the United States, the group spent three weeks during summer break researching and attending a conference in Ireland. The trip was an experience for both the students and professors to reexamine their views of Catholicism and educate others regarding their research at the conference co-hosted by the Kucera Center at Loras, the Center for Public Culture at the Institute for Art, Design, and Technology at Dun Laoghaire and the Franco-Irish Institute at the Institute for Technology at Tallagh.

During the spring semester the students, led by Loras professors Andy Auge, Ph.D., David Cochran, Ph.D. and John Waldmeir, Ph.D., read books and articles that gave them background on the topics that were to be discussed at the conference. They also had the opportunity to talk to the Dubuque Sisters of the Presentation whose order was founded in Ireland in 1775.

For the first two weeks in Ireland the group continued their research at a more experiential level by talking to people first-hand, helping them better understand the Catholic culture in Ireland. Immediately a difference in cultures was apparent as the students talked to youth groups. They realized that in Ireland, the youth groups were made up of teens who were non-practicing Catholics, something that is not uncommon in Ireland, but quite different from the United States. This experience and many others gave the group a chance to reevaluate their view of Irish culture and helped to put their research into context.

“One of the unique experiences I had in Ireland was talking with the people,” said Kelly Wiederholt (’11). “Something that really struck me was while attending Mass there, we seemed to really stand out; not just because we were Americans but because we actually participated in Mass. We sang when there were songs, which there were not a lot of, and responded to the priest. Something else we did was hold hands during the Our Father and many people looked at us to see what we were doing. It seemed as though the elders of the parish were surprised to see a group of young adults in church.”
The conference, which took place during the third week of the trip, gave the students and professors a chance to present to people from around the world, some of whom are experts on Catholicism. “The crucial feature of the conference for the students was the opportunity to not only attend the presentations of the academic scholars at the conference, but to present the results of their own research through 90 minutes of round-table discussion on the comparative differences between Catholicism in Ireland and the United States,” said Auge, the Loras representative who helped to plan the conference. “The three roundtable discussions were well attended, with 10-20 participants each day including scholars from the United States, Ireland, England and Canada.” Auge also mentioned how impressed many of the scholars were with the research done by the Loras students and their ability to articulate their ideas.

Overall the students enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about Catholicism in Ireland and its relation to the way it is practiced in the United States. Their trip and research allowed them to form ideas and opinions regarding some of the struggles that the Catholic Church is currently facing in Ireland. The entire experience was one the students plan to build on to help the Loras community better understand Catholicism in Ireland.

“The summer research project was really just the beginning. Since then, anything we see as remotely related is being utilized to make a positive difference in the Catholic Identity of the campus—provoking thought, furthering discussion and encouraging a curiousness that we believe our faith calls us to,” said Kevin O’Brien (’11).
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