Seperation of Faith and Reason


Dr. Alfred Freddoso, Notre Dame’s John and Jean Oesterle Professor of Thomistic Studies.

NOTRE DAME, IN — In our last bulletin we gave you the account of major fault lines in the Catholic identity of the University by two 2012 graduates and Irish Rover principals. In this bulletin we bring you the perspective of a prominent long-time member of the faculty, Professor Alfred Freddoso. In the next bulletin, we will provide Dr. Walter Nicgorski’s analysis of how this formerly robustly Catholic school got into this fix and what it should do now. And among our concluding “Notes” here, among other items of interest we recount recent developments in the Obama contraception/abortifacient controversy.

Dr. Alfred Freddoso, Notre Dame’s John and Jean Oesterle Professor of Thomistic Studies, has been a prominent member of the faculty for over three decades. His oft-cited characterization of Notre Dame as “something like a public school in a Catholic neighborhood” is a pithy summary of his illuminating introduction to Law Professor EmeritusCharles E. Rice’s instructive book, “What Happened to Notre Dame?”

We reproduce below key passages from Dr. Freddoso’s introduction. You will find the entire introduction together with the first chapter of Dr. Rice’s book here and can order the book from St. Augustine’s Press at a 25% discount for Sycamore subscribers here with the code “SYCAMORETRUST.”

Dr. Freddoso leads into his explanation of what he means by both “public school” and “Catholic neighborhood” by summarizing the “historical trends” that he witnessed through over 30 years.

[T]he university’s steadily intensifying and often frustrated aspiration to be regarded as a major player in the American educational scene; the concomitant segmentation of faith from reason; the deterioration of the core curriculum into a series of disjointed “course distribution requirements” guided by no comprehensive conception of what an educated Catholic should know; the easy transition from a faculty dominated by “progressive” Catholics to a faculty more and more dominated by people ignorant of the intellectual ramifications of the Catholic faith; the concomitant marginalization of faculty who professed allegiance to, or even admiration for, the present-day successors of the Apostles; and a succession of high-level administrators lacking in a philosophical vision of Catholic higher education and intent on diffusing throughout the university a pragmatic mentality at once both bureaucratic and corporate. In addition, there had been a series of “incidents” — stretching from the Land O’Lakes Statement and the university’s coziness with the Rockefeller Foundation in the mid-1960’s to the tiresomely recurring debate over the Vagina Monologues in the first decade of the 21st century — which had served to put more and more strain on the relationship between the university and the Church it claimed to be serving and even to be “doing the thinking for,” to cite one astonishingly presumptuous catchphrase used by the university to promote itself. Rice recounts these incidents as well.

Notre Dame is nevertheless, Professor Freddoso says, “a wonderful place in many ways” where he is “deeply grateful” to have spent so many years. “It is in some obvious sense Catholic,” “a university that is more open to (or, at worst, more tolerant of) Catholic faith and practice than any other national private university I know of.” But “what it is not … is a Catholic university, i.e., an institution where the Catholic faith pervades and enriches, and is enriched by, the intellectual life on campus.”

Dr. Freddoso’s explanation of what he means shows why so many alumni and others continue to think of Notre Dame as an authentically Catholic university and why they are quite wrong.

This [characterization] might sound appalling to some, but it is, I submit, what the vast majority of present-day administrators, faculty members, students, and alumni mean when they sincerely, though mistakenly, claim that Notre Dame is a Catholic university. For they assume … that the Catholic character of the university is borne almost entirely by the “neighborhood,” i.e., by the university’s sacramental life and associated activities such as retreats, bible study groups, sacramental preparation courses, etc.; by various good works and service projects …; by a set of faith-inspired rules governing campus life …; and by the sheer number of … manifestations of Catholicism such as the statute of Our Lady atop the Golden Dome, Sacred Heart Basilica, the Grotto, the “Touchdown Jesus” mural, and scores of statues found all over the “neighborhood.” It is here that virtually all of a student’s moral and spiritual formation, if any, will take place. This is where “faith” resides on campus; this is where the “heart” is educated, to use another of the catchphrases.

The classroom or laboratory, by contrast, is a wholly different venue …. This is where “reason” resides and where “the mind” is educated, and it has little or nothing to do with Catholicism. (It is no accident that the newest science building … contains no noteworthy religious symbols in general and no noteworthy Catholic symbols in particular. That’s the way the science faculty wanted it.) [Emphasis supplied.]

To be sure, there are a number of professors outside the theology department … who can … provide a student who chooses his or her courses very carefully with something resembling a Catholic education. Moreover, there are more professors of this sort than one would ordinarily expect to find at a national private university in the United States. Nevertheless, they constitute only a small percentage of the total faculty, and their conviction that a Catholic student’s intellectual life should be fully integrated with his or her Catholic beliefs and practices is very much a minority view.Most faculty members would, to the contrary, be deeply disturbed by the prospect of having doctrinally orthodox Catholicism intrude itself into the classroom. [Emphasis supplied.]

While, as Professor Freddoso says, this hollowness at the core of the University is invisible to the great majority of alumni, it is obvious to anyone who understands, as we have repeatedly stressed, that the proportion of Catholic faculty has fallen so low that it no longer meets the test of Catholic identity the university has set for itself in its Mission Statement. Our discovery of this central fact triggered, and continues to fuel, Sycamore Trust. We will soon review again in detail the phenomenon of this radically diminished Catholic faculty. Watch for the bulletin.


  • Contraception/abortifacient mandate – a Catholic employer prevails. The first win in the multi-court litigation over the Obama administration’s contraception/abortifacient mandate went to Catholic owners of a private business. Colorado federal district judge John L. Kane (a Carter appointee) barred the governmentfrom enforcing the mandate pending a full hearing. While the ruling is not final, the judge’s interpretation of the religious freedom statute is very favorable to the plaintiffs. To be sure, he gave no indication of how he might dispose of the government’s argument that neither a corporation nor its family owners can assert a religious liberty claim in connection with the corporation’s business. An appeal in any event seems likely.
  • Religious institutions’ complaints dismissed as premature. In contrast to these private parties, religiously affiliated plaintiffs have a one-year grace period for complying, and as a result two lawsuits have so far been dismissed (see, Journal Star and Belmont Abbey v. Kathleen Sebelius) as premature. The administration has represented that the regulation will be modified to try to meet objections. If the Notre Dame court follows suit, Notre Dame’s complaint will be either dismissed or suspended pending final administration action. It is impossible to predict with assurance the final form of the mandate. Lengthy administrative proceedings still lie ahead.
  • Notre Dame graduate students channel Georgetown’s Sandra Fluke. Some Notre Dame graduate students are collecting signatures on a petition opposing Father Jenkins’s decision to sue. They do not, thank goodness, echo the jaw-dropping congressional testimony of the remarkable Sandra Fluke of Georgetown Law School that 40% of her female fellow students reported they “struggle financially” because contraception “can cost a woman over $3000” during law school. Rather, the Notre Dame students say it’s “doubtful” the bishops and religious leaders like Fr. Jenkins understand the Church’s teaching and that, moreover, Notre Dame’s lawyers and all the attorneys aligned with them don’t understand the law. Festooned with faux learning, the petition is an embarrassment that has been shredded by Professor Richard Garnett of the Law School. Happily, the petition has gained scant traction so far — less than 100 signatories and only about a score of faculty members. Nor has Father Jenkins followed the lead of the President of Georgetown, who applauded Ms. Fluke for “speaking in the tradition of the deepest values we share.”
  • Bill Kirk to Ave Maria. We congratulate Ave Maria University for securing the services of Bill Kirk as Vice President of Student Affairs and General Counsel. He leaves his position as Director of Administration And Corporate Counsel at the prominent Chicago engineering and architectural firm of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. We have recounted before the dark circumstances of Notre Dame’s lamentable dismissal of this faithful and courageous officer after 23 years of dedicated service, and we will not return to this painful episode again. Notre Dame’s self-inflicted loss and scarred reputation is Ave Maria’s signal gain. (A reminder: Elizabeth Kirk, a Sycamore board member and Notre Dame graduate, is former Associate Director of the Center for Ethics & Culture and continues on the board of the Notre Dame Fund to Protect of Human Life.)
  • A deserved mulligan for a valuable faculty member. In a recentWashington Post report about the resignation of several CCD teachers in the Arlington Virginia diocese in protest against the bishop’s requirement of an oath of fidelity to Pope and bishops,Father Ronald Nuzzi, the director of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE ), was reported as invoking an unhappy illustration of how bishops sometimes err: a photo of German bishops giving the Nazi salute. (He also said, unexceptionably, that bishops “want Catholic institutions to be staffed by people who not only teach what the church teaches but whose ‘whole life will bear witness.'”) The Cardinal Newman Society and others have understandably criticized Father Nuzzi. (We note, though, silence from the ND faculty members who called for Bishop Daniel Jenky’s ouster from the ND board because he said President Obama, in restricting religious liberty, has begun “following down a similar path” to Hitler.) But we know and respect Father Nuzzi; the ACE program he heads is one of the best at Notre Dame; and we are glad to have had an exchange with him in which he expressed his regret for this “ill-advised comparison.” We think Father deserves the mulligan we all wish for ourselves, as well as support for the good work he and his associates do in the ACE program.
Special Offer for Sycamore Subscribers
What Happened to Notre Dame? What Happened to Notre Dame? shows how the abandonment of principle at the college level spills over to the general culture, with devastating effect, as religious standards get pushed out of the public square.Charles E. Rice is prof. emer. of Law at the Notre Dame Law School and author of many books, including, from St. Augustine’s Press, Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going? How Do I Get There? (with Theresa Farnan), and The Winning Side.

Sycamore subscribers can order Dr. Rice’s book from St. Augustine Press at a 25% discount. Click here and use the discount code “SYCAMORETRUST” when checking out.


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, pleaseclick here.

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