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Seniors graduate to seminary

John-Paul Witt | Monday, April 2, 2007

Most Notre Dame seniors’ plans for life after graduation in May fall into the categories of starting a new job, attending graduate school or participating in volunteer service work.

But a select few will choose a different kind of service when they join a religious order after commencement

Senior Christian Hoeffel is currently applying to the novitiate in the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. This is the first step toward taking the vows of a member of the religious order.

Hoeffel said he has felt called to enter the priesthood since second grade.

The St. Edward’s resident said he chose to enter the Jesuit order, even though Notre Dame was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, because the Jesuits seemed a better “fit” to him than other orders.

“I looked into lots of orders, including the Jesuits and Holy Cross, before I made a decision,” Hoeffel said. “It’s like looking for colleges – I didn’t want to limit myself, but I think I found my calling with the Jesuits.”

Although Hoeffel did not choose Holy Cross, he said he found a great source of support for his decision to enter the priesthood since he has been at Notre Dame.

“I’ve never heard one person here say a bad thing about the Jesuits,” Hoeffel said. “There’s a big world outside Notre Dame, and the overriding issue is, how can we each best serve the Church?”

Another Notre Dame senior decided the best answer to that question is through joining the Congregation of the Holy Cross.

Dustin VonHandorf is part of Old College, Notre Dame’s undergraduate seminary program.

He got involved in spiritual life at Notre Dame by helping coordinate Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart during his first three years in college before he entered Old College in the fall.

VonHandorf decided to explore the priesthood after some people he knew encouraged him to consider it during his junior year. He said the first time he visited Moreau Seminary – where prospective Holy Cross priests are trained – his reaction was “I’m home.”

For students considering the priesthood, Old College is a way for them to explore their vocation, Old College Assistant Director Father Kevin Russeau said.

“Even if students in Old College don’t become priests, they receive formation to be good Catholic men,” Russeau said.

Unlike most dorms, Old College doesn’t have a football team, resident assistants or 40 new freshmen every year.

What it does have in abundance is “community,” VonHandorf said.

“Community here is very different from dorm life,” VonHandorf said. “Everyone wants to be here [at Old College]. No one gets put here randomly.”

Old College’s staff has a more hands-on role in the spiritual development of residents than most dorms, he said.

“We have weekly formation meetings with the staff, and one of the first things we do is choose a spiritual director,” VonHandorf said.

The spiritual director provides an important benefit to Old College life, VonHandorf said.

“They’re available to ask questions and talk about what’s on our mind when we need to,” he said.

Although VonHandorf entered as a senior, most Old College residents enter in their freshman, sophomore or junior years, and spend their senior year at Moreau Seminary.

There are 12 men currently enrolled in Old College, Russeau said, and while probably only one quarter of the men in formation at Old College and Moreau Seminary will profess vows as priests, there is a rising “interest” in vocations, Russeau said.

“It’s hard to point out a trend, but interest in exploring vocations in college seems to be increasing lately,” Russeau said.