The ages and legacies of some dorms, ranging from Walsh’s 100 years to Ryan’s rookie season, are a key source of the unique traditions found on campus. But there is yet another student community which is much older, much smaller, and perhaps more vital to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity than any other dorm: the Old College Undergraduate Seminary. Old College, or “O.C.” for short, is that small, 167-year-old house on the side of the hill next to the Log Chapel, tucked neatly between Bond Hall and St. Mary’s Lake.
Led by Fr. Kevin Russeau, Br. Ed Luther, and Fr. Stephen Koeth (all Holy Cross religious), Old College is currently home to 22 Holy Cross College and Notre Dame students who are seriously discerning a vocation to the priesthood, particularly in the Congregation of Holy Cross. However, Old College is much more than just a house of discernment. Because it is truly an undergraduate seminary, the Old Collegians live seminarian lives, spending time together each morning, evening, and night in communal prayer, Mass, and Adoration. Weekly house meetings bring in guest speakers (usually a Holy Cross priest or brother from a unique field of ministry) to speak with the men about the challenges and joys of ministry.
There are weekly treks to Moreau Seminary to have Mass and dinner with the older seminarians and Holy Cross religious; not only does this offer a chance for everyone to catch up with each other, but it also builds community among the Holy Cross community on campus by allowing the Old Collegians to experience how they would live as a Holy Cross religious. Junior Ryan Pietrocarlo praises the opportunities to talk with “guys that are older and further along in their formation and are much closer to the priesthood than me, providing me with great examples to follow.” These aspects of the program prepare the men of Old College to continue on to the more advanced stages of formation in the Congregation of Holy Cross.
Recognizing the simple fact that these men are still college students, ample time is allotted for the Old Collegians to study extensively, spend time with friends, and even to take part in multiple extracurriculars. To cite only a few examples, freshmen Joe D’Agostino and Dan Cruickshank play on dorm hockey teams, and sophomore Brian Kennedy and junior Joe Sheehan are highly visible members of the Marching Band. Many times, the house forms its own team or group to compete against other dorms that boast much larger talent pools, and still manage to be competitive in these arenas. For example, the house had enough athletes to field two Bookstore Basketball teams for this year’s tournament. Although these teams only won a handful of games, there are several people who have lamented the fact that the OC’s team names, “The Five Glorious Mysteries” and “The Papal Bulls,” were not in the Top 10 for the entire tournament.
Although Michigan is the best-represented state in the house, there are seminarians from all around the country: the West Coast (California. Arizona), East Coast (New York, Florida, Pennsylvania), and the states in between (Montana, Texas, and Minnesota, to name a few) all have strong showings.
The contributions these men make to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame are indispensable. In addition to serving Mass at the Basilica and assisting other students in organizing Eucharistic Adoration, several of the men hold leadership positions at both Notre Dame and Holy Cross College. For example, Juniors Ryan Pietrocarlo and Matthew Hovde were ND Vision leaders this past summer, and sophomore Braydn Harsha is currently the Spiritual Commissioner for ND Right to Life. All the men commit to a weekly ministry placement; this includes visiting infirm priests and brothers at Holy Cross House, tutoring, leading FIDES, teaching CCD classes, and coordinating Masses and rosaries next to the South Bend abortion clinic.
Even for the handful of men who spend a semester abroad at the American College of Louvain (the American seminary in Belgium) with older seminarians, many opportunities for ministry exist. When they are not taking retreats in France or making pilgrimages to Assisi and Rome, these juniors help coordinate daily Mass and prayer and participate in ministry within the town. Additionally, they are taught how to write beautiful religious icons; this year, they worked on icons depicting Mary and St. John in order to commemorate the Year of the Priest. Because of all this, it is small wonder that Pietrocarlo calls this overseas experience “a good stepping stone to Moreau Seminary”. These experiences cultivate their love for the faith, which in turn shapes the vibrant witness they provide when they return to Notre Dame. Finally, it is important to realize that enrollment in Old College mirrors the rise in Holy Cross vocations in recent years; down to a mere handful of men five years ago, the house’s ranks have swelled every year since then to include 22 seminarians, with seven more coming next year. This influx of vocations will put the house at capacity for the first time in years.
Even for the men who ultimately are called to a different vocation than that of a Holy Cross priest or brother, the integration and contribution to the Catholic life of campus leaves a lasting impression on all those who pass through this house—and, hopefully, it also leaves an impression on those with whom they work. Dan Cruickshank says it best: “Regardless of what your vocation is, your time spent here will help you find it and live it better.” Let us hope and pray that the Old College Undergraduate Seminary continues to be a strong source of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity for many years to come.
Junior and third-year Old Collegian Mike Palmer is the Treasurer for the ND Right to Life Club, as well as the Inside Guard for the ND Knights of Columbus. He will be crossing the pond to live at Moreau Seminary next year as a candidate, but is willing to accept “volunteers” to ferry him across St. Joseph’s Lake to class every day. He can be reached at email@example.com.