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Students take leap of faith

Sarah Mervosh | Wednesday, April 29, 2009

When asked as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, instead of saying he wanted to be an astronaut or baseball player, senior Simon Carian said he wanted to be a priest. And unlike most, he never grew out of his childhood dream.

Carian, along with a few other Notre Dame graduates, will be joining the seminary to become a priest after graduation.

Fr. Ed Obermiller, a Holy Cross priest in the Office of Vocation, said he knows of at least four men entering religious life in the fall, outside of Old College, the program for undergraduates who are discerning to become priests in Holy Cross. There are nine men entering religious life from Old College, he said.

“I know that there are more out there, I just don’t know who they are,” Obermiller said.

Obermiller said he has no knowledge of how many women are entering religious life.

Carian, who lives in Morrissey Hall, said his time at Notre Dame has helped him prepare for priesthood because he has learned how to interact with and understand all types of people.

“Saint Paul says somewhere that you have to be all things to all people. If that’s true for all of us, that’s especially true for a priest,” he said.

“A priest has to be somebody who is approachable, somebody that you can trust, somebody who is respected but also somebody who is very human. The sort of guy you might go and have a beer with,” Carian said. “This place really has helped me to grow in sort of the human element, which is so important for a priest.”

Carian said there are also social benefits to studying on the Notre Dame campus.

“Here at Notre Dame, you learn how to interact with and be friends with normal people,” Carian said.

Senior Andy Bulso, who is joining the seminary to become a diocesan priest after graduation, also said living in the dorms at Notre Dame has helped him in his preparation for priesthood.

“Just having that experience of living in the dorm kind of gives you experience or knowledge of how life in the dorm kind of plays out,” Bulso said. “Especially in terms of the drinking culture and people’s attitudes towards sex. Just getting to know regular guys in the dorm and making friends with people.”

“So when in the future if I’m working with college students, I’ll have been there. I can say this was my experience and first of all, establish that kind of connection with the person and second of all, be able to understand better where they are coming from, and therefore be able to advise them better.”

Carian said he came to Notre Dame with the intention of becoming a priest, however when sophomore Sarah Johnson was applying to colleges, she “had no idea” that she wanted to become a sister, and applied to Notre Dame “just because I thought the campus was pretty.

“It was kind of random. Notre Dame was the only Catholic college that I applied to,” she said.

Johnson said before coming to Notre Dame, the only time she had wanted to be a nun was in kindergarten.

“In kindergarten, I wanted to be a nun because my teacher was a nun,” she said. “But it kind of went away for like ever. I never thought about it until I came here.”

Though only a sophomore, Johnson will be graduating early next year in order to teach at a Catholic school for a year and then join a cloister.

Johnson said her experience with the sacraments and the Catholic community at Notre Dame helped her make her decision to become a sister and graduate early.

“I was going to do four years, but I just realized looking at how many credits I had … I would have enough credits next year without taking extra credits,” she said. “When Peter heard the Lords call on the boat he didn’t wait around.”

When asked if she was nervous about making a life-long decision at an early age, Johnson said, “it is kind of freeing. Once it gets closer I’ll probably have the jitters [but] when you are so excited about giving your life to the Lord, it’s hard to be nervous.”

Sophomore Margaret Schreck is becoming a sister, but has chosen not to graduate from Notre Dame. She will enter a convent in Nashville, Tenn., in August where she will get a degree in elementary education.

Schreck said when entering Notre Dame she planned on being a doctor and intended to stay all four years and then go on to medical school.

“I guess I realized that that’s not what I really wanted to do. I would be a good doctor and I’m sure it would be a fine way of life but that that’s not what would really fulfill me as a person,” she said.

“It’s going to be difficult of course, to leave this place. It’s beautiful and I have so many friends here. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye to,” Schreck said.

One of the major issues students consider when making the decision to enter religious life is the sacrifices they will have to make, particularly the vow of life-long celibacy.

“One of the biggest ones for me is not having a family,” said Bulso. “When you’re growing up you kind of want to have a family. When I was here I did date just to kind of make sure.”

“It’s a challenge. Living a celibate life, if that’s not a challenge, and not a sacrifice for you, you’re not the sort of person who would make the best priest,” Carian said. “I think the sort of people who would make the best priests are also the sort of people who are going to make the best husbands, the best fathers.”

Carian referred to something his Archbishop said to him to explain how he felt about not having a family. His Archbishop has a brother who has four children, and told Carian, “There are four people in this world that call that man father. But everyone in this world calls me father.”

“You are almost having like a bigger family that you couldn’t have had otherwise. Even though it is a different kind of family, not a biological family but a spiritual family,” Bulso said.

Obermiller said it is not typical to enter religious life right out of college, just as most people do not get married right after college.

Seventy-five percent of the men who enter Holy Cross have done some work or life experience before they enter, he said.

Carian is most excited about the fact that as a priest, his job will not just be a job he leaves at the office at the end of the workday, but he said “you are always a priest. You are always doing what a priest does.”

Carian also explained how people in the religious life get to participate in the momentous events in others’ lives.

“You are with people and involved in people’s lives in all the great moments of their lives. Somebody gets married, you’re there. Somebody had a baby, you are there to baptize them. Somebody is dying or their loved one is dying, you are there for them,” Carian said. “These are the great moments of human life. How cool that you get to be involved in peoples lives and at those times.”