Sunday, September 15, 2019

Returning to Notre Dame: A Spiritual, Intellectual and Emotional Journey

Returning from Notre Dame after the home opener in football, I couldn't help but notice everyone posted much more than similar. near obligatory photos. Yes, we shared images of our view of the field—inside the stadium, the Dome in its golden glory and the early autumn skyline framing Touch Down Jesus. Beyond these iconic memories, however, I noticed my friends and classmates describe time on campus in a similar way. To some, it is their "happy place." Most reference it as "home." A friend told me it is my "spiritual homeland." I agree. Why?  To visit Notre Dame is to be nourished spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally—even 23 years after graduation. I hope others find that in their respective alma mater. I can however only speak to my experience. Here's how.
Spiritually: In spite of the fact it feels like a near pilgrimage to get to campus, the opportunity to return is always a gift. For the second year in a row, I returned in June (yay summer!) for the 2019 Play Like a Champion Conference. When I returned to the Bay Area, my real home I felt a little unsettled . My visit seemed incomplete. During morning prayer that week I realized why. I understood what was missing. I did not get a chance to pray at the Grotto.

The Grotto Beautification Project that began on June 3, 2019  made this sacred space inaccessible for several weeks. This prayerful place was fenced in for improvement to the main staircase and the installation of natural stone pavers/ new memorial benches. The necessary work of summer, however, reminded me that spiritual significance of the Grotto should never be taken for granted.

The Grotto is the spiritual center of campus. Students, faculty, alumni and visitors from far and wide go there to pray, light a candle, and lift their minds and hearts to God. Miracles happen at the Grotto. Prayers are answered. Peace comes closer. 

The reason I returned to campus mid-September is because I am now a regional representative for ND Women Connect and our annual meeting took place in the days prior to the New Mexico Game. Following one of our primary initiatives, "Campus to Career" the other leaders were piling in a car to return to our hotel. I said I was going to walk back; I wanted to visit the Grotto. Another woman asked if she could join me. There was nothing extraordinary or surprising about the fact the two of us, who just met the day before would opt to walk to this holy space, late at night. And what a sight to behold—the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on a warm September evening—replete with the glory of lightning. My trip may have been complete in that moment.
love this student artwork inside Duncan Center
Intellectually: A friend of mine teaches "Ethics in Sports" in the Mendozza College of Business. Reading his course syllabus alone offered enough intellectual nourishment for a week. I encourage my students to pay attention to the details; occasionally I follow my own advice and fortunately, I noticed that I would be on campus the same day he was hosting a guest speaker—an alum who worked in MLB. The good professor did the right thing and asked his guest if he was ok with a Sports and Spirituality teacher sitting in on the session (NB: this is a good rule to follow). 

The generosity of this speaker is not to be underestimated. Not only did he welcome me into the conversation, he shared his professional story with candor, humility and grace. Out of respect to the professor and the speaker, I will follow the shared understanding that "what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas" and keep the details private. What I would like to express however, it my sheer admiration for this speaker to impart the life lessons he did.

His journey from Notre Dame to MLB was compelling, his work ethic inspiring. Unfortunately, he made some bad choices and didn't get good advice. For the students to hear a message of this nature, one that is not your canned or rah! rah! Go Irish/We Got this!/You Can Do Anything/We are ND was jarring, important, essential and what an authentic education ought to provide. I am confident those students will not forget this class, the speaker, their professor and the importance of ethics in all of it.

Before class, I inquired about the demographics of the class—males and females, athletes and non-athletes. People ask me this same question all the time. The professor said he had a few basketball and football players as well as other athletes. He did not offer names or give specifics. Much to my delight, the quarterback walked in early for class and an outstanding wide receiver sat next to me. One day before the home opener and student athletes are doing what they are supposed to be doing: going to class. They are just like everybody else. I knew this, because I too was once a student who had class with high profile athletes; I just needed the reminder. Oh and it didn't stop me from saying "Good luck tomorrow, Clay."
Best small world story ever: Classmates in both preschool and at ND.
Emotionally: Returning to Notre Dame is a spiritual shot in the arm for countless reasons. Yes, this shot is spiritually and intellectually fortified but its emotional charge is strong. Why? I have always believed and still do: the best part of Notre Dame is the people.

To return to campus is to encounter old friends and new ones. Once it's out on social media that you are at ND, classmates and alumni can't help but chime in. "I am here too!" or "Call Me!." "We are tailgating in the South Lot, Pole 2." 

I make a point to meet up with beloved friends who work on campus. Football weekends must exhaust them, but they are forever generous in making a connection work.

This year, I had the blessed opportunity to meet 12 other outstanding women who also serve on the ND Women Connect alumnae board. We had 2.5 very full days of meetings and it was inspiring for me to learn about their unique stories, their ND experience, how their gifts and talents have been of use in their local chapters and what we can offer for our regions for the benefit of current female students—future alumna et al.

Leaving Notre Dame—that home away from home—is always bittersweet. I know however, I will be back...and when I return to this spiritual homeland Cheering Her Name, it will be with family and friends, old and new, ready for the opportunity to make new spiritual, intellectual and emotional memories—of the heart.

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