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.