Dani L’Heureux, Campus Ministry Social Media Coordinator
“Mom, I have been on enough retreats. I am not going on this one.”
As the stubborn 16 year old I was, these words probably were not a surprise to my Mom. She calmly explained, in between my dramatic sobs, that the retreat was already paid for, I was specifically recruited to attend, and that it was at Notre Dame. Oh, and that the plane was leaving in a matter of hours. There wasn’t much of an option.
It was a typical Southern California morning in June – slightly foggy with the sun poking through the clouds, indicating that the fog had every intention of burning off. In the (silent and slightly awkward) car ride on the way to the airport, I thought deeply about this “Notre Dame Vision” thing. I had been on so many retreats it was impossible to count at that point, and to be completely honest, I was burnt out. I was tired of feeling like my emotions were always out in the open, tired of the general structure of a retreat, and was tired of the whole “Catholic” thing after spending 14 years in Catholic school. I was exhausted, and my struggles with the Catholic faith at the time weren’t exactly spearheading any sort of excitement for yet another retreat. I also had visited Notre Dame around 4 years prior for a football game and loved it. I didn’t want to taint that experience with something I was convinced would be horrible.
I composed myself as best as I could before saying goodbye to my Mom, gathered with my classmates at the airport, and began the weeklong journey that would so profoundly affect my life that I often have trouble explaining its magnitude.
Arriving at Notre Dame on the bus, with a friend-recommended Fleet Foxes album blaring in my ears, was the first moment I realized that my outburst that morning was completely unnecessary. Notre Dame’s beauty was absolutely beyond anything I remembered from that rainy football weekend in 2008, and almost instantly my mood shifted from begrudgingly accepting my fate to overwhelming excitement and wonder. This moment was also profound in my understanding and love of music that I carry with me today – it was the first moment that my 16-year-old mind began to tangibly associate music with such a deeply contemplative feeling.
That humid week in July was extraordinarily impactful on my faith and emotional development. I grew close with my mentors, exchanged many memories with my small group (some of whom I’m still in contact with today), and discovered a deep connection to my faith through music. All I wanted after that week was to be in the Notre Dame Vision band. All I wanted was to be able to stand up there on the DeBart 101 stage, guitar in hand, and allow thousands of people to feel what I felt – that connection between faith and music. I wanted to be able to spread my newfound, explosive love of music with everyone.
Fast-forward a few years, two summers into my already unbelievable experience as a Notre Dame undergrad, when this dream came true. In the summer of 2016, I served as the guitarist for the Notre Dame Vision band – an experience that, again, is hard to explain in words. I had the opportunity to craft and read a Witness Talk about a deeply personal part of myself, an experience that allowed me to continue my healing in a community of unconditional love. I acted on stage, bringing me back to my love of theatre that blossomed in high school. And I became friends with 62 truly remarkable people, my fellow mentors, whose expressions of love and support have continued to affect me today.
Looking back on the day of my flight to Notre Dame makes me feel a little strange. Had I not boarded that plane, I would likely not be a student at Notre Dame. I would not have my Campus Ministry job, and would not have met the friends that have already positively affected my life. I would not have been a Music Mentor at Notre Dame Vision in the summer of 2016. And here’s the kicker: I would absolutely not be Music Director of Notre Dame Vision for this coming summer.
When I think of the chain of events that led me to Notre Dame Vision, the opportunities I have had, and my present-day closeness with the program, I picture God smirking up in heaven and saying, “I told you so!” He knew all along – He knew I would put up a fight getting on the plane that summer morning in 2013. He knew all it would take is one look at the Notre Dame campus with one certain album playing through my earbuds to get me completely hooked. He knew I would go on to prove my angsty, 16-year-old self wrong by serving as a Mentor and later having the opportunity to serve as Head Staff. He knew that I needed a struggle in order to fully appreciate the impact this program would have on me. My trust in God’s plan for me and His place in my life has continued to grow while at Notre Dame, both through my Notre Dame Vision experiences and just from the blessing of being a student here.
So, no, I hadn’t been on enough retreats, as I originally thought. I needed Notre Dame Vision, more than any other, to open my eyes to God’s plan working in my life through something I already had a personal connection to – music. And as I look back on these past four years as a Notre Dame undergrad, I truly realize how much He has been present, guiding me every step of the way to seek out those opportunities that would lead me to Him.
I still put on that Fleet Foxes album when I’m feeling nostalgic about that unbearably hot week in July of 2013. I played it the Monday morning of the first week of Vision in Summer 2016, just hours before I finally got to fully realize my guitarist dream coming true. I played it the day I accepted the Music Director job for Summer 2018. And I know I will play that album the day I graduate from the University that has given me more than I ever imagined.