Father Joe Corpora engages diverse community over pizza and conversation

Father Joe Corpora, CSC, is involved in the Notre Dame community in numerous ways: He serves as Associate Director of Latino Student Ministry within the Office of Campus Ministry, Director of the Catholic School Advantage Campaign within the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), frequent presider at Dillon Hall’s popular Thursday night Milkshake Mass.

Last year, Fr. Joe added another activity to his résumé by beginning what he dubs ‘Notre Dame Story Nights’ by inviting 10 to 12 students of the same class year—half men, half women, half Latinos, half white—to his room for an evening of pizza and conversation.  He asked them to share what he calls their “Notre Dame Story … how they heard of Notre Dame and why they decided to come to school here.”

Fr. Joe told the Rover what inspired him to begin this outreach.

“It is readily noticeable that the various cultures at Notre Dame do not mix easily.  You can see this in the dining halls and in other places,” he said.  “I’m not saying that there is no mixing, but there can certainly be a lot more.  And for the most part, there is no ill will, no desire not to … It’s just that people do not know how to do it.”

To address this divide, Fr. Joe held a series of dinners last year, the conclusion of which included a bilingual Mass on May 3 in the Dillon Hall chapel, followed by lunch.  Of the 99 students who participated in a Notre Dame Story Night, 56 attended the Mass.

Father Joe’s initiative has continued this school year.  So far this semester, he has held 7 dinners, five for freshmen and two for upperclassmen, which a total of 72 students attended.  He invites a diverse group of students—Latinos, Anglos, Asians, and African-Americans.  He hopes to do another 7 to 10 in the spring semester, with a concluding Mass and lunch for all attendees at the end of the year.

Sophomore Roberto Cruz participated in one of Fr. Joe’s dinners and told the Rover about his experience:

“Although some of the stories varied a lot I think the purpose was to try to find some connection with the other people in the room … There were two groups of people in the room and you could see that reflected in the type of stories people told and their experiences … While we only got to share part of our stories, it was about something that brought us all together, which was going to Notre Dame.”

“What I remember most about the meeting are the resonant trends in each of our Notre Dame stories,” said junior Jenny Poth, who participated in a Notre Dame Story Night last year.  “For instance, regardless of whether we were immigrants or not, came from public or private schools, came from low-income or affluent communities, lived in Badin or [Pasquerilla East], we all felt like coming to Notre Dame was the right choice because it led us home.”

“I wish there were more chances, like the dinner at Fr. Joe’s, to skip a bit of the small talk and just say, ‘this is part of my story, how I came to be where and who I am today,’” junior Tessa Laubacher said to the Rover.  “[Father] Joe brought together students from specific different cultures, but to me, the meeting was just about knowing the classmates who have been separated from me in some way, whether that was by culture, major, location on campus, or something else.”

Poth added: “In retrospect, I think the most lasting impact the night had on me was coming to realize that one responsibility that I bear as someone who calls Notre Dame ‘home’ is the obligation to create spaces at Notre Dame so that all others may enjoy the same gift.”

Cruz thinks that the event fostered an important sense of community: “There was a time and a space created for different people to come and interact, which I think is important for people to do on this campus in order to foster that bigger sense of community, because at the end of the day despite some obvious differences, we are all Notre Dame students.”

“These evenings have been moments of grace and at the end of each evening I always feel like I have been standing on holy ground,” Father Joe told the Rover.

“Each person’s Notre Dame Story is unique,” he explained.  “You hear stories like ‘since my grandfather was one of the Four Horsemen, I always knew that I would come to Notre Dame’ and stories like ‘I never heard of Notre Dame until I saw the name on a list of Questbridge schools.’  Beautiful stories, stories of faith and dreams.  And more than anything, people want to tell their stories.”


Stephanie Reuter is a freshman living in Welsh Family Hall.  She is excited to be attending Notre Dame Story Night in January.  Contact her at sreuter@nd.edu.