I was driving home with a friend who was staying with me for the Project’s duration. We had just dropped another friend off at the Sacred Heart Parish Center, after the three of us, along with others, had enjoyed some R&R at Rohr’s in the Morris Inn following the Project’s completion.

Now just the two of us, I turned to my friend in the car and asked how he felt now that the conference was finished.

He was quiet for a few moments. Then he sighed, looked up at the ceiling and said, “sad.”

I can relate to my friend’s melancholy. After such a wonderful weekend spent at McKenna’s Conference Center, the prospect of classes, homework and deadlines inspired the resigned sense of, “Well, the magic is over. Back to business as usual.”

Yet mingled with my own sadness was a joy that gave rise to calm. The ninth annual Edith Stein Project was a resounding success, and I know that I am not alone in stating that it has been and will be a highlight of my year at Notre Dame.

So much could be said in praise of this year’s Project, an event of which far too many Notre Dame students continually fail to take advantage. (To speak to a demographic to which I belong, every theology student should attend the Project, barring serious scheduling conflicts.) But in the interests of brevity, here are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why I loved this year’s Edith Stein Project.

1) The presentations—They were fantastic. Oriented around the theme of “Relationships and the Call to Love,” each speaker, from his or her own perspective, tackled contemporary problems with relationship, and offered reflections on how to restore and build up relationships in the modern situation. Most of the presentations will be made available online soon.

2) The food—Donuts for breakfast? Yes. Sorry, mom.

3) The students and speakers from other schools and areas of the country—I find it refreshing and invigorating to meet and talk with peers from other colleges and universities, peers who have gathered on campus to discuss pressing topics in the context of shared commitments.

4) The booths—Set up throughout the McKenna atrium, these “information centers” provided opportunities to purchase a variety of books, learn about the respective organizations or groups to which many of the speakers belong, chances to make new personal connections and friendships, and more.

5) The Masses—Project attendees packed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart both days (Friday and Saturday) to celebrate our faith and enjoy two excellent homilies by Fr. Terry Ehrman, CSC, and Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC.

6) The conversations—In every nook and cranny of McKenna (which is deceptively spacious, especially on its second floor), Project attendees gathered during breaks and presentations alike to explore further the thoughts evoked at the conference.

7) The community—Many fellow students—from Notre Dame and elsewhere—expressed gratitude, joy and even sometimes relief at being in a space where faith is deeply and openly explored, and where each attendee shares with every other attendee a deep commitment to faith as a foundation for healthy relationships.

Edith Stein Project co-chairs (and Rover editors) Caroline Reuter and Madeline Gillen pose for a photograph during a break in the action
Edith Stein Project co-chairs (and Rover editors) Caroline Reuter and Madeline Gillen pose for a photograph during a break in the action

8) The number of young people present—The vast majority of Project attendees were 25 or younger. We face a cultural environment that is either openly hostile to, or simply provides little or no cultural support or script for, living Christian lives authentically. We find and embrace in each other’s presence and witness sources for an increase in faith, hope and love.

9) The Project organizers—are entirely inspirational themselves. They have worked since last spring—over half a year—at preparing this Project, and they certainly enjoyed little rest during the course of the weekend. I am especially proud that the Project co-chairs, Madeline Gillen and Caroline Reuter, and the president of idND, Liz Everett, are members of the Rover‘s editorial staff. I am humbled and privileged to work alongside Catholic leaders of such caliber and dedication.

10) Simply put, the Edith Stein Project is an occasion and source of great grace. Where two or three—or 350—are gathered in Christ’s name, Christ is present in their midst. I speak for many people when I say that the Project has strengthened my will, encouraged my moral growth, enriched me with prayerful relationships and awakened in me a greater desire to know, love and serve God, his Church and the beautiful truths in the name of which we gathered together on campus this weekend.

My personal gratitude goes out to all of the Project organizers, to the presenters, speakers, moderators and chairpersons, to the attendees, and to the many people with whom I spent this weekend: Your witness and goodness humble me deeply and are sources of strength for me.

I strongly encourage any student at Notre Dame who finds what I write here desirable to attend the Project in the future.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross—Edith Stein—pray for us!