How one Catholic college is growing ‘students with roots’

As Holy Cross College students arrived on campus in Notre Dame, Indiana, they were greeted by Laudato Si’-inspired messages shared by the Common Home Student Group, one of many ways the organization hopes to ignite spiritual and ecological conversions.   

Shawn T. Storer, the group’s faculty advisor and a Holy Cross theology professor, said student organizers have filled the fall calendar with a cornucopia of prayers, collaborations, outings and community events. 

“Holy Cross has not had a student organization quite like this before,” Storer said. “While it has had, at different points in time, a biology club, an outdoor club, a Saints for Life group and a Catholic Peace Fellowship student chapter which works with the local Catholic Worker Community, this student group draws together some of elements of those clubs, while also inviting people to consider how giving praise to the Living God leads us to a care for our common home that requires discovering a path to an integral ecology that responds to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Since its founding in 2021, the Common Home Student Group has initiated discussions about Holy Cross’s commitment to participate in the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, facilitating communal discernment and imaginative exercises around the seven-year program.

“Beginning a campus conversation about the Laudato Si’ Action Platform was simply a way of formalizing and committing to saying this is a serious conversation that we want to foster over time here at our institution,” Storer said, “a conversation that acknowledges that as a Catholic institution we understand that a covenantal relationship with God includes a care for the land, indeed, all of Creation. Holy Cross College is interested in growing what Pope Francis calls “young people with roots.’” 

The student group has also rehabilitated a campus greenhouse, collaborated with the biology club to begin restoring a natural prairie area and joined with other students to discern ways to share uneaten dining hall food with local charities. 

To assist in their work, the Common Home Student Group received a $1,000 grant from the Victory Noll Sisters Small Grant program. A program of the Catholic Climate Covenant, in 2022 it provided nearly $75,000 of funding for 77 Catholic organizations working locally to care for our common home.

Holy Cross’s Common Home Student Group originated from a collaborative Tri-Campus Theology and Integral Ecology course that unites students and professors from the three Congregation of Holy Cross campuses in Notre Dame, Indiana: Holy Cross, the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. 

By introducing students to what Pope Francis calls the “ecological virtues,” Storer said, the course aims encourage a practice of wonder, gratitude, hope, cooperation, and responsibility. 

The course and other related offerings have had profound effects on students’ lives even after graduation. Holy Cross College students who have studied Laudato Si’ have started urban market farms, managed a Catholic Worker cooperative grocery, studied holistic land management in Africa, worked through Americorps on recycling programs in Montana and more. 

“These students showed initiative in starting this group and became part of what is becoming a discernible stream of recent Holy Cross alumni who upon graduation have pursued work that addresses themes at the heart of Laudato Si’,” Storer said.

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