Reunion, reflection, renewal

Author: Angela Sienko


Reunion 2009 offered Ed Stubbing, ND class of 1964, much more than a chance to see some of his classmates, although he relished the opportunity. “Meeting classmates I hadn’t seen in 45 years was magnificent,” he says. “Bonds were restored. Dormant friendships were reignited. Plans are already underway for contacts prior to our next reunion in 2014.”

For Stubbing, however, friendships weren’t the only things that got a boost during the June 4-7 event. The reunion re-energized his faith, especially after hearing University President Emeritus Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, deliver the homily at the All-Class Mass during the event’s final evening.

“Thanks to Father Hesburgh’s moving homily, I now begin and end each day with that beautiful prayer — ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’” Stubbing says.

Prior to the Mass, Stubbing and his wife, Lu, took part in the renewal of wedding vows in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

“My wife read [her vows] first. We looked at each other with the intensity of a love that has held us together for 46 years,” Stubbing says. “She started tearing up. I started tearing up. Three hundred couples in the Basilica were all tearing up. It was beautiful. How many colleges offer this moment of God’s grace for their graduates? I would return in five years for this moment alone.”

Though she’s only five years past graduation, it was the opportunity to reconnect with old friends that brought Arienne Thompson, ND class of 2004, to the reunion. Thompson, who lives in Washington, D.C., brought her sister Amelia Thompson, class of 2008, to share in the experience.

“There was a perfect storm of reasons for me to come back,” Thompson says. “It was my five-year, as well as the Black Alumni reunion, so I had plenty of friends from all over who would be returning to campus.”

While most of the 2,700 attendees participated in the scheduled events — which included 74 seminars, 24 open houses, eight tours and five meetings, along with class dinners, class Masses, receptions and informal gatherings — many alumni took advantage of their time on campus to reconnect with the University in their own way. For Thompson, that meant renting bicycles with friends to explore the campus they called home for four years.

“It was an idyllic ride, not only because of the scenery but also because the weather was absolutely perfect,” Thompson says. “We covered most of campus and were able to see all the new construction and plenty of old favorites — like Reckers, where we begrudgingly used actual money, rather than Flex points, to buy post-ride pizzas and smoothies.”

Whether by bicycle or on foot, touring the campus was a must for many who came to Reunion 2009. Some attendees, like Thompson, chose to enjoy their campus on their own; others took part in official tours. Either way, alumni got the opportunity to explore the campus, which had changed quite a bit since their days as students. Geddes Hall, the new home to the Center For Social Concerns; the Eck Hall of Law; and the soon-to-be-completed engineering building, Stinson-Remick Hall, were all popular tour attractions.

Attendees took part in a variety of educational seminars, which addressed such topics as health, religion, scientific developments and ND’s service work.

New to the reunion was Notre Dame Perspectives, a seminar series featuring faculty and alumni, which premiered to a packed house at Washington Hall. The topics, “The First 100 Days: What’s Next?” and “The Economic Crisis: Its Causes and Its Cures,” were followed by open discussion.

“The First 100 Days of President Obama was a well-rounded, mostly encouraging evaluation of the first 100 days,” Stubbing says. “There were insights and knowledge galore. I took three pages of notes.”

A Town Hall meeting on Friday, June 5, led by University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, and Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves, addressed current and future issues for the University in what Father Jenkins called a “family” setting. The floor was opened for questions, which ranged from suggestions about the campus signage to the 2009 commencement ceremony to research initiatives.

That Friday also saw the launch of the ND Women Connect initiative with a “Work-Life Balance” seminar at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. More than 200 people gathered for the seminar and its subsequent reception in honor of Sister Jean Lenz, OSF, former special assistant to the vice president of student affairs at Notre Dame, who recently retired after 35 years of service to the University.

Evenings were spent at the class-specific dinners and receptions across campus. Thompson says her Friday night dinner provided her with a particularly special moment.

“The Black Alumni dinner in Legends definitely was a highlight for me,” Thompson says. “Father Hesburgh was the guest speaker at the event, and by the time he finished delivering a special message to us, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

While most attendees participated in the packed schedule of events, many cite socializing at the refreshment tent as the best opportunity to make meaningful connections.

“Sitting in the refreshment tent for hours on end with my friends really sticks out for me,” Thompson says. “I mean, yes, we were essentially just sitting and drinking inside the tents, but those conversations and memories built from simply being together are the dearest to me. [My friends and I] are still talking about refreshment tent today!”

So is Rev. Tom Doyle, CSC, ’89, ’96M.Div., who traveled from Portland, Oregon, to attend his reunion. “To leisurely catch up in person with a group of close friends and share life’s important stories reminds me of the blessings and good years of being a student on campus,” says Doyle. “And the part that always wows me are the soulful conversations with classmates who I knew only in passing, or not at all while on campus. In both cases I’m left with a deep sense of privilege of knowing such extraordinary people.”

A highlight of Reunion 2009 was the All-Class Mass. More than 2,200 reunion attendees packed the Joyce Center Fieldhouse to hear Father Jenkins celebrate Mass and Father Hesburgh deliver the homily.

“The sight of all 2,200 of us there receiving the Body of Christ was exhilarating,” Ed Stubbing says. “And Father Hesburgh’s homily was poignant: ‘I see with half an eye now, but within the shadows it is easy for me to envision the joy on your faces because you have returned to your home at Notre Dame.’”

The Mass was followed by individual class celebration dinners — a new element to reunion. Previously the event would conclude with an all-class dinner, but the Alumni Association switched things up this year to give attendees more time to spend with their classmates.

But just as long-anticipated as its beginning, the reunion’s end came too quickly for alums, who spent Sunday morning exchanging phone numbers and email addresses.

“I left campus replaying the conversations of three full days and thinking that what is most impressive about my classmates and their spouses is not what they do, but who they are,” Father Doyle says. “I marvel at their lives of courage and faith lived out in their community, their parish and especially their family. I left campus buoyed with optimism that with people like my classmates all over the world, there is good reason to be optimistic about our Church’s and the world’s future.”

“Leaving campus definitely was bittersweet,” Thompson says. “We knew the fantasy of the refreshment tent and the magic of the wristband couldn’t last forever, but it can’t hurt to dream, right?”

The 2010 Alumni Reunion will be June 3-6.

Angela Sienko is alumni editor of this magazine.

Photo of the renewal of wedding vows at the reunion Mass by Matt Cashore ’96.