Volunteers welcome visitors into the beauty of the Catholic faith at Notre Dame

With a majestic baroque altar, an impressive reliquary chapel, and exquisite frescoes, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is one of the most frequently visited sites on the Notre Dame campus by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Every day (except for Saturday), visitors to the basilica can be accompanied by a tour guide free of charge. 

Fr. Brian Ching, C.S.C., the rector of the basilica, told the Rover that tour guides have served in the basilica since 1990. Fr. Brian said, “The basilica is certainly a beautiful building, but that beauty is also meant to convey a message about who we are, who God is, and the relationship that God invites us to with him.  This would have been a bit more intuitive at the time of the basilica’s construction, so today it is helpful to explain some of the meaning behind the basilica’s style and adornment so that the richness of people’s encounter with the Lord in the basilica is deepened.”

Katie Pelster, Coordinator of Basilica Tours and Hospitality, explained to the Rover that people volunteer to become tour guides. Around 35 of them are from the community, and 10 are students; the only factor that really distinguishes the two groups is that students do not serve during breaks. Pelster expressed that students had always been welcome to serve as guides, but Campus Ministry only began to publicize the opportunity last academic year. 

Pelster, who has been in her position for Campus Ministry for about one year, shared that she was excited to accept her current position. Before coming to work at Notre Dame, she researched art in her spare time. 

Pelster emphasized that “everybody is constantly continuing to learn” when discussing the training for the volunteer guides. Guides receive instruction about core stops in the basilica, shadow others, and read books. One such book is Stories in Light: A Guide to the Stained Glass of the Basilica at the University of Notre Dame (published in 2020). The main resource for guides is a book entitled A Spire of Faith: The University of Notre Dame’s Sacred Heart Church by Thomas J. Schlereth, which is no longer in print, so Pelster emails a copy to guides. “[This book] is the only comprehensive history of the basilica alone that we have right now, so it is able to go into lots of details about the building that other Notre Dame history books don’t cover.” Guides also have the freedom to focus on researching their own interests in the basilica.

Matt Hansen, a current junior, served during the spring semester of 2023. He told the Rover that he was motivated to join the ministry because he “wanted to immerse [him]self more fully into the beauty and richness of the basilica and its history.”

Hansen shared that his most memorable experience as a guide was his first tour, which included an alumni named Jack who graduated from Notre Dame around 70 years ago. Jack clearly had a focus on heaven and told stories about his time at Notre Dame. Hansen remarked, “As a college student, my interactions with the elderly are sparse, so having this opportunity was incredible and reminded me of my greater calling. … I’ll never forget Jack and will keep him in my prayers!”

Hansen’s experience as a tour guide served to deepen his faith. “Ultimately, being a basilica tour guide allowed me to enter into deeper communion with God by entering into a fuller understanding of my surroundings and how they contribute to my understanding of Him.”

According to the basilica website, it is least frequently visited during the first three months of the year. The website also includes a virtual tour of the basilica. Tours are available in the mornings and afternoons on weekdays and in the afternoons on Sundays. 

Kathryn Bowers recently dropped an empty coffee cup while biking. Email her (with common sense advice, suggestions on where to get coffee, or really anything) at kbowers2@nd.edu.

Photo Credit: The interior of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Wikimedia Commons

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