Unannounced, yet welcomed

In the following post, David Mahin, a senior at Siegfried Hall at the University of Notre Dame, recounts his experience of finding hospitality at the Holy Cross Novitiate in East Africa. It is a classic Holy Cross story.

Mother Teresa was famous for telling those who were interested in her work in Calcutta to “come and see.” As I sat in Kampala, Uganda, wondering what I was going to do for the next seven days, I kept thinking of those three words.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, a little background on why I was in Uganda in the first place. I’m a senior at Notre Dame. Fall semester of my junior year I spent four months studying post-conflict transformation in Kigali, Rwanda, and in Gulu, Uganda. As part of the program I conducted research in Gulu on microfinance and economic recovery in a post-conflict society. From 1986 to 2007 northern Uganda suffered through one of the worst civil wars in history, leaving the people haunted and their agrarian economy in shambles.

Interested in how another year of development had impacted the region’s thoughts on the role economic recovery plays in the general peace building process, I received a grant from Notre Dame to return to Gulu this past January to continue my research. After a week of interviews in the north I found myself back in Kampala with another week before my flight home.

I had become quite familiar with Holy Cross during my first three and a half years at Notre Dame. I had learned about the order and its mission, its various provinces and missionary work. Living with Fr. John Conley, C.S.C., in Siegfried Hall and working at the Basilica here on campus, I had gotten to know quite a few of the priests with ties to campus. I had even discerned a vocation in Rome over spring break of my sophomore year through the Office of Vocation’s annual Pilgrimage.

Fr Paul Kollman, CSC giving Communion

While I had heard all about Holy Cross’ presence in East Africa from Fr. Bob Dowd, C.S.C., and Fr. Paul Kollman, C.S.C., before leaving for my semester abroad, I never got the chance to actually see what they had spoken of the first time I was there. So, sitting in an internet café in Kampala, I decided to take Mother Teresa’s words to heart and go and see what the Novitiate in Fort Portal was all about.

Saaka House, Holy Cross Novitiate in East Africa

With no phone number to contact and without the slightest idea of who I might find there, I boarded a public bus and showed up at the Novitiate’s doorstep, backpack in hand, six hours later. I was greeted by Fr. Dick Stout and after spending less than 30 seconds explaining my situation to him he was already showing me to an open room and listing off meal times.

I spent the next seven days breaking bread and praying with the seminarians. We bonded over countless games of Uno and visits to the local prison. We discussed our different backgrounds and shared our current concerns for the future; theirs as they prepare to take temporary vows and mine as I get ready to begin a professional life in Chicago next fall. At week’s end I left Saaka House with 14 new friends and re-invigorated for my final semester at school.

Novices sing at morning Mass

It wasn’t until I returned home and told my mom about arriving at the Novitiate unannounced, receiving the kind of welcome reserved for old friends, that I truly appreciated how much Holy Cross values community. And how much being surrounded by that community at Notre Dame and in Fort Portal has changed me for the better. So I was happy I took Mother Teresa’s advice. I was even happier that, after seeing Holy Cross in action here on campus, I knew I didn’t have to think twice about just showing up.

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