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The Heart of the Matter – Soothing Melodies, Happy Memories

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NOTRE DAME, IN – If the risk to Notre Dame’s Catholic identity is so evident, why don’t more seem concerned?

Here’s an interesting question for discussion. We’ve heard from some who think the number one goal for Notre Dame should be still further improvement in its academic reputation in secular academe. If that means continued reduction of the proportion of Catholic faculty, so be it. They agree with the faculty majority that religious commitment ought to be disregarded in hiring. For them, Father Jenkins’s new goal of recognition as a top research university is more important than his goal of arresting the decline of Catholic faculty.

Then there must be a number of alumni who just don’t care. For one reason or another, they’ve simply lost interest in the school, even if many of them still root for the football team.

There’s no way to estimate how widespread views like these are, but surely there are a great many who do care a great deal about preserving the Catholic character of Notre Dame. A large majority, I hope. What of these alumni and family and students and friends? Why aren’t they all alarmed?

I think for two reasons.

First, most of them simply don’t know the facts that disclose the faculty fault line and its significance. Why would they? The University’s formidable public information organization is in the business of showing Notre Dame as Catholic to the core, as anyone who reads the torrent of news releases and mailings that pour out almost daily can attest. And we have been impeded in our efforts to disseminate information by the action of the Alumni Association in instructing class and club officers not to distribute that information because it may contain “rumors” and be “polarizing.”

Second, a good many of those who do come upon the unvarnished facts, most likely from Project Sycamore, are probably most unwilling to credit what they see. The message appears to clash directly with both their memories and what the school’s press releases tell them. With all of the volunteer work being done by students, with the crowded Masses, with the glow of the Basilica, with the cascade of awards to Catholic professors, what could really be wrong?

These alumni don’t realize that history teaches that the external signs, the religious campus activities, invariably continue well after the faculty has become secularized. Only then does the entire university culture begin to change, but the end is foreordained. That’s why, as Notre Dame’s former Provost Father James Burthchaell reported in his landmark study “The Dying of the Light,” alumni wake up to the fact that their university might lose its religious character after it’s already lost. It’s hard to think of Notre Dame as anything other than vibrantly Catholic, but the fact is that this would be the unavoidable end result of the loss of Catholic faculty dominance.

Is this a lesson too hard to learn?

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