Students spend time in creation and prayer to discern

Over fall break, 17 undergraduates, two Old Collegians, three Holy Cross seminarians, one Holy Cross Brother Scholastic, and one Holy Cross priest ventured into the untamed lands of the Cranberry Lake Wild Forest in New York’s Adirondack State Park on the third annual Holy Cross Backpacking Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage, offered through the Holy Cross Office of Vocations, was an opportunity for prayer, silence, adventure, discernment, and fellowship. The trip consisted of four days of backpacking followed by a day of rest and contemplation at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada. 

The trip aimed to encourage young men at Notre Dame to consider God’s will for their lives. This includes both vocational discernment and the goal of becoming more virtuous men. The participants were encouraged to reflect during the retreat on the specific, unique man that God is calling each of them to become. During the preparatory meetings, the students shared their motivations for attending the pilgrimage—many expressed similar hopes of becoming holier men. Additionally, many sought peace and silence away from the chaos and commotion of life on campus. 

Potential backpackers had to fill out an application that asked them about what they are currently discerning in life and if they were physically able to participate. The website noted that the trip would include “7–10 mile days with a 25lb + pack,” “daily Mass and Liturgy of the Hours in the outdoors,” and “reflection on the gospel of creation.” Before the trip, the accepted applicants gathered for two hikes, two evening prep sessions, and two gear checks; most of the equipment necessary for the hike was provided by Holy Cross.

Participant Jack McEnery shared his thoughts with the Rover on the vocational nature of the trip: We often think that our vocation is some hidden ‘x marks the spot’ on a map which we must carefully try to discern through thought and prayer, then when we find it our lives are more or less set. This is not quite right, because holiness is the true end of our lives, and all possible vocations are various trials which lead there.” 

McEnery concluded, “A trip like this gives unique insight into Holy Cross community and charism, because one sees how the brothers work together, pray, and have fun as a community in a really unique, hands-on way. Abstract ideals like ‘brotherhood’ and ‘education’ are instantiated in a really genuine, raw sort of way on the trail.” 

Keenan Bross, C.S.C., the seminarian who organized the pilgrimage, told the Rover that the 2023 group was the biggest one so far. In years past, the group hiked in Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee and the West Rim Trail in Pennsylvania. He shared that he and Aaron Morris, C.S.C. started the backpacking trip because “We know from our own backpacking experience that the wilderness is such a privileged place to encounter the living God, become convicted of his unique love for us, and respond to his call for our lives.” 

Bross shared that the two were aware that “discerning a religious vocation can be intimidating at first, especially the idea of meeting with a vocations director or visiting a seminary. So the pilgrimage is designed to have a low barrier of entry—who wouldn’t want to spend a week in the woods with a bunch of good Catholic men from Notre Dame, anyway?” 

Bross emphasized the camaraderie he hoped to build between the students and the Congregation of Holy Cross. “By literally walking together with four or five of us men who are living the vows as we pray together, navigate the trail, and share brotherhood, they see what it would mean in the concrete to be part of our community.” He asked, “Would living and working with these Holy Cross men be the abundant life Jesus is calling me to? Come and see!”

Kathryn Bowers is a southerner who loves orchards and pumpkin spice. You can reach her at

Elliott Kirwan is a sophomore from Silver Spring, Maryland. He loves hiking in the mountains. He loves Notre Dame. Notre Dame has no mountains. You can console him at

Margaret Mathis is a junior studying classical languages who plans to become an attorney. She runs a dress-hemming business out of her dorm room and enjoys hand-stitching Cicero quotes or the Notre Dame leprechaun onto everything she owns (which qualifies as “fair use” according to U.S.C. Title XVII Ch.1 § 107 [1]). Reach out to her at

Photo Credit: Br. Liam Johnson, C.S.C.

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