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Fencing

Fencing chaplain embraces Notre Dame spirit

| Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Notre Dame fills a special place in Stacey Noem’s heart. Although she currently serves as the chaplain for the prestigious Irish fencing program, the spirit of Notre Dame has been instilled in her since her youth.

Although she grew up in Florida, both of her parents were undergraduates at Notre Dame, so she was a huge fan despite the far distance.

“When I was young, living in Florida was so far away from here,” Noem said. “Being in Florida, you have Florida State University, University of Miami and big, loud, branded schools. When I wanted to buy athletic clothes for volleyball or basketball, my parents refused to let me have anything that wasn’t Notre Dame. So even though you couldn’t find it in Florida, they would order something from Notre Dame or find it when we were up there.”

One of Noem’s best memories of Notre Dame came in 1993 when she was a senior in high school and planning on attending Notre Dame the next year. She had the opportunity to see the No. 2 Irish face the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles in what many coined as “The Game of the Century.”

“I totally skipped homecoming my senior year just to come to this game which was the right choice for sure,” Noem said.

The Irish ended up beating the Seminoles 31-24, and the victory was an amazing experience for her.

“I was just mesmerized by this game,” she said. “Everyone was in that stadium for more than 30 minutes after the end of the game. The students were all over the field. The fans stayed in their seats and everyone stayed and cheered.”

Noem attended Notre Dame the following year on a pre-med track. In addition to her studies, she found her love for fencing during physical education classes at Notre Dame. She ended up walking onto the team her junior year and competing for the next two and a half years.

After graduating, she married her husband who also went to Notre Dame, and the two of them worked as Jesuit volunteers in Alaska. After returning to Florida for a couple of years, they decided to return to the University.

“We wanted to work in ministry, so we both came back to get our Masters of Divinity degree, which is a theology graduate degree,” Noem said. “We did our degrees here and then worked in ministry for seven years before coming back to Notre Dame again.”

When Noem returned to Notre Dame, she was offered a position as the chaplain for the fencing program.

“Since I had been a fencer and had some of the same training as the Holy Cross priests, they chose me,” she said.

As the fencing chaplain, Noem has a variety of duties such as meeting with team coaches and advisors, dropping into team practice, attending home meets and being there for the student-athletes.

Noem said fencing has an interesting dynamic because it is the second-largest team at Notre Dame following football, and it draws kids from all over the world.

“People are choosing fencing when they come here. They’re not choosing the University of Notre Dame for its Catholic character,” she said. “So to be a chaplain for anyone who is atheist to agnostic to Jewish to Christian to non-practicing Catholic to practicing Catholic is a wide variety.”

One of the most important duties for Noem is being a fan of the fencers, especially because fencers typically don’t have the same cheering section as other Notre Dame sports.

“I get to be one of their fans and say that the University is invested in you — not just because of what you do on the strip but because of who you are as a person,” she said. “Also I’m here to cheer for you. I’m behind you 100%. I think I might fulfill the role of a fan more than another chaplain might.”

Noem also talked about some of the fun traditions the fencing team participates in such as a beginning of the season Mass, Grotto runs, team dinners and, of course, winning national championships.

She has plenty of fond memories from the multiple national titles the fencing team won, but her favorite memory is of the 2017 title run where the Irish were up big going into the final day of competition.

“Going into Sunday’s competition in 2017, we were ahead by more points than anyone had ever won by in a fencing championship,” she said. “It only took one or two bouts to clinch it, and it was a senior woman captain who capped off the victory. She ended her Notre Dame experience on the fencing team by getting enough points in her bout to put us over the top and win the championship, which was a very culminating experience.”

Another moment Noem remembers fondly is sabre fencer Mariel Zagunis. Zagunis attended Notre Dame after winning the gold medal in the 2004 Olympics and went on to win the 2006 sabre national championship and contribute to the 2005 team championship with the Irish.

“In [the] 2012 [Olympics], she was chosen to be the flag bearer for the United States,” Noem said. “So as a woman who fenced for Notre Dame, to see another woman fencer from Notre Dame representing the United States of America was a really big moment.”

During her roughly six years as chaplain for the fencing team, it is clear that Noem made a large impact on the team. Notre Dame has always been center stage in Noem’s life since her youth, and as fencing chaplain, it continues to be that way.

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