Michael Infantine, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of interviews with men and women in the Notre Dame community exploring the topic of vocation. Here, Stacey Noem shares her story and speaks on her work as the Director of Human and Spiritual Formation for Notre Dame’s Masters of Divinity Program, as well as her vocation as a wife and mother.
Irish Rover: What work does your vocation entail here at Notre Dame? How do you live out your vocation working with the Master of Divinity students?
Noem: My vocation is to ministry in the Church. I am specifically called to build up the body of Christ in the Church through the formation of lay ecclesial ministers. My role in the Master of Divinity program is the human and spiritual formation of the lay candidates for ministry. This is done through topical evening formation sessions, individual formation plan composition and a rhythm of retreats and days of reflection, among other things. While that might sound like a lot of planning and event execution, my job really boils down to loving the students while holding them accountable.
What is your personal vocation story? What intermediary steps lead you to where you are now?
Noem: I came to Notre Dame as an undergrad in 1994, and I wanted to become a doctor so that I could serve in third world countries. I met my husband Joshua in my first class the first day of school my freshman year. By the spring semester we were together as a couple. By Junior Parents Weekend we were asking our parents for their blessing to get married. We were married in May of 1998 the day after finals, one week before graduation.
Part way through our senior year, Joshua and I decided that we would like to do post-graduate volunteer work together. In 1999 we were volunteers in Sitka, Alaska through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. Over the course of our time in Alaska, I recognized that I no longer felt called to serve through the medical profession. Soon after, we learned we were expecting our first child, so Josh started looking for full-time jobs. We decided to look for work in the Church.
Soon after Oscar was born, I was hired as the Director of the Diocesan Family Life Office in Venice, Florida. During a large family life conference in Washington, DC, in 2001, I had one of those clear moments of hearing God. For me it was a realization looking around this room full of ministers that I would love to do this work. My next thought was that I would need to be much better trained theologically.
In 2002 Josh and I returned to Notre Dame to begin the Master of Divinity program, graduating in 2005. We were then hired as campus ministers at the University of Portland. During that time we worked extensively with intentional faith communities at the university. That is how I discovered my passion for individual formation in community. We shared a job at UP until 2012 when I was hired to serve here in the Master of Divinity program.
How are you able to devote yourself fully to both your work with the Master of Divinity program and your family?
Noem: On the one hand, speaking to disposition, I have no challenge whatsoever devoting myself fully to my work and my family. That is the gift and natural product of solid discernment. I am simply by virtue of who I am completely devoted to both aspects of my vocation. I do not experience an internal conflict because I understand myself to be living in line with God’s will for my life.
On the other hand, speaking to practical living, I devote myself fully to family and to work in two ways: First, by determining and operating out of clear priorities. It is not as simple as saying that this is first, this is second, etc. It is more a sense of shared values that Joshua and I have for our life together and making sure in each instance to make decisions in line with those values.
Second, by establishing and maintaining solid boundaries. I think it is different for everyone, but for me personally, given the highly interpersonal nature of my work, I draw really rigid lines between work and family life in order to preserve each. So, for example, in the interest of maintaining our home as a sanctuary for our family, I do not host students or invite them over for any reason. I experience this as a bit of a loss in the sense of being able to show students the fullness of the hospitality I would like to, but the benefit to our family time and space far outweighs what is lost.
What role does prayer play in your vocation?
Noem: Personal and communal prayer are absolutely essential to living out my vocation. Personal prayer has been, is and will always be essential to my ongoing discernment of God’s will for my life and how to put my skills at God’s service. The form of my personal prayer has varied at different points in my life including such elements as the examen, Scripture often in the form of lectio divina, silence and time in nature. Communal prayer also plays essential and diverse roles in living out my vocation. For example, family prayer at night with our children both anchors our day and provides the space for intercessory prayer in our lives.
How has your conception of vocation changed over time?
Noem: I don’t think my conception of vocation has changed significantly over time. But that is a reflection of the very strong formation around the nature of vocation my parents provided me since early childhood.
What has changed is that I am beginning to see that while I can accurately discern and act in line with my vocation, I may not yet have come to its fullness. That is to say vocation is not an ending point or destination, it is itself the journey. And that is a very helpful realization because it can easily confirm that you are on track with your vocation when you love the journey.
Do you have any advice for young people discerning their vocation?
Noem: First, be gentle with yourself. Do not rush, and try to avoid ever making a choice out of fear. There are so many arbitrary deadlines in our young adulthood from academic calendars to application deadlines and impending graduation dates. They aren’t necessarily helpful or even conducive to assisting us in making a solid discernment of the next steps in our journey.
Next, find what you love to do, not just what you hope to be. Since discerning ministry in the Church and taking my first professional job in ministry, I cannot think of a day I woke up dreading going to work. Only the opposite, I look forward to what I do, even the hard stuff and the seemingly mundane. I mentioned this once to a dear friend and mother of three. She was floored. She loves to come home at the end of the day and hates to leave for work in the morning and doesn’t particularly love what she does, although she is very good at it. Work is only what facilitates her family life. For me, I love my time at home in the morning with the children before school. I love to go to work and look forward to it. Then, I love to come home at the end of the day.
Michael Infantine is a sophomore PLS major who, despite the best efforts of his boyish hormones, is going to try to grow a beard this No-Shave November. If you’ve got any tips for growing a long, luscious face-carpet, you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.