Notre Dame's Watershed Moment
It needs to return to the basics of what it means to be Catholic and what it means to be a Catholic university.
Father John Jenkins, the university's president, put the issue front and center when he invited Obama, a staunch defender of abortion rights, to give the May 17 commencement address. The university also bestowed on him an honorary law degree.
The gesture drew national and international media attention as some 80 bishops and more than 367,000 Catholics voiced disagreement with Father Jenkins, saying he was compromising the school's Catholic identity. They said he disregarded the 2004 guidelines from the U.S. bishops that state: "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" with "awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
The university's leadership didn't budge, and Obama was greeted on campus with a standing ovation at commencement. Hecklers were shouted down while students chanted, "Yes, we can." Forty seniors -- out of a graduating class of more than 2,900 -- boycotted the ceremony.
Such a reaction might seem to indicate there is only a small remnant of faith left on campus.
But according to senior Mary Daly, president of the Notre Dame Right to Life group and chief editor of the Irish Rover, a campus newspaper, that's not exactly the case.
Daly told ZENIT that the admissions office reports that 80%-85% of every incoming class is Catholic.She also noted a "strong subculture within the student body of earnest Catholics: people who are making sincere efforts to grow in their faith and to discern and live out God's will in their lives."
She described Notre Dame as a place that has "adoration five days a week on campus, Mass in all the dormitory chapels at least four times a week, and priests in every dorm."
Thus, Daly said, "if you are serious about your Catholic faith and want to grow in your personal relationship with Christ, this is an excellent place to do so," though, she acknowledged, you have to be willing to "challenge yourself."
Christina Holmstrom, a 2008 graduate and a campus ministry intern, affirmed to ZENIT that "faith is not only a commonality for much of Notre Dame's population, but it is also a source of challenge and strength."
She reported a "number of students taking part in regular service opportunities through the Center for Social Concerns, student-led faith-based groups, Bible studies and liturgies."
Holmstrom also noted the "hundreds" of graduates who "take their Notre Dame education and apply it to domestic and international volunteer programs, ministry work, teaching, medicine, their careers and their families," as the "greatest testament to the influence of faith on this campus."
At Notre Dame, she said, faith "finds its source and summit in the Eucharist and active participation in the Church and is lived out in a life of service to others."
Paolo Carozza, a law professor at Notre Dame and the faculty advisor to the Communion and Liberation student organization, affirmed: "If faith at Notre Dame remains for us a matter of words, of discourse, of ethics, or of projects, then the university will never correspond to the immensity of what our hearts desire from it. "Faith has to become an experience, a life."
The professor added that this happens on campus "all the time." This lived faith is something to "nourish for the life of the Church and for the world," he said, "because it is the only thing, ultimately, capable of generating and sustaining a Catholic university." Without it, Carozza stated, nothing can keep Notre Dame from "being just like any other institution."
Notre Dame's identity in relation to other institutions, however, is part of the dilemma. The Cardinal Newman Society, in its 2007 publication of "The Newman Guide to Catholic Colleges," wrote the epilogue on Notre Dame, which it describes as being in a "complex" situation.
The guide analyzed a wide spectrum of Catholic colleges: those that "have fallen victim to secularization and have chosen to minimize their Catholic identity," others that are "struggling to determine their direction," and the institutions that live their Catholic mission in "exemplary" ways.
In the spectrum, Notre Dame falls into a category all its own, with a strong academic reputation and overall renown, as well as a "vibrant spiritual life that comes at a time when most large Catholic universities have become increasingly more secularized."
Despite these positive aspects, the Newman society notes issues that "prevent us from recommending Notre Dame." The guide particularly notes the ...
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