Is Notre Dame home?
Ashton Weber | Monday, January 20, 2020
On Dec. 13, 2017, these two words flashed across the screen of my phone and tears instantly welled in my eyes. They were written in a deep blue at the top of an email from ND Admissions. As I read them, I knew I was going to Notre Dame. I knew I was going home.
After four years at a high school where I felt that no one really knew me, I was ready to become a “whole new me.” A me who was understood, loved, connected and safe in a place with a glittery dome and a pretty Basilica.
Flash forward two years and I’m sitting in my room, tapping feelings into my laptop with a giant navy weighted blanket draped over my legs. I’m here at Notre Dame, but I’m still not sure if I’m “home.”
Honestly, though, what does home even mean?
A few months ago, I was in Mount Vernon, Kentucky, participating in an Appalachia seminar. My group and I were sitting around the living room of our dwelling for the week, listening to a woman named Timi talk about her region and her people — her family. She came from an area where many experienced poverty and suffered gravely at the hands of corporate extraction. Several of her peers would not graduate high school, let alone college. Against the norm, Timi did both — she did more, in fact. She continued her education all the way to the doctorate level. After graduating, rather than leaving for the big city and a large paycheck, she decided to use her education to better her community.
“It’s my home,” she said, “Why wouldn’t I come back?”
As simple as that.
But it’s never seemed so simple to me. I always dreamed of the day I could trade the suburbs of Ohio for the burrows of New York. The day rows of cornfields would become roads full of taxicabs and streetlights would become skyscrapers. The day I could run from the place I grew up into a place that was flashier and fancier and more exciting.
It’s a little perplexing that the first place I ran to when given a chance was Indiana — the cornfields and suburbs are ever-prevalent here too, but I guess the profound simplicity of Timi’s argument perfectly explains my decision. These are the things that I came from. They make up my comfort zone. Why would I leave?
Beyond just being a place, home is also built on shared values and similar thinking. It’s not just where we’re formed, but also who forms us and what informs us, where we feel our thoughts and beliefs are welcome.
A large part of my childhood and a large part of my home was the Church. I come from a region with a large archdiocese. I attended Catholic schools from first grade onward. My family engaged in regular Mass and prayer. But, as I left high school, I felt detached from the spiritual aspect of the Church. It still held a lot of value for me, as it was such an integral part of my upbringing, but it was also a place I no longer felt myself represented in. So, I ran away from it and into a school which was still Catholic (comfort zone) but where I would not be forced to practice Catholicism.
And I didn’t. Since I came to Notre Dame, I’ve stayed away from Mass and prayer. I stopped calling myself Catholic and I started questioning Church teachings more openly. A few months ago, I even wrote in this paper, “ I don’t have the strength to love the Church anymore, but I’m begging those who do to fix it.”
But if I’m being entirely honest, that sentence just feels wrong to me now. Because the only thing that writing it did was give me even more courage to join in on the process of fixing. I’m coming to realize that, whether I like it or not, the Church is a crucial part of the place I call home. And instead of ditching it, I should be focusing on how I can use my knowledge and passion and skills to help fix it.
I don’t think I can say at this moment that I love the institution of the Catholic Church. I don’t. And I don’t think that at this moment, I would consider it my home. And maybe I never will again. But I realize my obligation to the people I love who are part of it and the parts of who I am that come from it. I want it to be better for them and I want it to be better for me, so that I can feel proud of where I come from.
Perhaps this is part of the reason I find it so hard to call Notre Dame home. It’s a school so deeply rooted in the traditions that I struggle to accept and it’s a place where Catholicism informs our community. In many ways, Notre Dame — like the Church — is a broken home for students.
So, I’ve decided to carry the conversations this column sparked last semester into this year. Instead of “Welcome to Ashtown,” it’s going to be called “Broken Home” and we’re going to be diving deeper into what it means to be a Notre Dame student and what it means to question the institutions you’ve come from. There are many perspectives and stories of student life that often go unexplored, but it’s time to give them voice. Instead of running from my home and finding something “better” to call my own, I accept Timi’s challenge to be part of the solution for our roots.
Ashton Weber is a sophomore with lots of opinions. She is majoring in economics and film, television and theatre with a JED minor. Making new friends is one of her favorite things, so feel free to contact her at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.