Growing with God as a Non-Catholic

Author: Sophia Ochoa

It’s no secret that the Catholic faith is one of the fundamental characteristics of Notre Dame. It’s integrated into daily student life through things such as optional mass, priests in residence, and catching a glimpse of Mary on top of the dome on your way to class. Above all else, it is the love of God and love for people that drives Notre Dame to operate as the university that it is. It is this core motive that brings so many to campus.

But what if I’m not Catholic? How can I have an equally enriching spiritual life at Notre Dame?

That was one of the questions I asked myself at the beginning of freshman year. As an evangelical protestant, I was a little unsure of how Notre Dame could shape my faith over the next four years. Like every student, I was outside of my comfort zone and usual routine: I was now thousands of miles away from my church back in Manila, I no longer had frequent 1-1s with my spiritual mentor, etc. College can be a significant drive in your spiritual walk. In college, your spirituality is all on you. You can’t rely on your parents to bring you to church or remind you to spend time with friends of the same faith. Being far from home pushed me to find spaces both on and off campus that could help me cultivate my walk with God. Thankfully, I found a few that have been essential to my growth as a Christian.

What was initially just another opportunity for me to sing, the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir became an outlet for me to express my faith. Voices is a small choir within Campus Ministry that specializes in African-American gospel music, being the most diverse choir ethnically and denominationally. They consistently emphasize that ministry comes first, and music second. With a genre I had no exposure to beforehand, I eagerly joined to learn. During one rehearsal my sophomore year, I was moved to (to put lightly) tears during our first listen to one of the songs for our annual winter concert. It was “More than Anything” by Lamar Campbell. It was the first time I understood what the Voices mission truly meant. The goal of a Voices performance is to demonstrate God’s grace to any audience, reaching over barriers of race and faith. By realizing this, Voices of Faith became much larger than just a choir to me. It became another place of authentic worship outside of the church.

A group of Notre Dame students pose together.
Sophia Ochoa ‘25 along with the Voices of Faith Gospel Choir after their Winter Concert last December 2022 titled “I Love You, Jesus”.

Notre Dame also became the place where I’d be surrounded by so many Christian friends. I can accredit much of this amazing influence to Iron Sharpens Iron (ISI). ISI is an interdenominational Christian organization based on Proverbs 27:17 in the Bible, where fellowship in Christ and the gospel message is at the forefront. Through weekly student-led talks, semester retreats, and other activities such as potluck meals and nights of worship, I settled into a community that encouraged me to continue my walk with the Lord. ISI showed me that I wasn’t the only one who had seasons of hurt or waiting and that I had peers whom I could pray for. On campus, there is not just ISI, but so many organizations that you can get plugged into. Delight, Collegiate Gospel Club, and Chi Alpha are just a few of the ministries at Notre Dame that provide a space for spiritual growth with others alongside you.

Lastly, I cannot express how grateful I am to have places like Redeemer and Gospel City Church that have been a launching pad to learn more about God. The two have been significant factors in my college experience. I am always thankful for the student and Michiana resident drivers who bring me to both churches and the sermons of Pastor Brian Hedges and Micah Klutinoty every Sunday. Redeemer Church is also where I met Katie O’Dell, a current graduate student pursuing her PhD in Philosophy. If there is someone who has heard about all of my spiritual life at Notre Dame, it’s Katie. A special thank you to her for showing me so much love and patience thus far. There are so many places of worship for all types of faiths in the Michiana area, and more often than not a Notre Dame student will accompany you if it’s your first time going off campus.

A group of Notre Dame students in a lounge space on campus.
ISI’s Christmas party was hosted at one of Sorin College’s lounge rooms before finals week! It was a night of gingerbread house decorating, gift exchanges, hot chocolate, and of course, a student-led talk and worship.

While I am far from the perfect Christian, by God’s grace I found the places and people that can guide me into having a stronger relationship with Him than before. Just like many things, finding my faith is no linear progression. There are highs and lows in how closely I’ve walked with God during my time at Notre Dame. It’s equally important to note that while Catholicism and Christian principles are integral to the university, nothing is by any means mandatory or intended for conversion. Ultimately, your spiritual journey is uniquely yours to mold. What makes Notre Dame so special is that everywhere you look, there is always someone who is more than happy to help you in any way they can.

You are loved!