Goodbye, Columbus aka Custer, Jackson, et al.

Coming soon @NotreDame – "Columbus’s Discovery of America”: featuring Jackson's Trail of Tears, Custer's cruelties, unjust treaties, cheating government agents – the whole nine yards of persecution of Native Americans #GoCatholicND Click To Tweet

We have earlier marked the irony of Father Jenkins’s deciding to cover the Christopher Columbus murals in the Main Building while refusing to cover, as it were, the torrent of porn the University funnels to students 24/7. Because the subject arose repeatedly during the recent Alumni Weekend, we expand upon our prior analysis. The indignation among alumni appears deep and widespread. 

And rightly so. Father Jenkins’s decision not only deposes a treasured artifact that links today’s Notre Dame to its founder, Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and celebrates the introduction of Christianity to the New World, but does so for a terminally frivolous reason. 

The Murals

On a visit to Rome in 1874, Father Sorin persuaded Luigi Gregori, a Vatican artist-in-resident, to come to Notre Dame to grace the young school with his talents. “Gregori stayed 17 years, filling the campus with classic artwork still admired today.”

While he was working on Sacred Heart Church, the calamitous fire that destroyed the Main Building struck. With characteristic drive and determination, Father Sorin swiftly raised the money to rebuild, and Gregori turned his attention to the hallway in the new Main Building. 

Gregori and Sorin decided upon murals celebrating the life of Christopher Columbus, a national hero prized especially by Catholics in the midst of the virulent anti-Catholicism of the time. Gregori created 12 murals depicting Columbus’s life, e.g., his commission by Queen Isabella, his voyages, his sighting of America, his planting the Cross to claim the New World for Christ, and his death. 

Several of them portray Columbus in a gathering including Native Americans. Amity reigns throughout.

The Decision 

What could be wrong with this? Plenty, according to Father Jenkins. 

Nothing personal about Columbus, to be sure. Father Jenkins insisted in a television interview that concealing the murals was “not a criticism of Christopher Columbus,” whom he praised as a “a great explorer” and “devout Catholic.” 

But he discovered America, and there’s the rub. “For the native peoples of this ‘new’ land,” Father declared , “Columbus’s arrival was nothing short of a catastrophe.” 

Whatever else Columbus’s arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions.

Because the murals “hide from view the darker side of this story,” Father Jenkins explained, they have to be shrouded from view by people who don’t know the “full story” – not about Columbus, but about what countless others did to Native Americans over later centuries.

This saddling Columbus for what he didn’t do is so balmy it’s hard to believe Father Jenkins actually means it. That Native American activists have turned Columbus into a symbol of oppression – changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Americans Day and the like – is no reason for Notre Dame to honor a fiction as if it were a fact.

It was painful to watch Father Jenkins’s version of “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes” on national TV. He opened by “taking issue” with Martha MacCallum’s entirely accurate introductory explanation that the murals would be “preserved but covered up. ” Rather, to McCallum’s obvious bafflement, he insisted 

We’re not concealing anything. We’re not erasing anything. These images will be on display continuously. They won’t be on display in the main thoroughfare but in a place where the full story, the full story can be revealed.

As to that, Father Jenkins has charged a faculty committee with deciding how the “full story” is to be told alongside “high resolution” photos of the murals – an unenviable task. Imagine an exhibit (mis)titled “The Full Story of Christopher Columbus’s Discovery of America” followed by a clutch of stories about unjust treaties, Custer’s cruelties, Jackson’s “Trail of Tears,” and the like. 

And note in the interview Father’s misdirected invocation of his Irish ancestors, who would be offended by a memorial to “the contributions of English society. ” But the murals are not on an Indian reservation but at the country’s premier Catholic university. Covering them is the equivalent of covering Lord Nelson’s statue in Trafalgar Square.

More, if Columbus is to be tasked with the depredations of others, he should be also be credited with their benefactions. As to that, St. John Paul II’s address to Native Americans that Fr. Jenkins cited in support of his decision is especially apt. Immediately following the brief passage Father quoted about “injustices” to Native Americans is a much longer one about the “full story,” if you will, that, unsurprisingly, Father did not mention. 

At the same time, in order to be objective, history must record the deeply positive aspects of your people’s encounter with the culture that came from Europe. Among these positive aspects I wish to recall the work of the many missionaries who strenuously defended the rights of the original inhabitants of this land. They established missions throughout this southwestern part of the United States. They worked to improve living conditions and set up educational systems, learning your languages in order to do so. Above all, they proclaimed the Good News of salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, an essential part of which is that all men and women are equally children of God and must be respected and loved as such. This Gospel of Jesus Christ is today, and will remain forever, the greatest pride and possession of your people. (Italics in original).

The Pope followed this with a warning against “dwell[ing] excessively on mistakes and wrong” and a reminder about “those who came to this land, faithful to the teachings of Jesus, witnesses of his new commandment of love.” These men and women, he declared, “with good hearts and good minds, shared knowledge and skills from their own cultures and shared their most precious heritage, the faith, as well.” 

But of course none of this will be displayed. We will, again, inevitably not get the “full story,” The quest is chimerical. It is spawned by Father Jenkins’s novel notion that historical paintings ought tell the “full story.”

The Reaction

This giant banner was unfurled inside the library as students were studying for final exams.

At Notre Dame, the Native American Student Association spearheaded the campaign against the murals, and they were supported by the Student Government officers. The student chapter of Young Americans for Freedom led the opposition. Its petition (still open) drew over 2,400 signatures – 340 students and others had joined a petition against the murals — and the talk it sponsored by conservative commentator Michael Knowles drew a large and enthusiastic audience. 

Outside Notre Dame, Father Jenkins’s decision was widely publicized in print, on the Internet, and on television.

And widely derided. See, e.g., here and here and here and here and here and here and here and especially here and here (former Rover executive editor and Sycamore Trust awardee). 

One of the most discerning critics (a ND parent) pointed to the absurd consequences that would attend treating other works of art as Fr. Jenkins treats Gregori’s. He notes, for example, that in the rotunda of the United States Capitol visitors gaze at “The Landing of Columbus,” “The Baptism of Pocahontas,” and “The Discovery of the Mississippi” by de Soto. 

Alas, not a one of them tells the “full story.”

  Let Father Jenkins know what you think by joining the student YAF chapter petition here  and emailing Father at or, if that address has been disabled, at

Leave a Reply

 Let us know what you think about the issues we’ve raised in this bulletin in the comments below. And help to spread the word by sharing this bulletin with others who care about Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. 

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14 Responses to “Goodbye, Columbus aka Custer, Jackson, et al.”

  1. Christopher Foley August 5, 2019 at 9:56 pm

    I visited campus last week for the first time in a while…and had a visceral response. I had not been back since the Stanford loss in 2011. At that time the new buildings were impressive and already causing a little heartburn when I got the annual “you’re not giving enough” admonition. Oldest son (’02) has been back a few times and did warn me that the campus has been literally transformed.

    Today I just wanted to do a walkaround and to see in person what XRoads had done.

    I never got out of the car. ND has become a sprawling, grotesque monument to family money that gets buildings, meeting rooms, and halls named after them all of which thereby guarantees admission to the legacy brats that will multiply down thru the decades. I mean there are buildings on buildings on buildings the architecture of which is a neomodern version of the old campus limestone cathedrals — just 3x bigger! After you admit the D1 athletes — boys and girls of course, the legions of legacy brats, and the diversity quotas, there are about 400 spots left for meritocracy.

    There will always be a place in my heart, obviously, but the institution is a caricature of itself. It’s like the punk who gets the big bonus and blows it on a Maserati lease. Appearances are everything there. You can almost feel the gilded Jenkster’s presence on every corner of all the new streets — lots of them. I really must think that once some of these donors die, the punitive effects of the Trump tax laws are felt (no deductibility for athletic donations, buildings, seat licenses, etc), and the horrendous cost of simple building maintenance is felt, the place will start looking like the rest of South Bend — which ain’t pretty.

    The old Notre Dame is a sepia toned memory. And you can add all this to the fact that it is no longer Catholic. Notre Dame is like the Indiana Jones scene when the fellow is looking for the Holy Grail. Jenkins — who must think he is some kind of royalty — keeps reaching for the gilded chalice. The real Notre Dame was the old wooden carpenter’s cup in the back. They have chosen poorly..

    Chris Foley ’72

  2. It is important to note that there is no greater way to affirm the humanity of every beloved son or daughter, than to desire Salvation for them, thus there is no clearer way to say you do not matter than to not desire that particular person’s Salvation. “I Give you a New Commandment, Love one another as I Have Loved you.”

    Every picture tells a story, even if it does not tell the whole story. Although it is important to tell the whole story when it comes to our Native American brothers and sisters, and although I would personally like to see a beautiful picture of The Holy Family, to remind us of The Big Picture, when we enter The Golden Dome. I am certain that it was never the intention of those who desired Salvation for our Native American brothers and sisters, to offend them with these particular murals. I am glad they will not be destroyed.

  3. Paul Vincent Coleman July 2, 2019 at 10:30 pm

    I think any photo or images of father Jenkins should be covered up. He gave a high Catholic award to a confused politician who doesn’t understand the difference between sodomy and holy marriage and the horrible crime of killing an unborn infant made in the image of God. HOW CAN ONE BE ORDAINED A PRIEST AND NOT FOLLOW THE TEN COMMANDMENTS ?

  4. Quite by coincidence, I just read the trenchant commentary by Victor Davis Hanson about the wave of iconoclasm washing across our country (see link below). Hanson is one of the most insightful and articulate observers of cultural phenomenon today, and his scholarly dissection of the motivations behind the kind of iconoclasm we’ve just witnessed at Notre Dame is most compelling and dispiriting. It is dispiriting because Hansen exhibits the kind of intellectual rigor and academic coherence that one would hope to find in the administration and faculty at Notre Dame, but is seemingly lacking.

  5. The only good thing to come out of this misguided fiasco is that the murals will only be covered and not destroyed. It is my fervent hope that when Fr. Jenkins retires, the Board of Fellows will have the wisdom to elect a new university president that does not worship at the altar of political correctness, and who will quickly uncover the murals as a rebuke.

  6. Saul Alinsky and “Saint” Pope Paul VI: Genesis of the Conciliar Surrender to the World

    The Revolutionary Fellowship of Pope Montini,
    Jacques Maritain and Saul Alinsky

  7. Absurd.

  8. Sidney Blanchet June 22, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    How very ironic that the banner in the library would use an imported Anglo Saxon four letter word. Would that the Potowatomi protesters could discern between what the Europeans brought to the continent that was good and life affirming and what was not. Clearly F**K falls into the latter category. Sad.

  9. Patrick Mallory June 22, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    Fr. Jenkins

    I find it very disturbing that as president of what was once a premier Catholic university support the behaviors promulgated by the atheistic dictators who claim we must rewrite history so the story will praise their egotistic perception of their own omnipotence.

    Tell the story that God let happen. We must learn from the accomplishments (or progress) and mistakes (or failings) of the past.

    Don’t cover murals base on historical events to appease a few closed minded activists, but use them as a basis to teach the lessons we should have learned resulting from the events.

    I expect, based on your history, your next action could likely be the removal of crosses from the campus because another special interest group finds the concept of capital punishment or the possibility that God rose from a grave offensive.

  10. Are we supposed to feel guilty because 16th and 17th century Europeans acted like 16th and 17th century Europeans when they came to this continent? The romanticized notion of life before “evil white people” came here is never going to return, if it ever existed at all. It is so easy to gloss over the fact that indigenous peoples were warring with each other and killing and torturing each other long before the Europeans came. Will that be part of the “full story” our benighted Fr. Jenkins will have told?

    • Christopher Foley August 5, 2019 at 10:00 pm

      Precisely — but of course we are NOT told that 16th century native Americans survived by slaughtering other 16th century native Americans. Many Ojibwe casinos are on land taken from the Lakota Sioux in Minnesota. Why don’t the Sioux get something back?

  11. Dennis Mackin Sr. June 22, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Having recently observed the archeological “dig” on Sapelo Island (one of the barrier island of Georgia and now a Government preserve), I saw a mound near the shore that showed a barrier consisting the shells of mollusks devoured by a village that existed for thousands of years. To wit when Columbus arrived not far away the indigenous peoples had no wheel,, metal tools no any other artifacts of other than a stone age people to whom the Franciscan priests who accompanied Columbus offered the means of salvation. Over a couple hundred years these priests transmitted European culture to the natives. Fortresses including San Marco in St. Augustine Fl. were established in this wilderness. Not until the British drove out the Spanish from St. Simon’s island Georgia were the missionaries stymied. In short “what culture” was eradicated?

  12. This decision is a disgrace. What’s not mentioned is the affront to Italian American alumni whose contributions include our alma mater, a Heisman trophy and a large number of the buildings on campus.

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