Finding the Holy Cross Family: An Understanding of Love and Universality

When I chose to participate in the ISSLP in Kyarusozi, Uganda, I had no idea what kind of community I would be spending time with. The site was a “Holy Cross” site, whatever that meant, and I just knew that I would be helping teach some undetermined subject to some undetermined age level. I didn’t have expectations for the summer — what would happen to me or what I would be doing — and I’m glad I didn’t. It allowed me to be open to everything and everyone, or more specifically, the Congregation of Holy Cross and the incredible community surrounding them.

Spending time after school with two of my mathematics students, Deus and Brian.

When my site partner, Marisa, and I arrived in Kampala, Uganda, at 11:00 p.m., the capital was devoid of light. We were in an unknown country that we couldn’t even see, and both of us were a little nervous to say the least, but we were immediately welcomed by the people and guided to where we needed to be, the Holy Cross McCauley House. The next morning we met the resident priests and brothers who showed us Kampala in not only the literal sense, but the cultural sense. By eating ensenene (fried grasshoppers) with them and listening to Ugandan music, I started to witness this amazing community and receive it openly. So the Ugandan community was so cool, but what was Holy Cross and how did it fit in to everything?

The next day, we drove to Kyarusozi, a small, rural village in Western Uganda, and moved into the Holy Cross Bernie Klim House where we would be for the following eight weeks. Somehow, all of these priests and brothers knew all the ones in Kampala and were just as funny and welcoming. Eventually, when I visited Fort Portal and Jinja during my time, I would observe the same thing at those communities. Holy Cross had some insanely strong connections across East Africa that were full of love as they welcomed strange foreigners into their homes. However, while everyone knows everyone, what was most apparent was that the Holy Cross community is not self-contained. They accepted me, but moreover, they continuously reach out and expand to the people they are surrounded by, evident in their work in Kyarusozi.

The brothers and priests that I lived and worked with ran St. Joseph’s Hill Secondary School in Kyembogo, which serves students from the local area, Kampala, Rwanda, and even Tanzania. Every single day, I got to spend time and know these students and the faculty who are all very connected to Holy Cross. While Father Potthast coaches students in futbol every evening, Father Dennis makes sure they receive their fair share of mangoes from the Congregation’s tree, and both of them, along with Br. Joseph, Br. Jim, and Br. Cleo, do everything they can to keep the students in school. On the weekends, they celebrate Mass and spend time with the local communities, sharing meals and dancing like they had with me. I came to recognize that the people and students of Kyarusozi associated me with Holy Cross, and gradually, I realized that the students, faculty, parishioners, and other residents were also Holy Cross. The love exchanged in all these interactions enforces the connection amidst humanity, despite any borders — physical, geographical, racial, religious, or cultural.

Pictured with residents of the Bernie Klim House in Kyembogo. From left to right: Fr. Dennis Lule, C.S.C., me, Br. Joseph Kaganda, C.S.C., Br. Cleophas Kyomuhendo, C.S.C., Marisa Perino (junior at ND), Br. Jim Nichols, C.S.C., and Audrey Immonen (senior at ND). The only resident not featured is Fr. Dick Potthast, C.S.C.

Holy Cross taught me the most wonderful lesson about who they are: Christ’s mission on Earth. Because their community extends to everyone, they enable and engage in relationships of love, which truly resonates with everyone they encounter. Holy Cross guided me through Uganda, yes, but they continue to guide me in my life by highlighting what matters most in life: our relationships with each other, ourselves, and God.

Olivia Barnard is currently a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame, studying English and Applied Computational Mathematics and Statistics with a concentration in Actuarial Science. She grew up in Roswell, Georgia, with her English father, Irish mother, and two sisters. After her experiences with the ISSLP and Holy Cross in Uganda, Olivia continues to be involved in the Center for Social Concerns on campus.

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