Ryan priest-in-residence reflects on 35 years of living with Notre Dame students
Alysa Guffey | Sunday, February 2, 2020
Currently in his 11th year of living as a priest-in-residence in Ryan Hall and his 35th year living with students on campus, Fr. Joe Carey has been a part of the Notre Dame community for as long as he can remember.
Carey, a graduate of the class of 1962, was born into a legacy family — both his dad and uncle attended Notre Dame. He cites his family as a large reason why he ultimately chose Notre Dame.
Carey began college as an accounting major, but in his junior year, he felt a change of heart and a pull toward the priesthood.
“I started to feel a desire and see the appeal of working with young adults,” Carey said.
After his ordination in 1969, Carey taught at a Chicago high school for six years. Then, in 1977, he received an offer to return to Notre Dame and work in the Office of Financial Aid, a position he found rewarding.
“I think that God has called me to love a lot of people,” Carey said. “And when I worked in financial aid, I had this amazing job of helping people stay at Notre Dame who might have to leave because of family issues, the death of a parent, divorce or illness.”
When he returned to campus as a staff member, Carey became the rector of Dillon Hall, a title he would hold for 20 years. For Carey, being in a position of leadership was difficult as he struggled to enforce discipline while serving as a priest to his residents.
“I decided that discipline shouldn’t be just a totally negative thing, and so I would always talk to people on Sunday night,” Carey said. “I don’t know how many thousands of these conversations I’ve had, but we would talk about it from the perspective of how can this person learn from this experience.”
After his years in the Dillon community, Carey moved to Pasquerilla East Hall, where he was a priest-in-residence for four years. Then, Carey moved to Ryan Hall, where he has resided since the hall opened in 2009.
Carey said having the opportunity to build up the traditions of Ryan Hall has been “a joy and an honor.”
One of the traditions Ryan Hall has established is the popular “FJ’s” event on Tuesday nights — a weekly event named after Carey himself. Every Tuesday, approximately 30 members of Ryan bake a variety of sweets and open their doors to invite students from around campus to grab a quick treat and chat.
Carey describes the founding of the tradition as the first connection he felt to the Ryan community.
“Everyone was new to the hall in 2009 and this one student came in and said, ‘Oh, you have a great kitchen. Do you know how to bake?’ and I said, ‘No,’ and she said, ‘Can I teach you?’ And that was a profound question, because it changed my life,” Carey said.
Baking together is an activity that Carey feels has helped members of Ryan feel more connected to the dorm and to each other.
“A lot of people make their best friends by baking, and we’ve had some people who are transfers who didn’t know anyone, and they just kind of come in and get to know people,” Carey said. “We have some people who come and just sit and talk while people are baking, and it’s just as kind of like an openness that is really special.”
Carey said he believes “FJ’s” also allows the members of Ryan to share love to the rest of the Notre Dame community.
“It’s just one indication of the hospitality of this community, and the people who bake really feel like they’re serving,” Carey said. “You know, we talk about developing servant hearts, and they’re doing it for the sake of others. People come in and bake, some because it relieves stress for them, but it feels like they’re really doing something for someone.”
In addition to serving in Ryan, Carey works in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) as a chaplain on regional retreats that teachers in the program participate in over the summer.
“I go and meet [the teachers] and have a weekend with them where we reflect and pray and relax,” Carey said. “I also do some interviews and help support the staff here.”
Carey believes he has made the right decision to live with students for the past 35 years, and he cites Fr. Hesburgh as an influential figure who has motivated him to always focus on the students.
“I’ve seen a lot of different parts of Notre Dame, and I’ve always felt like my life at Notre Dame has been with students,” Carey said. “I see all of the things students here do and think that it is amazing … I see people here who have a wider worldview because they’ve done all of these things and they will continue to do more.”