Notre Dame’s fidelity to its Catholic character

In its April 3rd issue, The Pilot devoted its back page to a commentary' target='_blank'>">commentary by Father John Flynn, a Legionaries of Christ priest stationed in Rome. In his article, Father Flynn discusses a book which looks at the question of whether a strong Catholic identity is an obstacle to a Catholic college or university being considered among the top tier institutions of higher learning.

It is regrettable that Father Flynn chose to introduce the topic by pointing to Notre Dame’s invitation to President Barack Obama to be the university’s commencement speaker and among its honorary degree recipients this year. Beginning the article in this way could easily lead some readers to believe that Notre Dame is among those Catholic universities that have chosen to downplay their Catholic identity.

Statements such as, “...a progressive loss of Catholic identity on many Catholic campuses due to a tendency among faculty and administration to conform to the desire for status in the secular world,” certainly do not apply to Our Lady’s University.

As a trustee of Notre Dame for almost 30 years, I can attest to the fact that the university is acknowledged as a beacon of adherence to its Catholic character. My principal interest at Notre Dame right now is working with and supporting its Office of Academic Mission Support headed by Father Robert Sullivan, Ph.D., a priest on loan from the Archdiocese of Boston. The mission of his office is to maintain and enhance the Catholic majority among Notre Dame’s faculty by identifying and recruiting outstanding Catholic scholars and teachers to the university.

The pertinent facts that attest to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame include the following (though a comprehensive listing of the many components of the university’s Catholic identity would require a separate publication): Mass is offered in each dormitory every day as well as in Sacred Heart Basilica; there is an abundance of other liturgies and prayer services for the university community; approximately 85 percent of our undergraduates self-identify as Catholic; opportunities for Catholic social action are numerous; Notre Dame operates the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) which sends recent graduates volunteering to teach in Catholic primary and secondary schools in need of enthusiastic low cost teachers.

Notre Dame’s commitment to the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of life and protection of the unborn is unequivocal and very public. Whether or not one agrees with Notre Dame’s decision to invite and honor President Obama, please know that Notre Dame has hosted as speakers and conferred honorary degrees upon Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. While some of the presidents were in disagreement with Catholic teaching on important issues, the University honored them as a sign of respect for the Office of the President of the United States of America. The university’s commencement this year continues that practice of honoring our country and our freedom.

John A. Kaneb is Vice-Chair of the Archdiocese of Boston Finance Council