Erin McAuliffe | May 1, 2017
While the word “barefoot” seems most relevant to college students in the context of a grocery aisle deliberation between rosé and Riesling, to Thom Behrens ’16 barefoot became a way of life.
I met Thom, a computer science major at Notre Dame with a thick, blonde beard, at a swing dance class on campus a couple of years ago. His feet moved quickly as he demonstrated the Charleston. I continued to see him around campus, his feet moving slower than they had in the ballroom — and usually without shoes.
A Notre Dame-sponsored Summer Service Learning Program in Kansas City the summer before Behrens’ junior year prompted the wardrobe purge. The former Duncan Hall residence assistant taught science at a Boys and Girls Club and stayed at Jerusalem Farm, an urban community rooted in Catholic intentionality. Jerusalem Farm works to transform the lives of those living on the farm and in the surrounding city through sustainable living, home repair projects and hosting 16 to 20 service retreats each year.
“The people there believed what I believed and were living it,” he says. Before leaving that summer, Thom told the farm staff he would be back.
“I knew it was what I was supposed to be doing,” he says. “This life of simplicity where I could be a Christian in everything I did.” He took that mindset back to campus junior year, sans shoes in the warmer months to remember the deep connection with the Earth that he had experienced through the farm’s emphasis on simplicity and sustainability.
“I wanted to make sure that I always had in my mind the idea that the Earth is holy ground and sacred because it was created by God. . . . It is a way to treat reality as something to be cherished instead of something you need to make a list of checkmarks about,” he says.