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Of Obama, Trump, Circuses, and Notre Dame


Circus-Elephants-Notre-DameNotre Dame president considers breaking with more than a half-century tradition of presidential Commencement speeches.


NOTRE DAME, IN — In a recent interview, Father John Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, indicated he may not invite president-elect Trump to speak and receive an honorary degree at the 2017 commencement. He said he will decide “sometime during the spring semester.”

His statement has received a good deal of attention, from the South Bend Tribune and Washington Times to Teen Vogue. There will be a great deal more if Father Jenkins does not invite Trump, for this would break the Notre Dame tradition beginning with President Eisenhower that Father Jenkins cited in defense of his honoring President Obama at the 2009 commencement.

In his interview, Father Jenkins said the 2009 commencement had been “a bit of a circus” and that there “might be even more of a circus” with Trump; that “[commencement] day is for graduates and their parents”; and that he didn’t “want to make the focus something else.”

The difficulty for Father Jenkins is that this is precisely what he did in honoring President Obama. More, it is what he said he would do again.

Eighty-three cardinals, archbishops and bishops denounced Father Jenkins’s decision. Protesting students organized a rally and Mass on the quad that was attended by some 3,000 people, including the late Bishop John M. D’Arcy. A number of seniors and their families and friends held their own graduation ceremony at the Grotto. Pro-life demonstrators who walked on the fringe of university property were hauled off to jail and prosecuted at Notre Dame’s behest for two years before this misbegotten case was finally dismissed.

Nevertheless, almost a year later Father Jenkins declared that he was “comfortable” with his decision and “would do it again.”

This is why it would be awkward, to put it conservatively, for Father Jenkins to cite the likelihood of protests as reason for breaking what he referred to in 2009 as Notre Dame’s “long-standing tradition of inviting the current U.S. president to speak at the University.”

The case would be different had Father Jenkins conceded that he had been wrong, after all, in honoring one of the Church’s most formidable adversaries on abortion (and later on religious liberty) – that he should have paid attention to the strong opposition of his bishop and eighty-two of his fellow bishops and to the policy of the bishops’ conference against this sort of action – that he should have been “conscious that that day is for graduates and their parents.”

In fact, despite Father Jenkins’s protestations, the Obama episode shows the infirmity of Notre Dame’s supposed tradition of honoring presidents no matter how pernicious their policies may be. (We say “supposed” because President Clinton was not invited, presumably because he was pro-choice – the truly relevant precedent unmentioned by Father Jenkins.) But instead of drawing back from this practice, Father Jenkins has extended it by conferring the Laetare Medal on Vice President Joe Biden simply for keeping a civil tongue in his head most of the time in spite of his using it to defend Roe v. Wade and to marry a same-sex couple. (Cf.  Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady:  “The French don’t care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it properly.”)

Notre Dame would do well to consider reserving its honors for people that deserve them on grounds other than their offices. The reason Notre Dame has been profligate in honoring holders of high office (at least in Obama’s and Biden’s cases) seems plainly to be a yearning for bragging rights. That might be innocent enough, if fanciful and scarcely lofty, but not when, as in Obama’s case, carried to the point of choosing “prestige over truth,” in Bishop D’Arcy’s words.

In any event, the Obama affair and what Father Jenkins has said about it is a matter of record; and if, after that, Father Jenkins does not invite President-elect Trump, his decision will shed additional light on the Obama affair and what this all means respecting Notre Dame as a Catholic university. It will be time enough then to explore this matter more fully.

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22 Responses to “Of Obama, Trump, Circuses, and Notre Dame”

  1. Jenkins will ride the orchestrated anarchy being visited by the hard left to justify not inviting Trump and moreover claim the moral high ground. Sadly the indoctrinated students will largely support him.

  2. We just went through a national election which in large part was about leadership, vision, establishment special interests, constitutional principles, rule of law. Notre Dame has become a follower lacking enlightened leadership, owned and governed by establishment special interests, substituting tyrannical ideology for moral law, severed from the Magisterium, forsaking the exercise of the gift of reason, abandoning the metaphysical foundation for natural theology and for our faith grounded in right reason. This phenomenon in some corners at ND and on display in public actions is a form of anarchy against right reason and moral law, not entirely unlike the anarchy in our cities and in our courts against the rule of law, and not unlike the anarchy against the constitution by virtue of which our natural rights with which we have been endowed by our creator are enshrined and protected.

  3. Dr. Tikum Mbah Azonga December 17, 2016 at 10:43 am

    Thanks immensely for this story. It’s a beautiful piece. It’s a good example of literary journalism, the latter being “journalism that sounds like literature”.

  4. It is simply past time for Jenkins to go.

  5. Joe Schaefer '59 Universal City TX December 9, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Fr. Jenkins can’t handle controversy or stress. Witness his panicked instructions to Kevin White to give Charlie Weis a lengthy extension lest he bolt for the pro’s as a head coach; his duplicitous gift of two Laetare medals; his panic to hire Jack Swarbrick when rumors were circulating that Swarbrick was to become IU’s AD. “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen”.

  6. james paul burke '69 December 9, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Who is the next man up after Fr. Jenkins? Perhaps an actual Catholic with a backbone! I disagreed with about everything Obama espoused, yet I can understand the tradition of having the POTUS speak at graduation. Doing so brings some recognition to the University and tempers my view of tolerating different thinking. But giving the Laetare medal to Biden can only be characterized as out and out pandering; Is The Fifth Commandment a Commandment or an option to curry favor with others and only selectively relevant?
    Trump would bring a “circus ?” The Jenkins-led ND can tolerate abortion but holds the line on showing a passport. That is a true circus.

  7. Once again, I need to unload re: my Alma Mater. Jenkins is meddling in our long held moral beliefs – assuming there will be no kick-back. There will be kick-back! It will be in the response from those of us he has assumed to be so mesmerized by N. D.’s aura, that we will ignore his secular agenda. He insults our intelligence – curious, since “his” university educated us.

    Dr. Bob Branick, N.D. “57

  8. Tom Marciniak, BSME '61, Ph.D., '68 December 8, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    “The sad thing about true stupidity is that you can do nothing about it.”
    Mr. Bartlett in John Cleese, “So, Anyway…”, p. 111

  9. These are the puppeteers who manipulate Fr. Jenkins strings. Especially #10. It is he who has to go. Unlikely.
    https://www.nd.edu/about/leadership/fellows/

  10. The POTUS-elect appears to want to do more for working Americans than any President in recent history. Father Jenkins clearly needs to stay true to Notre Dame tradition – and his previous words – and invite President Trump.

    Notre Dame has now invited Pres. Obama, VP Joe Biden and Ruth Bader Ginsberg to campus, all Democrats and any refusal by Fr. Jenkins to invite a Republican President who for all his personal misgivings stands for freedom of religion and is pro-life (and is not afraid to say so) would be a clear indication that “groupthink” and the “thought police” would have now taken over Notre Dame in addition to all the Ivy’s. This would be a sad day for the cause of intellectual freedom in the U.S. and a defeat for the free exchange of thought in one of the nation’s most prominent Universities.

    Fr. Jenkins, you truly must invite the Republican President to Notre Dame.

    Robert L. Labbe
    McGill Law ’82 ’83
    Notre Dame Parent

  11. Barbara Scalise December 8, 2016 at 3:11 pm

    B. Scalise
    When a student has to live in fear on Notre Dame’s campus because she voted for Trump, something is terribly wrong. If she has to worry that her opinion will generate a failing grade from a professor with a different agenda, where is the Catholic value system that used to be the foundation of Notre Dame? Professors, your role is to educate, not dictate. Anything less is a betrayal of your profession. Shame on you. Jenkins is not the leader he was elected to lead for Our Lady’s University. When Fr. Hesburgh was faced with the same dissention during the Vietnam War, he had the courage to inform the students that they had fifteen minutes to protest, pray and then return to their classrooms or they would be expelled. He was a leader, not a light weight such as Jenkins. Trump should be invited. Jenkins should get a backbone and give the students the option of being expelled for childish behavior. I am sure their parents would welcome someone showing some discipline and maturity to them. Not everyone wins in this world and not everyone on the team gets a trophy.

  12. What speculative nonsense from wierd so-called “Father ” Jenkins and his even weirder leftist ideas. Alfred Gade ’60

  13. PAUL F. COASH '56X December 8, 2016 at 1:47 pm

    THE ONLY SOLUTION TO THIS DISTURBING SITUATION IS TO RELIEVE JENKINS OF HIS DUTIES AND GET A “CATHOLIC PRIEST” TO ASSUME THE RESPONSIBILITIES!!! A MISTAKE/MISSTATEMENT MIGHT BE OVERLOOKED BUT A CONTINUING MARCH TOWARD SECULARISM IS UNACCEPTABLE!!!

  14. Once again, Father Jenkins has proven Notre Dame’s status and his: Hesburgh in reverse.
    William J. O’Connor 74
    Hammond,IN

  15. There is an upside. Alums may be spared the embarrassment of lefty students protesting assisted by Soros Occupy/BLM brown shirts. I have given up on idea ND still valued diversity of thought. Certainly Jenkins doesn’t.

  16. My family applauds your efforts to keep all the Alumni informed regarding Fr. Jenkin’s intentions. We have two ND graduates in our family and other members who worked for the University for many years, going back to the early 70’s. We have seen such a change for the worse in the moral direction of the University….. one that would make our deceased family members roll over in their graves. It used to be a family with a strong Catholic moral compass. Now it is a corporation with a religious identity that is difficult if not impossible to define. Fr. Jenkins may be concerned about the violent tendencies of those who reject Trump and that would not be unwise in my opinion. The Obama protests were peaceful. I don’t see that happening if Trump should come to the University although I am in favor of inviting him.

  17. The last fig leaf is about to fall, exposing the university’s motives in all things as inspired by progressive politics rather than by the light of the Catholic faith. But most alumni seem more concerned about firing Brian Kelly or snagging good football tickets than this, unfortunately.

  18. Jenkins doesn’t think or speak for himself. He is a marionette of NBC. NBC is a tool of the banking industry. Given Trump’s antagonism toward the elite, it’d be surprising if her was invited. Nothing Jenkins says to rationalize his position has value. jc

  19. “America faces the challenge of finding ways to foster constructive conversations.”

    A conversation that denies The Truth of Love cannot serve to foster constructive conversations. Our call to Holiness, has always been a call to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds. No doubt, “we have hit a high point in terms of vitriol in public discussion”. Rioting does not foster constructive conversations; it serves to foster violent uncivilized disorder.

    I am not surprised that the veil was lifted at Our Lady’s University exposing the state of Christ’s Church, and thus the state of the world in Salvation History.
    When you deny the Sanctity of the marital act, which is Life-affirming, and Life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife, anything can become permissible, even the destruction of a son or daughter residing in their mother’s womb. To deny the Sanctity of the marital act, is to deny that God, The Ordered Communion of Perfect Complementary Love, Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.

    Father Jenkins is capable of responding to the deep divides in our Nation, in the light of our Catholic Faith. I hope he will use this opportunity to rise to the challenge of President Trump’s Commencement speech, affirming that when we deny that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, we deny The Divinity of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, and thus we deny Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

    The fact is, if we are no longer One Nation, under God, and thus indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all, the immigration issue will become moot, as we, too, will no longer have any place to rest our weary heads.

    “Behold, your Mother.”

    • Due to further reflection and in light of our Catholic Faith I now realize that Telling the truth can never be an act of hypocrisy. Father Jenkins could say that he now realizes that Catholc Institutions should not honor those who do not respect The Sanctity of human life from the moment of conception and/or the Sanctity of the marital act and thus God’s intention for marriage and the family because Catholic Institutions have a fiduciary duty to Witness to The Way, The Truth, and The Life (Light) of Love, our Savior, Jesus The Christ, in public as well as in private.

      “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.”

      To deny the Sanctity of the marital act and/or the Sanctity of human life from the moment we are created and brought into being, in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, Willed by God, The Ordered Communion of Perfect Love, worthy of Redemption, is to deny that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage. To deny that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, is to deny Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

      Why would a Catholic Institution not desire to Witness to Christ and thus to our fundamental moral principles when those who are Catholic recognize that there Is only One Way, One Truth, One Life (Light) of Love?

      It is not Loving or Merciful to desire that we or our beloved remain in our sin. If it were true that it is Loving and Merciful that we remain in our sin, we would not need our Savior, to begin with.

  20. Fr. Jenkins is, and has been for some time, an embarrassment to Notre Dame. As the alumni watch ND fall from a position of leadership and prominence in speaking the Word, to a position as a follower of left wing progressives, the feeling of helplessness grows. I stopped donating in 2009. Money is the message Jenkins understands. If all the alumni stop suppporting his actions by stopping, or substantially reducing donations, maybe a change can take place.

  21. My guess is Obama’s invitation was more a matter of his race regardless of his pro choice stance. The POTUS-elect’s pro life stance will not matter. Trump will not be invited because by the Spring his intentions will be well defined and Notre Dame will become a sanctuary campus.

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