Notes from Notre Dame (Part One)

Notes from Notre Dame (Part One) June 22, 2017


Somehow, Patheos sent a hack like me to the Trying To Say God Conference at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. They may live to regret this.

Regular followers of this blog know that I do not get out of town very much. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and a full blown allergy to getting overheated; my idea of a fast-paced adventure involves taking the bus to both the library and Aldi in the same afternoon. But somehow, I found myself going to a genuine professional Catholic writers’ conference in a whole other state.

I drove up with Rebecca of Suspended in her Jar. We stopped for coffee on the way– actual coffee that somebody else brewed for me and wrote my name on the cup. I got to sit down and drink it at a table with another adult and no children present. We chatted about phenomenology and R-rated movies. I think I would have found the whole trip overwhelmingly fun and exciting if it had ended right there, but the best was yet to come.

We rolled into Notre Dame at just about five-forty, which means we missed the Bishop’s opening remarks. I heard they were wonderful. Next, we had to find our way to the check-in, and here we hit a major snag: The University of Notre Dame is gigantic. I did my undergrad at the wonderful Otterbein University, which is tiny, and then ended up stuck in Steubenville for ten years. You could fit all of Otterbein University or Franciscan University of Steubenville in Notre Dame’s DeBartolo Performing Arts Center alone. And I know this, because the first thing we did was get lost in DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. We walked all around it twice, including accidentally walking into the backstage area of a theater, before we realized that we weren’t supposed to check in to the conference in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. We were supposed to check in to the conference in DeBartolo Hall.

And this is the second snag we reached with the University of Notre Dame: it’s gorgeous. Otterbein was a nice aesthetic campus when the ginkgo tree wasn’t in bloom, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Notre Dame. As for Franciscan, every single building on that campus was built in the most hip, current, with-it form of kitschy architecture of the era in which it was built. Christ the King Chapel looks like something out of a 60s horror movie called Escape from the Giant Clam, the John Paul II Library is a mcmansion re-imagined as a library, Egan and Stafford Halls are a single giant Tetris game piece, Starvaggi Hall has an inexplicable Babylonian bas relief of Saint Francis pretending to be Hammurabi on the side, and so forth. And that’s just the trouble– it was easy to find your way around Franciscan University, because all the buildings were different shades of horrible. You couldn’t mistake one for the other, or forget where you were. At Notre Dame, all the buildings are uniformly aesthetic; they’re made of similar-colored brick in a sort of respectable, uppity Gothic-looking style. They are all bordered by nicely manicured gardens and pretty trees. Everything looks the same. It’s impossible to figure out where you’re going.

We walked in circles for over an hour. At one point we gave up and tried to catch the end of Mass in the Basilica, which we figured was the building with the gold dome– but by the time we got close enough to see that the gold-domed building was not the basilica, Mass was over.

Finally, we made our way back to the actual DeBartolo Hall, only to find that the check-in table was unmanned. We picked up our name tags, programs and maps; we used the maps to chart a course to the dormitory. By the time I got to the dormitory I had been walking in the heat for an hour and a half. Thanks to my weird heat allergy, I was swelled up like a puffer fish, dizzy and bright red, so I took a cold shower instead of making it to the keynote speech.

I ended up having dinner at the Morris Inn with several fellow Patheos bloggers. And that’s when I discovered the very best thing about the University of Notre Dame: they serve gluten-free hamburger buns at the Morris Inn.


Look at that beauty. I may never go back to Ohio. That is, if Patheos doesn’t show up at the dormitory to send their inept conference-going blogger packing this very night.

So, that was my first impression of the prestigious and artsy Trying To Say God Conference at the lovely University of Notre Dame. Tomorrow, my goal is to get to at least some of the sessions of the actual conference. That is, if I ever find my way back to DiBartolo Hall.

(First image via Pixabay; second image courtesy of Rebecca Bratten Weiss)


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