Church, State & Society fellows reflect on summer experiences

Author: Jonathan Hannah


Five Notre Dame Law students gained valuable exposure this summer in the area of religious-institutions practice. Sponsored by the Law School’s Program on Church, State & Society, each summer fellow assisted a religiously affiliated organization with legal services.

Lydia Woods worked in the Catholic University of America’s Office of General Counsel in Washington, D.C.

“The experience gave me a wonderful insight into what it is like to work for a religious institution in a legal capacity. As a law clerk, I drafted and revised University policies to be in compliance with federal and local laws, and participated in the University’s internal investigations, litigation proceedings, and contract negotiations through legal researching and writing legal memoranda,” Woods said. “I particularly valued the opportunity to approach legal questions with the goal of staying true to the University’s mission of being a faithfully Catholic institution in addition to following the law.”

Thomas Spring worked in the immigration office of Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 

“I completed training modules, advised clients on the proper steps to establish citizenship or become legal permanent residents, and prepared waiver petitions for undocumented immigrants who were victims of domestic abuse,” Spring said. “This work allowed me to advance my vocation in the law, serving those who—like the Holy Family—have sought safety as strangers in a strange land.”

Sarah Karchunas interned at the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington's Hogar Immigrant Services.

Karchunas said that while interning she had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the rapidly changing field of immigration. She met directly with clients, helped them prepare and send their immigration petitions, developed legal arguments to advocate on their behalf to the federal government, and did legal research to determine how many of their complicated immigration concerns might best be resolved.

“Working directly with immigrants in a legal setting this summer confirmed my passion for using my skills and legal education to serve others and encouraged me to continue pursuing a career path doing just that,” Karchunas said. “As someone with an undergraduate and graduate background in theology, it was also inspiring to participate in and witness Catholic social teaching in action through the work of Hogar Immigrant Services."

Kyle Smith interned in the Office of Legal Services for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Smith researched issues relating to real estate transactions, immigration, and regulatory compliance.

“Not only did the fellowship grant me the chance to combine my previous education in theology with my current aspirations of becoming a lawyer, it also exposed me to a broad array of legal practice areas,” Smith said. “The Church, State & Society fellowship allowed me to learn from an incredible group of attorneys working for the Archdiocese of Chicago as well as help shape my understanding of those areas of the law in which I hope to continue to practice in the future. It was the type of summer internship that any law student would be lucky (or blessed) to experience.”

Katherine Ginsbach worked for the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). The Network consists of five Catholic schools that serve American Indian students.  Her primary role was to write bylaws that would allow The Network to grow, and potentially encompass all 24 Catholic schools that are currently serving American Indian students.

“I took this experience to gain skills that will help me to fulfill a need in the non-profit sector. In my role with The Network I served as an in-house counsel. I found it engaging as all five schools are different, with various grade ranges, and various budgets to accommodate,” Ginsbach said. “The goal of the Network is to create an organization that will allow the schools to come together and pool their resources to become more sustainable. For many children on the reservations these schools offer a light in the darkness.”

The fellowship program is one of the many ways the Program on Church, State & Society seeks to educate young lawyers about the relationship between law and religion. The fellowships allow students to experience a variety of career options that combine law and religion and involve legal services to religious institutions of all types.