Zahm brotherhood: Notre Dame’s greatest gift to me
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, March 18, 2021
As a 2019 graduate and former Resident Assistant in Zahm House, the University’s decision to dissolve the Zahm brotherhood leaves me gutted, heartbroken and shaking with grief. I feel as if a close family member whose friendship I counted on has suddenly passed away — an integral part of my identity has been forcibly erased.
I turn with even greater sadness to the first-years I welcomed to Zahm as an RA and to those new Zahm residents who followed them. Despite the lost opportunities and difficulties of attending college in a pandemic, these Men of Zahm carried the light of our community forward, making intentional efforts to communicate to all Zahm residents that they would be welcomed and cherished by Zahm’s community no matter the state of the world. Now, after making the loving choice to advance our community at every possible turn, these great individuals have been abruptly displaced and forced to live out the remainder of their Notre Dame experience without their brothers and their home.
Above all, I find my greatest sorrow in the loss of a decades-old passion for brotherhood and selfless love that lives within Zahm and within all who have resided there. I feel moved to share the stories of Xavier Murphy and Stephen Saunders to attempt to bring this passion to life once more.
Xavier Murphy was a Man of Zahm and a beloved intern for the Notre Dame football team who passed away suddenly from leukemia while studying to complete his degree in the fall of 2011. When Xavier passed on Oct. 11, “… the chapel in Zahm overflowed with close to 160 people for a Mass in Murphy’s honor. They then proceeded with candles to the Grotto, and many walked with their arms crossed to form an ‘X’ above their heads.” Corry Colonna, Zahm’s rector at the time, lamented that Xavier would not be able to see Notre Dame students and fans “Raise an X for X” live in the stadium on the Saturday after he passed. Xavier’s mom, however, spoke the truth for that game and for all future Notre Dame games: “He’ll be able to see it from heaven.”
Stephen Saunders was a cherished member of the Zahm community who passed away after a one-car crash left him in a coma in the summer of 1989. Stephen had just completed his first year at Notre Dame, where he had succeeded academically and made a home in Zahm. Stephen wrote from his room in Zahm: “The challenge of Notre Dame has made me realize before I even got here that I had better get some help from upstairs, if you know what I mean. I have become pretty good friends with God and the Lady on the Dome, and I soon discovered that they are good friends to have.” Stephen’s legacy did not end with his passing — he selflessly elected to serve as an organ donor, and his kidneys helped change the lives of two Iowans in desperate need of transplants. To his community, to his family and to the recipients of his generosity, Stephen was a beacon of love — “a gift of life.”
Reflecting on the words and stories of Xavier and Stephen brought me to tears at many points during my four years at Notre Dame, as it does today. Their stories remind me that the passion for brotherhood and deep, selfless love in Zahm was Notre Dame’s greatest gift to me. As I contemplate the consequences of the University’s decision, I pray that the impact Xavier, Stephen and Zahm had on me can somehow be restored for future Notre Dame students to cherish.
In the email announcement about the University’s decision, Erin Hoffmann Harding and other administration staff focus on Zahm’s purported “troubling culture” while devoting 10 meager words to the longstanding passion for good in our House community. These 10 words, “We also recognize not all residents have perpetuated this culture,” fail to identify the passion for loving brotherhood that defines the Zahm community. I can only fathom one 10 word response as appropriate: “Notre Dame by Choice. Zahm by the Grace of God.”
class of 2019
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.