2021 Annual Request & Progress Report
Dear Friends of Sycamore Trust,
Once again, we have the opportunity to express our deep gratitude for the generosity that made it possible to launch Sycamore Trust 16 years ago and that has sustained us in our fight for an authentic Catholic renewal of Notre Dame ever since. As we have noted with some regularity, similar efforts by alumni at other schools repeatedly failed in the past. But not so with Sycamore Trust. Our supporters have kept us in the black and have made it possible to build our organization into what is by far the most significant organization of its kind while inspiring new efforts at other schools. Now, there is increasing coordination among alumni from other schools who are similarly concerned with protecting and promoting the Catholic identity of their almae matres. That is because of what we have been able to accomplish at Sycamore Trust. And that is because of those who have stood with us.
Our aim at Sycamore Trust is 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 share our concern. We investigate and report whatever goes on at the university that undermines its Catholic identity; we provide guidance to students on selection of teachers and courses; and we afford financial and other support to the Catholic student organizations that are essential to the school’s Catholic character.
Here’s what Father Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., award-winning historian and former chair of the History Department and Rector of Moreau Seminary, said about us:
No one else does what we do. If it weren’t for our work, no one would know how much the school’s Catholic identity has been impaired, and secular forces would have no opposition from outside the university. Now, nothing gets swept under the rug, and publicity can both deter and alter actions. For example, when we exposed how the University’s Flexible Spending Account would enable employees to get cut-rate abortions, the university cancelled the plan the next day.
With a solid base of Notre Dame alumni, family, and friends on our mailing list, strong support from Catholic news sources and a host of social media and blog sites that report on our bulletins, and an extraordinarily popular annual event during Reunion weekend (cancelled by the university the last two years due to COVID), it’s clear that that our mission has struck a chord.
And we continue to find new opportunities to influence Notre Dame to be mindful of its Catholic heritage and to not trivialize its Catholic mission. Happily, we have been able to take advantage of some – like our just established annual financial awards for student leaders that have been funded by a very generous contribution from Mike (’73) and Nancy Hansen. However, because of their cost, we have had to pass on others – like integrating our faculty recommendations with a third-party class registration tool that Notre Dame’s students prefer to use over the official app.
While remaining focused on our investigative reporting, our plans for 2022 include: (1) an effort to increase our financial assistance to student leaders and their organizations; (2) the creation of online resources for students who are seeking an authentic Catholic education at Notre Dame — including short courses on topics like the ongoing relevance of Ex corde Ecclesiae ; (3) a continued expansion of our apostolate through additional opportunities for collective prayer among Sycamore Trust supporters; and, with any luck, (5) a return to our annual Breakfast event during Reunion weekend.
If you would like to know more about any one of these projects, please get in touch with me.
The world needs devout Catholic leaders whose faith not only defines their spiritual identity but is also the governing force of their lives. And these leaders need a Catholic alternative to top tier universities lest the most capable of them are diverted from a deeper purpose to be formed in secular values to defend a secular world. Notre Dame is the single school with even a remote possibility of filling this role.
For the Sycamore Trust officers and directors,
William H. Dempsey (’52)
PS. For a full account of our origins, history, and achievements, please see the program for our 2019 breakfast.
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.
After 16 years 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.
Our principal methods for pursuing our mission are publishing regular investigative reports, organizing collective prayer projects among our supporters, contributing to student groups that advance Notre Dame’s Catholic mission, and assisting students in selection of courses and professors who uphold the school’s Catholic mission. We are now able also to provide annually five $5,000 awards to students who have taken leadership roles in clubs and organizations that promote Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
In our frequent bulletins, online videos, social media postings, webinars, and annual breakfast panels, we do what no one else does: report what’s going on at Notre Dame that undermines its Catholic character. As Professor Walter Nicgorski said at a Sycamore breakfast, now everyone knows they no longer can “sweep everything under the rug.”
This means something. An especially important example: a halt in the decline of Catholic faculty. When we entered the scene, Catholic faculty representation was in a decades-long decline and was poised to plunge below 50%. But shortly after we disclosed this alarming situation and began publishing the data each year, the trajectory leveled off and has even ticked up a bit. This has saved Notre Dame from continuing the slow-motion collapse that has ended so badly for most other major Catholic universities.
But we need more resources to be more effective by enlisting and training a group of young alumni of The Irish Rover to contribute to our investigative reporting. This will provide stability and continuity to this central part of our mission.
This year we have published 17 Bulletins on a variety of topics ranging from the virulent opposition by students and faculty to Judge Amy Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, President Biden’s last-minute rejection of Father Jenkins’s wrong-headed invitation to be Commencement speaker, the university’s uneven vaccination mandate, the campus-wide celebration of June as Pride Month over the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the establishment of an official NDAA LGBTQ affinity group, the retooling of Welcome Week to remove “heteronormative messages that created an unwelcoming or awkward environment for many students,” a gay alumnus’ revelation in his Notre Dame Press memoir of Father Jenkins’s support of his “legal battle for marriage, equality, and inclusion,” and the Irish Rover’s courageous editorial by editor-in-chief Mary Frances Myler that described how the Church’s teaching on sex, gender, and marriage has been undermined at Notre Dame. These and our other bulletins are available in our archives.
When we believe that collecting signatures can effectively pressure Notre Dame to act in line with its Catholic identity, we invite our supporters to join us in signing an open letter. This year, 4,905 alumni, students, faculty, staff, family, and friends of Notre Dame added their signature to an open letter to Father Jenkins urging him not to invite President Biden, our nation’s “first anti-Catholic Catholic president,” to be Commencement speaker. Father Jenkins, who in 2016 conferred upon Biden the university’s prestigious Laetare Medal, was considering honoring him once again despite his aggressive program to undermine the Church’s teaching on abortion, marriage, sex and gender.
After the news broke, less than two weeks from Commencement, that Jimmy Dunne would be the speaker and not President Biden, the White House disclosed that the President had, in fact, been invited, dissembling as to the reason he declined, while the University refused to comment. This triggered dozens of media reports attributing Biden’s dodging the invitation to concern about a pro-life backlash, a concern raised by our open letter.
With a very generous gift from Mike (’73) and Nancy Hansen, we have just established the Mike and Nancy Hansen Student Award in Memory of Rev. Jake Smith, C.S.C.
Father Smith (’53) entered Sacred Heart Novitiate in South Bend in1946, after serving in the U.S. Navy, and was ordained on June 5, 1957, in Sacred Heart Church. In addition to teaching high school, working on the Fatima Retreat Center staff, and serving as religious superior, Father Smith was also chaplain for Holy Cross Sisters, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross Brothers, Columba Hall, Notre Dame. He was also assistant director of Harvest House in South Bend and director of human development for the diocese of Fort Wane-South Bend. From 1978-1981 he was pastor of Holy Cross Parish and briefly associate pastor of St. Pius X parish in Granger. Father Smith died of cancer on February 17, 1982. He was Mike Hansen’s uncle and instrumental in his decision to attend Notre Dame.
Each of five annual financial awards carries with it a check for $5,000 to mitigate the extraordinary cost of a Notre Dame education and is offered in recognition of a student’s exceptional contributions to the Catholic identity of the University of Notre Dame. We will say more about this award and the students who will receive it in an upcoming bulletin.
Our Annual Breakfast during Reunion Weekend, which has been both a measure of the growth of the organization and of special importance to it, was cancelled for the second year — this with the rest of Reunion 2021 due to the university’s ongoing COVID-19 response.
While we recognize that there remains a chance that Reunion 2022 will be cancelled as well, we are moving forward with our plans for another singular event on Saturday, June 4, 2022.
From its small beginnings in the spring of 2007, the event now attracts an audience that has overflowed the large space in McKenna Conference Center and includes hundreds more who watch the event streamed online. Our speakers are drawn from the very best of the faculty and always include student speakers who reflect on their experiences at Notre Dame. You can watch our last program with Rev. Wilson Miscamble, CSC, discussing his book “The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame’s Father Ted Hesburgh.” More about our Annual Breakfast is available here.
Student Groups & Organizations
While about 80% of Notre Dame students self-identity as Catholics, a large and increasing number are only loosely attached to the Church. But the truly Catholic minority is still larger, we believe, than at any other major school, and their organizations are vibrant and absolutely essential to the Catholic character of the university.
Accordingly, we maintain close relations with students in organizations like The Irish Rover, Notre Dame Right to Life, Militia Immaculata, and SCOP (devoted to issues of family and chastity). We provide much-needed financial support and assist – very successfully – in helping to promote their projects and raise needed funds.
For example, we provided the video crew and helped to fill the audience for a recent event of Notre Dame Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP) on the conflict between the secular LGBTQ movement and the teaching of the Catholic Church on sexuality with Professor Sherif Girgis. Watch our bulletins for more information on this and an opportunity to view the recorded program.
But more needs to be done. And with your support more will be done — to encourage them in their effort to live out their faith and to speak up for fundamental Catholic tenets even as the dominant culture on campus advances its radical opposition to the Church’s teaching on abortion, sex, and marriage unchecked by the administration. 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.
With our 2017 Annual Breakfast there was an upwelling of interest in establishing an apostolate within the Sycamore Trust community to encourage each other to pray collectively for the faithful and fruitful success of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. This resulted in an extremely popular Novena project which concluded on the first day of classes during the 2017-2018 academic year — which has been repeated each year since and has been expanded to include other prayer projects such as our 12-Days of Christmas.
Not only are we unlikely to have a final victory without prayer, but it is perhaps the most apposite way to introduce newcomers to our cause and to others in the Sycamore Trust community who share their concerns and support our mission. There is more on our Novena, including a welcoming video by Fr. John Rapahel introducing the project and a concluding video by Bill Dempsey thanking those who participated with us in it here.
Our student website, NDCatholic.com, provides 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, the exceptionally gifted and courageous advocate of Catholic educational reform at Notre Dame. Unfortunately, he was ordered to disassociate himself from the project immediately after the site was launched. Nevertheless, we have continued to develop the site, updating content, promoting it to students, and adding additional recommendations from reliable sources.
This site is being redeveloped under our main sycamoretrust.org domain with increased functionality and additional resources for students who want an authentically Catholic experience at Notre Dame. With sufficient financial resources, we could also retain a service commonly used by students to select their courses that would integrate NDCatholic into their registration process. This would be a truly significant step, both in terms of helping students and introducing them to our mission
Growth & Sustainability
Since our founding in 2006, we have funded most of our budget from a single online campaign — the one you are reading now — at year end. This has been sufficient to achieve our initial goals; however, we must expand our foundation and increase our activity in order to be sustainable for the long-term. Both our mission and our margin are closely tied to our membership. Therefore, expanding our reach to these three groups is especially important:
- Alumni — who put pressure on the University from the outside, who provide the financial and volunteer resources we need to continue our work, and who support and encourage students and teachers who stand tall for the truth of Catholicism at Notre Dame;
- Students — who advance the University’s Catholic identity and promote Catholic activities on campus — supporting our common purpose from the inside; and
- Parents — who have been largely marginalized because of lack of both information and representation.
We continue to work to strengthen our membership in these areas by increasing numbers, adding value, and deepening relationships. If you would like to know more about our growth and sustainability plan, please get in touch with us.
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. 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.
Sycamore Trust Founder and Chairman, William Dempsey, discusses with Laura Ingraham one of the most indefensible, and perhaps consequential, decisions of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins’s tenure — namely, his decision to decline to condemn, or even criticize, a vile and inflammatory assault via poster and video by a group of students on other students, alumni and faculty for upholding the Church’s teaching on homosexual sex. The student organizations Irish Rover and SCOP were also targeted, as was Sycamore Trust. While this incident occurred more than a year ago, we show this interview because the noxious “Queer Blood” video with its overtones of violence is still up on the Internet because of the refusal of the Notre Dame administration to intervene.