Companions in Mission

Author: Maureen McKenney

"Our hope and our need are to live blessed by faithful and loving relationships with friends and companions in mission, relationships reflective of the intimacy and openness of God's love for us." - Blessed Basil Moreau

One of the most talented Student Affairs professionals I’ll ever know once told me he sees himself as being in a truly authentic relationship with the University. As he describes it, when you think about the relationships with those closest to you – parents, friends, partners, siblings, children – these are the relationships that bring you the most joy, laughter, and fulfillment, but also deliver the most pain, disappointment, and heartache. This depiction of life as a Student Affairs professional here at Our Lady’s University has stuck with me over the years. I find myself both yearning to have that type of relationship with this institution and striving to share this approach with potential Notre Dame staff.

In my current role, I have the privilege of working with an incredible group of professionals who serve and support our students. One of my main responsibilities is recruiting, hiring, and onboarding staff across a wide array of offices within the Division, which has, in a number of ways, both shifted the way I experience the University and how I explain this place to colleagues and peers who are considering joining our merry band of misfits. But how do you succinctly state what it means to be a member of the Division of Student Affairs at Notre Dame - what makes this place unique (not - as another valued colleague would say - inherently better or worse, but unquestionably different)?

In every search I help run, I tell people (regardless of the particular position, department, or responsibilities) that the “ideal candidate” brings three things to the table: (1) a deep love of students and a desire to help them grow into their best, authentic selves; (2) a clear understanding of what it means to function as a part of a highly collaborative team; and (3) a desire to work at a mission-driven institution, where the “why” and “how” behind the work we do is ultimately (almost) more important than the “what” we do when it comes to serving and supporting our students. So then, how do we articulate the ways in which we live out the University’s mission, not only in the larger, more philosophical sense, but in our day-to-day lives as Student Affairs professionals? And how do we demonstrate the ways in which this Division is truly a group of “companions in mission,” working in relationship with one another every day to serve and support our students’ development in mind, body, and spirit?

In all honesty, I struggle regularly to answer the question, “In what ways do you see the mission lived out across the Division;” it’s comparable to asking a fish to describe water, or a bird to describe air. How do you explain something that is such an apparent given? For me, the clearest demonstration of the mission lived out within the Division is through the community we build and the relationships we establish, grow, and lean on. It’s how we not only celebrate the joys and accomplishments of our colleagues, but also how we challenge one another to do better, to be better, as people and professionals. It’s in the conversations we have with our students, the moments we push them to look past their own interests in consideration of the common good, and the times we sit with them and are present alongside them through their challenges.

Ultimately, when it comes to recruiting and hiring for mission, I don’t really care if a candidate is able to repeat the University’s mission statement verbatim, or throw around Notre Dame specific buzzwords in casual conversation. Rather, I look for professionals who care, deeply and genuinely, about the work we do; who have the ability to keep the best interest of our students - not necessarily what they want, so much as what they need - at the forefront of every decision; and who want to build strong, authentic relationships with not only students and staff, but the institution as a whole. Of course, as with all of the honest and important relationships in our lives, that means opening ourselves up to pain, heartache, and disappointment, delivered by students, colleagues, leadership, and others. But, if we’re doing it right, it also means finding a professional home - a community overflowing with “faithful and loving relationships with friends and companions in mission,” which will provide some of the greatest joys, most profound moments of grace, and opportunities for personal growth that we can ever hope to experience.

- Maureen McKenney, Assistant Director, Student Development