It was around 7:00 p.m. on Nov. 28, 2022, and Seton Hall’s new and improved University Center had finally opened its doors after an 18-month long renovation. Inside, the sounds of excited chatter and hurried footsteps filled the air. Students, staff, faculty, administration, benefactors and guests were lined up to enjoy some hot chocolate and cookies. The Center was fresh, new, and beautiful–and decorated for Christmas.
I walked upstairs to the second floor and came across a small room with a blue stained-glass wall. Inside it was dimly lit, with smooth, heavy wood benches. There was also no crucifix, which is unusual, as almost every room on campus has one. Three members of the University’s Muslim Student Association were already inside, looking around with curiosity and excitement.
One of the students exclaimed that she loved this prayer room. “I really hope MSA has us come here instead of that tiny one,” she said, referring to the prayer space in Serra Hall.
Just after the ribbon-cutting, the annual tree-lighting ceremony took place outside on the Green. The event, which marks the start of “Christmas at the Hall,” was broadcast throughout the Center on multiple television screens.
I went outside to watch and listened as Reverend Colin Kay, the vice president for the University’s Mission and Ministry, took the stage. He chanted “Be the tree! Be the tree!,” a reference to an awkward line of his speech from the year prior, which has since become a campus-wide meme. The massive crowd shouted along. Close to 8:00 p.m., the tree was finally lit, and the crowd’s cheers echoed across campus.
Seton Hall has repeatedly been named the No. 1 college in the nation for Christmas celebrations. According to the University’s Catholic Mission section of their website, 70% of the students enrolled at Seton Hall identify religiously as Catholic.
The University’s 2021-22 Data Trends reveal that in the Freshmen 2021 class only 46% of the 1,227 students identify with the Catholic religion. Four percent identify religiously as Muslim, and 2% identify religiously as Jewish.
With the increase of religious diversity in this Catholic institution comes the growing need for a range of accommodations for minority religions such as Judaism and Islam. To delve deeper into this, I spoke to individuals of various religious backgrounds to delve more into their experiences here at Seton Hall.
Along with the renovated University Center’s prayer room, there is a similar room in the upperclassmen dormitory Serra Hall. This prayer room, established roughly six years ago, is currently behind the building’s front desk. Despite the room’s intention for accommodating all religions, Muslims on campus “just happen to be the ones caring and advocating for it,” said Dean Roundy, a junior biology-chemistry major.
Scanning a campus ID card at Serra Hall’s front desk is not required to access the room, as those behind the desk will let in those who explain that they’re going to the prayer room.
Inside the carpeted room Islamic prayer mats lay. There is also a rack to keep shoes out of the way, as Muslims cannot wear them while using prayer mats.
However, this prayer room hasn’t always been ideal. Axel Oaks Takacs, an assistant professor for the Department of Religion, recalled a time when a resident assistant at Serra Hall complained of the loud noise coming from the building’s prayer room.
“A lot of times the prayer room space has been pretty loud,” he said. “Prayer is out loud, that’s part of it. Mosques themselves are very loud, it’s a community space.”
Samia Raza, a sophomore art history major, said this prayer room “gets so crowded.” Raza, who is Muslim, said that when she prays she needs to be alone and in a “spiritual mood.”
She said that she’s only on campus two days a week with back-to-back classes. “I can’t pray on campus, so I go home and make it all up,” she said.
With the completion of the University Center, there is now additional space for any religious or spiritual person on campus to go and pray or meditate.
“I think it’s helpful,” said Oaks Takacs, who is also the advisor for MSA. “It’s a good space.”
Oaks Takacs said he was curious to see who uses the new prayer room the most, and added that he “wouldn’t be surprised if Muslim students used it more” due to their growing population at Seton Hall.
However, he said, the new room might not accommodate all forms of prayer, specifically loud prayer. “If MSA wanted to have a prayer session there, it might be fairly loud,” he said.
Dovid Holtzman, a sophomore biology major, said he would rather there be individual prayer rooms for different religions, as there are different definitions of prayer. He compares the current UC room to a “melting pot.”
“When you have a prayer space that’s non-denominational, it loses its character,” he said. “Are you going to have a better society with or without fences in-between neighbors?”
Continuing with this metaphor, Holtzman said that the fences “distinguish one from the other, allowing the two to coexist.”
“What makes you interesting is how different we are from another,” he said, adding that without these metaphorical fences, “you destroy what’s unique about each religion.”
There are other physical spaces for Catholics, Christians, and other religions under that category, such as the various chapels and the church on campus. For Jewish students, there is a campus organization called Hillel where they can meet up, usually in a reserved classroom. However, almost six decades ago at Seton Hall, Jewish students had another physical space – a fraternity.
From 1959 to 1963, my Jewish grandfather, Marvin Goldin, attended Seton Hall. The students had to wear ties to every class. He majored in accounting and minored in philosophy.
One might think it unusual for a Jewish student to attend a Catholic University at that time. However, my grandfather would say otherwise.
“It wasn’t strange for a Jew to go to Seton Hall because it was known as a commuter school,” he said. His first year of college he commuted from the Weequahic section in Newark, while in the remaining three years he lived with his parents in West Caldwell, New Jersey. Seton Hall was also known to be an international school, with many Muslim students hailing from the Middle East, he added.
During his time at the University, there was a Jewish fraternity that he pledged to, its name and official records lost to history.
“We had our own unofficial-official table at the cafeteria,” he said. The fraternity would have lunch together every day, for whoever was available.
Goldin told me of a time when he hosted a party for the frat. Since there was no other designated physical space for Jewish students, and also because he was a commuter, the party was at his mother’s house. “There was a lot of booze there,” he said.
After the party concluded, his mother had said that the bathroom was “invaded by girls who threw up there.” The brand-new tiles in the basement were dented and damaged by stiletto heels. “I don’t think my mother ever got over it,” he told me.
During his second year in the fraternity, he became the Pledge Master. However, this also happened to be the year that it disbanded. “Most of the people blamed me,” he said. “I was the Pledge Master, I guess I made it difficult.”
He also added that the fraternity “didn’t mean a great deal” to him. “I didn’t spend a lot of time there,” he said.
Other than his brief time with the fraternity, Goldin said he didn’t have much of a relationship with the college. He would arrive on campus “right before class,” and left “right after class,” as he had work. He told me he spent four to five hours commuting per day.
“I had no relationship with the campus,” he said. “It meant nothing to me.”
The lack of a relationship with campus later became his one regret during his college years, as he never developed lifelong friendships. “I never got them. I never wanted them,” he said. “That’s a regret.”
As a result of never gaining said lifelong friendships from his time at Seton Hall, my grandfather told me that he wanted his children and his grandchildren to gain them during their college years. He was pleased when I told him that I have.
I also told him that I joined the Jewish student organization on campus, Hillel, which actually made him laugh. I explained to him events Hillel would host, such as “Bagels & Bingo” and the “Afikomen Scavenger Hunt,” which he found to be quite amusing.
My Jewish grandmother Betty Goldin was elated when I told her I was going to become the organization’s secretary starting Spring 2023, and immediately started bragging to the rest of the family and to her friends about it.
Hillel, which was established in 2018, is also run by a state-wide organization called Hillel of Greater MetroWest, which aims to “create a strong, welcoming and inclusive Jewish community on campus[es].” The organization works with the universities Montclair State, Rutgers (Newark), the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Kean, Seton Hall, and Fairleigh Dickinson (Florham, in Madison).
Rebekah Adelson, the Director of Hillel GMW, is not the advisor for Hillel nor is she an official employee of Seton Hall. However, she is “recognized” at the University, and said that Seton Hall “is one of my strongest Hillel programs.”
Her role within the organization is to help Hillel’s executive board with planning future events and assist with budgeting, which both comes from the University and another organization, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest.
Having such a Jewish organization on campus has been beneficial to those who have joined it. Hannah Blend, a junior majoring in Early and Special Education along with Social and Behavioral Sciences, said that if it wasn’t for Hillel she would “probably be more bitter.”
Blend, the vice president of Hillel, added that the organization taught her more about Judaism. “There [are] holidays that I didn’t even know about,” she said.
Samantha Bernstein, a graduate student, said that Hillel made her “more religious” and that it “drew” being religious from her.
“You get more involved on campus, especially as president,” said Bernstein, who has passed on her role as president of Hillel to Dovid Holtzman in December of 2022. “It’s nice to have Jewish friends.”
Along with events they host, Hillel also collaborated with the University’s Protecting and Respecting Individuality, Diversity, and Equality (PRIDE), the University’s LGBTQ+ organization, to invite a speaker called Abby Stein to talk about her experience of leaving the isolated Hasidic community she grew up in.
Stein, a transgender woman, is an author, activist, blogger, model, speaker, and rabbi. She is the first openly transgender woman raised in a Jewish Hasidic community, and the first woman to be ordained by the Orthodox Judaism institution.
The plan was not that she would speak to both Hillel and PRIDE on Oct. 19, 2022 of her transgender experience, but of leaving the religious community she grew up in. Like any and all speakers who visit the University, Stein had to fill out a form. However, according to Adelson, Stein’s speaker application was “going up the ladder” of University administration. She suggested that Stein “didn’t align with Catholic values.”
Adelson said that she never felt “as a professional” that the University was pushing a Catholic agenda on campus until the difficult process of bringing Stein onto campus. “We definitely hit roadblocks with Abby,” she said.
Despite the setbacks, Stein successfully spoke to Hillel and PRIDE on Oct. 19.
Chloe Perez, the president of PRIDE, said that during the collaborated event, Abby Stein was “phenomenal” and brought “a lot of insight.” Many Jewish and queer students who attended stayed afterward to talk with her. “Her being on campus and her talking about her life was pretty sweet and pretty monumental,” Perez said.
As mentioned before in the previous section of this article, the Muslim Student Association, the University’s Muslim student organization, “embodies” the message and values of Islam, according to their Instagram. They host events such as “Memorization Mondays,” “Henna and Harmony,” and “Chai and Chill. They also do charity events such as “Muslims Around the World.”
Roundy, previously the Outreach Chair of MSA in Fall 2022, described the organization as a “thick rope” that ties him to “Seton Hall, tying me to stay closer to religion, tying me to stay out of trouble. It makes the experience very much better.”
One of the co-event coordinators of MSA, junior Tariq Khairullah, said that the organization makes “campus experiences more meaningful to me” and that it’s a “great place to meet people who I wouldn’t have ever met.”
Khairullah said that his high school also had a Muslim organization that he was a part of and added that it helped “connect with my religion in a non-Islamic environment.”
Other members of MSA have also found the organization helpful in having “a sense of community,” said Ibrahima Ndaw, a senior political science major.
Another member, sophomore History major Jeanin Jaber, agreed with Ndaw. “You feel like it would be easier to talk to others with similar morals to stay on the same path,” she said.
Oaks Takacs, who has been the advisor for MSA since the 2021-2022 academic year, said the University should be “more accommodating” to the rise of its Muslim student population, especially during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. “We’re entering a cycle for the next couple years in which Ramadan falls during the semester,” he said.
Every year, the month of Ramadan moves backwards by ten days. At the end of the Spring 2022 semester, Ramadan occurred simultaneously with finals.
“It was bad. Everyone struggled during Ramadan,” Roundy said, adding that Muslim’s sleep schedules are affected by Ramadan as well. “We become nocturnal.”
To fast during Ramadan means to avoid all food and drink, including water, from sunrise to sundown. According to Eat Right, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the act of fasting is meant to “remind Muslims of the less fortunate and to reinforce the need to be thankful.”
Those exempted from fasting include pregnant women, children that have yet to reach puberty, the elderly, breastfeeding mothers, travelers, and those who are incapable of fasting whether it be physically or mentally.
Roundy, who almost lost his scholarship during final exams and fasting, said that some of his “Muslim brothers and sisters” would choose not to fast because their grades would get so affected.
“I don’t blame them,” he said. “It’s sad to see Muslims choose not to fast because of finals.”
At sundown, Muslims break their fast. Before sunrise they can eat a “prefast” meal and are allowed to snack in between those meals during the night.
In Raza’s family, she would wake up at midnight, eat, pray, and then go back to sleep. She described the mix of final exams, essays, and Ramadan to be “kind-of sort-of horrible,” and said that she failed a class because of it.
“Ramadan really messed me up for that one,” she said.
Not only did Ndaw have to juggle finals and fasting, he also was sick with COVID-19. He said that the University’s Gourmet Dining Services provided sandwiches for those who needed to eat.
“They do the bare minimum,” said Ndaw, the president of MSA, “they could do more. If Catholics had to fast, then it would be a completely different story.”
Roundy said that in America, “you have to go out of your way to ask for accommodations.” He doesn’t expect for them to be legislated anytime soon, he added.
“Professors have a right to say no,” he said. “[They] aren’t informed, no announcement, no acknowledgement. It’s not a professor issue, it’s a systemic issue. It would be nice if staff were educated.”
Despite the University having large student organizations for the “bigger” religions – Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam – there are students of other minority religions that have no student religious group.
Junior Harjeevin Grewal, a criminal justice major, is a Sikh. Also known as Sikhi or Sikh Dharma, it is an Indian monotheistic religion that is loosely similar to Hindu and Islam.
Although N.J. is home to many of those who practice Sikh, there are not enough Sikh students at Seton Hall to establish an organization, Grewal said.
“It would be nice, but it’s not really probable,” said Grewal, a criminal justice major. “The ones I know, they all commute.” The closest organization he could think of was the University’s South Asian Student Association (SHUSASA). Within its executive board, there is one Sikh member.
“Seeing Sikhs on campus is nice,” he said. “There are a lot of close temples you can go to.”
For Grewal, Seton Hall feels like his hometown, which is Mahwah, N.J. “Mahwah is predominantly white, but I’m used to it,” he said. He added that while he was in high school, only a few of his teachers wouldn’t give him homework during holidays such as the Sikh New Year.
Despite the fact that Grewal’s entire family is Sikh, they also celebrate Christmas. They wouldn’t go to mass, but they exchange presents and spend time with each other.
At Seton Hall, he said he was surprised by how others thought of his religion. “I thought people would say something to me about being Sikh, but they haven’t,” he said.
Over the course of its existence, Seton Hall has always had required religious courses for its students, regardless of their affiliation. When my grandfather attended Seton Hall, the religious courses varied depending on the student’s religion. It was compulsory for Catholic students to take a Catholic course every semester, Goldin said. Non-Catholics only had to take two religion courses, which were taught by priests.
Today, the University’s curriculum is the exact same for all students, no matter the religion they follow. They are required to take a variety of specific classes, such as two semesters of language, two semesters of English, one math class, and one science class. As it is a religious university, students are also expected to take three religious courses in order over three academic years.
The first course that first-year students must take is Journey of Transformation. According to its syllabus, this class seeks to “forge a community of conversation inspired to explore perennial questions central but not exclusive to the Catholic intellectual tradition.” It’s a discussion-based class, with the students reading texts of transformative journeys portrayed in a plethora of religions and cultures such as Catholicism, Judaism, Greek, Hinduism, and others.
Oaks Takacs is also a Catholic theologian and a scholar of Islamic traditions, both classical and post-classical. Although he doesn’t teach the core religious courses, his courses revolve around religion and Islamic studies.
He said that courses such as Journey of Transformation give “an opportunity to explore” and “interreligious and intercultural intelligence,” and added that it’s hard to “standardize that kind of curriculum” and it “can never be perfect.”
Perez, who uses they/them pronouns, had expected that religion “would be implicated” in these courses, but were overall very “uninterested” and “did not care for any of it at all.” They added that a lot of the assignments in these courses “assumed you were Catholic.”
“They should focus more on the philosophy aspect,” said Perez, a psychology major. “Most people don’t have a relationship with religion.”
Similar to Perez, Jaber found the courses to be “a waste of time.”
“A lot of people today aren’t religious,” she said.
The second course, that second-year students must take, is called Christianity and Culture in Dialogue, which focuses on the “relationship between Christianity and Culture through an approach based on principles of dialogue, development, and community.” Also, according to its syllabus, CCD seeks to “foster the development of a community of informed conversation and deliberation on a number of key questions of human life through close readings of historically significant texts.”
Khairullah, who attends the School of Nursing at Seton Hall’s Interprofessional Health Sciences campus, said the professors who teach Journey and CCD have been “cognizant” of other religions, but also uninformed. He added he “feels like they misinform students.”
Blend said some professors have been “flexible,” but wanted “more flexibility” in the courses instead of just “reading the Bible.”
The third and final required religious course, for third-year students, is a little different as there are multiple options to choose from. The chosen course, which does not have to be about anything Christian or Catholic, must fall under the category called Engaging the World. These courses are “discipline-specific, linking the general principles of the Catholic intellectual tradition to the various fields of study offered at the University.”
Dr. Alan Brill is a professor for the University’s Department of Religion and the director of the Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program. Along with his position as Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies, he is also a rabbi. He teaches courses such as Encountering Other Religions, Introduction to Judaism, Jewish Mysticism, and the popular Philosophical Reflections on the Holocaust. The latter two courses mentioned fall under the Engaging the World category.
Like any other professor, he is given certain parameters for the courses he chooses to teach. “I basically choose my classes, but I base them off of the needs of the student body,” he said.
Fr. Nicholas Sertich, the director of Campus Ministry and a Seton Hall undergraduate alumnus, said that the University has tried to “broaden the scopes of the texts” used in the required religious courses since he graduated in 2015, which is a “very important thing.”
There was a “mechanical” view of Catholicism back then, said Sertich, who majored in theology and philosophy. Catholicism is “much more complex,” he said. “The church is trying to be as open-minded with the sciences.”
Despite the common dislike of Journey, CCD, and Engaging the World, there were students who liked taking them. Bernstein said she “enjoyed” some of those courses because they spoke about topics such as Passover, one of the Jewish holidays.
“We have to understand that’s what they’re going to do,” she said, in reference to the University requiring these courses. “We’re at a Catholic campus. That’s what you’re going to get.”
For Roundy, Journey of Transformation completely changed his religious journey and “inspired” him to explore other cultures.
However, he mentioned that one determines their enjoyment of the class from the professor they have. If the professor or priest teaching the course has some affiliation with Catholicism, “bias will show, and people will turn away,” he said.
Navigating One’s Relationship with their Religion
Roundy grew up in a Buddhist Vietnamese family in Texas. He converted to Christianity at 16, and then was inspired by Journey of Transformation to research Islam, which he did during the summer of 2021. This research “really solidified” his path, he said.
He then “became Muslim” (or “Shahadah” in Arabic) during Fall 2021, which was his sophomore year. He said that being part of the MSA helps him “serve other people.”
Even though the core classes were different almost six decades ago, my grandfather’s religious journey changed because of the two required courses, specifically the first one. In that class, he studied the text “Five Ways to Prove the Existence of God,” by St. Thomas Aquinas.
“That definitely taught me that God exists,” Goldin said.
Similar to Goldin, Sertich said that Seton Hall brought him closer to Catholicism, “broadened” his horizons, and exposed him to “the diversity of human life.”
“I loved my time here,” he said. “I see Catholicism as who I am and not something I do.”
Sertich, who grew up Catholic and attended a Catholic high school, has been the director of Campus Ministry since July 1, 2022. Being director is “exhaustingly fun,” he said.
The Campus Ministry offices are located in the basement of the freshman dormitory Boland Hall. That same floor is also where the residents of Boland Hall do their laundry, and they have to walk through the offices of Campus Ministry in order to access it.
Sertich said that every day, a student – or sometimes multiple students – knocks on his door to chat “while waiting for their laundry to dry.” More often than not, he added, said students are non-Catholics.
“We treat no one any differently than God treats them,” he said. “It’s important that a university of our size [to] have that space on campus.”
He mentioned that the goal of Campus Ministry is not to convert students, but “make students feel welcome and connect them.”
“The ball’s in the court of the students,” he said. Seton Hall doesn’t “push” Catholicism “down our throats,” he added, and mentioned that other Catholic universities do that.
Khairullah said that the University “makes an effort” to incorporate Catholic values, such as community service and morality. “I feel like other universities don’t have that emphasis at all,” he said. “I did appreciate [Seton Hall’s] Catholic message. It was different from other universities.”
When my grandfather attended Seton Hall, there was a required Catholic prayer before every class. Everyone had to stand during the prayer, he said. Non-Catholic students were to also stand, but they didn’t have to pray along.
I had asked him if students ever protested by sitting down, similar to when students would sit down during the Pledge of Allegiance. He told me he never witnessed that. “We all chose to go to Seton Hall,” he said. “We knew there were compromises that had to be made.”
Despite that, Goldin said he “never did” feel like the University’s Catholic agenda was being forced upon him. “As a non-Catholic, there was no effort whatsoever,” he said.
Holtzman has the same opinion as both my grandfather and Fr. Sertich, that the University is not forcing anything. “I think they’re almost too conservative,” he said, “like they’re afraid to push their Catholic agenda.”
For Brill, the University encouraged him to continue with his work regarding religious conferences “on the international level.” For 20 years, he has participated in Interfaith, an interreligious activity that includes “the bringing together of different religions and faith groups through action or dialogue.” It welcomes different people of various backgrounds, including the non-religious. It “provides opportunities for collaboration, conversation, and action towards a common goal.”
In November of 2022, Brill attended a major conference, G20-Interfaith, as the lead rabbinic representative. This opportunity was not through Seton Hall, he said, but the University provided him “with a wonderful network.”
“We now live in an age of religious diversity,” he said. “We meet each other regularly.”
In a similar fashion, Sertich said he hopes to set up a discussion with representatives of the Ministry, MSA, and Hillel to talk of “things we have more in common” than things that “set us apart.” He also would like for the three groups to “share a meal together,” which makes the event more likely to occur after sundown due to Muslims fasting during Ramadan.
The event, in which plans have yet to be finalized, would likely take place during the time of Passover, Ramadan, and Easter. Sertich said this would be “nice for our students at such an impressionable time” and a “good way to model that for our students.”
Even though there were students, alumni, and faculty that encountered positive religious experiences through Seton Hall, there are others who have not. Perez, a third-year student who came to Seton Hall for internship opportunities, said the University made their relationship with Catholicism “worse,” and added that it “reaffirmed what I was conditioned to believe.”
Perez was raised Catholic in Cedar Grove, N.J., the only red town in Essex County; it is very religious and conservative, they said. Their high school classmates had some form of affiliation with Catholicism, whether they participated in the Catholic church or attended St. Catherine, a private Catholic school that has students from preschool to eighth grade.
By their middle and high school years, Perez – who also attended St. Catherine – began to see Catholicism in a negative light. “The rose-colored glasses I grew up with started fading away,” they said, adding that it was “not always sunshine and rainbows following a religion.”
During St. Catherine’s eighth grade dance, they almost didn’t wear a tuxedo. The school had told them that if they were transgender, “it would be an issue.”
“If God exists, why are minorities being discriminated against?” asked Perez. “God’s entire thing is loving everybody.”
They concluded that the discrimination is more of an organized religion issue, adding that people use “God to hide behind their own agenda.” Through the University’s LGBTQ+ student organization, PRIDE, Perez’s relationship with Catholicism was even more tarnished, as PRIDE “can’t do a lot of events because it doesn’t follow the Catholic mission.”
“We really have to watch what we do,” they said. “Anything that’s queer is super under watch of what needs to be approved.”
Currently, PRIDE is working with the Student Government Association to bring pronouns and name changes to campus, so that students wouldn’t be deadnamed and misgendered as often. Perez was told that the University couldn’t do anything because the name changes weren’t legal names, and overall didn’t “follow the Catholic mission.”
Perez said they find it “a little icky” that “religion has to be imposed in every little thing.”
Overall, they said that their relationship with Catholicism has been a “rollercoaster,” but they had come to terms with their relationship with God. They still celebrate Catholic holidays despite considering themselves not a part of the Catholic church.
Christmas at the Hall
Similar to Perez, there are those who celebrate religions in a cultural context. For example, many students at Seton Hall see Christmas at the Hall, specifically the annual tree-lighting ceremony, as “more of a cultural thing,” Jaber said.
Brill said the tree-lighting is “more of a pep rally” with school spirit and “Seton Hall swag.”
“I think it’s fun that they have that event,” he said. “People really look forward to it and enjoy it.”
After this ceremony, students enjoy taking photos with their friends both around and inside the tree, as there is an opening with room to take pictures surrounded by colorful string lights. Ndaw said that he likes walking past the tree, which is located on the Green.
“It’s a nice time of year,” he said.
Dr. A.D. Amar (Amar Dev Amar), a professor of Management at the Stillman school of Business, said he “didn’t even know what Catholicism was” when he first started teaching at Seton Hall.
Amar, a Hindu, said that the most important thing for people of his faith is “your duty.” He celebrates Hindu holidays despite living halfway across the world from India, his home country. For the biggest holiday, Diwali (or Festival of Lights), he turns on an extra light; a small way to celebrate it.
In India, there’s the same “hustle and bustle” around Christmastime as there is here in the U.S., he said. Pancha Ganapati, a holiday that is celebrated from Dec. 21 to Dec. 25, is a Hindu version of Christmas. Shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha, one of the most worshiped deities in Hinduism, are set up in living rooms. They are decorated with tinsel, lights, and ornaments.
Sertich said that Seton Hall is an “appropriate balance” of culture and religion, and that Christmas at the Hall is a “long-lasting Seton Hall tradition” that is “tastefully done and balanced.”
The events during this time of the fall semester are not exclusively just for Catholics, the performances are just very “Christmas-themed,” he added. Another example is the University’s DOVE toy drive, which benefits “children of all faiths.”
Christmas is a time of “gift-giving and generosity,” Sertich said, and the University’s Christmas at the Hall gives off a “homey kind of feeling for the students.” This can provide great comfort to students, especially for the freshmen who are celebrating holidays without family nearby for the first time.
Seton Hall may be a Catholic university, but it has accommodated other religions for decades. Its Ministry is always open to chat with students of all religious faiths, and the other religious student organizations welcome members despite the different religious identities. We’re all here for the next step in our education, but it’s good to make lifelong friendships of similar and/or different backgrounds along the way. And even if you’re atheist or agnostic, there will always be a spot reserved for you to explore and participate in other cultures. As Fr. Sertich said, the University’s Catholic Mission doesn’t suggest converting students to Catholicism, but instead connect them with new religious or cultural discoveries, regardless of if it’s Catholicism or not.