La Salle student participates in historical opening pilgrimage of Synod in Rome 

November 8, 2023

Melanie Guckin, ’25, was in Rome during first synod where women and young people were eligible to vote in the meeting. 

Pictured from left to right: Sr. Grace Wrakia from Papua New Guinea, Melanie Guckin, ’25, and Br. Ricky Laguda FSC, General Councilor of Brothers’ Generalate also known as the motherhouse of the Christian Brothers.

Melanie Guckin, ’25, was a part of history when she travelled to Rome to witness the first synod involving women and young people voters.  

A synod is simply a gathering of bishops to pray, discuss, and decide about matters of importance to the Catholic Church. The current “Synod on Synodality” is about how to become a listening church. It’s a historic moment as for the first-time individuals other than bishops and cardinals were invited to participate and given voting status in the assembly. The voting members met in the Vatican for the entire month of October.  

Guckin, a Springfield Township, Pa. Native who is an elementary (PreK-4) education and special education (K-12) major with a concentration in American studies, was part of a group of college students from Synodality in Catholic Higher Education in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (SCHEAP) who attended the Synod and various events in Rome from Sept. 27 to Oct. 8, 2023.  

Another student from SCHEAP, Julia Oseka of Saint Joseph’s University, was one of two college students who were selected by Pope Francis to serve as voting members at the Synod. Oseka was the second youngest member of the Synod.  

Guckin and three other SCHEAP leaders travelled with Oseka to Rome for the opening of the Synod and to support their fellow organization member. 

“When we were in Rome, we got to see a lot of amazing things,” she said. 

Guckin also had the opportunity to connect with a member of the Lasallian network, Ms. Grace Wrakia from Papua New Guinea, an elected delegate to the Synod, and visit the Brothers’ Generalate also known as the motherhouse of the Christian Brothers. Ms. Claire Saïd from Lebanon was also a Lasallian woman elected as a delegate to the Synod. 

Melanie Guckin, ’25, and Sr. Grace Wrakia from Papua New Guinea

Brother Robert (Bob) Schieler, ’72, FSC, Ed.D., attended the 2018 Synod on youth where religious Brothers were allowed to vote for the first time. Br. Bob previously served as Superior General of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. He said Pope Francis’ goal has been to make synods more open to who participates to fulfill the mission of an inclusive Church that listens to everyone while discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit.  

“The Pope is offering a forum so the voice of the faithful is heard,” Br. Bob said.  

Giving La Salle students the opportunity to see these historic moments in-person, along with connecting deeper to the Lasallian movement is a “real privilege,” he said.   

Guckin’s journey to the Synod first began in the classroom of Professor of Religion Maureen O’Connell, Ph.D. The Explorer was surprised at how interested and engaged she was in the classroom. In the spring semester of 2022, O’Connell invited Guckin and her classmates in Religion 100 to participate in the listening phase of the global synod. Guckin joined 400 other college students from across the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who shared their joys and struggles of journeying with the Church. Later, she joined the student leadership team of SCHEAP, the only coalition of institutions of higher education of its kind engaged in the Synod.  

“Pope Francis has called on young adults to be protagonists for change in their communities,” O’Connell said. “With her passion for the educational formation of people even younger than herself and her own curiosity about her faith tradition, Melanie demonstrates what is possible when young adults take the Pope at his word.” 

Melanie Guckin, ’25, and Julia Oseka of Saint Joseph’s University

During her visit to Rome, Guckin was able to participate in the pilgrimage, a walk to the Synod that marks its beginning. She also got to visit the Vatican where she spoke with voting delegates to relay her goals, hopes, and prayers she had for their votes.  

The trip also included plenty of sightseeing and workshops, including one on ways to make the Catholic Church more accessible to those with disabilities, something Guckin is very passionate about as an aspiring educator.  

“It’s just a passion of mine, and it was right up my alley,” she said.  

Guckin’s biggest takeaway from the Synod experience were the ideas of unity and equity. She wants to utilize what she learned by helping the Catholic Church and her future classroom be inclusive spaces.  

“I want to focus on how I can bridge gaps and find ways to make my students successful,” she said of her aspirations when she starts teaching.   

Guckin will attend a recap meeting in November with the other students who attended, along with a pilgrimage celebration.  

The second phase of this Synod will be held in October 2024 which will create the final document that will help guide the Catholic Church moving forward, Br. Bob said.  

—Meg Ryan