Jean Lenz, OSF | May 13, 2018
The call from home brought bad news to a popular Farley Hall student: Her father, a man in his mid-40s, had died of a heart attack. The shocked young woman packed quickly and flew home to her family, leaving behind a stunned, numb and devastated residence hall community.
The second call came late in the evening. It was from the grieving young woman to her roommates; that very morning, she told them, she had received two letters her dad had written, as he always did, while he was on a business trip. She had read them, welcomed his words, then thrown them away. She begged her friends to try to retrieve the letters.
Somehow they did, wearing boots and carrying flashlights and digging their way through all that day’s trash in the giant garbage bin behind Farley Hall and not giving up until the letters were recovered. I distinctly remember the resident assistant on duty that evening remarking, “I think everyone in this hall called their dads today.”
When students call a hall home for four years, they grow close. They share their pain and grief — but also their joy and celebrations. As I recall my years as rector of Farley, I think of that sharing and, curiously it’s always Farley’s ivy, especially those tiniest leaves at the end of long, sturdy vines running deep into the earth, that reminds me of the ongoing life of the place. My fingers first touched Farley’s ivy in the summer of ’73; it was crawling across the south-entrance doors to a spot where it slipped around a corner and into the building. I followed it, as anxious as the ivy to get into this residence hall so recently designated for undergraduate women. I was about to begin a cherished Notre Dame tradition, the ministry of rectoring.
Veteran male rectors had made it clear to me that a rector is not a “manager” or “director” but a person who is expected to move in and share life fully with some 250 young people. At the outset, a friend presented me with a poster whose legend captures what happened to me during 11 years in Farley: “I can believe anything as long as it’s incredible.” I came to believe deeply in residence-hall ministry because it was filled with an incredible mystery of life and with all the growth patterns one can imagine — a bit like the ivy twining itself forever around the building.