Annual Report & Request 2016
Sycamore Trust is a model of calm and reasonable yet unrelenting friendly questioning of events on the South Bend campus. (Ralph McInerny, 1929-2010)
It’s time for our annual report on Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and our year-end request for support. If you’ve followed our bulletins, it will come as no surprise that our near-term outlook for an authentic Catholic renewal at Notre Dame continues to be bleak. What keeps us going is is an abiding love for Our Lady’s University and a vibrant Catholic presence that persists in a number of classrooms, institutes, and organizations. But there is a long way to go and we have a lot to do. Therefore, we are asking you to consider supporting our mission through prayer and by including Sycamore in your year-end giving.
Dear Friends of Sycamore Trust,
After more than a decade of experience, we are well acquainted with the subtle dynamics at work at the university that relate to its mission – the causes of the secularization that has taken place, the sources of Catholic vitality that remain, and the ways in which Sycamore Trust can most effectively achieve its mission.
Below is a brief overview of what Sycamore Trust has achieved and a description of particularly important initiatives we plan to undertake if we have sufficient resources. The efforts of many faithful members of the Notre Dame family, combined with the generous contributions from people like you, have enabled us to develop what is far and away the most significant organization of its kind.
Our principal methods for pursuing our mission are investigative reporting, supporting Catholic student organizations, and assisting students in selection of courses and professors.
For an account of the history of Sycamore Trust, its work, and the results, please refer to the adjacent program for this year’s Annual Breakfast at Reunion Weekend.
The Breakfast is both a measure of the growth of Sycamore Trust and an event of special importance. From small beginnings, this event now draws an audience that overflows the large conference area in McKenna Conference Center and includes hundreds joining via Internet streaming. Our speakers are drawn from the best of the faculty – this past year Fr. Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., a long-time leader of those fighting for a Catholic Notre Dame, and Dr. Patrick Deneen, a Georgetown expatriate and one of the most important recent additions to the faculty – and include our always well-received annual student awardee.
Our central strategy is to discover and report whatever goes on at the university that undermines its Catholic identity. We do not neglect the school’s strengths, but our principal task is to do what no one else does: tell the whole truth about what’s going on. Our purpose is to deter damaging actions by the administration and faculty and to enlist alumni and others of the Notre Dame family to join our efforts. We’ve achieved a good deal in both respects, but we are first to acknowledge that grave challenges remain.
- There is, of course, no way to identify actions that were not taken because, as one of our faculty speakers said, the administration now knows that they can no longer “sweep everything under the rug,” but common sense and general experience teaches that this is one consequence of our reporting. It may in fact be a major one. The principal example is the probability that our publication of the distressing data on the dramatic reduction of Catholic faculty was a significant cause of the change in hiring policy that halted the decline. This is crucial. In the long run, all depends on the makeup of the faculty. The administration’s alarm at our exposure of the data became clear when they sharply restricted our access to this information.
There are a number of instances, moreover, in which matters in which we have been involved have turned out well and the facts are clear. These include, for example, the resignation of a pro-choice member of the board of directors, the demise of the annual student production of The Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival, and the reversal of the administration’s denial of recognition to a student organization opposing gay marriage. These and a number of others are listed in our Annual Breakfast program.
More recently, the administration abandoned two misbegotten projects that we opposed: the elimination of three of the six hours of required Theology instruction and a partnership with a Chinese government university in establishing a liberal arts college in China.
At the moment, we are waiting to see whether our current campaign against official recognition of the Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame will succeed.
- State of Affairs. Nevertheless, the situation remains bleak because of the strong secularizing forces in the faculty and the fecklessness of the Jenkins administration. As evidence, we need point only to the university’s award of its highest Catholic honor to Vice President Joe Biden notwithstanding his pro-choice record and championing of same-sex marriage. We were pleased that the distinguished journal First Things published Bill Dempsey’s article on this event and the overall weakening of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
- Financial needs. We spend a great deal of time and money on these investigative reporting projects – website content, regular bulletin publications, postings on social media and blogs, press releases, video productions, webinars, research, and the like. We want to step up these efforts which are designed to keep pressure on those in charge to act as good stewards of Notre Dame’s Catholic heritage by both increasing the frequency of our publications and by expanding the number of people they reach. More particularly, we want to: (a) build a corps of freelance writers to help develop content for our bulletins; (b) create opportunities for people to have live discussions with us and our supporters on campus about current issues related to our mission; (c) make use of these discussions as content for a podcast series which will provide one more way for people to learn about our work and get involved; and (d) take advantage of marketing services to additionally expand our list of subscribers.
- Building support. Our subscribers now number nearly 19,000; but with over 100,000 alumni and many more alumni family and friends of the University, the potential for increase is vast. This brings us to a special initiative we want to undertake: the investment of substantial time and money in augmenting our subscriber list.
The best resource for adding subscribers is the Alumni Directory, but we must and do honor limitations on its use for at large promotion of our cause. There are alternative sources for alumni contact information and we have made use of some of them. However, they involve substantial expenses – not only to acquire the information, but also to “scrub” it so we can use it, to design various campaigns to introduce our mission to people who are very likely ignorant of what is happening at Notre Dame, and to manage these campaigns in a way that results in a meaningful expansion to our subscriber list. To the extent we are able to afford it, this is the course we want to take to continue to extend our reach and thereby to increase our impact.
Support of Catholic Student Organizations
For those of us most directly involved with the day-to-day activities of Sycamore Trust, it has been encouraging to become acquainted with a large number of wonderful Notre Dame students. Dedicated to the witness of the faith, they are ornaments to the university and testimony to the fact that Notre Dame still has a significant Catholic presence. It is these students in organizations such as The Irish Rover, Notre Dame Right to Life, the Edith Stein Conference, Students for a Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), and Militia Immaculata who are crucial to the Catholic character of the university. More, we look to them for the future of Sycamore Trust and the continuation of our mission to restore the Notre Dame classrooms to the service of Catholic education.
Accordingly, we have provided significant financial assistance to all of these organizations both to support their programs and to introduce them to Sycamore Trust. In addition, we have helped several individual students on special projects – e.g., attendance at the Texas training program for FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) leaders. FOCUS missionaries do wonderful work spreading Christian faith on university campuses. Two of them are now in their first year on campuses, one at the University of Texas and the other on special assignment in Austria.
It is our goal for the coming year to expand our support of these student organizations to the maximum possible
Through a new website, NDCatholic.com, we provide recommendations of teachers who will contribute to a truly Catholic education for students who choose their courses. The recommendations and narrative descriptions were furnished initially by Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C. Unfortunately, he was ordered to disassociate himself from the project immediately after we opened it to the public. We have continued to develop the site, updating content, promoting it to Notre Dame students, and adding additional recommendations from reliable sources.
After all is said and done, it is the weakness of Catholic faculty representation that not only undermines Notre Dame’s claim to Catholic identity but is also the seedbed for the sort of lamentable actions we focus on in our bulletins. Those developments are symptoms, not causes. Most of the faculty either urge or are content with actions that align the university with elite secular academe in respects often at war with the Church and its teachings. Nevertheless, we are energized by all the possibilities of an authentic Catholic renewal on campus — as we pray you are too. Notre Dame is too precious a place to watch in silence as it morphs into a clone of the secular “peers” the administration has become so fond of citing
Thank you very much for your interest in our mission and for whatever support you may be able to provide.
And please keep Notre Dame and our effort to protect her Catholic heritage in your prayers.
For the Sycamore Trust officers and directors,
William H. Dempsey (’52)