Notre Dame & Service: Staying True to Its Mission

Author: Corinne Quane

Notre Dame & Service: Staying True to Its Mission

By Corinne Quane


We shall always place education side by side with instruction; the mind will not be cultivated at the expense of the heart. While we prepare useful citizens for society, we shall likewise do our utmost to prepare citizens for heaven.


             - Blessed Basil Moreau, Circular Letters 36, 1849

Every Notre Dame student who has taken the Moreau First Year Experience will recognize this quote, whether their instructor presented it once or a hundred times. When Father Moreau asked Father Sorin to found a university in Indiana, it was understood that this institution would not only provide an education in mathematics and English, but also in what it means to be a good person, friend and citizen. 

As a result, service has always been at the core of the university. But as Notre Dame has grown from a small congregation of priests with an earnest mission to a top 20 university with a renowned Division I sports program, has the University stayed true to its commitment to service?

From its inception, Notre Dame has worked to give back to the community. Today, the university offers many ways for students to give back to their community, specifically in the South Bend area. 

One well-known service on campus is the Center for Social Concerns; focused on helping communities across the country and around the world, the Center for Social Concerns offers many programs that allow students to get involved with different communities. 

One of their many programs is Community Impact grants. The program funds around six to eight projects a semester, each of which strives to bring improvement to a community. A majority of the funds for these projects come from private donations. The grants often act as seed grants, helping to start a project or support the proof of concept that will later be used to gain funding from a larger organization. Projects come to the center in a variety of ways, but the project committee must be headed by Notre Dame staff or faculty and co-authored by a member of the community the project is intended for. Dave Lassen, the Community-Engaged Learning Program Director, said, “This way, both sets of voices are heard which is important since the goal of the project should be community impact.” 

One of the projects that has had a substantial impact is that of Kati and Micheal Macaluso. Noticing that most school curriculums focused on books written primarily about and by white men, they got the idea for “Social Justice Teacher Book Clubs”. The goal of their project was to create book clubs for teachers that prompted important discussion on issues related to social justice. The Macalusos also provided book sets for local classrooms in an effort to diversify the books taught in their curricula.

Dave Lassen encourages students to reach out to the local community, saying, “It’s easy to become isolated on campus, but when we do, we miss out on opportunities to serve, we miss out on the reason for higher education.”

However, it’s not just faculty and staff who are looking to serve the community, and it’s not just during the school year either. Even in the summer, service initiatives continue. The Center for Civic Innovation (CCI), a program created in collaboration with Notre Dame’s College of Engineering, provides summer internships each year. CCI’s mission is to connect Notre Dame faculty, staff and students with the local community. The internships they provide each summer allow students to develop solutions to real issues in the South Bend/Elkhart area, giving students the opportunity to apply their engineering skills in a valuable way. 

One student, Notre Dame sophomore Eva Homberger, was on the Urban Sustainability and Resilience team during the summer of 2021. As part of this team, she worked on a project in which “we worked closely with the South Bend Venues Parks & Arts (SBVPA) to enhance their existing tree planting program by designing a system that promotes equitable tree placement. We also identified and began the acquisition process of lots for future development of South Bend’s Native Tree Nursery program, which repurposes vacant lots as nurseries for young trees native to the area.” In designing these innovative solutions, the team’s goal was to increase South Bend’s tree coverage.

Though virtual, Homberger had such a great experience that she is hoping to work with the Center for Innovation again in the future. She feels that, not only did she learn so much from the mentors she was able to work with, but that “The CCI is an innovation in itself, and I am excited to see what it accomplishes in the future.”

In addition to the long-term service projects in association with the Center for Social Concerns and the CCI, many students are also involved in short-term volunteer efforts. Notre Dame’s student government organizes Back the Bend, a day of service, every year. This year, some volunteers helped to remove invasive plant species and trash from the 35th street wetland area, while others stained benches and planted flowers to add a pop of color downtown. Even more participated in the mulching of Unity Gardens as well as around homes affected by lead poisoning.

There is no shortage of opportunities to volunteer in the community of South Bend. Whether you want to donate, apply your skill, work on a long term project or volunteer a few hours of your time, Notre Dame provides plenty of resources. Notre Dame not only makes it easy to get involved, but has also formed — and continues to form — relationships with community partners. 

Even though Notre Dame has experienced many changes since its inception, it has made it a priority to stay true to Father Moreau’s mission of fostering minds and hearts, specifically by the way of service. After all, Notre Dame is well established as a university set in tradition.