SOUTH BEND, Ind.–Empty pews lined an empty room. Songbooks were located at the back of each pew and a black piano sat in the corner. A silent serenity filled the empty chapel as a vacant podium looked over the room.
Sounds like a chapel familiar to most people in the BYU community so far, right?
But this description is of a chapel in South Bend, Ind., home to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish where the BYU Cougar football team awaits its chance to test their luck against the Irish Saturday afternoon.
Some view these two teams as being inherently quite different as BYU is a Latter-day Saint campus and Notre Dame is a Catholic campus.
True, that in this chapel was also a large depiction of the Virgin Mary, three large stained glass windows and hanging up high in the front and center of the chapel was a large crucifix (all items not regularly found in an LDS chapel); however, at the core, these two schools are more similar than they are different.
Senior Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is well-known now to most college football fans across the nation. He is the face of the Irish football team, a Heisman contender and he is a Mormon.
While he was being recruited out of high school, he had amongst his top choices USC, BYU and Notre Dame and faced a difficult decision.
“I prayed about it, and everything pointed toward Notre Dame,” Te’o said in a news conference, regarding how a devout Mormon wound up at Notre Dame, a school which is 84 percent Catholic.
The LDS community at Notre Dame might be small but they show how the quality of a community is not purely measured by the quantity of members.
“(The LDS community has been) very supportive,” Te’o said. “Just like I’ve known ever since I was young just not obviously in Hawai’i. But it’s very supportive and very helpful and people have just always been there for me and I’m really fortunate to have that.”
Another LDS student expounded about life at Notre Dame, first-year law student Melinda Cook from Eau Claire, Wisc. She also attended BYU for her undergraduate degree and graduated in sociology April 2011.
“One of the big reasons why I chose to come here was they were a lot more friendly to married students compared to my other options, and (my husband and I) were both happy here,” Cook said. “I would say that was because of their Catholic character, where they are more encouraging of families and marriage. It was just a really warm, inviting place and the people were really friendly. People ask where you’re from, and people seem genuinely more interested in your perspective, in my experience.”
All of the buildings around campus are a uniform hue of light brown, and the long history of the university is visible through its architecture. The Notre Dame campus is beautiful as the streets are lined with fall-colored-trees, giving a beautiful view of the famous golden dome. Along one of these streets was a streetlight where a banner hung entitled “Our Vision.”
“To be a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need.”
Those values were well exemplified by the community as the people were kind and helpful to all first-time visitors, regardless of whether the visitors were BYU or Notre Dame fans.
“There is a strong religious core, people still mostly share the same values as (an LDS person),” Cook said about the people at Notre Dame. “People believe in God. People believe in Jesus Christ. And that is nice, but there is also a lot of diversity here.”
Diversity may be lacking at times at BYU as the school’s students are 98 percent LDS, but BYU is also driven with a strong spiritual core with the aims of a BYU eucation being “Spiritually strenthening, intellectually enlarging, character building and life-long learning and service.”
One fascinating way Notre Dame reaches out to its non-Catholic students is by inviting them to a mass where they will explain the basics and answer any questions they may have regarding what happens at mass.
“Whenever there is anything worth celebrating, generally there is a mass associated with the event,” Cook said. “It is a huge part of life here. It can be hard though not knowing what is considered rude when attending mass if you have never attended before, and they give us an opportunity to learn about mass as a non-Catholic and that is really nice I thought.”
Some people view this football game between BYU and Notre Dame as a sort of “new Holy War” where two drastically different universities with proud religious heritage will clash on the gridiron.
But as 1,500 miles separate Provo and South Bend, the schools couldn’t be closer in purpose.