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Who’s Who: Pete Hlabse



If you tuned in to our last Who’s Who, you learned about a leading lady at the ICL. Little did you know that an equally awesome gent spends his working days just two floors above. Meet Pete Hlabse, graduate of the Notre Dame Class of 2011 and the newest addition to the Center for Ethics and Culture team. Transitioning from a position at the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism to the CEC is just one small step for him (the two centers lie across the hall from each other) but one giant leap, too. This week, I had the chance to sit back with Pete and chat about his upbringing, journeys around the globe, and homecoming.

Pete grew up in a suburb south of Cleveland, Ohio, as the youngest of three brothers. His mother is a Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic and his father a Roman Catholic. When asked about how the two interacted within the context of his home and liturgical settings, Pete said, “The two were totally complementary. Although I learned the liturgy in the Byzantine rite, I also attended Roman Catholic school, taught by Irish nuns in grade school and Jesuits in high school. From this standpoint, I got to see how two traditions develop within the local and global church.” Through this integrated religious experience, Pete developed liturgical sensibilities of the Eastern tradition and was drawn into the atmosphere of Catholic education rooted in the western tradition. Pete went on to conduct a spiritual exercise of his own, reflecting on his life even more than his day, “I worship like St. John Chrysostom, but I think like Aquinas.” (Note to the reader: Pete was penitent immediately after having said this, for shame of having associated himself with two insanely intellectual and influential saints. I assured him that the good and gracious Roverites would find no fault in his aspiration.)

Pete’s older brother, Andriij—Ukrainian for “Andrew” or “Andy”—attended Notre Dame and graduated in 2006, while Pete was still a junior at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. Pete was drawn to imitate his brother’s path, since he saw that the Notre Dame experience allotted a sound theology and philosophy program as well as true and lasting friendships. However, Pete did not get into Notre Dame at first. Instead, he attended Loyola University of Chicago. During his freshman year, however, the flame for Notre Dame was not vanquished, and after another application, he was admitted. Beginning his sophomore year here, Hlabse took up the two things he wished to grow in: faith and friendship. He studied theology and philosophy in the Catholic tradition, what then-participants called “the MacIntyre minor.” Two of his senior year classes, namely, “God, Philosophy, Universities” and “God, Philosophy, Politics” were actually taught by acclaimed philosopher and current CEC faculty Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre’s reflections on John Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University was so influential on Hlabse that he became convinced Catholic higher education was for him.

Following faculty advice and the tide of his undergraduate life, Pete decided to earn a master’s degree in Higher Education from Boston College. From 2011 to 2013, he studied the history and philosophy of higher education, including Charles Taylor’s work on secularization, Michael Buckley’s work on the development of atheism, and MacIntyre’s work on virtue ethics. “It was good for me to get out of Notre Dame after being an undergrad and to live and study in Boston. It is a setting where I had the opportunity to encounter and engage many perspectives and traditions of thought.”

Pete planned his studies and perspective further by attending a graduate program at Oxford that would begin in 2014. He reached out to a fellow alum who was pursuing her postgraduate degree in theology there. Little did he know that, instead, those conversations would lead Pete to change course from Oxford and end up in South Bend in a matter of months.

Beth graduated with Pete in 2011. They studied theology and shared friend groups. Pete shared an awesome story about their first real encounter: “I was going to go to Legend’s with my friend, and he accidentally double-booked himself with a trivia team. So, he asked if I’d join them. Beth was on the team. I sat across from her and we talked (trivia-d) most of the night. I was walking with her to LaFun afterwards and we started talking about a film we both were captivated by (as shown in a class the two had together entitled, “Politics and Conscience,” taught by Professor Mary Keys), Sophie Scholl—The Final Days. It’s about a group of young persons who championed the place of their conscience and faith in the context of the 1940’s Nazi Germany. They were ultimately executed for their beliefs and actions. I told her after the movie I had to sit in silence for about 2 hours to process it. She said the same. It was pretty surreal.”

Who knew that trivia could bring two so close together? Beth went on to Oxford and Pete to Boston College, but the two reconnected in South Bend more than three years after their graduation from Notre Dame.

“I knew I wanted to get some on-the-ground experience in university administration,” Pete told the Rover. “I had the terrific opportunity to work with the Office for Mission Engagement in Church Affairs under Fr. Bill Lies, C.S.C., and Chuck Lamphier for one year. During this internship, I got to assist with some amazing projects. I helped administer a board meeting in Rome, and was able to meet Pope Francis.”

It was during this time that Pete and Beth reconnected, dated, booked a wedding date at the Basilica, and got engaged (Pete said, “Check the timing: sometimes you have to book the Basilica before you get engaged!”).

On June 26, 2015 in the Basilica, Beth took Hlabse as her last name (as Pete noted, afar more complicated last name than her maiden name of ‘Simpson’). Foremost in the spirit of lasting fidelity and secondarily in the fatigue of wedding planning, Pete facetiously told her, “I’m never doing this again.”

After transitioning together from South Bend to Wyoming to Ohio, the two eventually made their second homecoming to Notre Dame. Beth was offered a position at the Kellogg Institute and Pete at the Cushwa Center, then at the Center for Ethics and Culture.

Pete left me with a piece of advice expressed in the most articulate way that we all should open our ears to hear every day. “An essential part of living a faithful life convinced of Providence,” namely, that at every moment and at every place God’s love is supreme, “is being willing to be surprised. Be surprised that you don’t get into ND, that after studying something as an undergrad you pursue something different as a graduate, that you will reconnect with someone amazing you never thought you would see after graduation. Be willing to be surprised. There is a certain humility in that. Answer the call of what is being offered to asked of you. All the mental calculations about your next few steps are much more limited and limiting than taking the leap of faith. Even if it’s not part of your original ‘plan’ of how you anticipated your next week, month, year, or five years to look—be surprised by what God offers you and imitate Mary in saying fiat—in saying, “Let thy will be done.”

Tierney Vrdolyak is a senior studying the Program of Liberal Studies and theology, with a minor in business economics. You can catch her in the library at all hours this week tip-typing away on her thesis due this coming week. If you’d like to send her a much-appreciated motivational speech in this hour of need, please direct it to tvrdolya@nd.edu.

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