Tag Archives: Vocation

Why We Minister: Tami Schmitz

Tami Schmitz, Associate Director of Student Ministry

     “What do you want to be when you grow up?” From second grade until I entered the collegiate world at age 18, the answer to this question was “a teacher or a social worker.”  I come from a family of teachers and have always loved school, so teaching seemed like a natural fit. I also had a heart for the poor and wondered if working for a service agency was my calling.  Of course, God had a bit of a different plan which took shape most intensely and beautifully during my college years.

    “What do you want to be when you grow up?” From second grade until I entered the collegiate world at age 18, the answer to this question was “a teacher or a social worker.”  I come from a family of teachers and have always loved school, so teaching seemed like a natural fit. I also had a heart for the poor and wondered if working for a service agency was my calling.  Of course, God had a bit of a different plan which took shape most intensely and beautifully during my college years.

     My four years as an undergraduate at St. Norbert College were some of the best years of my life.  I formed friendships that continue to be some of the most important in my life to this day. I loved my professors and my classes (well, most of them…Statistics is another story!). By sophomore year, I claimed “Sociology” as my major.  I was very involved in extra-curricular’s ranging from Hall Government to intramural sports to community service.

Tami, right, and her St. Norbert College roommate Pam

      One of the largest influences during my time at St. Norbert was something called “Campus Ministry.” This was something I never heard of as I was a product of the public school system and tended to my faith through my home parish on Sundays and in weekly CCD classes.  I had never heard of a person called a “Campus Minister.”  My dear Aunt Lois played the organ at my parish every Sunday morning, so that was about the closest thing to a professional lay minister I had encountered up to that point in my life and she was a volunteer!  Slowly, but surely, I became more involved in this thing called “Campus Ministry” and developed wonderful relationships with members of the team which included both lay men and women and Norbertine priests.  The Masses, retreats, Bible Study, the First Communion Class I taught, and the community service I participated in all helped shape me in ways I never intended or expected. I had some wonderful Theology classes, too!

     I share this part of my journey because those four years were the most transformative years of my life (so far!).  By the time I reached senior year, my answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” became clear. I answered, “a Campus Minister!”  My faith had grown in ways I never imagined. I realized I actually had a “vocation” and was hearing God invite me to a life of ministry within the Church.  I was being called to integrate my faith into my entire lifestyle, including my job.  I had wonderful spiritual directors and friends along the way who helped me sort through this experience.  I encountered Jesus in a profound way through the people, classes, and experiences I had during those years. I could not deny the discipleship I was being invited into by God.

     Since 1986 (the year I launched into the workforce as a college graduate), I’ve always served as a full-time minister. I dabbled in parish and high school ministry for a few years, but truly found my calling in college Campus Ministry and have been serving in that role for the past 25 years.  It’s no huge secret why I may have landed here since my own college years were so transformative for my journey of faith.  I simply love college students! I love the stage of life between 18-22 years of age because college students are asking some of the most important life questions: What are my core beliefs? Who is God and what difference does faith make? What should be my major? What’s my vocation? What are the most important relationships in my life? What does our world need from me to make it better? What are my gifts and passions?”

Tami and ND students walking the Camino in Spain

     Walking with students as they wrestle with, ponder, and embrace some of these most important questions of their lives is the greatest joy of my life.  I look to Jesus and see how he “walked” with a variety of people on their journey of faith such as the woman at the well, the man born blind, the paralytic, and the disciples and I feel called to do the same, particularly with college students.  There are many things that can easily distract students from paying attention to their faith lives. There are many “things” that seemingly satisfy us in life. However, I found that there is nothing better, or more meaningful, than following Jesus, who is “living water,” the “bread of life,” and our “Good Shepherd.” I simply want to share that message and help students encounter Jesus along the way. As students grapple with important life questions, as a minister, I love the opportunity to remind them to not forget about Jesus and their faith lives during their time of discernment. In fact, I suggest that one’s faith and values is a great place to START when considering the “BIG” questions.

        When a ND student is asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hope the answer has something to do with their passion, their gifts, and most importantly, their faith in Jesus which will inspire them to be the “good news” wherever God is sending them into the world.

Finding Peace in Uncertainty

Brianna Casey, Senior

One Sunday evening early this semester, after a particularly demanding week, I stepped into the Lewis chapel to join my community for mass. I felt emotionally and spiritually drained, which was probably much of the reason I felt that my heart wasn’t fully “with” what was happening in front of me. Over the past several days, I had been struggling with intensified feelings of uncertainty regarding my faith. As I listened to the scripture passages, I began to feel the all-too familiar pangs of doubt. What if we’re wrong? How can I be certain what I believe is actually true? I was frustrated—somehow, the reasons and experiences I had previously used to give rationale to my faith seemed suddenly insufficient, and at that moment I didn’t know what I believed. Still, I dropped to my knees during the Preparation hymn, and I prayed—not to be given the answers, but for God to free me from my anxiety and reaffirm my trust in Him. Instantly, I felt a wave of peace wash over me like cleansing water. In that moment, I was reminded of the awesome power of God to transform hearts and release those who turn to Him from the crushing weight of uncertainty. My questions still remained, but I was able to perceive them with new eyes, without the paralyzing anxiety that had accompanied them only a few moments prior.

Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Doubt, of course, is not something confined to our understanding of the nature of God. We can experience uncertainty when discerning our vocation, career, or any decision that affects our lives. Although as I’ve journeyed through my four years at Notre Dame I’ve become increasingly certain that my calling lies in a career in medicine, I must admit that I still have doubts, as terrifying as that can be. Yet, what keeps me moving forward is trust in the notion that what matters is not so much what we do but the person we become, and I believe that by remaining receptive to Christ we can allow Him to work through our lives in amazing ways, regardless of our particular profession.

I’ve known many people in my life who don’t adhere to any type of religion because of their doubts. They think there may be some validity to believing in God, but they aren’t quite sure, so they don’t want to fully open themselves to the possibility just yet. But I would argue the only way to combat this uncertainty is to take the initial step and enter into a relationship with God. If, when faced with any other decision in our lives we acted only when we were absolutely certain, it is unlikely we would accomplish much of anything or leave room for personal growth. Just as you can’t know if you truly want to be a doctor until you begin to follow the path of medicine and discern as you go, it is impossible to come to know God apart from God. We need to be willing to trust despite our uncertainties and at the same time present our doubts to God in prayer and allow Him to work through them.

I’ve encountered moments of uncertainty regarding both my faith and my vocational path time and time again. Yet I’ve come to see these periods not as failures but as an opportunity to grow. Consider this—each of us carries a unique personal philosophy and a particular representation of the world. When we have an experience that doesn’t fit neatly into our paradigm, we have the option to either reject it or alter our philosophy to accommodate it. This is the reason why we can be so sure of our beliefs at one point and be overcome with doubt later on. New experiences require us to reach a new equilibrium, and it is in this way that uncertainty allows us to break down our prior understanding of God and build a more perfect one. Thus, experiencing doubt doesn’t make our faith weak; rather, it can actually serve to strengthen our beliefs and challenge our faith to reach a new level.

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

To all those reading this today who are experiencing doubt in any aspect of their lives: do not despair. But also, don’t try to overcome your uncertainty alone. I encourage you to take your fears and inhibitions to prayer, asking God to transform your heart and grant you clarity of mind. I won’t promise the answers will come all at once. But I do hope you will be able to find peace and deepen your understanding of what is True. It begins with trust, and trust strengthened by prayer.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6


Falling In Love

John Lee, Senior

During my freshman year at Notre Dame, I knew exactly what I would be doing after graduation. I had my entire life figured out. Looking back, it’s curious to see that the farther away I was from graduating, the surer I had been about what I would do afterwards. And now, as a senior, the closer I am to graduating (knock on wood), the more uncertain I have become. Go figure.

Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Let me give you a glimpse of what my time at Notre Dame looked like, and the rollercoaster of a ride I gave my academic advisor during these years. I entered as a Psychology/ Pre-Med student, dropped Psychology, picked up Political Science, dropped Pre-Med, picked up Philosophy as a minor, picked up Italian as a supplementary major (because, why not?), picked up Theology as a minor, raised Theology to a major, was irked that Political Science did not have a minor, dropped Italian as a supplementary major, was accepted to the Hesburgh Program in Public Service minor, dropped Theology back to a minor, raised Philosophy to a major, dropped Theology all together, and dropped the Hesburgh Program to finally be the Philosophy and Political Science double major that I am today.

Amidst the craze of what could accurately be called my academic shopping splurge at Notre Dame, dreams of my future came and went, rose and fell like the tides of an ocean. I had set my sights on going to medical school, becoming a neurosurgeon, and discovering the cure for Alzheimer’s; going to graduate school for International Relations, joining the Foreign Services, unraveling the enigma that is North Korea, and becoming the next Secretary General of the United Nations; working in public policy, serving as the Chief-of-Staff to a future President of the United States, and being elected Speaker of the House; earning my Ph.D., and teaching philosophy to students at a small Catholic university.

The list goes on, but one can only change one’s major so many times before worrying one’s parents to death… And now that the day of reckoning draws near, I have never been more unsure of what the next step in my life should be. Sure, I can convince everyone I have my life in order with the elevator pitch I’ve memorized over the years. But that pitch is more to reassure myself I have my life figured out so I don’t lose my cool. Because frighteningly enough, this next step seems like it will largely determine the course of the rest of my life. And if that isn’t a daunting thought, then I’ve never had one.

“What if I apply to the wrong job, or accept the wrong offer?” Or perhaps: “What if I don’t get hired, or get accepted to the law school or the graduate school of my dreams?” Or even more seriously, “After all this time and energy, what if medical school just isn’t for me?” Or: “What if he or she isn’t the one?”

With all of these doubts and uncertainties swirling around in my head like a tornado, I was thrown into a bout of anxiety and despair. “What am I doing with my life? What am I going to do?”

Sometimes, I just want to let go, give up, and run off into the sunset, escaping this stressful world and eloping with destiny.

And it is at these moments that I feel the most with Frodo Baggins of the Shire who, in his own despair on his perilous quest to destroy the Ring, found himself saying, “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

I especially feel this way when I occasionally catch myself day-dreaming about life on a farm 300 years ago. I picture myself rising from bed with the sun, breathing in the crisp and refreshing morning air, working the land with nothing but fresh soil between my toes, and drinking the ice cold water from the chortling creek nearby. I dream of watching the radiant sunset dip between the great sycamore trees and behind the grand mountain range beyond after a hard day’s work, and laying under a black tapestry of stars shimmering with songs and stories of heroes and monsters weaved meticulously into the fabric of the night by the ever-flowing fingers of Time.

And sometimes, I daydream of being a dog, and having absolutely nothing on my mind except Kibbles, good belly rubs, and the consistency of squirrel droppings at the park. The unexamined life is a life free of stress and obstacles.

But even in this despair of wishing none of these things had happened in life, Gandalf reassures Frodo: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given us. There are other forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, in which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”

It truly is an encouraging thought to know that we are meant to be where we are now, and that every step we take forward is essential to the grand scheme. But the path to our final destination, is it right or left? Corporate finance or management consulting? Medical school or service work? To Orgo, or not to Orgo?

April 11, 2012; Sacred Heart Jesus statue and tulips in Main "God" Quad. Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame
Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame

Whenever I begin to drown in these potential scenarios or “would have, could have, should haves,” I am reminded of a simple yet beautiful prayer by Jesuit priest, Fr. Pedro Arrupe:

“Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

The great secret to our vocation lies in what we secretly love greatly. So to all my fellow anxious and despairing Domers out there: fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.