The temptation we have at Notre Dame, or in any community which nourishes us in faith, is to cling to it. We want to stay and have more and more of the good things. The sustenance is so great; why leave it behind?
We wrestle with the allure of ACE, of Notre Dame Law, of AR posts, of internships and staff positions, of finding a job in South Bend, of infinite dorm masses and grotto trips. Sometimes staying on is a welcome stepping stone toward post-grad dreams or a gap year before diving headlong into career aspirations; other times, it’s the fear of the unknown or a reach for the metaphorical snooze button.
In my case, I did a little of both. I lived in Ireland and served as a volunteer minister to a Catholic parish and diocese, which got me back to Europe and started me into the career and vocation I desired. But the House of Brigid is a Notre Dame initiative, so though I was 4,000 miles from the Golden Dome, I lived with other Notre Dame alumni on the support of the Notre Dame family.
Even with many obvious ties to ND, the search for the quality of hearty sustenance that Notre Dame provided was challenging. Many of my friends and I struggled most with finding a faith community that could uphold as strongly as Folk Choir, as Basilica Masses, as dorm communities.
In Ireland, we faced a church that is, in many ways, decades behind the American church. The Irish often keep priests on a pedestal, wanting them to be the all-knowing problem solver. This contributes to clericalism and holds back the empowerment of the laity and their participation in Mass and parish life. Nonetheless, the faithful Irish — and there is a hearty core persevering — set an admirable example of steady attendance. Even if their enthusiasm and extroverted joy are rare or hard to see, their commitment to showing up, to daily Masses, to Reconciliation, to Holy Hours and novenas, is sturdy. My community sought to work with those who remain strong to empower them to be lay leaders, to catechize the youth in Confirmation, and to be the agents of renewal in our Church.
At my next phase, in Southern California, six fellow alumni and myself work at the only Catholic school in a valley of 500,000 people. In the midst of hostile atheism, entrenched skepticism, and also fervent evangelicalism, we are attempting to cultivate in 500 teenagers a faith that seeks understanding. They may come from a cultural context and family environment that too often ignores religion, but at school, we require them to listen, think, pray and learn about God, Christ and the Christian morality. And alongside us seven zealous Domers are faithful colleagues from far and near, from big state schools and classic Jesuit universities, who seek to care for the whole person, for mind and soul, to bring kids to invest in a community and be part of something (and hopefully Someone) bigger than themselves.
Beyond the communities I have moved into, my job search has led me to people cut from the same cloth as Our Lady’s alumni. I found a retreat center director in Wisconsin who discussed theology with me as faith seeking understanding, as if he had been formed by the Notre Dame Theology Department. I found a school principal in California who want students to invest themselves in the classroom as well as on retreat and in relationship and solidarity with the poor. I found a campus minister, theology teacher and principal in Illinois who lovingly shuffle their schedules and lesson plans to enable students to earn part of their tuition and get professional formation in the workplace. I found a staff at an Indiana high school that prides itself on the tremendous reputation of family and community that emanates from their students.
It may be less vibrantly visible; it may take some looking; it may not be as readily available. However, our Catholic Church is profoundly universal, and the joy and wonder of Catholic community exists across the country and around the world. The loving embrace of Christ, present in the people He gathers to Himself as well as the Sacraments He gave us as visible signs of His invisible presence, transcends time and space to bring us together.
My current students go on retreat at a ranch up in a mountain range. While up there, they discover the strength of community and the presence of God through vulnerability and investing in relationships with each other. When the retreat ends, they always want to stay up in the mountain, and we have to discourage them from longing to establish a utopian community detached from society.
The true challenge and the real call is to take what you learn, what you find and who you become and infuse it into your everyday life, whether that’s coming back from the mountain retreat or leaving the cozy embrace of Notre Dame. It’s ok to be sentimental, choked-up, even heartbroken when the time comes to leave. But don’t be afraid. The love of Christ is out there, and it will help you be Notre Dame to the world, to whatever part of the world you head into next.
Dan Masterton majored in Theology, lived in Zahm House, and graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in May 2011. He currently is a theology teacher, campus minister and baseball and basketball coach at Xavier College Prep in Palm Desert, CA. Visit his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.