Sept. 2, 2015 Photo Gallery

“We know that struggle produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us.”

Romans 3:3b-5a

Gladys Muchemi has known struggle, demonstrated perseverance and character and earlier this spring, reaped the fruit of hope as her brand-new home was blessed on a glorious sunny day.

More than a year ago, that hope seemed no closer to fruition for Muchemi and her children, Ben and Charlynne, than it did for members of the Notre Dame Athletics department who had endeavored to partner with Habitat for Humanity on a large-scale community outreach initiative. Many student-athletes at many universities, including Notre Dame, have volunteered their time with Habitat builds, but never before had a build been undertaken solely by student-athletes and involving an entire university student-athlete population.

How would it be possible to bring them all together, nearly 750 of them, give them the skills they needed, work around their already-full schedules and build a house that people would actually live in?

“God’s own hand has guided us, all of our hands, as we worked together to build this home for my family,” Gladys proclaimed confidently. “Otherwise this could not have happened.”

And so on May 2, 2015, Gladys and her children welcomed family members, friends from church and the South Bend community, Notre Dame student-athletes and athletics department staff, Habitat staff and a Holy Cross priest for a celebration of hope and home.

“This is Gladys’ day and we’re just blessed to be part of it and to have played a small role in making it happen,” noted Maureen McNamara, Assistant Athletics Director at Notre Dame.

One after another, enormous pans of delicious-smelling homemade Kenyan dishes were removed from Gladys’ car and placed on tables under a tent – enough food to have fed everybody who ever worked on the house! Friends and family sat in the home’s shade on the newly-laid sod or pulled up a piece of sidewalk to sit down with plates piled high. Conversation was mixed with laughter and even tears at the miracle of what was taking place.

“The most exciting part has been the last 15 minutes,” according to Claire VeNard, program director for the Office of Student Welfare and Development, “standing here with the student-athletes hearing them say things like, ‘I built that garage! I put that mulch down! I lifted the beams for the second story!’ To be able to see the fruits of that labor and welcome Gladys into her driveway for the very first time and to eat the food she’s prepared and celebrate the culmination of the last 12 months: all of that is just the best feeling.”

More people were gathered than could even fit in the first floor of the home, as was discovered when Father Doyle, C.S.C., invited everyone inside to bless each room in turn with prayers and holy water.

The first prayer, at the entryway, was answered and fulfilled even before the ceremony officially began. Together, those gathered asked that God would “bless this house. Protect all who go in and out of this doorway. Let this family share the hospitality of their home with all who visit, that those who enter here may see a glimpse of Your love.”

Blessings in word and action sacramentalized each room of the home, as folks took turns walking through. If there was “no room in the inn,” it wasn’t for lack of hospitality or willingness!

Habitat site manager Gerry Gardetto presented Gladys with a hefty tool box, symbolizing another transition in the role of home ownership: “If anything breaks now, you’re the one who has to take responsibility, don’t be calling me in the middle of the night!” Gardetto teased.

Montana Knapp, home-ownership director for Habitat, then presented the Muchemi family with a Bible. “Habitat is a Christian organization, founded on Christian principles,” explained Knapp. “We know you are a family of faith and that this Bible will be used: it symbolizes your participation in the ongoing story of God’s people. As you have been blessed, so now you must also go and be a blessing to others, and we know you will.”

The final gift was presented by David Lowe and Katherine McManus, on behalf of the entire student-athlete population and the athletics department at Notre Dame.

“This has been a journey for us as much as I’m sure it has been for you,” Lowe expressed. “We have been so blessed to get to know you and work alongside you and share our time with you.”

“And we absolutely plan on stopping by in years to come after we graduate and come back to visit, so you’ll never be free of us!” added McManus, drawing laughter from all corners of the house.

Lowe and McManus then handed Gladys a professionally bound album of photographs and print copies of each of the previous written features in this series, to which the student-athletes had added their signatures.

Gladys herself gave thanks to God and to all those who had been a part of building her home and her dreams. The collective pride and gratitude and amazement were nearly as palpable as the next person as everyone squeezed in close for the final prayer and blessing by Father Doyle.

While tragedy and suffering are so prevalent in our community and lack of hope is a common theme in our news, Gladys and her family stand as a beacon, witnessing to the existence of possibilities beyond wildest dreams, when people come together in faith.

Many blessings, Gladys, from all of us at the University of Notre Dame and your friends in the Athletics department. The Lord be with you this day and always.

— By Renee Peggs