On Friday, November 12, the Institute of Communication and Religion within the College of Communication and the Arts made history with "Catholics and Latter-day Saints: A Dialogue." This panel, created, organized, and hosted by Senior dual Communication and English Major Ellen Paul, was the first of its kind at Seton Hall. It brought together 6 panelists, three from each tradition, to discuss their faith and how to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Catholic panelists included Seton Hall's own Monsignor John A. Radano, a specialist in ecumenism, Father Daniel P. Dwyer of Siena College, and Mathew Schmalz of College of the Holy Cross. Representing the Latter-day Saint tradition were Brother Corey Chivers, a local N.J. Latter-day Saint leader, Mauro Properzi of Brigham Young University, and Hanna Seariac, a graduate student at BYU and former Catholic who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Msgr. Radano opened the event with a prayer, and quoted John 17:20 – 21, which he described as "an ecumenical classic in regard to the unity of Christians [and] the prayer of Jesus for the unity of his disciples."
Panelists spoke on a variety of topics and answered questions, many of which were sent in by audience members prior to the panel. The discussion began with an exploration of what drove their interest in Catholic and Latter-day Saint dialogue. Fr. Dwyer shared that his interest in Mormonism started when he found the Book of Mormon in a library and began reading it.
Seariac shared that while she converted to the Latter-day Saint faith, she still felt a "very deep love and affection of the liturgy of the Catholic Church," and wants to "pay homage to the faith of [her] childhood and the faith of [her] family while still respecting and honoring [her] own faith."
While some of the guests shared their previous experiences between Catholics and Latter-day Saints, Msgr. Radano shared that in his experience working with the World Council of Churches, he had opportunities to collaborate with many Christian churches, but never Latter-day Saints. He continued, saying he was "happy to be a part of this group" in order to learn something new about the Latter-day Saint tradition.
Dual communication and English major Ellen Paul created, organized and hosted this event as part of her senior thesis project.
Another topic that panelists discussed was how Latter-day Saints and Catholics could facilitate a dialogue and friendship within their everyday lives. Brother Chivers discussed the "ability to relate to each other" in the practicing of their faiths. Properzi spoke about his own personal friendship with Schmalz, and explained that the deeper level of understanding that comes with true friendship "really opens the doors to all kinds of different and difficult conversations."
Panelists also discussed what they admired each other's faith tradition. Professor Mauro shared a admiration for the Catholic liturgical calendar, "and even more specifically, Holy Week." He explained, "I think that as Latter-day Saints we do Christmas pretty well, but not as well when it comes to Easter." From a Catholic perspective, Professor Schmalz shared that he appreciated the "LDS sense of community," and the "very powerful communal experiences Latter-day Saints have."
Msgr. Radano emphasized throughout the panel the importance of Catholics and Latter-day Saints coming together to provide relief aid, which has already been seen in "places where there is poverty and where people are experiencing great suffering," and encourages the continuation of these efforts."
Audience members expressed appreciation for the panelists and their fraternal dialogue. One attendee, Seton Hall student Carol Miranda, shared her thoughts on the event. As someone who was raised Catholic and grew up with a Catholic education she "knew next to nothing about the Church [of Jesus Christ] of Latter-day Saints," and through the event she "got to learn a lot about the people who practice this faith." She explained that this kind of dialogue "allows people to accept cultural differences much more" and how "the only thing that is needed is an open mind to understand that not everyone will be exactly like us or what we are used to."
ICR Director Jon Radwan expressed pride and gratitude. "Catholics and Latter-Day Saints have a lot in common, but have held very few dialogue events to date so we are honored to help advance a fraternal relationship. Like all good communication scholarship, Ellen Paul's thesis research on Catholic and LDS history has helped forge real-world connections." Paul, the student organizer of the event, is grateful for the support and success of the event and hopes it will be the first step to encouraging even more dialogue between Catholics and Latter-day Saints, especially here on the campus of Seton Hall.
About the Institute for Communication and Religion
Launched in Fall 2017, the Institute for Communication and Religion within the College of Communication and the Arts provides a nexus for ongoing scholarly exploration of communication topics critically important to religion and society. Guided by the spirit of ecumenical and interreligious cooperation, the Institute seeks to engage in public dialogue and debate, promote academic inquiry and support the religious dimension of creativity — all while upholding the values of servant leadership, curricular innovation and intellectual excellence. For more information on click here to visit the Institute for Communication and Religion.