Theme focuses on student vocation

“All those who seek truth,” Edith Stein wrote, “seek God, whether this is clear to them or not.” Edith Stein, also known as Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was a German-Jewish philosopher who wrote on the identity of the human person, in particular the identity of women. Edith Stein is the patron saint of the annual Edith Stein Project Conference, which took place February 10-11, 2017 in McKenna Hall. The conference theme, “The Student’s Vocation: Human Identity and the Path to Sanctity,” addressed key questions regarding the role of a college student, femininity, and the need for authentic relationships today.

The entirely student-run conference was organized by the co-chairs of the Edith Stein Project, Notre Dame seniors Bridgid Smith, Ann Gallagher, and junior Molly Weiner along with members of their club, Identity Project of Notre Dame (idND).

After opening remarks from the co-chairs, Emily Sullivan, Northeast Program Manager for Endow, discussed the Virgin Mary as an inspiration for the student in her talk “Mary Queen of Scholars: How the Life of Our Lady Illuminates the Student’s Vocation.” Sullivan stated that “Mary’s earthly life was moment by moment all about desiring and loving the truth—her incarnate son Jesus Christ—and facilitating an encounter of truth for all those she meets.” She cited well-known artists, such as Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Waterhouse, who depict Mary as a receiver of divine knowledge, often with a book nearby.

Sullivan further drew on Dante’s Paradiso, in which Saint Bernard of Clairvaux tells Dante to ask for Mary’s help to see the truth more clearly. The vocation of the student involves, “the pursuit of truth, even in secular subjects” Sullivan remarked, and “is intimately tied with the desire of Dante: to behold the utmost truth in eternity and in the meantime to catch glimpses of Him here on earth.”

Suzy Younger, Supervisor and Responsible Practitioner of St. Joseph FertilityCare Center, explored the meaning of true femininity in her lecture, “Restoring the Feminine Heart.” According to Younger, society no longer understands what femininity truly means. Building upon Edith Stein’s philosophy, Younger stated that a woman belongs “wherever she’s called to go” in society, and that “it’s not about what we do for a paycheck, it’s our eternal vocation.” Younger then delved into what “eternal vocation” entails, according to Stein’s characteristics unique to women.

Also touching upon femininity, in her lecture “The Feminine Heart,” Sr. Faustina Maria Pia, S.V., concluded that “true beauty is something that radiates out from the truth of knowing our own goodness of who we are, and not for any talents that we have or anything that we’ve done but for who we are.” She emphasized the generosity of heart that women in particular possess.

Sophomore Grace Enright shared her experience at the conference with the Rover, “As students” she said, “it is so easy to get caught up in the grind of tests and papers, as well as the hopes, dreams, and fears of the future to come. The wonderful thing about the Edith Stein Conference, especially this year’s theme of the student’s vocation, is that it reminds us that we are all called to be saints right here, right now.”

Notre Dame professor Leonard DeLorenzo compared the abilities of the eye to spiritual “skills” in his talk “The Saints and Student Life: Singularity of Focus and Generosity of Spirit.” He presented a modern-day problem many students face and the “remedy” offered to us by saints. DeLorenzo discussed Saint Teresa of Avila, whose work The Interior Castle describes the soul in terms of a diamond or clear crystal palace in which God rests. He further stated that her call to draw one’s attention together interiorly allows us to be truly present to those around us.  

In her talk “The Mystery of the Charity of St. Edith Stein: Being and Beings in Communion,” Notre Dame professor Jennifer Martin considered three questions: Who is God? What is Love? Who am I? Each question, Martin explained, blends into the other and raises more questions. God is love, and so the most genuine form of love, mutual self-giving, is therefore divine. Martin drew on Stein’s philosophy of being to shed light on the mystery of our individual human identity.

Before the talk, Martin handed out white stones to the audience members. The image of a white stone, she later explained, comes from St. John’s Book of Revelation. In Revelation, God gives the “victor” a white stone, upon which a “new name” is inscribed that belongs only to the one who receives it (see Revelation 2:17). While there are many different interpretations on the meaning of the white stone, Martin said she favored Stein’s interpretation: that the stone reveals one’s truest and deepest self—a unique, unutterable identity.

Around 250 people registered for the conference. Other invited speakers and panels for student presentations also participated. The keynote given by Sarah Swafford explored emotional virtue and the difficulties of relationships today.

Notre Dame sophomore Siena Mantooth told the Rover, “ [I] attended Sarah Swafford’s talk on emotional virtue. I was not quite sure what to expect, but I was amazed to discover the accuracy with which she explained the hostile social environment of today regarding relationships. What really struck me was the value she placed on goodness and acting against the social norms. Others find virtue attractive, and we need to support each other in this quest for virtue and goodness.”

Another sophomore told the Rover, “The different talks gave me very practical ways of carrying out my vocation as a student and made me rethink my attitude towards my studies and my relationship with others. For example, Dr. Laracy urged us to think of our studies as a way of spending time with God, who has called us to be students at this point in our lives. This attitude liberates us from worries about our grades and future outcomes, and instead allows us to focus on what we’re called to do to in each and every moment.”

Visit the Edith Stein Project website to find out more about the campus club and conference.

Sarah Ortiz is a sophomore PLS and classics major living in Lewis Hall. She also enjoyed the conference, especially spending time discussing these important topics with friends, enjoying the glorious sunshine, and definitely not avoiding her homework… She is the current club president of idND and if you want to be involved with idND and the Edith Stein Project please, please contact her at