Responding to God’s Call at the Holy Cross Novitiate
Every time Campus Ministry director Fr. Pete McCormick C.S.C. appears on the JumboTron during a home football game, students immediately break out into an ecstatic uproar. His inspiring vitality reflects the influence of the Congregation of the Holy Cross at the University of Notre Dame, its founding order, revealing the ever-joyful face of Christ in the community.
While Fr. Pete’s charisma is personally distinctive, every Holy Cross brother or priest is called to model their shared charism of being “educators in the faith,” as outlined by founder Fr. Basil Moreau C.S.C. Discerning a vocation in Holy Cross as shaped by its charism and constitutions requires intense prayer and reflection. To accommodate this need, Holy Cross formation integrates a novitiate year.
The novitiate stage in religious formation occurs in many orders as a time to discern carefully if God is calling someone to that order before taking religious vows. The Holy Cross Novitiate, nestled in the mountains of Cascade, Colorado, takes place after the first year in seminary and provides the space to discern such a calling.
In an interview with the Rover, Fr. Pete noted, “The novitiate was an opportunity to be grounded in the notion of religious life. From that experience, I had an understanding of what it meant to be a Holy Cross religious, the charism of the Holy Cross, and how we are to treat each other in community.”
He emphasized, “What I would describe as the novitiate more broadly is [being] afforded the chance and the time to ask some foundational questions: Who am I, who is God, and how are we in relationship? And those questions go deep and wide. We live now in a fast-paced society, and the novitiate is truly countercultural in that it requires you to slow down.”
Keenan Bross C.S.C., a seminarian in his first year of vows, recalls remembering all of his dreams while at the novitiate, a testament to the measured pace of life there.
Fr. Bill Dorwart C.S.C., religious superior at Our Lady of Fatima House and retired Navy chaplain, served as the Novice Director for the novitiate for 20 years. He told the Rover, “At the heart of the novitiate experience—because it is God’s call and God’s work—is silence. People struggle with that initially.”
Regarding the daily schedule, he reflected, “There is a structure and a rhythm and a routine that invites. the period of silence and meditation, the work period, where you go out there and get your hands dirty, then you have the common table. At the novitiate, everybody has to cook for everyone else. If you show up and you don’t know how to boil an egg, you get paired with somebody, and that’s your work period for the day.”
He continued, “The mentality is if [we] can’t feed people and provide that nourishment at the common table, we’d be deceiving ourselves if we thought that we could be a source of nourishment at the Lord’s table.”
The novices’ schedule remains the same day to day. “Repetition goes back to the emphasis on silence and common prayer. The structure of the novitiate invites muscle memory of soul work,” Fr. Bill said.
Peter Puleo C.S.C, a seminarian in his third year of vows, described his time to the Rover as “an explosion of grace—truly coming to see myself as God’s son and invited, through my vows, to be His spouse.” He remarked that novitiate was “intense, close, and repetitive.” “There’s no vacation. It doesn’t force an encounter with God, but it creates a space [for encounter] through the structure of prayer,” he said.
Echoing Puleo’s sentiment, Alex White C.S.C., a seminarian in his second year of vows, said, “Novitiate is made to force a crisis in your life … and the difficulty is a newness of stillness. [Novitiate] throws you into a void and then gives you a space to hear the voices that are often drowned: your own and then God’s. In the midst of that, you are introduced into Holy Cross spirituality, and I got the chance to discern if this was something that could support me for a lifetime.”
Reflecting on the period of intense discernment, White highlighted his experience praying the Liturgy of the Hours in common with his brothers. He said, “On days where I felt my heart wasn’t in my prayer, the fact that I had other men praying beside me whose faith was evident [and] whose voices were strong was super uplifting.”
Likewise, Fr. Bill shared he “carried the same experience of community forward with him even as the sole C.S.C. chaplain on an aircraft carrier.” “As a navy chaplain, there’s no other Holy Cross priest within hundreds of miles. Though I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours with no one, I was not alone.” He said, “Because of the repetition and routine, you hear voices next to you, behind you, and you [remember] what that person’s going through in their life. That kind of community can come back to you, and you can return to it.”
Overall, Fr. Pete acknowledged his experience of novitiate as foundational in cultivating a relationship with God: “The beauty of the spiritual life is that it has a way to change the way we look at the world. We are able to take on the posture of how God hopes that we might see what is created.”
Luke Dardis is a freshman from Louisiana majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies. Passionate about his vocation as a student at Notre Dame, he enjoys chatting with fellow PLS students, attending daily Mass in the Basilica, and having meaningful conversations with his dorm mates way past his bedtime. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo credit: Marigreen Pines, home of Holy Cross novices in Cascade, Colorado in 1923 – Sanborn Photo