Julie LaBelle and Maria O’Halloran drove 12 hours together to begin the second year of the Young Adult Leadership Initiative at the University of Notre Dame.
With faith at the forefront, young adult leaders put in a summer of learning
Catholic Extension started its Young Adult Leadership Initiative to address major needs in the mission dioceses – namely, to keep young adults active and involved in the Church and to build leadership at all levels. Building leadership currently is the single largest funding request Catholic Extension receives each year. This innovative initiative allows young adults, such as campus ministers Julie LaBelle and Maria O’Halloran, whose stories are featured here, to gain the advanced training and education they need. Both Julie and Maria were selected by their mission dioceses to enroll in an advanced degree program at the University of Notre Dame. Each will receive a masters in theology upon completion.
Through Catholic Extension’s initiative, Julie and Maria study in the summer, over winter break in Tucson and online through the University of Notre Dame. Costs for the program are shared by the university, diocese and Catholic Extension. “It’s a dream come true for me,” Maria said of the program.
Read on to learn about how these two energetic young leaders travelled back to Notre Dame together, reflecting on the joy of their first year in studies and buoyed by how they are able to give so much more to the students they minister to on their campuses.
From Julie LaBelle, campus minister at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia:
It all started in a little town called Manhattan. Manhattan, Kansas, that is. Nicknamed "The Little Apple," and home to Kansas State University, Manhattan is where my dear friend Maria and I began an epic road trip to the University of Notre Dame. After a full, vibrant year of ministry – my first year of ministry – Maria and I reunited for another “Irish” summer of studying theology through Catholic Extension's Young Adult Leadership Initiative. Our trip took about 12 hours, and, for this Florida girl, that's a LOT of wheat fields and prairies!
Yet this trip was about more than just landscape. Those 12 hours gave us an opportunity to share how our lives had changed since we both started in the Young Adult Leadership Initiative just one year ago. We shared stories charged with the hope we encountered in our ministries, and the growth and depth our students and ministries as a whole have experienced. Not only have we seen development on our campuses; both Maria and I talked about how the past year of study – hours of reading, listening to enlightening lectures, ministry with late night socials and experiences of God's love – have enriched us so much, to the point that we can give more fully of ourselves as "gifts" to the campuses we serve. Who knew that our 12-hour trip would turn into a Cliff Notes-like sharing of the past 12 months?
Last year, we arrived at Notre Dame as strangers, excited, yet unsure in this new endeavor. This year, however, we arrived together as friends – still excited, yet confident because of the empowerment we have received through the Young Adult Leadership Initiative experience. It's amazing how much can change in just 12 short months.
From Maria O’Halloran, campus minister at St. Isidore’s Catholic Student Center at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas:
A little over a year ago, I never would have dreamed that I would be given the opportunity to study at the University of Notre Dame. I never would have dreamed that I would be engaged and stretched by a year’s worth of intense study and theological formation. I never would have dreamed that I would escape the winter cold of Manhattan, Kansas, by fleeing to the desert of Tucson for an incredible 10-day course, studying Therese of Lisieux and experiencing community in the truest sense of the word.
Ultimately, that experience of community has been one of the overarching takeaways from my first year with Catholic Extension’s Young Adult Leadership Initiative. In Catholic Extension, I found a support system. I found new friends, including my road-trip buddy, Julie Labelle. I found lessons on what it really means to serve and to share Christ’s light and love. I found, in the University of Notre Dame’s theology program, students and professors who are passionate about living the Gospel call to share the Christian message.
All of these experiences have culminated in a richer understanding of what it really means to be part of the Catholic Church, and a stronger drive to help others share in this experience. This program has certainly impacted my service as a campus minister, and will continue to influence me wherever the Lord takes me in the future. I am so excited and thankful that He led Julie and me on this adventure to Notre Dame, and I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next!