If you asked the Rev. Joe Corpora, C.S.C. for a description of his job at Notre Dame, he would simply respond, “I introduce people to people. I am a bridge builder.”
Corpora, a 1976 graduate of Notre Dame, has been working with the university since 2009 when he was originally assigned to serve with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE).
“My job was to make Catholic schools around the country more accessible and available and affordable to Latino and underprivileged students,” Corpora explained. “That’s what I came here to do thirteen years ago.”
Since the beginning of his Notre Dame journey, Corpora’s role has expanded greatly; he now lives as the priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall, serves as a Moreau First Year Experience instructor and is heavily involved in campus ministry and multicultural outreach. However, one of the greatest impacts Corpora has had on this campus cannot be found on any faculty description you could search up online. Corpora has discovered a creative way to bring students together and foster unlikely relationships.
“I began to see how kids weren’t meeting each other across different cultures,” he said. “That’s how the story nights began.”
Almost every week, Corpora hosts a group of about ten freshmen in his room in Dillon Hall for a night of conversation and communion with their peers. Each person shares their “Notre Dame Story,” providing insight into their background and the journey that ultimately led them to find a home here at Notre Dame. Corpora explained that these meetings are so fascinating because each person has a unique story that others can learn from. He believes that “everyone’s story is sacred and reminds us that we walk on sacred ground.”
Corpora began this tradition about eight years ago after recognizing the lack of interaction between students of different races, socioeconomic statuses and cultures. His solution was to bring together diverse groups of students in hopes of eliminating barriers that often keep people closed off from new relationships.
“It became an easy way…for people to hear each other's stories and grow in understanding of other people,” Corpora noted when asked about the purpose of these small-group gatherings. “I’m hoping that students will meet people they wouldn’t have [otherwise] met, and think differently about people who are different from them.”
Corpora’s “Notre Dame Story Nights'' have left a significant impact on all of those who have attended. Friendships have been formed, walls have been brought down and one pair of strangers even ended up becoming roommates their sophomore year. Corpora’s efforts to cultivate community and friendship, especially between culturally different parties, are inspiring, and they call us to become better listeners to the sacred story that lives within every Notre Dame student.