Claire Gillen Cousino at this year’s Sycamore
Annual Breakfast at Alumni Weekend.

NOTRE DAME, IN — In this bulletin, we bring you the perspective of two knowledgeable 2012 graduates on the Catholic identity of Notre Dame. In the concluding Notes, we turn again to the litigation over the contraception / abortiacient / sterilization mandate.

The students are the former editor-in-chief and the executive editor of The Irish Rover, Claire Gillen Cousino and Katie Petrick. They summarized their experience at Notre Dame in their concluding editorial, which we reproduce below.

(Claire was the recipient of this year’s Sycamore Trust student award and spoke at

Sycamore’s recent annual breakfast meeting during Alumni Weekend, along with Fr. Wilson Miscable, C.S.C., and Dr. Walter Nicgorski. We will make the entire session available on the Internet soon along with the texts of their remarks.)

In their editorial, Claire and Katie coupled an expression of gratitude for their Notre Dame experience with one of disappointment in the weakened state of the University’s Catholic identity.

While praising professors they had selected, they sharply criticized the overall weakness of Catholic presence on the faculty and of the curriculum. And while praising the opportunities for spiritual growth afforded at Notre Dame, they score a campus culture too much characterized by alcohol and sex and administrators too willing to look the other way. Finally, they point to an inconsistent public witness by Notre Dame as symptomatic of the mix of Catholic and secular forces within the school.

We add a few bracketed headings to the text of their editorial to show how this view of Notre Dame’s Catholic identity corresponds with Professor Alfred Freddoso’s description of the school as “something like a public school in a Catholic neighborhood” in his introduction to Professor Emeritus Charles Rice’s illuminating book, “What Happened to Notre Dame?”

We also a omit a few minor and unessential portions. You can read the entire  text here.

The Editorial
Only a month away from donning cap and gown, we reflect gratefully on the last 4 years. We have counted our blessings, and they are many. We have been privileged to learn from teachers devoted to both the intellectual and personal growth of their students and to have formed true friendships.


[The “Catholic Neighborhood”]
Notre Dame offers a rich sacramental life for those who seek it. From the events hosted by the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture to Eucharistic Adoration, opportunities abound to explore the Catholic intellectual tradition and to deepen one’s faith. At its best, Nortre Dame truly provides what Bl. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., described as education for the mind and heart alike.

From the basilica to the stadium, Nore Dame offers many opportunities for devotion …..

[“Something like a public school”]
Such a vantage point also renders more bearable the dimmer side of campus life. As high school seniors and their parents consider where to invest the next 4 years (and a small fortune), we submit the following areas for polishing.



Core curriculum
Notre Dame lacks a real core curriculum, requiring instead a disjointed collection of courses. Want to satisfy your university seminar requirement with a course on pirates or the history of sex and gender? Notre Dame is happy to oblige. A rigorous understanding of the western or Catholic tradition is neither valued nor in vogue.



[Faculty] The required courses themselves leave something to be desired. Typically shunted off to graduate student teachers who lack a real interest in the University’s Catholic character, the introductory courses in philosophy and theology are particularly weak. The university urgently needs to increase the number of committed Catholic faculty, particularly in the College of Arts and Letters.


Campus culture

[“Catholic neighborhood “– the darker side] We’re not talking about Bookstore Basketball, froyo matches, or hipster moccasins, but rather the compartmentalization of student life. The compartments are well described by an entry in a recent Stallnotes; “What’s your favorite place on campus? 2A because we throw ragers … and the Grotto.” Students see no contradiction in hitting the books, the Bible, and the bottle in rapid succession.

In many ways, these habits are encouraged by dorm structure and winked at by authorities. Instead of holding young adults to the high standards they are capable of meeting, campus authorities seek to minimize the physical, social, and legal consequences of alcohol abuse and concomitant sexual objectification.


Institutional Witness
Notre Dame’s internal confusion about its Catholic identity is manifested in the inconsistency of its public witness. Notre Dame follows its fellow top-20 schools in emphasizing popular (and important) ideas of dialogue, academic freedom, and service but often fails to proclaim the principles the modern world is most lacking in …. [T]he university must be willing to undergo criticism for unpopular stances …. Will the university stand behind the pro-life movement with the same force of the Notre Dame students who fought the Ku Klux Klan? … Will the university speak out for religious freedom … against the meaningless “accommodation” of the HHS mandate?

Students should be able to look to their alma mater for leadership and guidance. Notre Dame undoubtedly promotes academic achievement. What kind of character does the university hope to foster in its graduates.

Katie Petrik Claire Gillen
Katie Petrik Claire Gillen Cousino

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As we and countless others have reported, Father Jenkins has provided a welcome answer to one of these questions and gladdened the hearts of many alumni by joining Notre Dame with a number of Catholic plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate — suits that will proceed now that the Supreme Court has upheld the requirement that individuals purchase insurance.

The startled reaction — the Wall Street Journal observed that “even” the “famously liberal” Notre Dame had sued — was a counterpoint to the widespread dismayed reaction to the University’s approval of The Vagina Monologues and the Queer Film Festival and astonishment at its honoring of President Obama. Notre Dame was thought to be too Catholic for the obscene play and meretricious festival and not Catholic enough for the lawsuit.

Thus, Notre Dame’s colliding secular and Catholic aspects are reflected in its colliding public witness, as the editorial’s authors observed.


  • In another unexpected development, the Catholic Health Association has reversed field and has announced its opposition to the HHS mandate. Led by Sr. Carol Keehan, its president, it had previously supported Ohamacare and HHS’s “accommodation” of freedom of religion claims. CHA’s desertion of the Administration is certainly welcome, though the Cardinal Newman Society has criticized its proposed substitute language broadening the exemption. That language, which has also been endorsed by Notre Dame, has been opposed by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. It would not protect individual employers nor religious non-denominational organizations and institutions.
  • Professors Gerard Bradley, Richard Garnett, and Carter Snead of the Law School are among the most intelligent and persuasive public voices in opposition to the mandate. In his latest contribution, Professor Bradley sketches the several possible future courses of this controversy and explains why, even if the mandate is set aside, powerful ideological forces are sure to continue to press upon religious liberty
  • On the other hand, prominent law and theology professor Cathleen Kaveny has written in Commonweal that Notre Dame should lose; Professor Gary Gutting of the Philosophy Department has declaredon the New York Times site that the bishops’ “outbursts” suggest “a grasp for secular power” and expresses his hope that “Catholics will see through” this move; and Professor Emeritus Bernard  Doering has taken a wild swing at the bishops for “attempt[ing] to legislate general rules of moral conduct that they cannot get their own subjects to obey.”
  • The Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which is under doctrinal examination by the Vatican, evidently will stick to its support of the mandate, while dozens of individual orders of women religious and the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which was established by women religious disaffected by what they regarded as unorthodox actions of the LCWR, have supported the bishops.
  • During their recent General Assembly, the bishops approved unanimously the prior statement by the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom condemning the mandate and calling for widespread opposition. This undermined the wishful thinking of some, based upon a statement by a single bishop (subsequently corrected), that there is disagreement among the bishops.
  • In its most recent statement, the USCCB appears to have qualified for the moment the bishops’ declaration that Catholic organizations would be morally obliged to disobey the mandate should it become effective. The bishops flatly insisted earlier that the mandate is an unjust law and that “an unjust law cannot be obeyed.” But now the USCCB says that disobedience of “some” unjust laws “may be justified.” The USCCB adds, however, that in this case “we may need to refuse to comply.”
  • This controversy is, of course, suffused with politics. Might President Obama reverse field to recover lost ground with Catholics as he has recently respecting deportation of illegal immigrants? It seems not. Just a few days ago he said that for hospitals and universities to oppose the HHS mandate  “crosses the line” and “is not fair.”

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Notre Dame should continue to dedicate its full resources and prestige to the struggle for religious liberty in the service of the Bishops and the Church. If you agree and would like to help with our mission of Catholic renewal at Notre Dame, please click here. Claire Gillen Cousino at this year’s Sycamore Annual Breakfast at Alumni Week

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