Freshmen take first trip to Grotto

From The Observer

Bearing candles, programs and prayers, members of the class of 2018 packed the Grotto on Monday night for the Freshman First Visit to the Grotto, a prayer service that helped introduce first-year students to faith life at Notre Dame.

“It’s just a great way to begin the school year,” Stephen Spittle, a Keenan Hall freshman, said. “It’s a nice community thing. It’s a nice way of showing a support group, showing that there’s other people who believe what you believe in, and there’s always some place for you to go.”

The service consisted of readings, speakers, prayers and songs, including the Alma Mater. Kate Barrett, the Campus Ministry assistant director of residential hall liturgies, estimated that around 1,200 people attended the service, about the same number as the 2013 trip but up several hundred from previous years. Barrett said she hoped the Grotto would be an illustration of the importance of faith at Notre Dame.

“I hope that [the freshmen], over the course of the whole orientation but concluding at the Grotto, see their faith as a real component in their time at Notre Dame and that they have a desire to make that important to them,” she said. “It’s going to take a different shape for every person, but I hope that everyone here in their own way will feel a renewed commitment for growing in their faith. It’s a really important part of being a student at Notre Dame.”

Megan Burin, a first-year student in Pasquerilla West Hall, said the Grotto gave her “a better appreciation of Notre Dame.”

“I just wanted to get a sense of community, and I wanted to do something as a class, and I think this place is a really special place to do it,” she said.

Freshman Maddie Organ, who also lives in Pasquerilla West, said the trip put her at ease for the coming semester.

“I was nervous for classes and everything else to start [yesterday], but coming here it was nice to know that [the Grotto] will always be here no matter what we’re going through,” she said.

Barrett said the 35-minute service was the result of coordination among Campus Ministry, the Folk Choir and hall Resident Assistants and Frosh-O staffs, who handed out candles and programs and guided students into the Grotto.

“You can’t get 1200 people in one place at one time without a lot of people helping,” she said. “It’s very much a group effort.”

Senior Shannon Hagedorn, the service’s student speaker, encouraged freshmen to cultivate their faith by finding a special place on campus in which to reflect and to value relationships with people at Notre Dame.

“You’ll be surrounded by amazing people,” Hagedorn said. “They’re there in the light and in the shadows, helping you truly shine, and you’ll be there for them too. At Notre Dame, you will find and be tremendous models, mentors, inspirations and travelers. I have been challenged more than I had been before, but also lifted higher and supported more than ever before as well. I have seen others experience the same.”

Noel Terranova, the rector of Keenan Hall, encouraged freshmen to use the Grotto, modeled after the spot in France where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette, as a place of comfort and celebration and a reminder of the generations-long faith community at Notre Dame.

“That is why you are holding a burning candle in your hands right now. It is a symbol of the light of Christ . . . as you prepare to embark on the journey of your Notre Dame experience, know that there will be difficult times . . . when this happens, know that there is a community of support to help you here at Notre Dame,” Terranova said. “As a rector, I can say go to your rector, talk to your rector, we can help.

“But at the bottom of all of our struggles there is a restlessness deep within ourselves that can only be encountered in a place of stillness. So when that struggle comes, find your candle. Come to the Grotto. Sit in the stillness. Look within yourself. As your face is lighted and warmed by the flickering of the prayers of others, know that you are not alone.”

Flora Tang, a Breen-Phillips Hall first-year student, said she hopes to take advantage of faith life while at Notre Dame.

“I want to get stronger in my faith, and also get stronger action-wise, like getting into service or making wiser decisions,” she said.

Spittler said he hopes to achieve grow personally during his four years at the University.

“I really want to be able, when I’m done with these four years, to be able to say that these four years have meant something to me, and while I don’t necessarily know what that means, I want to be able to look back and say that those years changed me and those years changed how I look at the world and at different situations and made me evolve as a person,” he said.

University kicks off year with Frosh-O

From The Observer

As members of the incoming Class of 2018 pack their last bags and begin to converge on campus from all over the world, groups of older students from each residence hall are hard at work behind the scenes, putting the final touches on what will be the freshmen’s first glimpse of life at Notre Dame.

Commonly known as Frosh-O, the First Year Orientation is a whirlwind of new faces, speeches and events from Aug. 22-24. In addition to open houses, an official orientation program, academic advising and DomerFest, freshmen will participate in a variety of activities with their residence halls. These events often include icebreakers, learning Notre Dame and hall-specific traditions, and small service projects, sometimes in conjunction with other halls. 

Senior Deirdre Harrington, chair of the Student Campus Orientation Committee (SCOC), said preparations for the weekend began last April, when the 29 residence halls’ Frosh-O commissioners, the leaders of hall orientation events, gathered for a series of training sessions. 

“[It] was basically going over what we expect of them and their staff and what kind of events they should have, and preparing them to be able to plan the events during the summer,” Harrington said. 

She said the Student Activities Office (SAO) had to approve all Frosh-O events. Commissioners for each hall began exchanging ideas for events with their staffs and with other halls in the spring semester, and, after consulting with rectors, submitted schedule proposals to SCOC. 

Harrington said SCOC then acted as an intermediary between commissioners and SAO staff, offering suggestions and improvements before submitting the final proposal to SAO, which then offered its own feedback based on a number of considerations, from risk management to what kind of food each event would need. 

Another dimension of the training process, Harrington said, was a renewed emphasis on inclusiveness, taking students’ differences in background and personality into account, so that all freshmen could feel welcome and comfortable. She said this involved keeping diverse ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations and ability levels in mind when planning events and adjusting existing traditions, such as designing an event students of all athletic abilities could enjoy. 

“The overall goal is to get people used to Notre Dame and what it means to be a student and part of this community at large, and understanding what it means to be a part of your dorm, or all the types of identities you might have as a Notre Dame student on campus,” Harrington said. 

Junior Josh Dempsey, a Frosh-O co-commissioner for Duncan Hall, said he and his staff decided to change serenades, a tradition in which male dorms sing to female dorms, by having the residents sing to other male dorms. He said he and his staff also worked to develop better events with female dorms. 

“It’s more about developing friendships early on and developing meaningful, lasting friendships,” he said. “So we try to avoid your 30-minute event with a female dorm … What we did instead was schedule an hour and a half block where the guys are in a low-pressure atmosphere and they can just mingle and talk and actually get to know [another hall resident] as a person.” 

The initiative also extended to personality types. Junior Maggie Schmid, a co-commissioner for Cavanaugh Hall, said she worked to make Frosh-O welcoming to both introverted and outgoing students.

“We want to make sure we’re taking care of [the students],” Schmid said. “I love Notre Dame, and I want to make sure [freshmen] have a good first impression. The training helps me focus on people who I don’t [normally] focus on, and I like that, because we don’t want to let anyone slip through.” 

The result of all this work is a months-long, multi-step process of adjusting events and schedules and coordinating with other halls, so that it all fits together in the end. 

“We’re actually still today just getting approval for things that we submitted in May,” sophomore and Breen-Phillips Hall co-commissioner Melaina LaSalle said.  “It’s very long because I think Notre Dame just wants to make sure that everyone is safe and everyone has options that weekend, so it’s understandable, but it’s a long process.” 

LaSalle said her goal was to make the freshmen’s orientation experience as good as hers was. 

“Everyone in the moment is like, ‘oh, serenading, this is so awkward, DomerFest is so awkward … but I met my best friends that weekend, and I’m so thankful for that,” LaSalle said. “If I’m able to give that opportunity to someone else, even if it’s just one person, it’s worth it . . . . Our goal as BP students is to build both a sisterhood within our dorm and relationships outside of our dorm, because that’s what Frosh-O weekend is about, building relationships you’re probably going to know your whole life.” 

Dempsey said he wanted to emphasize a sense of community during Duncan’s Frosh-O. 

“Our goal would be really make them feel like Duncan is their hall,” Dempsey said. “That was a big thing for me, when I felt comfortable with the guys I was living with, going to dinner with, makes the guys excited to call their parents at the end of the weekend and say, ‘I had the best time.’ You really have kids who miss home, but are comfortable in their hall. It’s that welcoming aspect that is our main objective.”