“Welcome to Notre Dame!” echoed joyfully from the residence hall door where my new Holy Cross priest-rector stood, holding the door open to us. As my parents and I exited our vehicle upon our initial arrival at St. Edward’s Hall, nerves were running high. It was three weeks before the other freshmen would arrive at Notre Dame, but since my chemotherapy schedule would occupy me through Freshman Orientation weekend, I had been allowed to move in early. For my parents, there was substantial anxiety and apprehension: not only was their first child going off to college, but I was gaunt, bald, and in the midst of treatments for a cancer that had been diagnosed on my freshman physical for Notre Dame. How could I possibly be able to start the rigors of college in a few short weeks? Then there was the whole “faith thing”: we were a Methodist family, and Notre Dame was Catholic. With Fr. David Scheidler, C.S.C.’s warm greeting and a big hug for each of us, a bit of the anxiety that gripped us that August day melted away.
Fast-forward two years. The faithful witness of so many Holy Cross priests and the vibrant communities they worked so hard to build up at Notre Dame provided one more affirmation on my journey home to the Catholic Church. As a sophomore, I decided to begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process to become a Catholic Christian, and the Congregation of Holy Cross and its “mother church” (the Basilica of the Sacred Heart) had been the context that supported and sustained me as I ventured out and tested the waters of this new community of faith. At the Easter Vigil in 1999, with friends and family gathered in the glow of hundreds of candles, we waited for those words that “Christ is Risen!” With 42 others, I was received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church by Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C., receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation and my first Holy Communion as a Catholic. My rector, Fr. Tom Doyle, C.S.C., and seemingly the entire Holy Cross community were present there to celebrate with us. My classmate and sponsor, Drew (now Fr. Drew Gawrych, C.S.C.), easily matched my joy at my newfound personal and sacramental relationship with Jesus Christ. To meet Christ under the appearance of simple bread and wine was a blessing of incomparable depth; to do so while being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses was beyond anything I could have imagined.
Fast-forward another 16 years. Now as the director of that very same Notre Dame RCIA process that led me home to the Catholic Church during my undergraduate years, the Congregation of Holy Cross is no less an integral and formative part of my professional life of ministry and my personal life of faith as a Catholic Christian at Our Lady’s University. Holy Cross religious are interwoven into my daily existence: they are dedicated collaborators in ministry, joyful ambassadors of faith, trusted confidants, personal advisors, cherished friends. Beyond impacting my own life of faith, Holy Cross religious at Notre Dame and their joy, zeal, faithfulness, and approachability were instrumental in my parents’ and brother’s decisions to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church as well. Holy Cross religious have been present to rejoice with me at another year of cancer-free life (18 years this summer!) and have offered their prayers for sick friends and Masses for the repose of the soul of many loved ones. They have anointed family members facing serious illness, brought healing and reconciliation with God, celebrated my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding Mass at the Basilica last May, and are frequent guests around my table. I recently came to discover that a Holy Cross priest was my Catholic grandfather’s chaplain in the European theatre during World War II. Now after several years of lay ministry at Notre Dame, I have even had the privilege of seeing some of my former students ordained as Holy Cross priests, with many more in formation. Throughout every moment of my adult Catholic life, in the good times and bad, Holy Cross has been there.
As we move further into this Lenten season and I prepare my current RCIA class at Notre Dame to make that same profession of faith I made some sixteen years ago, I am struck by the myriad ways that I have been formed and influenced by Holy Cross. It is now my privilege and responsibility to “pay it forward,” to form others in what it means to boldly proclaim the Catholic faith, and I am honored daily to build up these women and men in the Holy Cross pillars of mind, heart, zeal, family, and hope. Blessed Fr. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., said of Holy Cross educational apostolates that we do not educate the mind at the expense of the heart, and that our mission is one that prepares exceptional citizens not only for this world, but also for heaven; as the director of Sacramental Preparation at Notre Dame, I get to play an integral part in realizing that vision. I am the beneficiary of a rich legacy through the work of countless Holy Cross religious and lay collaborators who have come before me, and who have already taken up this mission under the banner of “the Cross, our only Hope.” I pray that my colleagues and I in Campus Ministry may be faithful to the sacred mission with which we have been entrusted within the vineyard of the Lord. May the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ ever be lifted up before us, and may we daily invite others to the life it gives and the mission it demands, under the guidance and protection of Notre Dame, Our Mother.
Mr. Brett Perkins received his bachelor's degree from the University of Notre Dame in 2001. After working for three years as a financial healthcare consultant in Chicago, he returned to Notre Dame to join the Office of Campus Ministry. Currently Brett oversees the RCIA and Confirmation Programs.