Building Community the Notre Dame Way…When You’re Not There


I was recently asked to answer this question: How do you form community in post-grad life, and what are some challenges you’ve run into in forming one?

My first response was:

This is my second response:

My Dad’s favorite way to refer to Notre Dame: Catholic Disney World. I knew Notre Dame was a different and beautiful type of place, but I never really believed that fully. For better or for worse, it truly is.


I was super involved with faith life and community at Notre Dame. I lead retreats and small groups for campus ministry, I did Vision twice, I had a theology major, and I was an RA. In other words, I bought in HARD. My experience or advice thus might not be applicable for people who were excited to leave Notre Dame. I was ready to leave, but I didn’t want to. I knew it was time to “go forth”, to use a bit of a cliché.

There’s a story by David Foster Wallace called This Is Water. It is essentially about a bunch of fish who are swimming around, constantly bathed in water, but because they are so used to it being there they cannot name it because it’s ever-present. This is what community is like at Notre Dame—you barely realize how much is there, because you are enveloped and surrounded by it constantly.

So when you leave, you’re a fish out of water?

No, Adulting is not that bad. However, You Are Bad AT IT. If you’re at all like me, you’re bad at many things, but it is like this with community, too. At ND, there are tons of structures and clubs in place to help people cultivate and be wrapped up in a sense of belonging. In post-grad, you mainly have to build these things for yourself. In this sense, it is both terrifying and satisfyingly liberating. If you’re anything like me, you will feel both.

That being said, you will form community. It just might not be as immediate or look how you first want it to. Since you’re building it yourself, you have to do the work—put yourself out there, seek to find common ground, and perhaps embarrass yourself a bit. It’s not comfortable.

Think back to your first year at Notre Dame. It didn’t feel how it does now, as a senior about to leave. You were most likely scared and uncertain, and definitely felt alone sometimes. But eventually, it became home. Post-grad doesn’t build in community like Notre Dame does, but you’re also no longer 18. It’s harder, but you are better at it than you were four years ago.

My Rector referred to your first year out of ND in a really apt way: it’s your freshman year of adulthood. You will not know how to do super basic things, you will get parking tickets, you will accidentally eat an expired egg and be sick for two days, and you will miss the automatic love that surrounds you at Notre Dame. Luckily, you probably won’t make the freshman year lanyard mistake again.

Last things:

You will be in a brand new place with people who think and act and talk differently than what you got in the Notre Dame Bubble. This is difficult but a wonderful blessing. Choose to have a learner mindset rather than a judging mindset. This is one I had to be taught and am still learning.

You will get lonely sometimes, whether that be when you’re by yourself or you’re with a ton of new people. It’s okay–don’t run from it. Even in loneliness, you don’t ever have to be alone. Let it deepen you.

Notre Dame may be physically far but it will always be near. Your memories, relationships, and the ways you’ve changed at Notre Dame remain and grow with time. It has changed you, and it will continue to change you in new ways you cannot yet expect. Our Lady has taught you, and now you get to live it out in a real way because you are ready to. Trust yourself, and when
you don’t, learn to lean on the family of Notre Dame that loves you from near and far.

At the end of the Notre Dame Prayer Book, Fr. Jenkins write about something called the Notre Dame Spirit and taking it out into the world. For me, the Notre Dame Spirit is community that does good. While leaving Notre Dame is disorienting when trying to find community, it also opens up in you a huge sense of gratitude for ND and an awareness of what it has planted in you. You carry in you an agent of and an ability to create those lovely communities where you go, and that’s how you take Notre Dame with you.

It’s tough, but it comes, and you love it more for the time you had to spend making mistakes and building it. Wait and see.



Amy Poehler & Dancing & Hook Up Culture

Dear Little Lights

This post is a first in a weekly series called Dear Little Lights, in which we try to figure out things together and I just happen to be the pencil (or typist) writing down what we figure out.

Dear Little Lights,

I don’t have a wild backstory or a crazy question, I just want advice on dating and
finding my person when I’m 100% not into hooking up. It really has nothing to
do with religion or strict morals, I just know that it takes more than hanging
out a few times or even going on a couple dates for me to feel comfortable with
getting physical, or really to do anything other than kiss a little. If I don’t
feel emotionally connected to a guy, or know him to be a kind and trustworthy
person, I’m going to be nervous, awkward, and unhappy doing anything physical.

So I don’t do it. Unfortunately, it feels like that’s so expected now a days,
and it makes me feel as though I’m not going to find anyone who is accepting
and understanding of my mindset. As someone who has dreamed of finding my
person, getting married, being a mom, etc. my whole life, being a young
20-something who has never seriously dated anyone and who has no prospects on
the horizon, coupled with the fact that I don’t feel like I jive with today’s
definition of dating (which often seems to start with hookups), I feel stuck.
And it makes me sad.

Sparknotes: I wanna find my person, I know I
have a lot to offer, but what I have to offer includes not getting too physical
too quickly and it feels like that’s a huge set back in today’s dating culture.

Not Crazy


Dear Not Crazy,

Have you ever been out dancing? Let’s go with the assumption that you’re a normal twentysomething and say you have.

Who are the best dancers you know? By best, I don’t mean most technically skilled or
best at leading or have owned a pair of tap shoes at least once in their lives.
I mean the people who are having the most fun—these are the dancers we all secretly or openly want to be. They are crazy joyful, a spectacle, and probably a little sweaty if they’re really trying.

Outsourced: Expert of fun, Amy Poehler.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last to use the idea of dancing as a metaphor for dating, but I want to ask you to think about good dancers when you think about dating.

The best people to go dancing with are the ones that know they might seem ridiculous or a little too gangly in the limbs but they still just go for it, and want you to go for it too. Your worries about dating reminded me of dancing because in search of your lovely and good dream about your ~person~, you may be putting a lot of pressure on yourself and that *person*. Don’t feel bad—I think we all do it some of the times.

If you go out dancing, and you’re really there for it, you’re not worried about how you look, if it is technically correct, or what the point of dancing is. You’re in the moment, and everything is about that moment, Hips Don’t Lie coming on, and where your best friend is who also loves this song. When we look at dating, I think in having the right idea to search for our forever person, we can sometimes go too far and end up making a first date or a little conversation the thing our entire future turns on. Don’t do this (says someone who is a frequent doer of *this*).

If you want to date how you want to dance, the first thing is taking the pressure off of yourself. Let’s pretend that you’re guaranteed to meet your person exactly four years from today—but not a minute sooner or a minute later. How would you handle your life if you knew that love was coming for you, you just had to be patient? You would probably be calm, excited, and trying to live in a way that when this great person comes into your messy life, you have a bunch of great stories to tell them and are ready to be a gift to them, too.

No one can give us any love guarantee, but if we take it as a wager, it’s pretty easy to see that regardless of when, where, and if love is coming, the best thing we can do is to live a life to the full—of gentleness, of family, of blooming friendships, and of care and love for the gifts that we are as individual persons. Love isn’t just found in romance, but in bringing your neighbor a batch of scones from the extra ones you tried to make one Saturday morning and finally succeeded in, in calling a friend on your walk to work who you haven’t thought of in a few months, and in taking the second to look up and interact with the person who checks you out at your local coffee chain of choice.

Now, onto hook ups. Ironically, I’m going to use dancing (which often is the playhouse of hookups) as a continued metaphor for dating and the question you seem to be asking: Do my standards make me undateable?

The short answer: No.

The medium answer: No, but only if you think that.

The long answer: No, having standards different than what the culture makes us think everyone and their dogs want doesn’t make you undateable. Very little makes people undateable or incapable of finding love, because all of us are just a teensy bit messed up and a teensy bit ugly about some things. However, if you treat yourself like having a different set of values for whatever reason is a detractor from dating you, then you will show that to other people. You seem like you know what you want. Believe in that. Know your why, and give it to other people gently when they’re curious and want to know you. Remove your defensiveness and your worries, and tell them it’s because you know what is good for you, and you always do what you think is good. More people will be understanding than you think, and genuinely respect you for it, but not if you never tell them and only get all tense and weird whenever anyone brings up the subject. Why get tense? You’re choosing what you believe in. And if anyone gets weird and tense at YOU for that, thank them kindly for showing you so concisely that your time would be better spent elsewhere, thankyouverymuch.

This relates to dancing because we have all had that night where we thought we were REALLY working it, and that one friend makes a face at you like “Wow, can you chill?” and then we get insecure and less confident and we do in fact chill but also have way less fun.

This will happen when it comes to your standards, my girl. People will question them, hate them, love them, and find it “really interesting” that you have them.

There are two options when you get the question “Can you chill?” when you’re out dancing, and there are two in dating as well. In dancing, you can respond by freezing, getting embarrassed, getting mad, and getting a little petty, or you can look at them, make your weirdest cross-eyed-tongue-out face and show them you’re still gonna have fun, and they are welcome to join.

When you get push back on your standards in dating, you have the same two options: get mad and embarrassed, and lose all the fun of dating and in the good search to find love, or you can keep dancing—limbs flailing, sweat-inducing, grinning and wearing your heart on your sleeve the whole way home. And hey, don’t forget what Beyoncé taught us:

(hand drawn type by maddy nye for designlovefest.)

Out like a smooth cupid shuffle,

Little Lights


If you want advice with pretty hand-drawn quotes and strange metaphors, email your questions to