A stroll beyond Rafferty Stadium will lead you to a hidden gem within Fairfield University’s campus. The Dolan House, which is tucked beside Dolan Hall, is home to the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality. Its architecture is distinct: walls of granite, carved arches, lacquered wooden doors and a fairytale-esque turret topped with an elephant weathervane. The building appears to have been plucked from a storybook, exuding an essence of magic. Yet, the true power of the Murphy Center lies within its programs, providing a sacred space for community members to unlock their spirituality and deepen their relationship with a higher power.
The Dolan House, originally named the Estate House, was shipped from France and rebuilt on the property to occupy the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Founded in 1804 by Saint Julie Billiart and Marie-Louise-Francoise Blin de Bourdon, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were a religious order dedicated to providing assistance and education to underprivileged communities.
According to the Fairfield University Archives and Special Collections, the order lived and worked in what is now Dolan Campus until 1989, when Fairfield University purchased the 13-acre property with a generous gift from Charles and Helen Dolan.
The Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality was founded in 2015, serving as a location for personal discernment and discussion of the Jesuit values that Fairfield University was founded on.
Marcy Dolan Haley, the Associate Director of the Murphy Center, believes it is necessary to carry on the charisma of Ignatian spirituality on campus. The Murphy Center offers a wide variety of outlets for students to align themselves with the apostolic preferences of the Jesuits.
Haley and her team, which is composed of over 50 spiritual directors, uphold Jesuit ideals through spiritual exploration. She noted, “We do that particularly on campus by sitting with students, faculty and staff, and really anyone from the outside community who is seeking a deeper relationship with God, whatever that looks like, whatever your faith background. And even if you have no background in faith or religion at all.”
The work of the Murphy Centers extends beyond the student body. Haley recognizes that the spiritual direction is beneficial to both students and faculty. She reiterated that the integration and understanding of Jesuit charisms are vital to the community as a whole.
The Murphy Center hosts office hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday through Friday. Individuals are welcome to drop in from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. or call (203) 254-4000, ext. 2373 to schedule an appointment.
Haley presented a broad invitation, stating, “Any time, any day our doors are open wide to anyone on campus and even the outside community. There is never any charge. We never turn anyone away. There’s always an opportunity to sit with someone.”
Haley described the diversity of her team, expressing that the spiritual directors “are from different backgrounds and different faiths. They’re not all Catholic. There’s a variety.”
When creating an appointment, individuals have the option to dictate their preferences in regard to the identity of the director with whom they will meet. Haley believes it is important for individuals to have autonomy in their selection to ensure comfortability.
“You can decide…I’d like to sit with a man. I’d like to sit with a woman. I’d like to sit with someone who’s Catholic or non-Catholic. I’d like a Jesuit. I’d like someone in a religious order,” Haley said. “The person that you’re sitting with will always respect your freedom to decide that this is not a good fit or a good match.”
Respect is a defining characteristic of spiritual direction. The Murphy Center’s website outlines what individuals should expect for their meetings. The list includes, “reverence and respect for the spiritual movements in your life, in the context of your religious background or belief system” and “no judgment or agenda—just a welcoming presence who is there to help you discover the ‘life in your life.’”
Haley understands the deep stress felt by students and the internalized pressure to live up to high standards. She contemplated, “I think there are very few occasions where [students] have the opportunity to sit with someone who’s not judging them, where they don’t need to do anything to earn that sense of attention or value.”
The spiritual direction sessions are designed to uplift and inspire, reminding individuals to embrace the fullness of their humanity. Haley conveyed, “It’s an opportunity to recognize the value that each person on this campus has. Not because of what you do, but just because you’re here. And you matter. And your worth is not contingent upon any achievement that you rack up. It is just a place of being a beautiful gift of God.”
The Murphy Center hosts annual retreats with the athletic teams of Fairfield University, a population who must cope with the rigor of an academic course load and a demanding schedule of games and practices.
Arden MacNeil, a sophomore on the Fairfield Women’s Soccer team, reflected on her spiritual journey as a student and an athlete.
“As a college athlete, you handle a lot all the time,” MacNeil said. “Marcy’s retreats helped me find peace with emotions I had been suppressing. Along with helping me manage the stressors that come along with the job, [the Murphy Center] also allowed me to understand myself from a deeper level.”
MacNeil articulated her immense gratitude, posing the question, “Without this program, who knows where I’d be today?” She urges her peers to take advantage of the Murphy Center’s offerings.
“The advice that I would give to anyone remotely considering beginning their own spiritual journey, [is] do it,” Macneil said. “I was hesitant at first. But, once you allow yourself to be vulnerable to the idea, it will truly change your life for the better. It’s never too late or too early to learn more about yourself.”
Haley concurred with MacNeil’s statement, highlighting the unique focus on personal development within the institution. “The reason why you come to a Jesuit school is to find out who you are, who you’re being called to be, and then how you bring that out into the world no matter what you’re doing.”
“So whether you’re an accountant, or whether you’re a doctor or a lawyer, or whether you are a chef or a dancer, there’s this sense of you that is essential to how you live your life and that’s grounded in this trust that the fact that you’re here in this world is a miracle and you don’t have to do anything to earn that,” Haley illustrated.
Individuals wishing to commit to their spiritual transformation may register for the “Encountering the Living God,” a ten-week program of prayer and reflection. The program is open to Fairfield students, faculty staff and members of the larger community. Participants will engage with a trained spiritual director on a weekly basis, emulating the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
The Religious Studies Department holds a number of courses that enable students to explore their spirituality within the academic environment, including “Finding God in All Things” and “Christian Spirituality”. Fairfield’s course catalog reads, “students are invited to study in an open yet critical fashion: the founding and development of the Society of Jesus… [and] its relevance to contemporary spiritual needs, especially in the context of university life.”
Haley examined the modern applications of this development. “When Ignatius first founded the Jesuits, he really encouraged those that were his friends to get out from behind the monastery walls to find people where they are,” Haley said. “When we’re looking for God, we often find ourselves and that’s really what the work is that we do here, and we try to go out and make it happen.”
The Murphy Center activates this sentiment through their outreach programs. Rev. John Murray, S.J. hosts virtual meetings with retirees of all faiths, called “Aging with Grace”. Additionally, Rev. John D. Savard, S.J., ’78 leads a Men’s Spirituality Group.
Women celebrate Advent and Lent through biannual meetings with MCIS Women’s Initiative. The center also partners with the parishes of the Diocese of Bridgeport through a multi-month program that introduces Ignatian Spirituality in theory and practice.
Campus Ministry regularly associates with the Murphy Center. Katie Byrnes, the Campus Minister for Community Engagement, commented on their key collaboration.
“As part of the division of Mission and Ministry here at Fairfield, we work closely with the Murphy Center to care for the spiritual life of students. Through service, retreat and prayer we offer students a chance to go deeper and ask big questions about where God is calling us and who we are called to be,” Byrnes said.
The organizations promote the synergy of students’ mind, body and spirit, which fortifies their greater contribution to the world. Byrnes observed that “The Jesuit values help to animate that work as we seek the Magis in our lives. In my work I focus on connecting students with partners in the wider community as we work to learn about issues of justice and how we are called to be of service”.
Retreats also play a role in catalyzing one’s spiritual journey. Byrnes excitedly shared, “Marcy and I are working on a Lenten retreat for women in a few weeks that we are really looking forward to!” The Murphy Center and Campus Ministry frequently organize retreats.
Haley discussed the Silent Retreat, which will be held at the Mercy By the Sea retreat center from Feb. 24 to the 26. Haley referred to the retreat as, “a sacred pause, a gift you’re giving to yourself [where] you can just allow yourself to be loved and held, and that’s enough.”
In closing, Haley quoted Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”
The Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality invites the Fairfield community to embark on this journey, embracing their truest selves and discovering the everpresent grace of God.
For information on upcoming events or to schedule an appointment with a Spiritual Director, visit the Dolan House or website for the Murphy Center for Ignatian Spirituality.
As a former student at Fairfield University, I am so impressed with the article written by Kathleen Morris.
The author’s writing style piqued my interest regarding the history and continued
mission of Fairfield University.
Kudos to the author!