Young and faith-filled

Notre Dame student, Sullivan native lives out faith in school, at home, and in the world

     Managing Editor

Grace Lynch has always been a girl with a plan — that is, she  follows God’s plan. And so far, that approach seems to be working out very well.

 A sophomore at the University of Notre Dame who calls the small town of Sullivan home, Lynch relies on her faith to move forward in life.  “What is important is staying in that restlessness of your faith,” she said. “I encourage everyone to find ways to continue incorporating their faith into other parts of their lives.”

Lynch, a member of Holy Family Parish in Decatur, says there is more to being a Catholic than attending Mass. “Many youths my age who grew up Catholic are ashamed of their Catholic identity as being viewed as just a negative stereotype,” she said. “To engage in one’s Catholic faith means to live out Catholic social tradition.  Yes, you attend Mass, but what do you do once you leave? Are you feeding the poor? Loving the grieving? I encourage all my peers to live out their faith first in accordance with the Catholic social tradition, and then develop their relationship with God.”

In short, Lynch describes herself as a cradle Catholic who has “worked to grow in my own faith.” She’s also concentrated on her studies, setting her sights on attending Notre Dame when she was still in her early teens. “I had dreamed of studying at the University of Notre Dame since middle school,” she said.

“Notre Dame’s mission is to be the change for good in the world, and that message caught in my heart,” she said. “Everything you learn at the University of Notre Dame is taught within a frame of Catholic social teaching … .”

Getting accepted to Notre Dame wasn’t easy. In late middle school through high school, Lynch took Advanced Placement, college credit, and honors classes. She then scored 1550 on the SAT and kept an unweighted 4.0 GPA. Setting the bar high, she was “beyond thrilled” to be accepted at Notre Dame, but worried the high cost of an education there would prevent her from attending the highly rated university.

“My family couldn’t afford the cost and I refused to take out loans to attend college because I didn’t want to hold any debt,” she said. A few months later she received notice about a merit award competition. “In securing the merit scholarship and Notre Dame’s generous needs-based financial aid, I now attend on a completely full ride. I am beyond grateful for all of the Catholic donors and supporters who have made it possible for me to attend such a prestigious university without debt.”

While Lynch is obviously intelligent, she excels in many other areas of her life. Before she left for college, she had already been a church organist and pianist, a lector, a volunteer for Vacation Bible School and Catholic Charities, and a dance teacher at Sullivan Dance Studio. In high school she created her own dance classes for under resourced home-schooled students and other students, eventually teaching over 25 classes using Zoom. She received the Girl Scout Gold Award, worked in theatre and dance productions, was active in Right to Life, and founded a non-partisan group called Teens in Politics. Her faith and all her achievements also led her to receive a Springfield Diocesan Council for Catholic Women scholarship in 2022.

At Notre Dame, although her workload is heavy, Lynch has continued to serve others. “One of the best aspects of Notre Dame is the incredible spiritual community. Service was at my forefront focus in high school, and I have only seen increased opportunities for service. The Center for Social Concerns (CSC) at Notre Dame has developed into a mini home for me,” she said. “I have found programs beyond Notre Dame where I can engage with my community in service and accompaniment.”

Lynch says she takes classes with the CSC that are focused on alleviating poverty, increasing a community’s power, and more. “You can’t get more Catholic than finding ways to give of yourself to others,” she said. “In the more direct spiritual outlets, I can have been able to serve as a music minister in my dorm at Ryan Hall, playing piano with my peers. I have also served as a lector for dorm Masses.”

Additionally, her love of dance keeps her motivated to continue to teach dance lessons and mentor students when she is home on school breaks. “The dance program I founded of Home School Dance is still running and dance is continuing to stay a part of my life with the Notre Dame Dance and Tap Company,” she said. 

She’s back on campus now, however Lynch spent the first semester of her sophomore year living and studying in Washington, D.C. “Coming from a small, rural town in Illinois, the big city life was new,” she said. “I worked at a government affairs and consulting firm, specializing in seven countries: Australia, Bulgaria, Haiti, Ecuador, Ghana, Libya, and Singapore.  I worked in issue areas of corporate social responsibility, youth engagement, disability advocacy in international education, and increasing subnational interaction in frequency and quality.”  Additionally, she took evening classes with Notre Dame professors.

Although Lynch gained much from her time in the nation’s capital, she does not want to live there after graduation. She would rather travel the world with UNICEF or a related non-governmental organization,  and eventually settle in California for law school. She plans on working in family law, specifically in child abuse and foster care cases.

“My exposure to social issues at Notre Dame has always been through the lens of the importance of building strong youth,” she said. “So many social problems develop out of neglect of vulnerable youth. As only a second-year student, I still have time before law school, but I cannot wait to attend and will continue to work in internships that prepare me for my studies.”

Right now, as she leaves her teens behind, Lynch is happy to be a young woman who enjoys attending college, working hard, and living out her Catholic faith. “My way of living faith has been first through showing love to all members of my community. … When I am living with others, I then find myself in other moments of prayerful reflection in Mass and building my individual relationship with God.

“Demonstrate, don’t say! The best way to evangelize others is to show what it means to be a Catholic,” she said. “Show someone living as a Catholic changes oneself and the world. Invite a friend to volunteer with you, and then invite them to Mass.” Remember that to be human is to love, Lynch surmises. Simply put, she said, “To be Catholic is to be a part of this large community all set on doing good for others through the guidance and love of God.”