Campus Ministry student leaders discuss current findings from the Spirituality Study


Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a two-part series following the Spirituality Study, and focuses on the studies undertaken by student leaders.  A follow-up article will discuss conclusions and recommendations, to be released April 14.

Who is the Notre Dame student?

This January, Campus Ministry (CM) launched a semester-long quest to identify what unites and distinguishes individuals under the dome.  Under the leadership of the newly appointed Director of Campus Ministry, Father Pete McCormick, CSC, and Assistant Director John Paul Lichon, five student-led committees engaged with their peers, campus groups, and peer universities to gain insight into the spiritual needs of Notre Dame students and how CM can serve them.

The Spirituality Study committees include Student Life Input, Retreats and Pilgrimages, Spirituality, Collaboration, and Benchmarking.  Members of these groups have been putting their heads together to share the findings from their studies, and the Rover sat down with them to discuss what they have found thus far.

As students gear up for the final few weeks of the semester, the committees have begun reviewing drafts of the final document of observations and recommendations, to be shared with all of CM and released at the end of the semester.

Jordan Russell, a senior theology and psychology major, leads the Student Life Input committee in holding focus groups and meeting with individual students and campus groups to discover “who Notre Dame students are” and share their findings with the other committees.

After several weeks of the study, Russell’s committee identified a parable with which they can conceptualize types of students at Notre Dame.  Based on the parable of the sower and seed, her committee formed four profiles of students to describe where along their spiritual journey they might be, including those who have fallen on rich soil and may have a strong relationship with God, or those who have fallen aside and may have misunderstandings of the Church.

Russell hoped this would move their thinking away from such categories as “the business student” or “the atheist student,” allowing CM both to approach the study and minister to “reach all students, wherever they are in their faith journey.”

“At the end of the day, with the study and the work that we do, Campus Ministry is always trying to uphold what the Church stands for and teaches, while trying to have a good understanding of who our students are,” Russell concluded.

The other four committee leaders echoed the goal that CM hopes to achieve, through the study and beyond, to reach as many of Notre Dame’s daughters and sons as possible.

Laura Gauthier, the Retreats and Pilgrimages committee chair, said that students have expressed two common desires for their lives and relationships: vulnerability and authenticity.  She expressed her hope that CM be a safe space, both physically and personally, where any and all students can encounter God.

“We want people to understand it as a place where they can come in and not have their masks on or walls up,” she told the Rover.

Gauthier, a senior studying theology, said that her committee evaluates current Campus Ministry programs and uses information from the other committees to determine the needs of students and how CM can shape its retreats and pilgrimages to serve those needs.

Duncan Campbell, a senior studying theology and pre-med and serving as the Spirituality committee chair, pointed out the importance of spirituality for all students, Catholic or not.  “Every person on campus has a spirituality, whether or not they call it that or recognize that that’s what it is,” he shared with the Rover.

He said that a central idea driving his committee and the Spirituality Study is the realization that “everybody has a spirituality that’s rooted in a particular restlessness of desire.”

Campbell and Gauthier noted a close relationship between their two committees and have identified students’ need for an everyday spirituality.  They hope to incorporate low barrier points of entry and everyday spirituality into CM programming.  With low barrier points of entry, CM will be more approachable to students who may feel intimidated by the time commitment of a 30-hour retreat, or deterred because they feel like they are not part of the “retreat crowd.”

“We’re figuring out different ways to address what might be addressed on a retreat, in non-retreat settings,” Gauthier told the Rover.  Campbell added that Campus Ministry will continue to provide retreats as opportunities for intentional separation from the “busyness” that characterizes many Notre Dame students.

Campbell expressed his particular interest in fostering the daily spiritual lives of students, and resisted the idea of retreats as a break from “real life.”  He told the Rover,I think we have that backwards.  Your real life is actually the place where you can feel rested and rejuvenated and connected to the people around you. … It’s that idea of taking what transforms you on your retreat and making it a part of your daily spiritual life.”

Notre Dame students are busy students, enriched by the academics, athletics, arts, and activities that drive their passions and make them unique.  How can CM reach students when they are constantly racing between classes and meetings and rehearsals and practices?

Reagan Li, a senior political science and sociology major, is helping Campus Ministry reach out to all realms of student life by leading the Collaboration Committee.

The purpose of his committee, Li told the Rover, is to establish and develop relationships with both university level organizations (such as the Center for Social Concerns, Gender Relations Center, and Theology Department), and also student level clubs and organizations (such as Student Government, Hall Presidents’ Council, Right to Life, and Knights of Columbus).

The Collaboration Committee was created with the understanding that Campus Ministry “can’t do everything” and that spirituality is formed by the passions with which students fill their time.

“We want people to recognize and value spirituality in whatever they do, whether it’s intellectual life, relationships, or service,” Li told the Rover.  By reaching out to various university and student groups, CM also hopes to reach people who wouldn’t normally walk through their doors.

The Benchmarking committee, led by senior theology and Spanish major Grace Carroll, has conducted research by visiting and interviewing Notre Dame’s peer universities, most recently Yale, Texas A&M, Franciscan University, and the University of Chicago.

They have also interviewed high schools with particularly active CM programs in order to better anticipate what future students will desire in terms of spiritual growth and personal relationship with God.

In addition to some of the observations made by other committees, the Benchmarking committee has noted the importance of personal relationships in ministry, of service and social justice, of a wide spectrum of spiritual and social opportunities, of a large student gathering space associated with CM for students to “just be,” of a student board for pitching new ideas, and of student-driven ministry.

Carroll emphasized the uniqueness of the liturgical life on campus.   “Attendance and participation in dorm Masses are astoundingly high.  (And, we have Basilica Masses with student choir groups and student lectors and [Eucharistic ministers].)  I believe it is imperative to promote and strengthen this campus tradition,” she told the Rover.

Carroll said that these observations have prompted her committee to ask questions such as: “Why is dorm Mass so well attended, but Campus Ministry retreats are not?  What brings students to Mass each week—community?  Convenience?  Rest and renewal?  How can we support the growing number of seniors living off-campus in their faith lives?”

The identity of the Notre Dame student was different four years ago, 20 years ago, 73 years ago.  Notre Dame has been called “home” by men and women, Catholics and non-Catholics of different backgrounds, talents, and interests.

Given students’ constantly evolving diversity, CM has a monumental task to identify, reach, and serve a large group of individuals.  However, the mentors and students who form Campus Ministry are well equipped to serve students who desire vulnerability, authenticity, and spirituality in their daily lives.

Victoria Velasquez has discovered that the Anchor lounge in CoMo is a very welcoming and well-decorated (nautical-themed) place.  If you can’t find her, look for her there, or email her at