Faith and Life

A good university experience made great

Emily Nelson, a recent pharmacy graduate at QUB, reflects on how Chaplaincy made a good university experience great!
November 29, 2020

“Why don’t you go to the Chaplaincy if you get into Queens?”  I didn’t want to be so blunt as to respond honestly; “because I don’t want to”.  Eventually I jokingly agreed to come along at some point to experience this person’s apparently ‘renowned’ Chaplaincy tours and avail of a cheap lunch. I didn’t really want to go because I didn’t believe in what I thought the Chaplaincy stood for. I was hoping at university to explore other ideologies to see if they made sense as I was convinced Catholicism was irrational and without foundation.

After being accepted to Queen’s I bumped into the same person at a birthday party. Although I tried, I could find no polite excuse not to go to the Chaplaincy since it was so close to the building where most of my classes would take place. On the first day of fresher’s week I was left with a break in my timetable.  My friends were busy and I had nothing to do, so I popped in. I’d had a pleasant enough time and felt bad that I didn’t plan on going back to see the people I’d met there, so I returned once more out of guilt. That was going to be my last time. But then I chanced upon someone I had met there, they asked me if I wanted to go to the Chaplaincy. I had no reason to say no- so I went again. And again. And again.

Although I ended up spending a good proportion of my time in the Chaplaincy I reminded myself not to be persuaded to change my views. I had to remember that what they believed still didn’t make sense. Puzzled by so many conversations I considered to be irrational I decided to question them to see what response they would offer. To my immense surprise there were solid, logical answers to the questions I had. Why hadn’t I heard this before? The more I asked, the more I was persuaded that Catholic beliefs were rationally defensible; there were not only reasons, but good ones, behind their teachings. This was a gamechanger for me.

We had a session called “Questions of Faith”, where anonymous questions were posted and the answers given by the Chaplain with a follow-up discussion. I should have been named ‘why’ because of my persistent questioning!

Gradually over the years, through these sessions, general conversation at the Chaplaincy and my own personal learning, my beliefs changed radically. Catholicism was reasonable. Who would have expected?

Alongside this personal growth in faith, in second year of university I was asked if I would work on the Chaplaincy pastoral team. After some thought I said yes- and I am so glad that I did. I worked there for three consecutive years and each year I loved it more. I was given a level of freedom and opportunity that rarely comes with the average part time job. I am aware of how fortunate I was to be given this experience which taught me so much about people and organisation and help me gain valuable life skills. Most importantly, doing this taught me what I really enjoy, which has greatly informed my hopes for the future.

I remember meeting the Chaplain one day when out for a walk and he asked me:

“Are you going home now?”

“No, I’m going to the Chaplaincy,” I replied.

He laughed as he responded “Yes, that’s what I meant.”

The Chaplaincy became a breathing space; somewhere I started going to for the cheap food and ended up going to for Mass and prayer; somewhere I learnt so much about important questions and ideas; somewhere I studied for my academic and musical exams; a place where I have been through every emotion imaginable; a place where I changed and developed.

I have made and consolidated so many friendships there including those with whom I have shared a house for the past two years. The person who first suggested I go to the Chaplaincy if I got into Queens was apparently proficient in tactical future planning since he has been my boyfriend for over four years!

At the time of publishing, it will be 5 years since I was bored and decided to pop into the Chaplaincy. I’m just graduated and studying for my pre-reg year for pharmacy. I know when I’m done, the part of university I’ll miss most is Chaplaincy. I hope and pray that current and future Queen’s students will give be open-minded and give it a chance. My experience at Queen’s would have been completely different, and so much less. I will be forever grateful to Chaplaincy for making a good university experience great!

A good university experience made great

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