Putting down post-graduation roots

In December of 2015, I received an email from the University of Notre Dame that linked to an acceptance letter which began, “Welcome Home.”  Four years later, my classmates and I now need to make another round of major decisions: where our next homes will be. Ironic that for a school which so stakes so much of its own identity on “home,” a nostalgic sense of Irish heritage, and legacy, is that so few of my classmates do plan to return to their own hometowns after graduation.

There can be legitimate reasons to relocate, but these stories are often accompanied with a lot of pain.  Rates of refugees and economic migrants have only accelerated in the modern world, and such situations are tragic.  Seeing as we are at Notre Dame, perhaps the most obvious historical example would be Ireland’s Great Famine, when some of our own ancestors had to emigrate from their homeland and some of their loved ones to avoid starvation.  

Genesis 12 also tells the story of a man, Abram, who was destined to leave his home country, his kindred, and his father’s house.  This action is recognized as such a great act of faith precisely because the ability to remain rooted in one’s ancestral land is such a good thing. If nothing else can demonstrate this principle, let the rootedness of the people Israel to their homeland serve as a worthy example. 

A call from God or such dire circumstances are, quite literally, a world away from what most mean today when they say they “need” to move for work.  However, establishing a life somewhere far from home, even only with the intent to stay for a few years, is still a major decision.  

Sometimes, these decisions are made for the most blasé of reasons: for the climate, to experience a particular flavor of urban life, or to “find oneself.”  Others may calculate that they can pay down college debt faster with a city salary, even with the typically higher cost of living. In my unscientific observations, however, the most common reason is to begin building in a career in an urban center believed to be brimming with opportunity. 

Most people’s first post-grad move is not meant to be permanent. It can be taken much too lightly, as part of the broader cultural phenomenon of extended adolescence.  What we cannot afford to overlook, however, is the inertia behind this “major adult decision,” the decision to leave home behind, no matter our short-term intentions.  

Our motivation for moving may be largely career-driven, but as human beings, we are not made primarily for work.  Our primary network is not professional, but personal; it should be our friends, our neighbors, and yes, even our fellow parishioners.  For some of us, it might even mean meeting a spouse!

In other words, we are putting down roots, whether we intend to or not.  Putting down roots is a wonderful thing, and absolutely something to celebrate.  Nonetheless, we need to recognize that what may seem like a minor strategic move at the time is quite likely to have an outsized impact on our lives.  We expose ourselves to a good thing, putting down roots, but perhaps not in the circumstances we would choose if we gave these “side effects” more conscious consideration.  

Settling back down where one is originally from is not some sort of nostalgic dream from a bygone era.  It is a great gift to be able to, one day, drive one’s children or even grandchildren around town, their own hometown, and tell them stories from decades before about your family history.

At the end of the day, though, we should do so with regard for how our families will be affected now and in the future, we will each have to make this decision for ourselves.  No matter where one lands after graduation, whether fifteen minutes or fifteen hundred miles away, whether for two years or twenty, we are to incorporate ourselves into our new communities.  There are countless ways we need to do this, but one very significant way for most of us will be entering again into regular parish life.

At Notre Dame, we are treated to what will be the pastoral experience of a lifetime.  We have an army of atypically youthful Holy Cross priests who say over 150 Masses each week for us, can hear a Confession basically anytime, and who can tailor superb homilies to a largely homogenous group of Catholic college students.    

When we do establish ourselves after graduation, we may be tempted to wish for exactly the same from our parishes.  A parish is not just a church building, however. It is a geographical area for which that local Catholic Church is responsible for as mission territory.  That means Catholics are expected to attend this local parish, even when it does not cater exactly to our preferences. 

This temptation could be the desire to “church shop” in the Catholic sense: to attend a geographical parish other than your own for the sake of liturgical preferences.  For others, the temptation will be to cease going to Mass altogether when the comfort, convenience, and uniqueness (read: un-catholicity) of dorm Masses disappear. We owe it to the localities where we will live, whether foreign or familiar, to resist that temptation.  It might be precisely our presence in those pews that the Holy Spirit might want to use to enrich such places. .  

And likewise, we should take very seriously the decision of where to begin our post-grad lives.  If we listen carefully, it may be that many more of us than we realize are called to the gift of being able to return home.

Julia McKeon is a senior very proud of being from Albany, New York.  On her first date with her now-fiancé, she spent over an hour explaining the history of Albany, in particular her dislike for former governor Nelson A. Rockefeller.  To critique or praise any New York governor, past or present, email jmckeon1@nd.edu.