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Pilgrims on a Journey: The 2023 AICSN Middle School Pilgrimage

by Collin Gortner

AICSN Middle Schoolers in front of the Main Building at Notre Dame

The American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN) Middle School Pilgrimage, established in 2019, celebrates the achievements of graduating eighth-grade students while providing them with an opportunity to meet other young people attending American Indian Catholic schools, experience a university, and reflect on their faith.

Students from AICSN schools insideTwenty-one students and five chaperones from two AICSN schools, De La Salle Blackfeet School and St. Augustine Indian Mission, visited the University of Notre Dame’s campus as part of the 2023 AICSN Middle School Pilgrimage in May.

The pilgrimage is an especially exciting event because it is the one time each year that students at AICSN schools get to spend time together. Students were encouraged to get to know one another through shared meals, reflective conversations, and group activities.

Several academic events were included in the pilgrimage schedule. Students listened to a lecture from Dr. Ashley Bird, an indigenous professor on campus, visited the planetarium in the Jordan Hall of Science, and toured Notre Dame Studios. One student observed that “this school can give big opportunities to their students.” The students also talked to Notre Dame students and asked them about their experiences transitioning from high school to college.

Fr. Joe Carey, CSC talking to middle schoolers of AICSN schoolsStudents celebrated Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, visited the Ryan Hall chapel, and prayed at the Grotto. Fr. Joe Carey, C.S.C., led students in a prayer exercise and shared some insights about the history of the Grotto. The students were impressed by the way in which faith is integrated into campus life at Notre Dame, as one student said, “One thing that really stuck with me is all of the dorms have a chapel.”

Students celebrated their achievements in middle school by skating at the Compton Family Ice Arena and eating Chick-Fil-A for dinner. Although new to many students, ice skating was a hit. One student from St. Augustine wrote, “I never went ice skating before, and I had so much fun.” Students played basketball at the Notre Dame practice facility and outdoor courts near the bookstore. Both of these opportunities were popular among the students, many of whom share a passion for the sport. One student noted, “I really enjoyed playing basketball because I got to meet new people and make new friends while doing something I love.”

Students ice skating in Compton Family Ice ArenaThe Notre Dame community benefits from engaging with these students, as they have valuable perspectives and insights to share with the Notre Dame students, staff, and faculty. Will Newkirk, the director of AICSN, said, “Our best days at Notre Dame are when our great friends like those at DLSBS and St. Augs come to visit. They teach us so much about what life is like for students at AICSN schools, as well as in Indian Country. It's quite moving when they share their dreams for high school, college, and beyond – and we are honored to work with them in achieving those goals.” 

This trip was made possible through the generous support of Gary and Barbara Pasquinelli and their family. Additionally, the pilgrimage was enhanced by the Notre Dame undergraduate students, including ACE 30 Teaching Fellows interns, who took time out of their final exam preparations to give tours of campus, share meals with the students, and help with ice skating.

Moving forward, the ACE community will be keeping the eighth-grade classes at St. Augustine Indian Mission and De La Salle Blackfeet School in their prayers. The AICSN team, in particular, thanks the students for the time they spent on campus and wishes the students all the best in their future endeavors.

Watch here to learn more about the AICSN Middle School pilgrimage and what students and teachers experienced during their time on Notre Dame's campus.

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