TEXAS TRANSPLANT THRIVES AT NDPMA
Notre Dame campus minister, originally from Houston, helps students "see the presence of God in their lives," finds NDPMA community to be super caring and supportive.
Only months after Eric Olson and his family moved from Texas to Michigan in 2016 and began to work in Notre Dame's campus ministry department, his very young son had become seriously ill. As he and his wife, Maggie, were dealing with this wrenching situation, they quickly found out what kind of a school community exists at NDPMA.
"We moved to Michigan in the summer of 2016 and in December of that year, my first year at Notre Dame, my youngest son, James, became very sick," Olson said. "So one of the first impressions I had of this school was how wonderfully supportive the broader community here really was."
Olson said that when James had surgery and underwent chemo, he received countless notes, emails and texts from people in the community, including from faculty and parents of our children’s classmates.
"Honestly, it was very difficult to leave Texas where I had lived my entire life, but having such support from our Notre Dame friends and the faculty at Notre Dame truly meant the world to me and my family," he said.
Currently, James, now 3 years old, is doing fine as he and his two siblings, Chrissy, 7, and Patrick, 5, are well into their second term this school year in Notre Dame's lower division. For their father, who recently returned from a campus ministry-sponsored Leadership Summit in Atlanta at Marist School, he is looking forward to the rest of the school year and working in what he says is his dream job.
"Honestly, I don’t think I would want to work in any field outside of education," said Olson, who was born and raised in Houston. "After college, I found my way back to my alma mater, Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, where I fell in love with teaching. Working in campus ministry at Strake was an opportunity to give back to the community that was so important in my own formation and education. Now that I am in my 10th year working in education, I can say that short of winning the lottery, I’m not sure there is a dream job anywhere that would take me away from working in a Catholic school like Notre Dame."
After earning a B.S. degree in geography and physical education from Texas State University in San Marcus and an M.Ed. degree in curriculum instruction from Regis University, a Jesuit university in Denver, Colo., Olson's career in education began as a social studies teacher at St. Martha Catholic School in Houston, where he taught American history, Texas history and world cultures. He also served as as the liturgy and retreat coordinator at Strake where he planned all retreats and liturgies, participated in mission trips and directed more than 20 Kairos retreats.
Olson's job at Notre Dame involves many of the same things he did at Strake Jesuit, but he's adamant about what is the most critical aspect of his current position.
"The most important part of my job, by far, is relational ministry — which basically means that we are interacting with our students on many levels — and supporting the community at large," he said. "It is my goal every day I walk onto campus that no matter who I come into contact with, whether it be the faculty, students, parents, or even the alumni, that they know that someone is listening and supporting them. Through relational ministry, I aspire to meet others whenever and wherever they are and help them see the presence of God in their life. I also feel that working in ministry at Notre Dame is a great opportunity to help the school define and spread Marist spirituality throughout both the student and parent communities."
Although relatively new on campus, Olson nonetheless has noticed that the school has not been standing still.
"Even though I've only been here a few years, I can tell that the school is growing and changing," said Olson, who resides with his family in Rochester Hills. "Our Fr. Jim Strasz, s.m., often uses a phrase when referring to the students and their formation into young adults, and I think it also applies to the school itself.
"Father asks, 'Are you becoming the best version of yourself?' In other words, are you allowing God to move into your life and direct you toward his plan for you? I believe that the changes happening at Notre Dame are also based on those questions. The changes that have been made in the past, as well as those to come are focused on the school fulfilling its mission and becoming a place where everyone can become the best version of themselves."