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Seniors enter religious life post-graduation

| Friday, May 13, 2022

While a large portion of the class of 2022 looks forward to the beginning of successful careers in the workforce upon graduation, at least eight Notre Dame seniors will be taking vows of poverty.

Three seniors will be entering formation for religious life in the Congregation of Holy Cross, the order of priests and brothers who founded and continue to administer Notre Dame. Two men will join the St. Joseph Province of the Dominicans and one other is planning to go the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. Two Notre Dame women be entering formation as well: one to the Sisters of Life and one to the Religious Sisters of Mercy.

Fr. John DeRiso, the director of the office of vocations for the United States province of Holy Cross, accompanies men between the ages of 16 and 34 who are considering a religious or priestly vocation.

“Every year the Church is blessed to have Notre Dame seniors applying to formation in religious communities or in dioceses,” DeRiso said.

Though Notre Dame is brimming with talented, creative, hard-working and loving students of diverse backgrounds, it takes a special kind of person to discern God’s calling to a consecrated life, DeRiso said.

“It’s about an encounter with the person Jesus and feeling and believing that one is called to follow the Lord Jesus in a particular way as a valid religious or as a priest,” he said.

In addition to the Old College undergraduate seminary, dubbed as “the smallest dorm on campus,” Notre Dame supports two discernment groups for men, an annual pilgrimage to Rome and backpacking missions. DeRiso explained that the “formation programs aim to assist men in answering God’s call and then to aid in forming them to be great ministers for the people of God and also to be conformed to Christ more and more.”

Jordan Chang, a physics in medicine major “for the fun of it” and a resident assistant (RA) in Stanford Hall, is one senior who has begun applying to the Congregation of Holy Cross. Chang, originally from Carmel, Indiana, is a member of the liturgical choir and will also graduate with a theology supplementary major and philosophy minor. Despite this background, he says that it was not until the pandemic hit that the idea of entering religious life started to pop up on his radar.

As the son of doctors and coming from a large extended family full of medical professionals, Chang expected to go to medical school well into his sophomore year at Notre Dame.

“The idea of service was impactful for me wanting to go into the medical field,” Chang said.

In time, Chang remarked, the “love of physics drew me toward the beauty of creation.” Chang said his academic pursuits compelled him to contemplate the powerlessness of the self, realizing that there was something greater than him that he needed to depend on and have a personal relationship with.

Over the course of the COVID-19 lockdown, Chang described having more “time for prayer and thinking about what I want to do in my life. This desire [for religious life] kept growing and growing and a lot of it connected with the idea of the complete giving of yourself to serving people, to people of God and the Church.”

Chang recalled that his experience with the Notre Dame community has included daily Mass, adoration and various methods of prayer such as the Lectio Divina. He says these events have aided him in hearing God’s call. Singing during the Easter Triduum this year after being unable to do so the past two years due to the pandemic was one of Chang’s highlights of his time as an undergraduate.

Having not connected well with the older priests at his middle school, Change has appreciated “being surrounded by young energetic priests that are relatable.” Fr. Pete McCormick, director of Campus Ministry and former priest-in-residence in Stanford Hall, was cited as an inspiration and a witness to the joys of the priesthood.

For many, the most difficult part of swearing vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is giving up the ability to start a family. Chang noted that he has found consolation in the fact that as a priest he will gain spiritual children and walk with people on their spiritual journey, helping them grow in ways he would have not been otherwise able to do.

“I found a lot of joy thinking about being free of worldly things to truly give your entire love to the community and the church so just that idea of the complete gift of self to serve God and the people stuck with me,” Chang said.

Chang reflected on how his experience as an RA made him realize his desire live in a community of brotherhood, observing how dorm communities at Notre Dame are built off the Holy Cross community structure.

“Each religious community has a particular charism and spirituality,” DeRiso said. “So, for Holy Cross, we would say our charism is to serve as educators in the faith and our priests are consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.” 

If Chang’s vocation is accepted by the Congregation of Holy Cross, he will enter Moreau Seminary for formation in the fall, just a few skips from his current home in Stanford Hall.

“All our journeys are just kind of trying to accept God’s will in our lives,” Chang said. “God has given me the gifts he’s given, set this vocation in my heart and has granted me the ability to carry it out.”

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