By now I’m sure many of you have heard about the University of Notre Dame’s recent example of extremely poor judgment (to put it mildly). It was announced on Friday that President Barack Obama will be giving the commencement speech at this year’s graduation, and awarded an honorary degree. While on the one hand it’s certainly an honor for a college to host any sitting President, the choice of President Obama to speak at Notre Dame’s graduation is simply inappropriate. The implicit honor which goes along with being invited to speak at graduation, especially considering it is a Catholic university, should never have been extended to a man whose policies are shockingly anti-Catholic and anti-life.
As a recent graduate of Notre Dame, I felt completely betrayed when I heard the news (unfortunately, it was gleefully announced by a friend’s Facebook status, which shows that there are many who are excited by this news, many of whom are Catholic). To many in the outside Catholic world, Notre Dame is already seen as barely Catholic, at best. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince people that not everything coming out of my alma mater is bad – there really are so many great, Catholic, pro-life things going on, and it seemed like things have really been improving and getting back on the right track. However, with the choice of Obama as graduation speaker, I can’t help but wonder along with everyone else what exactly the ND higher-ups were thinking. I don’t want to believe that this is a sign of worse things to come from the school, but it is such an unbelievable choice that I’m sure it will not be the last major slip in judgment. I don’t think this choice means that ND has abandoned all its great Catholic roots just like that, but I know that many people are giving up on the school and its Catholicity, and they or their children are choosing more consistently faithful Catholic colleges instead. The more Notre Dame decides to do things that are completely offensive to those of us who really value our Catholic faith, often in the name of “academic freedom” and the pursuit of being seen as a prestigious university along the lines of the Ivy Leagues, the more it will drive away people who can really turn things around.
I am certainly not giving up on my school – I love it and I became such a stronger, and much more traditional, Catholic while I was there that I just can’t yet accept that they are becoming simply another “Catholic” college – one that used to be Catholic but doesn’t have much anymore to distinguish it from any other private university. I know many already believe ND doesn’t deserve the moniker of Catholic, but I knew so many incredible Catholics during my four years there, and my experiences were very much of a truly Catholic college. I hope (pretty futilely, I’m sure) that people don’t allow this incredibly bad decision to ruin their whole perception of Notre Dame, but I also know that this isn’t the first questionable at best, completely un-Catholic at worst, decision that has been made. It’s hard to keep defending ND’s Catholicism when they continue to do things like this, which is incredibly frustrating. I love my school and cherish my memories of the place (especially the beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart), and it’s mind-boggling, trying to understand why on earth those who chose this believed it to be a good idea. To host Obama in a different forum, perhaps in a debate or some other discussion, might be understandable. To give him the honor of being the commencement speaker at what is commonly known as one of, if not the, pre-eminently Catholic universities in America is just not excusable.
Call me naive (or maybe it’s just wishful thinking from an alum who loves her school), but I do still believe Notre Dame can come back from this. It will take a lot of work, though. I hope that many alumni will be withholding donations, as I plan to, and I hope that those who aren’t alumni will let the school know what they feel about this decision. Email Fr. John Jenkins, the President of the University, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or sign the online petition at the Notre Dame Scandal website. There is other contact information for Fr. Jenkins at that website as well. Contact Bishop D’Arcy, the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend (where Notre Dame is located), contact the Congregation of the Holy Cross (the order which runs Notre Dame). Those running the University of Notre Dame need to realize that its mission is to be Catholic first, prestigious university second. By choosing Obama, the school is putting its standing in secular circles above its standing in Catholic circles. Please join the tens of thousands of people who have already told Notre Dame and Fr. Jenkins what a shockingly awful decision this was. The chances that they will rescind the decision to have President Obama speak are very, very slim, but maybe if enough people tell the school that this isn’t ok, they won’t be doing anything like this again – and maybe, just maybe, they’ll get back to worrying more about being faithful to the Magisterium than to getting a good secular standing.
It’s sad that a huge mistake like this can overshadow all the good that Notre Dame does, but this is a huge mistake. To say the least. Abortion is one of the biggest issues facing our country and world today, and those who support it should not be honored by any Catholic institution, in any capacity. It makes me sad for my university, and sad for the state of Catholicism in our country where such a prominent Catholic university feels it is ok to invite a prominent abortion advocate, regardless of who he is, to be honored as commencement speaker. We need to pray for our Catholic institutions – that those who are consistently faithful remain so and remain strong against the attacks they face daily, and that those who do questionable things like this become faithful once again.