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. As we note below, the need to augment our resources is especially pressing because of the important initiative we have just launched,NDCatholic.com, to assist students seeking an authentic education at Notre Dame.
We open with a few words about Sycamore Trust – its work, ambitions, and needs – and then turn to our 2015 report card on the Jenkins administration.
Sycamore Trust was established in 2006 “to provide a source of information, a means of communication, and a collective voice to Notre Dame alumni and others in the Notre Dame family who are concerned about preserving the Catholic identity of the University.” Our list of subscribers has grown from just a few dozen of our classmates to over 17,000; our reports reach countless more through Catholic news sources and a host of social media and blog sites; and the audience for our annual Alumni Weekend breakfast featuring prominent Notre Dame professors and our student awardees hit a new high this year, with a overflow 200-plus on site and another 400 online.
Still, with a potential market of over 100,000 alumni and many times more family and friends of the university, expanding our list of subscribers continues to be a major project. The good news is that our outreach efforts have returned positive results. When they know the facts, as it turns out, many join our cause. Therefore, we devote our resources to broadening our reach and continuing, and if possible intensifying, our efforts in these principal activities:
- NDCatholic.com. As we have reported in our most recent bulletins, our new ancillary website lists and describes professors — 100 at this initial stage — who will benefit students who want to get an authentic Catholic education at Notre Dame. These recommendations and profiles are the work of the eminently qualified long-time Notre Dame professor, Father Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., who consulted with other faculty as well as students. There is a pressing need for this sort of guidance because of the radical reduction over recent decades in Catholic representation on the faculty, a phenomenon to which we return later in this bulletin.
Sadly, almost immediately upon the unveiling of the website, Father Miscamble advised us, “I regret that I can say only that I am required to end my involvement with the NDCatholic.com site and am not at liberty to say why.” We have discussed this lamentable episode in our last bulletin and will refer to it later in our review of significant recent events. Here, it is enough to say that we are taking over this project with confidence that, with adequate resources, we can continue Father’s important work and make this a major contribution by Sycamore Trust to the students and their parents who pay a heavy price for attending Notre Dame in the baseless expectation that its students all receive an excellent Catholic education.
- Investigative reporting. The university is no longer free to sweep embarrassing facts under the rug. As a result, it is reasonable to expect that the administration sometimes refrains from acting in a way that would damage its Catholic image. Moreover, we know what the administration has done in matters that we have spotlighted. It has been consequential. Faculty hiring (discussed below) is far the most important, with others including: the ultimate disappearance of The Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival; reversal of the decision against recognizing a pro-marriage student organization; the resignation of a trustee who supported pro-abortion organizations and the withdrawal of another who promoted embryonic stem cell research; Fr. Jenkins’s resignation from the board of an organization promoting contraception; the withdrawal of postings for student internships in pro-abortion organization; the withdrawal of recommendation of a women’s faculty group that advertises pro-abortion organizations; and, within the past several days, the failure of proposals to eliminate three of the already scanty six-hour theology requirement.
- Support of existing sources of Catholic strength. Concerned faculty should know they are not alone, and students who are serious about their Catholic faith should feel supported. An especially rewarding use of our funds is the assistance we supply to Catholic-centered organizations like the Irish Rover, the Edith Stein Conference, and the Right to Life club. (Several years ago our quite sizable donation saved the independent Irish Rover from shutting down.)
We couldn’t do any of this without the interest, encouragement, and support of people who, like you, care enough about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity to do something about it. As 2015 draws to a close, an important way you can help is to make a tax-deductible donation. In this respect, it may be helpful to know that we are set up to receive gifts of securities as well as recurring monthly contributions.
Whether or not you are able to make a gift at this time, please continue to pray for Notre Dame and for Sycamore Trust as we continue our work.
We turn now to a summary review of key events, especially recent developments, during the Jenkins administration.
Catholic Identity and the Jenkins Administration.
While Father Jenkins launched his administration in 2006 with a pledge to strengthen the Catholic character of the university, he quickly undercut his vow by approving the student production of The Vagina Monologues, an obscene paean to lesbian sex.
Bishop John D’Arcy condemned this action and Sycamore Trust was born.
Then in 2009 the university honored the Church’s most formidable adversary on abortion and now religious liberty, President Obama, with a Doctor of Laws degree and an invitation to be the graduation speaker. Eighty-three cardinals, archbishops, and bishops denounced this action. The public breach with Bishop D’Arcy widened and ended only with his death.
The most recent period has been marked by a battery of increasingly alarming actions:
- The recognition of a gay student organization under intense faculty and student pressure and in disregard of the school’s long-standing policy. The predictable results have begun, e.g., National Coming Out Day; the increasing presence of GALA, the gay and lesbian alumni association; and most importantly a decision on same-sex marriage that we describe later in this list.
- The denial of recognition to a student organization opposed to gay marriage. This decision was reversed only after a tsunami of adverse publicity led by Sycamore Trust.
- The appointment to the board of trustees of an alumna who publicly opposes the lawsuits of religious organizations including Notre Dame against the Obama administration’s abortifacient/contraception mandate.
- The establishment of a student health insurance plan that results in students receiving free abortifacients and contraceptives. The university pays the premiums for graduate students and requires them to join. This program begun in 2014 was renewed this year. The university is not required by Obamacare to do this. It has said it acted because of “competitive necessity.”
- The $400 million Crossroads Project, which shifts the symbolic center of the school from Our Lady atop the Golden Dome and the Basilica to the massively distended football stadium with its million-dollar-for-starters premium stadium seating. The school’s continued frenetic pursuit of a massively costly building program while it makes a Notre Dame education ever more costly evidences the misplaced priorities of a Catholic institution that is one of the richest in the world.
- The extension of spousal benefits such as health insurance and married student housing to partners of employees and students in same-sex civil “marriages.” By rewarding and encouraging gravely immoral sexual unions, the university has again opened a public breach with its bishop, the Most Reverend Kevin Rhoades. Notre Dame has suddenly become an attractive potential target for homosexual and lesbian faculty wanting to claim the university on their side in opposition to the Church.
- Finally, there is the forced disassociation of Father Miscamble fromNDCatholic.com that we discussed at the beginning of this bulletin. It is true that the directive may well have come from the Provincial of the Order. Father has vowed obedience, and it is most unlikely he would have remained silent had the directive come from Father Jenkins, Notre Dame’s president, or that Father Jenkins would want to be tagged with this abrogation of religious liberty. But neither is it likely that the Provincial, a Fellow and Trustee of the university, would have acted without the acquiescence, if not the encouragement, of Father Jenkins. If indeed the administration had nothing to do with it, it was free to say so rather than refuse to comment.
- More, it is worth noting that the Order bears primary responsibility for the weakening of the university’s Catholic identity. With the presidency and half of the Fellows, the group with ultimate authority, the Order is in effective control of the university. Its members as Fellows have the fiduciary duty under the school’s statutes to maintain its Catholic identity “in perpetuity.” They are in grave default.
To be sure, this is not the full story. Ample faith-enriching resources are available to students. Institutes such as the Center for Ethics and Culture and the Institute for Church Life contribute importantly to the university and the Church. Student organizations like The Irish Rover, the Identity Project, and Right to Life thrive. The law school remains robustly Catholic and the business school is not far behind. And though Catholic faculty representation has been radically reduced over recent decades, there remain enough excellent Catholic teachers for a student to get a fine Catholic education if he or she plans carefully.
But here is the most important and most discouraging rest of the story: the administration’s handling of the crucial challenge of faculty hiring.
The university acknowledges in its Mission Statement that its Catholic identity depends upon having a majority of committed Catholics on the faculty. Unhappily, as we have shown, Notre Dame no longer comes close to meeting this test. Dr. Walter Nicgorski, one of Notre Dame’s longest-serving and most respected professors, has described the result:
It is increasingly the case today that a young person going through….Notre Dame might not encounter a practicing Catholic informed and engaged by the Catholic intellectual tradition.
In dealing with this crisis, the administration first took the most creditable, and then the most blameworthy, of all its actions.
When Father Jenkins became president, it looked as if the erosion of Catholic faculty would shortly be so great as to be irreversible. We saw that at the start and quickly secured and began publishing the alarming data. In its early stages, the administration took action. The decline was halted, and Catholic faculty representation has remained essentially stable.
But instead of pressing for continued improvement, the administration unaccountably began running in place. It set an annual hiring goal designed simply to maintain the unsatisfactory status quo. The administration will be satisfied if dedicated Catholics continue to constitute but a relatively small minority of the faculty.
It is the weakness of Catholic faculty representation that not only vitiates Notre Dame’s claim to Catholic identity but is also the seedbed for the sort of lamentable actions we summarized above. They are symptoms, not causes. The administration would not have acted this way if the faculty had disapproved. Instead, 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.
For our part, we are energized, not discouraged, by all of this, as we pray you will be as well. 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)