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Truth and Beauty: Studying Evangelism in Ireland

Nicole Patterson

Junior Mary Lawler recently returned from a three-week summer study-abroad program, held annually through Christendom College’s St. Columcille Institute in Donegal, Ireland, where she studied history, literature and Catholic evangelization. Lawler, who is an Honors student and a Mount Fellow, received funds from the Office of Competitive Fellowships to join 26 students also seeking to strengthen and defend their faith and form friendships with other passionate Catholics.

st.-eunans-cathedral-in-letterkenny-1-in-text.jpg“I learned about Irish history, literature, theology and ethics and the historicity of the gospels,” said Lawler, a philosophy, politics and economics major. “You can’t convert someone intellectually; it has to be a personal encounter with Christ.”

Lawler noted she especially resonated with the ideas from evangelism classes taught by guest speaker Seàn-Patrick Lovett, Ph.D., who retired in May 2020 as director of English language programs at Vatican Radio, where he worked for 43 years with Pope St. Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. During his communication workshop, he challenged students with listening exercises and encouraged them to see each individual human person with depth, referencing how Jesus answered the young rich man’s questions in Mark 10. Lawler simplified it: “My takeaway is that we are given an invitation to join Christ in eternity and it comes down to an open-ended question. What’s your choice? What are you going to do with your life?”

While students were headquartered at a retreat center at Ards Friary, near the birthplace of St. Columcille, they also traveled to a variety of other sights. After receiving intellectual and practical skills during morning classes, and spiritual blessings in the daily Celebration of the Eucharist, Lawler would spend her afternoons with her new friends exploring coastal beaches and trails. Together, they visited Doon Mass Rock. During the penal times in Ireland, when Catholicism was illegal and many Catholics were martyred for the faith, priests would celebrate Mass in secret outdoor locations and use the rocks as makeshift altars. A priest with the Institute celebrated holy Mass at the sacred location.

Lawler said she reached new depths and heights on this trip, adding that she hiked “the Reek,” otherwise known as Croagh Patrick, a holy mountain overlooking Clew Bay. The pilgrimage sight is where St. Patrick is said to have spent 40 days fasting on the summit. She thought about how this hike was a lot more intense than the ones at her mountain home in Emmitsburg. After a stop at the pub and some more sightseeing, Lawler and the group made a pilgrimage to the shrine and apparition sight of Our Lady of Knock.

In August 1879, in a small village in the rural west of Ireland, 15 villagers aged five to 74 years old, saw an apparition of Mary on the gable wall of a Catholic parish saying she appeared, with St. Joseph, St. John, a lamb and a cross. For two hours the villagers recited the Rosary in the rain, only to be soaked while the wall and apparition stayed dry.

“It was symbolic— because the Church was going through so much persecution and suffering— to just have this silent image of Our Lady just suffering with them, giving them consolation in their trials,” Lawler said, acknowledging the power of silence and presence.

on-top-of-croagh-patrick-lawler-in-text.jpgShe also traveled to Gola Island, Doe Castle, Glenveagh National Park, and Dublin, where the students attended Holy Mass at Newman University Church, designed by St. John Henry Newman. Lawler and her friends were guided by some hospitable Irish friends of the Institute and explored other Dublin sights, including the National Museum of Ireland and The Chester Beatty Library.

Back at the Mount, in Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel on campus, she began to pray about her desires, that God would show them to her and lead her with them. She was inspired with a desire to evangelize and grow to become a more loving person. “I don’t know what I want to do after I graduate, but I would like to work more with evangelization in a way that promotes a personal encounter with Jesus,” she said. Her excitement for new experiences like her three weeks in Ireland has strengthened her faith. “New experiences resemble Christ in the sense that Christ is always new,” she said.

Lawler is currently co-leader of the Mount’s Militia Immaculata. The organization was founded by St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Catholic Polish priest who voluntarily gave up his life to take the place of another prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp. St. Kolbe wanted to bring the whole world to Jesus and during his life worked in media, distributing more than two million copies of his magazine about devotion to Jesus and Mary. Inspired by her conversations with Seàn-Patrick  Lovett, and her new desire to evangelize, Lawler hopes to work with publishing to bring the faith to her generation in beautiful ways. This semester she’s enrolled in a Truth and Beauty course taught by Seminary Assistant Professor John Mark Miravalle, Ph.D., who also taught her Foundations of Theology.

With a comforting smile and wide eyes, she added: “You can’t have a limit on goodness. I’ve been blessed to learn the richness of the faith.”

Nicole Patterson