Video Profile

The Life of a C.S.C. Priest on Campus

Ever since Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., founded Notre Dame in 1842, Congregation of Holy Cross priests have guided the University and shaped its community. Rev. Joe Corpora, C.S.C., ’76 is one of the many priests on campus carrying on Sorin’s legacy today.

Produced by Notre Dame Marketing Communications for the Office of Mission Engagement and Church Affairs, this video profile gives you a look into the life of a Holy Cross priest on campus.

The Rise of Lay Ecclesial Ministry photo strip

Answering The Call

The Rise of Lay Ecclesial Ministry

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association

Collen Mayer ’14 M.Div. had an engineering degree, an MBA, and a good, stable job as an engineer with a power company in Birmingham, Alabama. He also had a nagging feeling that he was in the wrong line of work.

“I realized that service work was really the most fulfilling part of my life,” Mayer said. “The idea that people actually do that kind of work for a living was really captivating to me.”

In his spare time, Mayer helped out at his local parish. He found himself looking forward to this volunteer work while performing his actual job. “I realized that service work was really the most fulfilling part of my life,” Mayer said. “The idea that people actually do that kind of work for a living was really captivating to me.”

Mayer left the power company and engineering behind for United Way, where he spent five years as a fundraiser. While Mayer loved United Way’s work in the community and their mission to improve the lives of those in need, he still wasn't completely fulfilled.

“I wanted my work to be more deeply grounded in faith and ministry,” he explains.

That desire brought him to Notre Dame, where he earned a Master of Divinity (M.Div.), a professional degree offered by the Graduate School and the Department of Theology. The M.Div. program offers aspiring lay ministers, as well as seminarians, a comprehensive theological education and training in ministry.

After completing his degree in May, Mayer accepted a position with Catholic Charities of Tennessee. In January, he’ll take over as Director of the organization’s Social Services Department, overseeing the agency's work with adoptions, homelessness, and child abuse. It’s the type of job Mayer had always aspired to hold.  

While his specific career arc is unusual, Mayer’s story is not uncommon. He’s part of a growing group that is playing an increasingly large role in the U.S. Church -- lay ecclesial ministers. After receiving specialized academic and ministerial training, these lay individuals take on leadership roles in parishes, dioceses, Catholic schools and universities, hospitals, nonprofits, and organizations within the Church, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  And Notre Dame is playing a key role in training and forming many of these new Church leaders.

Lay people have served the church for centuries, but lay ecclesial ministry is relatively new. The theology of Vatican II emphasized that by virtue of Baptism, all are called, including the laity, to serve the Church. Over the past 50 years, a significant number of lay men and women have chosen to do so professionally in full-time leadership roles. In order to effectively minister, these lay people must achieve a certain level of expertise to work alongside priests and vowed religious.

In Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, an influential 2005 guide to lay ecclesial ministry, the USCCB wrote that lay ecclesial ministers require a “special level of professional competence.” The significant jobs lay ecclesial ministers perform often “require academic preparation, certification, credentialing, and a formation that integrates personal, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral dimensions.”

Rev. Michael Driscoll, a diocesan priest who has been teaching in Notre Dame’s M.Div. program for 21 years, says the publication of Co-Workers represented a turning point. “I think now we have more of a theological understanding of lay ecclesial ministry,” Father Driscoll says. “And it’s been professionalized, and there are certain areas of formation very similar to priestly formation.”

The U.S. Church was built on the backs of women religious and the ordained. Their hard work has influenced and inspired the lay people who now are choosing to serve the Church professionally, as well. But the evolution of the role played by the laity in the U.S. Church has coincided with a decline in the number of vowed religious. In 1990, there were roughly 52,000 priests, 103,000 sisters, and 7,000 brothers in this country, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. By 2010, those numbers had fallen considerably across the board -- 40,000 priests, 58,000 sisters, and 5,000 brothers. Over the same time period, the number of lay ecclesial ministers has risen from 22,000 to 39,000 -- and those numbers only represent lay ecclesial ministers serving in parishes. These statistics demonstrate a rarely discussed reality for the Church: the frequently cited vocation crisis among vowed religious, while still a concern, is being offset somewhat by the robust growth of lay ecclesial ministry.


“Seventy-five years ago, the jobs we have wouldn’t have existed for lay people,” Mike Jordan Laskey ’08, ’10 M.A. explains. Jordan Laskey is the director of Life & Justice Ministries for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey. His wife, Genevieve Jordan Laskey ’07, ’10 M.A., is a resource development specialist for Catholic Relief Services. They are qualified for these positions thanks to the education and training they received at Notre Dame.

So many programs, organizations, and initiatives at the University create an environment of faith and foster in students a desire to serve the Church. The list includes, but is not limited to, the Department of Theology, Campus Ministry, the Center for Social Concerns, the Alliance for Catholic Education, the Sacred Music program, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, dorm Masses, and the Institute for Church Life (which includes the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, Notre Dame Vision, and STEP). But among all these and so many more, two graduate programs stand out as effective courses of study that specifically prepare students for careers in lay ecclesial ministry: M.Div. and Echo, the program from which the Jordan Laskeys graduated.

The M.Div. program is a rigorous, three-year course of study. It’s the same degree seminarians entering the Congregation of Holy Cross earn before ordination, and the seminarians and lay students take their classes together and learn alongside one another. “It models building up the Church itself, which is not simply a clerical state and not strictly a lay state, but all of us working together,” says Stacey Noem ’98, ’05 M.Div., the Director of Human and Spiritual Formation for Lay Students in the M.Div. program.

M.Div. students build a comprehensive academic foundation by studying under the world-class professors in Notre Dame’s Department of Theology. They develop ministerial skills through field study. In each of their three years, M.Div. students work in parishes, schools, hospitals, prisons, or social services agencies to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Thanks to this combination of theological and ministerial training, along with the unique experience of studying alongside seminarians, M.Div. graduates leave Notre Dame prepared to step into Church leadership across a large spectrum of ministries and collaborate easily with priests and vowed religious. 

  • Collen_Mayer_2014Collen Mayer ’14 M.Div. left behind an engineering job to devote his professional life to ministry.

  • Pastoral_Associate_Christina Bax_05_09Pastoral Associate Christina Bax ’05, ’09 M.Div. assists Rev. Ken Simpson during the baptism of adults at the Easter Vigil at Saint Clement in Chicago.

“I use the analogy of all being on the same team,” Christina Bax ’05, ’09 M.Div. says. Since finishing her degree, Bax has worked as a pastoral associate at Saint Clement Church on the north side of Chicago. Bax leads the parish’s RCIA program, teaches Baptism preparation for new parents, and oversees adult faith formation initiatives. Through it all, Bax works closely with the parish’s pastor. “We’ve got different positions or different roles, but we know how to leverage each other’s strengths and we value the part we each play.” 

Echo, the other graduate program at Notre Dame dedicated to training lay ecclesial ministers, provides an intensive immersion into parish life. During the two-year curriculum, students spend the school year working at parishes around the United States and living in intentional faith communities.  Echo students are assigned experienced mentors in their parishes, and they serve the parishes in all different ways.  

“I got to experience everything,” says Beth Franzosa ’05, ’07 M.A., who spent her two years in Echo at St. Thomas the Apostle in Peoria Heights, Illinois. “I led the confirmation program. I co-ran a faith social justice study group. I visited every religion class in the school and did a little project on peace with them. I worked with the youth group.” 

During the summers, Echo students return to Notre Dame to study theology, earning their master’s degrees by the end of the program. Franzosa now teaches theology at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. 

Echo is relatively young -- it was founded in 2004 -- but it’s been an incredible success. Echo directorColleen Moore ’97, ’04 M.Div. says that 90 percent of Echo graduates remain in full-time ministry after leaving Notre Dame. Roughly 45 percent work in parishes, while 25 percent go on to teach theology.

“Even if the seminaries were to be full to the brim tomorrow, we’re not backing away from lay ecclesial ministry because it flows out of Baptism,” he says. “I think there’s no turning back.”

Both M.Div. and Echo are tuition-free. Notre Dame knows that lay ecclesial ministry is not always the most financially rewarding field, especially for lay graduates hoping to raise a family. The hundreds of graduates of the two programs who have gone on to successful and meaningful careers serving the Church prove that Notre Dame’s investment is paying off. 

Lay ecclesial ministry remains in the early stages of its existence. According to Father Driscoll, the Church may just be beginning to scratch the surface of its ultimate reach and impact. “Even if the seminaries were to be full to the brim tomorrow, we’re not backing away from lay ecclesial ministry because it flows out of Baptism,” he says. “I think there’s no turning back.”

Against that backdrop, one thing seems certain: Notre Dame and its alumni will continue to answer the call to be leaders within and on behalf of the Church.

Vocation Stories

A Young Priest in Detroit

By Julie Sobel


The Archdiocese of Detroit doesn’t sound like the obvious place for a young priest from the Cayman Islands to end up. 

But for 30-year-old Rev. Joseph Kirkconnell '06 – the first-ever Catholic priest to hail from the Cayman Islands – it’s a natural fit.
The Catholic Church in the Cayman Islands has been administered by the Archdiocese of Detroit since 2000. The islands were previously under the Archdiocese of Kingston, Jamaica, which is the closest archdiocese to them. But in 2000, when the Kingston Archdiocese said they could no longer send priests to the Cayman Islands, Pope John Paul II asked Detroit to take over. 
The Cayman Islands are a British Territory, which the Saint Ignatius Parish’s website points out makes the Archdiocese of Detroit the only United States Diocese to drive on both the right and the left sides of the road.
For Father Kirkconnell, religion was always a big part of life growing up in the Cayman Islands. “From as far back as I can remember, I've always had a great relationship with the Lord,” he says. His parents have always been involved with the church and the family prayed together at night before bed. Father Kirkconnell attended Catholic school beginning with kindergarten, continuing all through high school.
And their pastor had a close relationship to his family, coming to his house weekly to play cards with his parents and another friend. While Father Kirkconnell only remembers a handful of longer conversations with the pastor, in retrospect he realized the influence the pastor’s frequent presence had on him. 
Father Kirkconnell has three brothers. He says his mom always told them to be open to the priesthood – and that whatever was God’s will would make them happiest in life.
"It was something that was always a possibility, I was open to it, and in prayer I told the Lord if you want me to do it, I will, but you have to let me know or help me,” Father Kirkconnell explains.
During Father Kirkconnell’s senior year of high school, the pastor passed away, and he cites the funeral as a key moment in his journey toward deciding to become a priest. "I just remember being at his funeral and the church was completely packed, seeing how many lives he affected and touched and brought to the Lord, or helped in their journey of faith,” he recalls. “It inspired me to think about it more, and pray about it more deeply.”
When it came time to choose a college, Notre Dame felt like a perfect fit to Father Kirkconnell: He wanted a Catholic school, but also wanted to attend a school with strong academics and athletics. So following his older brother, he headed north to Notre Dame.
He continued to think and pray about the possibility of becoming a priest throughout his time on campus. He singles out a moment during his college experience, while he was at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart: “As I was praying before Mass – it wasn't an overwhelming experience or anything like that, just a subtle thought that I should be a priest."
When he graduated in 2006, he still wasn't quite ready to make the decision, so he enrolled in Notre Dame’s two-year Echo program, obtaining his Master’s in Theology in 2008. During the course of the program, he worked in the Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware. "Just being in the parish, seeing what a priest does, really helped me to get a better sense of what it was like," he says.
Father Kirkconnell went on to study at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit for six years. "Ever since I entered the seminary, my desire to become a priest only increased,” he says, noting that there are struggles, but that’s just “part of growing your faith."
He was ordained Cayman’s first Catholic priest in May, at a ceremony at St. Ignatius Church witnessed by hundreds and broadcast on Cayman radio and TV. He was assigned to Cayman for a short time, and then moved on to his current post as associate pastor at St. Paul on the Lake in Gross Pointe, Michigan. Father Kirkconnell has been enjoying getting to know the community, which he says “really is like an extended family.”
Father Kirkconnell has some words of advice for young people thinking about becoming priests.
“The one thing I would just say is it is an amazing life,” he says, noting that in this culture, “I think people are discouraged from even thinking about it or being open to it. And if it is God's call, if that's what he's created you for, if it is your vocation, it really does bring a great joy.”
“It's just like any vocation, whether it's a mother or father, husband or wife, you have challenges there too and you have to make great sacrifices for your family,” he continues. “So I think they mirror each other in that sense. They may be different sacrifices, but you still have to give up yourself. That's what love is about, really.”
Thus far, he certainly believes any sacrifices are well worth it.
"Being a priest gives me great joy,” says Father Kirkconnell. “It's been wonderful so far."

Vocation Stories

Two Classmates Become Sisters

By Kevin Brennan '07
Notre Dame Alumni Association


Natalie Martinez ’06 and Paige Courtney Barnes ’06 never met at Notre Dame, but they had a lot in common during their days on campus. 

They passionately threw themselves into their studies and enthusiastically embraced the communities of their dorms. They demonstrated their musical talents -- Martinez as a singer in musicals and the folk choir and Barnes as a cellist at Cavanaugh Hall masses. They loved studying abroad in Europe. 

Most significantly, these two young women felt the call to serve God during their time as Notre Dame students. By answering that call, they’ve ended up in the same community once again. 

Sister Michaela Martinez, O.P., and Sister Hannah Barnes, O.P., are members of the Congregation of St. Cecilia, a group of Dominican sisters based in Nashville, Tennessee. The two young alumnae live in the St. Cecilia Motherhouse in downtown Nashville, and they both teach at St. Cecilia Academy, an all-girls high school run by the Nashville Dominicans. 

For these two sisters, the path to vowed religious life can be traced to their separate families and their shared University. 

A Magnetic Attraction

Looking back, Sister Michaela remembers feeling drawn toward the sisters that worked in her first childhood parish, when her family lived near Dallas. “I did always have a sort of magnetic attraction to the sisters,” she remembers. “I guess the seed was planted when I was very young.”

Her family soon moved west to Lubbock, where sisters were in short supply. But Sister Michaela grew in her faith thanks to her devout Catholic family. They attended Mass together every Sunday, and her parents demonstrated to their children how central their religion was to their lives. Sister Michaela’s father even became a deacon when she was in college.  

There was no Catholic high school in the family’s diocese, so Sister Michaela attended Trinity Christian High School. She said questions from other students about Catholicism strengthened her devotion. “I guess I kind of claimed my faith as my own,” she says.

In her senior year at Trinity Christian, Sister Michaela decided to do a senior research paper on sisters -- mainly to “ruffle the feathers” of some her classmates, she admits. Whatever her intention, the paper proved pivotal in the ultimate direction of her life. She interviewed sisters from around the country. She reached out to one convent after finding the telephone number on the back of a CD case of spiritual music that belonged to her grandmother. It was the Sisters of Saint Cecilia, and Sister Mary John proved very helpful for her paper.

A few months later, on her first day in her freshman theology class at Notre Dame, Sister Michaela struck up a conversation with the boy in the next desk. He had an aunt who was a Dominican sister in Nashville – Sister Mary John. During the next few years, when Sister Mary John and some of her fellow Nashville Dominicans would visit campus, Sister Michaela would often visit with them. 

“So suddenly the sisters were back on my radar,” she says. 

A Mother’s Example

Sister Hannah’s story begins with her mother, Marilyn. Growing up in Simmesport, Louisiana, Marilyn was raised a Baptist. But her parents, wanting the best possible education for their children, sent her to a Catholic boarding school run by the Sisters of the Holy Family. Marilyn fell in love with the Catholic faith and converted. 

When she had children of her own, she attempted to pass on her faith, taking them to daily Mass. “I remember her lining up my siblings and me in a pew after Mass and teaching us the Memorare line by line,” Sister Hannah says. “My mom just kind of instilled in all of us a deep faith from a young age.”

In Sister Hannah’s case, it took. By her senior year at a public high school in Nashville, Sister Hannah said she had “such a hunger” to go to a Catholic college. Still, she had never even considered the prospect of entering religious life. 

That changed after she enrolled at Notre Dame. She felt energized by the thriving spiritual community on campus. She took on the role of liturgical commissioner in Cavanaugh Hall, planning dorm masses. 

Sister Hannah spent her entire sophomore year studying in Angers, France, an experience she cites as crucial in her spiritual development. “Notre Dame does such a fantastic job of placing the study abroad kids in a Catholic environment,” Sister Hannah says. “It wasn’t just studying abroad. It was like a spiritual pilgrimage for a year.” She also traveled to Rome and attended the last Easter Vigil Mass performed by Pope John Paul II. 

“My heart was just set completely on fire with the faith,” she says.

Alone in a Chapel

While studying in Rome during the fall semester of her junior year, Sister Michaela took the advice of a priest and spent 15 minutes each day praying in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. One day, alone in prayer in the chapel of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Sister Michaela felt God asking her to become a sister. 

“I knew that the Lord was inviting me,” she says. “I also knew I didn’t have to say yes.” 

She returned to Notre Dame determined to further discern her calling. She decided to go on a vocation retreat with a convent and, naturally, gravitated toward the Sisters of Saint Cecilia. 

“I didn’t really know where else to start looking,” she remembers. “And when I came to Nashville, I fell in love with it.” 

Initially, one of the things she most liked about Nashville was the large numbers of young sisters. There are roughly 300 sisters in the community, and the median age is about 36. But it was the elderly sisters that made Sister Michaela want to stay. 

“The older sisters in the infirmary who had been here 80 years were saying things like, ‘There’s no place like St. Cecilia’s. You’ve come to the right place,’” she remembers. “I could see the joy in their eyes, and I could sense that these were women of God.”

She graduated from Notre Dame with a double major in Theology and English and a minor in Music. Three months later, in August 2006, she entered the convent.   

Priestly Advice

As she neared the end of her time at Notre Dame, Sister Hannah found herself struggling with her own vocation. “I felt called to religious life, but I didn’t feel like I could do it,” she remembers. “That was kind of where I was senior year. I felt very clearly called, but I was just really scared.”

She sought guidance from Rev. Paul Doyle, C.S.C., ’65, ’75 M.Div., the rector of Dillon Hall. Father Paul often said Mass in Cavanaugh, where Sister Hannah served as liturgical commissioner, and the two had developed a close relationship. 

Father Paul recommended that Sister Hannah pray deeply. He said she shouldn’t be concerned with whether or not she could do it but rather whether or not this was her calling. 

“That was kind of the decisive moment,” Sister Hannah says. She took his advice, continuing to pray and open her mind to the possibility of a religious life. After graduating a semester early with a degree in Philosophy and a minor in French, Sister Hannah moved to Chicago. She found a job with a non-profit, where she taught leadership skills to inner city girls. She enjoyed the work but felt compelled to work more closely with the Church. She decided to move back to Nashville, where she taught theology at Pope John Paul II High School.  

By 2009, Sister Hannah was moving closer to choosing to become a sister, but she didn’t know where to start. While she assumed she would ultimately enter a convent somewhere other than Nashville, she decided to go on a vocation retreat with her hometown convent, the Sisters of St. Cecilia, in May of 2009. Like Sister Michaela, she fell in love with the sisters, their mission, and their way of life. 

“I almost felt like the Lord was making it completely obvious for me,” she says. Sister Hannah entered a year later, and she’s now just two and a half years away from taking her final vows. 

A Beautiful, Joyful Life

Sister Michaela and Sister Hannah wake up each day at 5 a.m. They pray the Liturgy of the Hours, attend Mass, and eat breakfast each morning with the roughly 150 other sisters living in the Motherhouse. Their weekdays are spent at St. Cecilia’s Academy, where Sister Michaela teaches theology and English and Sister Hannah teaches English, although she’ll be starting at Frassati Catholic High School in Spring, Texas this spring. At night, there’s more communal prayer, dinner, an hour of recreation, a Salve procession, and some quiet time to grade papers and prepare lesson plans before going to sleep around 10 p.m.

Their families, Notre Dame, and their callings have led them to this life. They serve God and His Church as teachers, ministers, and mentors. And they love their work. 

“It is such a beautiful, joyful life,” Sister Michaela says. “It’s far beyond what I could have ever expected.”

“The whole idea that my life is dedicated to spreading the Gospel, that’s my happiness,” Sister Hannah says. “It doesn’t get any better than that.” 

These two classmates still have a lot in common.



Photo Essay

The Next Generation of the C.S.C

Notre Dame alumni continue to join the ranks of the Congregation of Holy Cross. We reached out to three young priests and three seminarians and asked them all the same question: What experience at Notre Dame inspired, informed, or shaped your vocation?

Kevin McKenzie, C.S.C., '12

First-Year Temporarily Professed Congregation of Holy Cross Seminarian at Moreau Seminary


"My vocation became apparent to me while an undergraduate at Notre Dame. I came to see that God was calling me to dedicate my life to Him and to others by joining the great Holy Cross Priests I encountered at Notre Dame. My time in Keough Hall helped shape my vocation by providing the community and support I needed to mature in my discernment and to understand the values that are important for me to embody as a man for others. It helped me to see who I wanted to be and who God was calling me to be." 

John Whittaker, C.S.C., '13

First-Year Temporarily Professed Congregation of Holy Cross Seminarian at Moreau Seminary


"Being an undergraduate seminarian here at Notre Dame inspired and directed me to pursue religious life in the Congregation of Holy Cross. The many priests, brothers, and friends I encoun-tered here at Our Lady's University contributed greatly to my vocation. At such an amazing university that has fostered many vocations to service of the Catholic Church, I pray that this tradition only grows and deepens." 

Stephen Lusch '09 M.S.A. 

Congregation of Holy Cross Postulant at Moreau Seminary 


"I went through RCIA and was confirmed at the Basilica while I was a graduate student at Notre Dame. Thus my life as a Catholic is inextricably linked to Notre Dame. Holy Cross priests and seminarians helped with the RCIA program, and I saw the joy that their ministry brought to themselves and others. It was their example that really made me start thinking about my vocation." 

Rev. Matthew Kuczora, C.S.C., '05, '11 M.Div.

Visiting Scholar at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies and In-residence Priest at St. Edward's Hall 


"Notre Dame allowed and encouraged me to develop a life of service. Through ND programs teaching in New York City as an undergrad or as a graduate student working with orphans in Honduras and India, I learned how much need exists in the world. In my dorm and in the classroom, while I was at Notre Dame I met Holy Cross priests and brothers who God used to show me a beautiful way of life lived in community that changes the world through teaching, work among the poor, and a life of sacramental ministry." 

Rev. Brian Ching, C.S.C., '07, '12 M.Div.

Parochial Vicar, St. Joseph Catholic Church, South Bend, IN 


"It was really my encounters with the Holy Cross priests and brothers on campus that formed and shaped my vocation. The way they lived their vows and their ministry helped me understand that being a Holy Cross Priest is something I could do and that I wanted to do. Their continued witness continues to inspire me to live my life as a Holy Cross priest with fidelity and zeal." 

Rev. Pat Reidy, C.S.C., '08, '13 M.Div.

Rector of Keough Hall


As a student at the University of Notre Dame, I encountered wonderful priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross — first in my residence hall (Sorin College), then in my classes (Political Science and Theology), and finally overseas (Jinja, Uganda). Their joy was contagious; their zeal, overwhelming. When they invited me to 'come and see' during my senior year, I couldn't resist. I've never looked back."