It’s been four long years since Notre Dame welcomed Barack Obama to campus, awarding him an honorary degree and the opportunity to address the graduating class of 2009. Among the reasons for the award, according to university President John Jenkins, C.S.C., one was central: “He is a leader who has respect for the role of faith and religious institutions in public life.”
In welcoming Obama, Father Jenkins brazenly ignored his bishop, John M. D’Arcy, who objected to the invitation, boycotted the ceremony, and gave Jenkins a stern lesson in basic Canon Law. But this was the new Notre Dame, where bishops are ignored but politicians are revered, so Fr. Jenkins was all smiles. He was fawning over Obama so obsequiously that some observers feared that Jenkins was going to canonize the most pro-abortion president in history right then and there.
The pro-lifers who protested Obama’s visit on campus received a different reception. Directed by Notre Dame Security, police arrested them and sent them to jail – 88 in all, including Father Norman Weslin, O.S., a disabled priest who was 79 years old, and Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in Roe v. Wade. Their lawyer, South Bend attorney Tom Dixon, a Notre Dame alumnus, tells the Rubble that outside “Gay Rights” groups that similarly demonstrated on campus were not arrested or prosecuted. (After two years, with the threat of a civil suit approaching, the university finally agreed to request that the trespassing charges be dropped against all 88).
After Obama’s departure, Bishop Robert W. Finn of Missouri delivered the post-mortem: “The President of Notre Dame said that they had invited the President of the United States and decided to honor him for the sake of dialogue.[T]hen the president got up and said the differences that we have on abortion… were ‘irreconcilable.’ And at that moment, it would seem to me that the dialogue came to a screeching halt. Father Jenkins’ expressed desire for dialogue… got thrown back in his face.”
After he returned to Washington, Obama sent Notre Dame some $30 million in stimulus funds, which the university called a “milestone,” but the sweetheart deal didn’t last for long; as soon as Obamacare passed, the president unsheathed the terrible, swift sword of government power and aimed it directly at Notre Dame and the heart of the Catholic conscience.
So here we are, four years later, to find President Jenkins suing the Obama Administration because of the HHS Contraception Mandate that, in the words of Father Jenkins, violates “the freedom of a religious organization to live its mission.”
“Don’t Mess With Notre Dame Football”
Father Jenkins had hoped that Obama would put a feather in his cap, but instead he got a dagger at his throat. That makes the painful truth somewhat hard to swallow, however, so things at Notre Dame kept going downhill. The worst incident (of many, believe me) involved the death of Lizzy Seeberg, a freshman at Saint Mary’s College (across the road from Notre Dame).
In August 2010, Miss Seeberg reported to ND Campus Security that she had been sexually assaulted in a dorm by a member of the football team. She quickly made all the required reports.
Nothing happened. The police dragged their feet.
Were they intimidated?
Lizzy sure was. ““Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea,” a teammate of the accused assailant texted her. Ten days later, disconsolate and bereft of any support from the university, the young girl committed suicide. Only then did the police bother to interview her alleged assailant.
By then, Lizzy, having died, was unavailable to testify. The player she accused asserted his innocence and suited up for every game during the rest of his Notre Dame career.
A personal note: I grew up at Notre Dame and was baptized in the Crypt of Sacred Heart Church on the campus. I received my undergraduate and graduate degrees there. Every semester I get calls from the Development Office around dinnertime. Each time the caller is a young lady, usually a junior. After asking about their hometown, their major, and how they are doing in school, I ask if they know about Lizzy Seeberg.
Not one of them has ever heard of her.
But everyone has heard of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s “imaginary girlfriend” this past year. Egged on by NBC sportscasters, Irish fans everywhere shed copious tears for “her” when she “died.” The school played the story to the hilt, even covering up the truth until after the (disastrous) national championship game.
Tears for the fake girl, but no tears for the real one.
Apparently on the advice of counsel, Father Jenkins has never apologized or extended his condolences to Lizzy Seeberg’s family – thirteen members of which have attended Notre Dame over the years. The Seeberg family is apparently more charitable than Notre Dame, however: they did not file suit against the university.
But for the record, Lizzy’s memory has been stuffed down the Fighting Irish Memory Hole.
Notre Dame: Our Mother
Since 1967, Notre Dame has forgotten a lot. 1967 was the year that Notre Dame’s storied long-time President, Father Ted Hesburgh, led a group of Catholic educators in signing the “Land O’Lakes Statement. It constituted a declaration of independence from the Catholic Church and allowed “Catholic” schools to turn their backs on Rome, embracing instead the values of secular cultural elites and, not incidentally, the attractive prospect of significant federal government funding. (Charles Rice, Professor of Constitutional Law Emeritus at Notre Dame Law School and Chairman of the Bellarmine Forum, ably recounts this episode and its consequences in What Happened To Notre Dame? [St. Augustine’s Press]).
Today, four years down the rocky road since the Obama fiasco, Notre Dame might be having second thoughts. This year’s commencement speaker offered them some encouragement along those lines when he turned their thoughts away from politics, football, and what Ralph McInerny, Notre Dame’s most published professor ever, called “the truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society.”
Addressing the Class of 2013, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, firmly planted his standard far above the insipid “Rah Rah” routine that saturates most of the school’s propaganda these days. Echoing the words of a Jewish ND grad he’d met on the train the week before, he chose as his topic “The Secret Of Notre Dame.”
I’m going to speak of Notre Dame… Our Lady … Mary, the mother of Jesus.
One can make the point that she’s perhaps the most important human person ever. Even history itself is divided “before” and “after” the birth she gave to her firstborn. She was there at Christmas at His birth; at Cana, His first miracle; at the foot of the Cross; at Pentecost, the feast we celebrate today.
Now, as you complete years at this acclaimed university dedicated to her, you are asked the same pivotal question the Archangel Gabriel once posed to her: will you let God take flesh in you? Will you give God a human nature? Will He be reborn in you? Will the Incarnation continue in and through you?
Notre Dame challenges us to reply, Fiat! Yes! For, at her best, this university has the heart of Mary, meaning this university gives us Jesus and His Church, and clings to them both with love, loyalty, and service.
Here at Notre Dame we do not strive to be like Harvard or Oxford, but like Bethlehem, Nazareth, Cana, Calvary, and the Upper Room at Pentecost … with Mary, as the “Word becomes flesh” in the one who called Himself “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Here our goal is not just a career, but a call; not just a degree, but discipleship; not just what we’ve gotten but what we’re giving; not just the now but eternity; not just the “I” but the “we”; not just the grades but the Gospel.
“At her best, this university has the heart of Mary,” says Cardinal Dolan. But Notre Dame has not been at her best lately. Proud of her “independence” and renouncing her loyalty to the Church, she bet on government and the elites.
Now the government has betrayed her.
The Cardinal’s carefully crafted nudge bore within it a hidden invitation for a “turning around” worthy of the periagoge of Socrates’ Cave or the metanoia of Saint Paul.
Can Notre Dame pull it off? Can Mary’s university return to Mary? Can she give up that “vulgar lust” and embrace Mary’s humilitas?
It’s a hard teaching for the school that has long strived to be the Harvard of the Midwest, abandoning its Catholic character in the chase. But, unlike Obama’s, this teaching is a true one.