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A Study in Contrasts: Ave Maria University and the University of Notre Dame

By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 11th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The other University named for Our Lady honors only those who recognize and embrace the truth concerning the dignity of every human life at every age and stage.

AVE MARIA, Fl (Catholic Online) – The eyes of the faithful watch the unfolding events at the University of Notre Dame with deep concern as commencement exercises draw near in South Bend. Many are praying earnestly that the leadership of that University will change its mind at the last moment and not bestow an honorary Doctor of Law Degree on our President because of his strong opposition to the fundamental Human Right to Life.

The entire incident has revealed a serious deficiency in the state of the Catholic Academy in the United States and beyond. It has also galvanized Catholics, other Christians, other people of faith and many other people of good will. It has birthed a massive response of prayer and Catholic Action which will have repercussions for years to come.

Meanwhile, there is another smaller and newer University named for Our Lady in Southwestern Florida. It proudly proclaims the words of the Angel “Ave Maria” without any compromise. Ave Maria University held its commencement exercises this past weekend. The Baccalaureate Mass was celebrated on Friday, May 8 at 2:00 p.m. by Fr. Frank Pavone, Pro-Life hero and National Director of Priests for Life. He was the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate precisely because of his heroic leadership in the great human rights movement of our age, the struggle to recognize the right to life of every human life at every age and stage. This new University named for Our Lady is very clear concerning its commitment to living out its Catholic identity as is seen in this clear summary of its mission:

“Founded in fidelity to Christ and His Church in response to the call of Vatican II for greater lay witness in contemporary society, Ave Maria University exists to further teaching, research, and learning at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the abiding tradition of Catholic thought in both national and international settings. The University takes as its mission the sponsorship of a liberal arts education curriculum dedicated, as articulated in the apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, to the advancement of human culture, the promotion of dialogue between faith and reason, the formation of men and women in the intellectual and moral virtues of the Catholic faith, and to the development of professional and pre-professional programs in response to local and societal needs. As an institution committed to Catholic principles, the University recognizes the importance of creating and maintaining an environment in which faith informs the life of the community and takes expression in all its programs.”

Then there is the issue of who was invited to give the commencement address at this other University. Dr. Thomas Hilgers spoke to the AMU graduates. He founded the Nebraska-based Pope Paul VI Institute in 1985. The Institute is fully committed to the truths taught by the Natural Law, affirmed by Revelation and expounded upon by the Church. Those truths inform the Institute in fulfilling its mission of studying women’s reproductive health. In 1994, Pope John Paul II appointed Dr. Hilgers to full membership in the Pontifical Academy for Life and, with his wife; he served for five years on the Pontifical Council for the Family. In 1997, the Nebraska Family Council named Hilgers Physician of the Year. In 2001, he was presented with the John Cardinal Wright Award by the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2004 he was the recipient of the Linacre Award, one of the highest awards given by the Catholic Medical Association

In the context of an uplifting and stirring speech, Dr. Hilgers referred to President Obama as “viciously pro-abortion” in his policies. He acknowledged that the Obama administration has “made available embryonic stem cell research funds,” and noted that “as an obstetrician, I am in the cross-hairs of Obama’s administration.” He called the graduates of AMU to be missionaries who were dedicated to building a new culture of life and civilization of love, “…You’re going to be in the group of people – praise the Lord – who will have the opportunity to be a part of the culture of life…. Pope John Paul II has called us all to (build) a culture of life within a civilization of love.” He charged them with this commission “God calls all of us to do something special, and with prayer and perseverance, you will find your calling.”

The study in contrasts between these two Universities could not be clearer. One University named for Our Lady has lost its soul, evidenced by its awarding a Law Degree to a man who fails to recognize the fundamental human right to Life, the very foundation of the Natural Law. In so doing it is acting in contradiction to this clear instruction of the US Bishops in their 2004 document entitled “Catholics in Political Life”: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

The other University named for Our Lady honors only those who recognize and embrace the truth concerning the dignity of every human life at every age and stage. That little University is unafraid to stand as fully Catholic, in fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church. Later in his address Dr. Hilgers challenged the Ave Maria graduates to take their place in fulfilling the plan of God for the Third Millennium through their participation in the mission of the Church with these words: “When God wants something done, He doesn’t dispatch a legion of avenging angels … He sends a baby – and then He waits… You are this generation’s babies … and God has been waiting for you to be a part of the culture of life.”

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