Annual Request & Report 2018It has been the great work of Sycamore Trust to respectfully but firmly call Notre Dame to stand tall for the truth of Catholicism. (Prof. Gerard Bradley, Notre Dame Law School) Click To Tweet
Dear Friends of Sycamore Trust,
For more than a decade, Sycamore Trust has made it possible for concerned members of the Notre Dame family to join in the struggle for a Catholic renewal on campus. Because of the interest, encouragement, and assistance of our supporters, we have been able to develop what is far and away the most significant organization of its kind to “stand tall for the truth of Catholicism,” as Prof. Gerard Bradley has said, against the prevailing winds of secularization in higher education.
Because our effectiveness depends on large measure on our resources, we come to you now with our annual request for support. As we know you appreciate, much of what we do costs money, and this year our expenses associated with our web site and related technology and projects such as the addition to our mailing list of the entire Notre Dame faculty and student body have been unusually high.
As we do every year, we accompany this request with an overview of the situation at the University and the role of Sycamore Trust.
The most discouraging fact has been the increasingly calamitous actions of the Jenkins administration, most of which would have escaped public attention but for Sycamore Trust. The exception was the honoring of President Obama, which drew the public condemnation of 83 cardinals, archbishops and bishops.
That was preceded and followed by less sensational but no less damaging actions, including Father Jenkins’s approval of the Vagina Monologues, a paean to lesbian sex, and the Queer Film Festival; his decision to honor Joe Biden, a pro-choice and same-sex marriage champion; his approval of a homosexual student club; his approval of the appointment of two pro-abortion supporters to the Board of Trustees; his extension of spousal benefits to same-sex “married” student and employee spouses; his refusal to follow other Catholic schools in rescinding ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s honorary degree; and his inclusion of contraceptives in the school’s insurance programs for students and employees.
The breach with Bishop Kevin I. Rhoades is deep, as it was with his predecessor, Bishop John M. D’Arcy.
The most encouraging fact, on the other hand, is that the dramatic downward spiral in Catholic representation on the faculty was checked shortly after we began reporting the facts. Indeed, the proportion of Catholics on the faculty has ticked up just a bit. The nominal percentage of designated Catholic faculty is now around 54%, with the best estimate of committed and practicing Catholics in the 25% range.
While that’s far below the level the University itself declares essential to its Catholic identity, we are confident it’s a good deal larger than at any other major Catholic university except for Catholic University. The result is that, on the one hand, students wanting a Catholic education can get one of the best, but, on the other, the odds are poor for those, almost surely the majority, who don’t care or are less diligent.
The history of originally religious schools shows that, in the end, the culture of the institution reflects the culture of the predominant element in the faculty, and that factor, together with scandalous actions by the administration, may be at play in what seems to have been an increasing divergence in the student body. Over the last decade, we have observed committed Catholic students, who have always shored up the Catholic character of the school, becoming increasingly active even as the rest have drifted further and more outspokenly and actively from Catholic teachings, particularly on issues of sex and gender. The dominance of the non-Catholic segment of the faculty is countered outside the classroom by some administrative units (e.g., Campus Ministry) and faculty institutes (Institute for Church Life, Center for Ethics and Culture), which support and inspire many Catholic students.
In short, after the dozen years of Sycamore Trust’s existence, the struggle for the soul of Notre Dame goes on with the balance about the same – the secularizing forces with the upper hand in the classroom but unable to come close to delivering a knockout blow, while the Catholic forces outside the classroom have become ever more vibrant and the secular forces ever more hostile.
This is less than we hoped for but better than we feared. This tension makes for an unstable situation that almost surely cannot last indefinitely. The good news is that there is quite enough of a Catholic base in the faculty and student body for Notre Dame to stand a good chance of recapturing a vibrant Catholic identity over time, mainly through increasing the proportion of Catholic faculty.
There is no other major Catholic university besides Catholic University of which that can be said, we are sure. What’s necessary is committed and courageous leadership. Catholic University has that in John Garvey. At the moment, Notre Dame does not, but the future is open.
What of Sycamore in this situation? Faculty members have told us we have played a role in checking the precipitous decline in Catholic faculty by highlighting the hiring of faculty as the key Catholic identity issue and by publishing the data showing the alarming decline of Catholic faculty and the hiring results every year. The administration seems to share that view. It tried to cut us off from the data a couple of years ago, but we asked our supporters to protest and the administration gave in.
As to the “neighborhood,” as Professor Fred Freddoso put it in his storied description of Notre Dame as “something like a public school in a Catholic neighborhood,” the many messages of appreciation we have received from student leaders encourage us to believe that our support and interest has played a role in the very encouraging growth in membership and activities of organizations like The Irish Rover, Right to Life, the Edith Stein Conference, SCOP (dedicated to issues like same-sex marriage and pornography), the Militia of the Immaculata, and the Knights of Columbus. (One year we kept the Rover going with a $10,000 grant.)
We have also on occasion provided financial assistance to students and recent graduates participating in the FOCUS (https://www.focus.org) missionary program on secular campuses and to graduates in paying their student debts in order to enter the religious life – something one might think this very rich University would do.
Based on our experience, we think it clear that, as we continue our investigative reporting and our efforts to reach more alumni and to sustain other projects, we should do as much more as we can “on the ground” with students and their organizations. With more money, they could do more, and what they do is crucially important to the Catholic character of Notre Dame.
In addition, with additional resources we would be able to put in every student’s computer our compendium of recommended teachers, NDCatholic.org. You may recall that these recommendations and descriptions were composed initially by Father Bill Miscamble, who was ordered to disassociate himself from the project as soon as we published it. We have continued it, using alternative reliable sources. Students who have used and value it have urged us to link it to a service widely used by students for registration. This would be major step that we very much want to take.
Finally, we would like to be able to award modest grants to a few “Sycamore Trust Fellows” who would be committed to, and work toward, our mission of strengthening the Catholic identity of the University. The Gay and Lesbian Alumni Association of Notre Dame awards large scholarships to advance their mission. We can’t match their largesse, but we would like to counter their example in a modest way.
This great university with its heritage of faith and service is too precious to the Church, to Catholic higher education, and to the Catholic community to let slip away from all of them. What we have described is an institution in peril but not lost. The struggle goes on. Please help us help those on the front line, faculty and students, with your prayers and, if you can, with your financial support.
For the Sycamore Trust officers and directors,
William H. Dempsey (’52)