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Seniors discern futures, pursue religious life

| Friday, May 19, 2017

After founding the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Blessed Basil Moreau, along with other priests and brothers, landed in southern Indiana in 1841. The group trekked to South Bend in 1842, where they cleared the trees, dredged the lake to create two and began creating “brother bricks” in the river, Fr. Neil Wack, director of vocations for the Congregation of the Holy Cross, said.

“This University was built on the blood, sweat and tears of the Holy Cross brothers, and also the priests,” Wack said. “[Moreau] had the idea of being the family of the Holy Cross under one founder, Blessed Fr. Moreau, with his charism, ‘educate the mind and the heart, but never educate the mind at the expense of the heart.’”

Though many students pass Corby Hall and Moreau Seminary — two buildings used by the successors of the brothers who laid the bricks of several buildings on campus — without even knowing what they are used for, the buildings hold deep significance to seniors such as Ryan Kerr and Brian Vetter. Kerr and Vetter plan to enter religious life after graduation with the Congregation of Holy Cross.

For a year following Commencement, Kerr, Vetter and others will enter a year of formation with the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The year of formation is a time in which those who are called to religious life take classes, pray and further discern their vocations, Wack said.

In order to be accepted, Kerr and Vetter, as well as other applicants, underwent a vigorous orientation process. The process includes a lengthy application, interviews, psychological evaluations and a spiritual autobiography in the vein of St. Augustine’s confessions, Wack said.

“We ask that they come and see for a weekend to see what life is like in the community, go to class, go to mass, go to prayer and just to hang out and see if this feels like home, a community where you can live and die with,” he said.

Wack said Notre Dame prepares men and women entering religious life and way of thought through the theology and philosophy requirements, and — perhaps more importantly — the environment.

“Our charism is ‘educators of the faith, educators of the hearts,’” he said. “A big part of how we do that is by living where we work … we live with the students, which is kind of unusual. … We get the opportunity to serve in a different way, they get the opportunity to experience the religious life and the priesthood in a different way and see us as being something more than far away, unapproachable and — heaven forbid — uninteresting.”

Kerr, who majored in theology and English with minors in constitutional studies and business economics, lived in his dorm, Keough Hall, for all four years as an undergraduate. Kerr said he has been in touch with the Holy Cross vocations director sine his sophomore year of high school.

“I went back and forth between religious life and married life and different kinds of religious life,” he said. “For a long time I thought I would be in a more contemplative order — a Benedictine community.”

However, his experiences in his dorm, namely with his rector, Fr. Pat Reidy, and Wack — who has lived in Keough for the last two years — gave him a greater understanding of Holy Cross and helped him realize his calling more fully, Kerr said.

Kerr and Reidy both moved into Keough in the same year, when Reidy had not yet been ordained a deacon. Kerr was able to see Reidy take his final vows with Holy Cross, Kerr said, as well as witness him perform his ministries as rector.

“One hundred and fifty of us were at his ordination, and I think that that sparked something really significant for me that I couldn’t replace,” Kerr said.

Noting that the Catholic culture and dorm community on campus had the biggest impact on the realization of his vocation, Kerr said the education he received in his undergraduate years at Notre Dame has been equally beneficial in preparation.

“Being in the theology department, some things really changed my spiritual life that I learned in class,” he said. “And within the English major, I was able to learn to engage in things that I wasn’t used to, in a way that I wasn’t used to and articulate myself in a new way.”

Members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross live in community wherever they work, Wack said, be it a soup kitchen or a university such as Notre Dame. Kerr said this aspect of it drew him to the congregation.

“Holy Cross is known for its fraternity and community — for Holy Cross, it’s kind of like their hallmark,” Kerr said. “I ended up being drawn in by that and realized that God had been working through my life pretty actively, through my stubbornness to get me here. Even just wanting to go to Notre Dame was part of God calling me to [the] Holy Cross community. When I was 10, I decided I was going to Notre Dame, and I kind of lived my life to that end.”

The fraternity that attracted Kerr to the community also appealed to Vetter, who majored in science pre-professional studies and theology, and has lived in Alumni Hall for the past four years, which he said greatly influenced his decision to join the congregation.

“I wouldn’t be joining Holy Cross without the awesome community of Alumni Hall,” Vetter said. “Throughout my discernment, I realized that my most authentically joyful moments have taken place when I have been in community with my Alumni Hall brothers. For four years I have lived with a large group of guys who — because of our strong emphasis on community and identity — manage to accept and love one another in the midst of our flaws and wide-ranging personalities and lifestyles.”

Vetter said this community taught him more about himself and how to live his own life.

“This has taught me how to love, and has drawn out my best self,” he said. “I’ve learned that this is a charism that flows directly from the religious life of Holy Cross. If I want to be my best self and cultivate a close relationship with God, I need a strong community to support me.”

Echoing Kerr, Vetter spoke of his discerning process and time at Notre Dame as an overall positive experience, and advised all students to keep an open mind about their vocations.

“Discerning a vocation to the priesthood has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it has been an experience of profound joy,” he said. “The more I have opened my heart to it, the more peace and joy I have experienced. So be open and never forget to pray for an open heart, because without prayer it won’t be possible.”

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