They entered the kitchen singly, arriving randomly, while I was getting some coffee at work. A writer, a photographer and a videographer. They had all been to Milk River, Montana, on assignment for this magazine. They had landed there separately, too, coming from three directions, three cars along miles and miles of unmarked, dusty dirt roads, convening at a point on a vast, treeless landscape where humanity is scarce. And today they had stories to tell.
So they laughed and told more. Others stopped in the kitchen to listen. A smartphone was pulled out to show video; a laptop was perched on the table to show photos. Images of students doing field research. Fossils, night skies and the remnants of Native American societies. And stories to share.
Storytelling is as old as human communication, human culture. Tales have been told around campfires, told in taverns, at homecomings, at reunions, told to get through winter. They are told to entertain and to enlighten — and to reinforce those qualities, principles and ideals most valued by a group or tribe, a religion or a family. Stories enable us to tell who we are, what we stand for. They perpetuate traditions, convey what we think is true.
This magazine is a storytelling place. It is our campfire circle, our reunion tent, the family hearth — a quarterly gathering place where people come to speak and listen. Four times a year people come forward to tell us about themselves, about their beliefs. They share their experiences, their deliberations and doubts, and talk about what has happened to them or to others they know — just like we have done in residence halls, over pizza, on a football weekend.
This time around it’s a band of students learning about the American West and the artisans building a new organ for the basilica and an attorney helping to heal prostitutes in Philadelphia. An African-American editor addresses the nation’s racial divide. A scholar discusses feminism, her place in academia and challenges facing women today. A journalist ponders the long-term impact concussions have not on individuals but on the game of football itself, and a theologian reflects on the pope’s encyclical on planet Earth. And in a riveting narrative, a doctor takes us into a field hospital as he fights Ebola in Sierra Leone. It tells an extraordinary tale of risk, charity and sacrifice in a magazine issue of unusual heft and grace.
What these stories have in common is Notre Dame. They may seem wide-ranging and diverse and far away from campus, from institutional matters, but they speak of our shared heritage, our educational mission, those ideals and principles, truths and hopes we’d like to give to the world. And when we talk about what’s important to us, what has deeply influenced us, we share our human natures, we build a community of believers, seekers and friends.
I’ve long thought that Notre Dame eludes definition; it does not fit into a formula, doctrine or box. But you get a keen sense of the place, its people and its values when you listen to the stories told on these pages.
— Kerry Temple ’74