Program on Church, State & Society announces summer fellows

Author: Denise Wager

013asmall2018 summer fellows, from left: Lydia Woods, Kyle Smith, and Sarah Karchunas

The Notre Dame Law School Program on Church, State & Society has awarded three summer fellowships to first-year law students Lydia Woods, Sarah Karchunas, and Kyle Smith. Each will receive a $10,000 fellowship award to work for a religious institution in a legal capacity this summer.

Lydia Woods will be working for Catholic University of America’s Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C. She will be researching and writing about issues related to the university’s status as a religious institution.

Woods became interested in religious-institutions practice while an undergraduate at Catholic University. She witnessed Catholic University deal with a variety of legal questions stemming from conflicts between its Catholic identity and government regulations. This experience made her interested in the particular legal challenges that religious institutions often face.

“I applied for the Church, State & Society Fellowship because it was aligned with my interest in religious-institutions practice and would enable me to concretely pursue that interest over the summer,” Wood said. “I hope to continue to develop legal researching and writing skills, while gaining first-hand experience of what it is like to work for a religious institution in a legal capacity.”

Sarah Karchunas will be an intern at Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington’s Hogar Immigrant Services. Hogar Immigrant Services offers immigration legal assistance in a variety of cases including family petitions, U visas and T visas, and asylum, and Karchunas will be working on a range of immigration matters.

She became interested in working for a religious institution after serving at a Catholic parish in Houston while pursuing her master’s degree in theology through Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Echo Parish Catechetical Leadership Program. By working with clients, practicing legal research and writing skills, and attending court proceedings, she hopes to gain new insights from working in a different area of the Catholic Church than she worked before.

“This fellowship interests me because it provides a unique opportunity to use my academic, professional and ministerial experiences with the Catholic Church to further explore my passion of how faith and law intersect to serve others,” Karchunas said. “I have a passion for social justice and I am excited to help respond to the Church’s call for justice for the most vulnerable, in this case, the stranger to this country, by providing legal assistance.”

Kyle Smith will be working for the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office of Legal Services and General Counsel. He will work on a variety of projects including real estate transactional work (leasing contracts) and assisting with the revision of Archdiocesan handbooks, which will require the synthesis of canon and civil law.

Vocationally, Smith has always felt called to work on behalf of the Church in some way as he was previously a seminarian with the Congregation of Holy Cross and later a theology teacher for the Archdiocese of Chicago. He said that as he now pursues legal work, the Church, State & Society Fellowship was a perfect opportunity by which he could combine his previous experience with his future goals.

“With this fellowship I hope to have a clearer understanding of how certain facets of the Roman Catholic Church interact with U.S. law,” Smith said. “I am excited to learn how the Church operates in the legal world. Practically speaking, I especially look forward to further honing my research and writing skills under the tutelage of practicing attorneys who are also interested in Church-State relations.”

Richard Garnett, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Law and director of the Program on Church, State & Society said he is excited about the opportunities these students will have this summer.   

“As part of NDLS’s mission to educate a ‘different kind of lawyer,’ the Program on Church, State & Society’s fellowships allow students to gain exposure in the area of religious-institutions practice and explore some of the career options that combine law and religion in our society,” he said.

Originally published by Denise Wager at on March 27, 2018.