By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
Returning to the annual Notre Dame Vision experience was “like returning home,” said Michelle Montgomery, youth minister with St. Thomas More Parish in Coralville. For more than 20 years, she has taken youths to Notre Dame Vision but missed two years because of the pandemic.
She said this year’s event satisfied the soul’s hunger for fellowship with Notre Dame staff and youth ministers from around the United States and Canada. It satisfied the hunger to gain knowledge from the professors of Notre Dame and Catholic speaker Mike Patin and to experience “many graced moments of prayer in the most holiest Catholic universities.”
Notre Dame Vision is a five-day experience on the University of Notre Dame campus to “help participants discover and renew God’s call in their lives,” the website states. The program brings in nationally known speakers and has college students who serve as mentors for large-group sessions and small faith-sharing peer groups.
For campus ministers and youth ministers, it “combines theological exploration, personal renewal and a committed community from across the nation” to help refresh and invigorate ministry to young people.
Montgomery thought this year’s program was special. All of the adults who attended “seemed to bond right away and share more openly.” The drawn-out pandemic “made us long for deeper fellowship and willingness to let go and grow together in the discovery of the gifts that God has granted us to rekindle and become Church in a deeper way.”
The experience reminded her of returning to church for the first time after the pandemic struck, when people felt at home again with their brothers and sisters in faith. “We all agreed that the feeling that we all experienced was of the Holy Spirit showering us with the flame of his love and it was overflowing in each of us.”
Julia Jones, youth minister with St. Ann Parish in Long Grove, tries to take a group to Notre Dame Vision each year. She was grateful for the opportunity to attend in person this year. “It is a conference that welcomes, engages, challenges and equips our young Church. Kids come home excited about their faith after the dive deep into it for five days.”
“This year on the drive home, the kids talked about ways they want to be involved in the parish. This is the case after every time I have taken students. It is a great event for parishes to send their students to if they are looking for student leadership and involvement. Teens come home hungry for more. As far as adults, it is a great time for prayer and a little rest in the Lord. The adult track isn’t as strict on the schedule but provides plenty of resources and networking with other youth leaders from around the world. Adults also get to spend time with the keynote presenters to ask questions and discuss ideas,” Jones said.
Notre Dame Vision offers speakers, large and small-group sessions, reconciliation, adoration and daily Mass. Matthew Staber, a high school senior from St. Thomas More, said, “ND Vision was a great experience. I had so much fun meeting all the great people and I saw Jesus in every single one of them. From the crazy dances we did to the serious discussions in our small group, everything was meaningful. One of the most special moments to me was when we gave our letters of affirmation to one another. These were letters that we wrote throughout the week showing moments of God in our lives. On the last day we gave them to each other and it made everyone feel very special. ND Vision is a week that I will remember for a very long time.”
Tanner Knight, another high school senior from St. Thomas More, said, “Notre Dame Vision was an experience I will never forget. I met so many new people from all over the country — Florida to South Carolina to all the way to Canada. My faith grew exponentially in just one week. I was able to share my experiences of my faith with my small group, which helped me so much. It was so comforting to find that there were other people just like me and with similar stances in their faith. One Jesus moment I had was when we had a prayer service by the grotto where it was complete silence while everyone was holding their candle. It put me in a state of shock and awe. I am super blessed to have been able to experience this opportunity.”