The past two years at the University of Dallas have seen a plethora of temporary changes. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions of normal campus life and caused many to feel uneasy and uncertain about UD’s future. Favorite traditions had been put on hold, academic life ground to a halt and a hybrid of online and in person classes became the norm. Though this time has mostly come to an end, it had a lasting impact on all the present classes. My class of 2024 especially has felt disconnected from favorite UD traditions that were first experienced in the era of COVID-19, leading many to wonder what future generations of UD students would look like.
Despite these difficulties, UD did not waver in one crucial aspect; UD’s identity as a Catholic university was never thrown into question. The spiritual life of UD was as strong as ever. Masses continued to be held in most cases, FOCUS missionaries hosted Bible studies and rosary and prayer groups were thriving. Though masks had to be worn and the rhythm of the Mass schedule adjusted, the UD student body never lost sight of what was most important. In the midst of the chaos of the new world that the University of Dallas found itself living in, all eyes continued to be focused on the Eucharist, no matter how unstable the outside world may have seemed.
The Church of the Incarnation is the beating heart at the center of UD’s religious activity. At the scheduled times for Mass, attendance is never an issue, with many ending up at the back of the narthex of the church standing or kneeling on the floor. On Saturday mornings, the line for Confession wraps around the interior of the church, and students eagerly volunteer to lector and altar serve for the church’s daily and weekend Masses.
Yet the atmosphere fostered by the Church of the Incarnation hasn’t just survived. The past year has seen tremendous changes that have been roundly approved by the student body. Universal cheers erupted at the news of the new crucifix getting installed in the chapel. A glass reliquary in the side chapel featuring relics from beloved saints such as Thomas Aquinas, that any student can access, helps to foster devotion to the communion of saints. And, of course, the most recent upgrade being the new handmade pews moved into the church this past week. Despite some initial difficulties, the pews made it to the Church of the Incarnation, creating a whole new atmosphere
Certainly, there is an aesthetic bonus to having the pews in the chapel, but I think there is a stronger spiritual and symbolic reason for why this addition will be a long term benefit for the UD community. As stated earlier, the chapel is the heart of Catholic worship at UD. It’s where the students go to receive the Sacraments and be in the presence of the Lord. There is never a time on campus when the church of the Incarnation is devoid of human presence. With the previous chairs, there was a sense of temporariness, a reminder of the times of ever changing regulations and disruptions of the daily life of UD. A time when no one knew what was going to happen next or how UD would fare.
But with the pews now in the church, it is a message that such a time has now passed. UD has emerged stronger than ever, securing its place among America’s most prestigious universities as a place of unparalleled academic excellence, a loyal student body and of course a center of Catholic intellectual activity and prayer. Catholicism is at the center of the university, and the church is the main symbol of that center. The new pews emphasize UD’s Catholic identity and that it is here to stay. It’s not merely an aesthetic or a slogan; it is a way of life, if not life itself. In order to keep this center healthy, it requires proper worship. These pews, which were designed specifically for the church’s unique layout, speak to this need, making the church more prayerful and personal.
Not everything is going to be perfect, and I’m sure some will have issues or complaints with the new addition, both valid and invalid. But I think it’s important to remember that ultimately, the pews are not just pews. They help to elevate and sanctify the most crucial building on UD’s campus, and stress an important point; Catholicism is not just one part of UD, it is the center of the university which gives it its very purpose. Without the eternal and salvific spirit of Catholicism, there is no UD.