SOUTH BEND, Ind. — For new students attending the University of Notre Dame, studying with a crucifix in the classroom can be startling to LDS sensibilities.
But in time, the few dozen LDS students who take graduate courses at the premier Catholic university come to respect the crucifix as a symbol of religious significance for people who worship the Lord in their way.
Some might consider it an irreconcilable conflict of theologies to study at the flagship university of the Catholic Church while abiding by LDS doctrines. But for all their differences, LDS students say they soon find that their common love of the Lord unifies them.
In the process they earn an excellent education while enjoying the good life that comes of living among upstanding people.
"The crucifix became a fixture in time," said Scott Clark, an MBA student who graduated during recent ceremonies.
"It was nice to be occasionally reminded that I was studying at a university that acknowledges God," he said.
"One of my favorite classes was taught by a Catholic priest. The class was titled, 'Spirituality in the Workplace.' We discussed the Sermon on the Mount, and Christ's teachings on the poor, family, honesty and other virtues. I enjoyed listening to the viewpoints of my classmates."
He recognized his own ignorance of Catholicism during his first-year orientation. "There was a call for a prayer before lunch. I closed my eyes and listened," he said. "This prayer could have been uttered at any LDS function. Word for word it was like any prayer we hear in Church," he said.
Originally from Kalispell, Mont., he filled a mission to Ukraine, then studied at BYU where he met his wife, Collette. After graduation, they considered MBA programs across the country and decided on Notre Dame because of the "positive impression" left by the many they had met.
"I wanted to study at a place where high ethical and moral standards prevailed," he said.
"I quickly learned that spirituality is intricately woven into the workplace," he continued. "After a few weeks of working as a staff member of the university, my boss inquired if he could ask a personal question.
"Do you pray?" he asked.
"Of course," I answered.
"He asked if I 'had a prayer I could say' over the food during a workshop luncheon for more than 100 graduate students.
"I wasn't sure what to say. I assumed I needed a memorized Catholic prayer to recite. He explained I could pray in whatever style I wanted.
"I agreed, but was nervous to use terms radically different than those they expected. As I concluded, I anticipated looking into shocked faces. To my surprise, the prayer seemed run of the mill. In fact, I received many compliments on my ability to pray publicly."
Opportunities to offer more prayers followed. Once, when Brother Clark had to decline an offer because of a scheduling conflict, his boss replied, "Oh, well, I guess we'll have a dean do it."
Jeff and Kimber Haddon chose graduate studies at Notre Dame for a variety of reasons. Both raised in Idaho, they married in 1993 after meeting in a Boise State University student ward.
They sought the challenge of living in a new area of the U.S., but also sought a family-oriented environment for their now four daughters. They also wanted a top quality education from a reputable business school that would open doors to new career opportunities.
"Moving to South Bend, Ind., to attend the University of Notre Dame was a sacrifice," Jeff said, "but one we feel was based on inspiration. When we packed up the moving truck and began our 2,000-mile trek to Indiana, we simply had faith that our two-year investment in an expensive MBA program would lead to many wonderful experiences.
"The results have been far beyond our expectations," he said. "We have been blessed. My testimony was strengthened by coming to understand that our Church is guided by priesthood power and revelation."
Missionary opportunities arose during extracurricular activities such as conferences, symposia and competitions resulting from questions "about why I wasn't drinking alcohol like everyone else," he said.
"I've grown to really enjoy being different because of my religious beliefs, though I miss the more frequent association with like-minded Latter-day Saints that I enjoyed in Idaho."
Career doors did open. The Haddons will soon move up the freeway and around the bend in Lake Michigan to begin a promising future in Chicago.
Greg Lambourne and his wife, Jessica, grew up in Southern California and met at BYU. After earning an economics degree, "we ultimately found Notre Dame to be the best choice" for law school, he said.
"Notre Dame sets high spiritual and academic standards for its students. It fosters a sense of community unlike anything we have ever seen. As an LDS student I have always felt welcomed and appreciated. Notre Dame is very inclusive of people of every faith, and places the pursuit of universal truth at the forefront of activity," he said.
For those members who come with strong testimonies and a clear sense of purpose, the differences of studying in a Catholic environment have not jaded their faith, but have actually provided a wind of resistance that has helped them soar to greater accomplishment, say the bishops of the South Bend and Mishawaka wards, the two wards of the South Bend Indiana Stake located near the university.
"Every year at this time we get excited about the new young families who move here," said Bishop Miles Andrew of the South Bend Ward. "We rejoice in our new friends, then sorrow when they leave. Each year is different. We never know what we'll have. Last year, 20 families moved. Sometimes only two families move in. This causes severe organizational challenges.
"Those who come are talented people who have the confidence to take on a challenge," he said. "They bring vitality and a robust spirit. There is a vigor to build the kingdom.
"I love this area," said Bishop Andrew who was raised in nearby Wisconsin. "I wouldn't want to live in any other ward than one like this."
Bishop Cory Hurst of the Mishawaka Ward concurs.
"I grew up in the mid-west and sometimes thought during my youth that I was missing out on all the blessings of the Church. But as I look back, I see how blessed I was to have a strong association with other youth and great priesthood leaders," Bishop Hurst said. "I remember Elder David A. Bednar who was a graduate student in our ward."
Graduate students who come here don't have the luxury of focusing solely on their studies. "We need the strength and testimonies of those who come and extend calls to major positions of leadership. Much is demanded, and they respond," Bishop Hurst said.
Brian Lohr, director of admissions of the MBA program at Notre Dame, said the sense of family and faith makes the university "a great fit" for members of the Church.
"The LDS folks do very well here," he said. "They have a great experience."
Surprising to some is the fact that Notre Dame has a student population of no more than 12,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
A smaller student body adds to the family atmosphere, Mr. Lohr said. He told of a second-year graduate student, Steve Jensen, who chairs an important Family Life committee. "To my knowledge, this is the first LDS chairman of the committee," Mr. Lohr said.
Mr. Lohr said he typically visits Salt Lake City twice a year on recruiting trips. With the help of other members of the Church, such as Jim Davis who is a professor at Notre Dame and a member of the South Bend Stake high council, Mr. Lohr allays fears that LDS members might be challenged in their faith and beliefs.
Notre Dame is more about ethics and doing things the right way, he said.
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