Conference focuses on holistic holiness, hosts lectures on fiction and faith

The Identity Project of Notre Dame (idND), a student club, hosted the 2022 Edith Stein Project Conference at the University of Notre Dame on March 18-19. This year’s conference was titled: “Wholly Holy: Body, Mind, and Soul Seeking God.”

Hannah Smith, president of idND, described the conference, saying: “I think the kind of intimate community that’s formed over the course of the weekend is what set our conference apart from any of the other conferences at ND because the issues we discuss are so dear to the heart of every human person, and we strive to cultivate authentic dialogue at the intersection of theoretical and practical theology.” From food, to friendship, to formation, the Edith Stein Conference offered the nourishment to be wholly holy.

The conference first focused on how fictional stories shape who we are, then considered who we are as embodied men and women created in the image of God. On Friday afternoon, Sr. Julie Benedicta Turner, FSP—known as the “media nun”—presented the opening talk: “Fairy Tales and Superheroes as Models for Disciples.”

Sr. Julie drew scriptural connections to several well-known fairy tales and superhero stories, including Cinderella and The Fellowship of the Ring, explaining that the lives of their protagonists give us a glimpse into the life in Christ. Both tales consist of transformation, mission, communion, and fulfillment, she argued. The audience sees transformation, for example, through the 2015 adaptation of Cinderella, in which Ella is able to stand before her king in rags because she has shown him her deeply integrated and virtuous interior, Sr. Julie explained, referencing Phillipians 4:8. Similarly, she outlined how the audience sees communion in The Fellowship of the Ring, where Sam looks out for Frodo and not himself, drawing on Phillippians 2:3-4. As Sr. Julie put it, these stories are the Gospel retold.

In a subsequent lecture, speaker Sr. Jane Dominic O.P., a member of the Saint Cecilia Congregation of Dominican Sisters of Nashville, Tennessee, spoke about how stories shape moral action in her talk, “Beauty, the Body, and the Moral Imagination in Classical, Medieval, and Modern Literature.” Sr. Jane posited that literature has the noble and weighty task of forming the moral imagination so we can act virtuously, explaining that literature presents characters who will attract us to the good. It instructs, delights, and moves the soul. As Sr. Jane emphasized in her talk, this shaping of the moral imagination goes far beyond the individual, for individuals form marriages, marriages form families, and families form society.

Beyond considering the mind and imagination, Sr. Helena Burns’ talk, “The Masculine and Feminine Genius,” emphasized the centrality of the body in the call to holiness, despite the common error of conceiving of holiness apart from the body. Rather, she argued, holiness and the body go together. Sr. Helena explained that the outward form of our bodies is not merely incidental to who people are given and do not necessitate proof. Men do not have to prove their manliness through strength, nor women their femininity through beauty, she said. Rather, she continued, these gifts shine purely by virtue of an individual’s humanity. Sr. Helena offered a message of hope and healing that speaks to the goodness of individuals as created male and female, in the image and likeness of a God who is love.

Fr. Edward “Monk” Malloy C.S.C., president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, gave his keynote on receiving insight from “The Lives of the Holy Ones,” both saints and other exemplars, turning from fiction to fact. He explained how, in the lives of people such as Mother Teresa, Edith Stein, or Immaculée Ilibagiza, Christians receive insight into our own baptismal commitment and recognize that their stories “can be our story too.” He presented their lives as clearly attainable models, stating that “sanctity consists in responding generously to God’s call.”

Friday evening ended with EXALT adoration and an ice cream social. At the closing banquet on Saturday, attendees sat down to converse over a meal and thus were fed in mind, body, and soul.

Anne Marie Bollman is a sophomore majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology. If she’s not busy reading, you can probably find her practicing her British accent and talking about Pride and Prejudice with her roommate, Vanessa. To debate the best film adaptation (obviously BBC 1995), you can contact her at

Photo credit: Sourced from video recording of Sr. Helena Burns’ talk at the 2022 Edith Stein Conference, The Identity Project of Notre Dame