2022 Annual Request & Progress Report
Dear Friends of Sycamore Trust,
Shortly after the Catholic pro-life movement and its allies finally succeeded in persuading the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Women’s Health to overrule Roe v. Wade and return abortion regulation to state legislatures, Forbes published an article comparing the official reactions of several colleges and universities, including that of Notre Dame President John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. At an historic moment in the pro-life movement and on an issue the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declares to be a “preeminent priority,” Forbes characterized Father Jenkins’s statement for the nation’s most prominent Catholic university as “neutral.”
If you have followed our bulletin series on abortion attitudes and advocacy at Notre Dame, Father Jenkins’s studied neutrality on Dobbs will come as no surprise. The sanctity of life is not a “preeminent priority” of his administration. And while there are vibrant pro-life faculty and student voices at Notre Dame, so, too, are there strident abortion advocates. Those who, like Notre Dame Right to Life President Merlot Fogarty, champion the pro-life cause risk significant backlash, while others like Keough School Professor Tamara Kay, who promotes student access to abortion, openly thump for abortion in order to “change the perception of Notre Dame as a place where the majority of people accept the Catholic Church’s position on these issues” (Scholastic, October 2022).
For nearly 17 years, we have been spotlighting issues like this at Our Lady’s university. Our purpose is not to disparage her, but, to the contrary, to call her loyal sons and daughters to her side and to join us in the fight for her most precious asset – her Catholic identity. Meaningful opportunities to assist in this fight have increased rapidly during the last several years, especially with student leaders and faculty members who are on the front line. But we can do only what we can afford, and we assure you that opportunities to do more abound.
We take this opportunity to express our deep gratitude for the generosity that made it possible to launch Sycamore Trust and that has sustained us in our fight for an authentic Catholic renewal at Notre Dame ever since. While similar efforts in the past by alumni at other schools have repeatedly failed, our supporters have made it possible to build our organization into what is by far the most significant of its kind. This has enabled us to encourage alumni at other schools to follow suit as we look forward to the day when there will be many counterparts of Sycamore Trust across the land combining their efforts to restore the Catholic character of Catholic higher education.
At Notre Dame, 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 the publicity can both deter and alter actions that undermine Notre Dame’s declared mission.
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 at this year’s Annual Breakfast during Reunion Weekend:
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 very popular annual event during Reunion weekend (reinstated this year following two years of university-imposed COVID restrictions), 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 mission. An especially important example is our recently established Young Alumni group, whose members are organizing both to support dedicated Catholics as they leave campus and to conduct projects that promote our mission among students. (There is more about this important initiative below.)
While we remain focused on our investigative reporting, our plans for 2023 include: (1) a continued effort to increase our financial assistance to student leaders and their organizations — with an emphasis on coordinating activities like last year’s important Catholic Leadership Summit; (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) an expansion of our prayer apostolate through additional opportunities for collective prayer among Sycamore Trust supporters — especially those that promote student participation; and (5) a heavy emphasis on building the membership of our Young Alumni group and on promoting its initiatives and projects.
If you would like to know more about any one of these projects, please get in touch with us.
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 and instilled instead with secular values and dedicated to building a secular society. Notre Dame, with its abundant resources, its stellar academic credentials, and its rich Catholic tradition is the single school with even a remote possibility of filling this role.
While our most important request is for your prayers for Sycamore Trust and Notre Dame and those many at the University who are dedicated to its Catholic mission, we earnestly ask that you also consider including Sycamore Trust in your year-end giving to help us intensify the fight for Notre Dame’s Catholic identity in 2023.
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 2022 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 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 if Notre Dame is to experience anything like an authentic Catholic renewal. And how much we are able to influence this depends on the resources that are made available to us by those who share our values and support our aims.
After 17 years of experience, we are very well acquainted with the subtle dynamics at work at the university that relate to its Catholic identity – 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 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 selecting courses and professors who uphold the school’s Catholic mission. Through our young alumni group, we are now also able to engage directly with dedicated Catholics as they leave campus and make their way in a postmodern world.
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 15 Bulletins on a variety of topics ranging from the abrupt cancellation of student participation in the National March for Life and the campus rally it sparked, the high-profile honoring of Notre Dame hater and “critical race theory” promoter Nikole Hannah-Jones, the Jenkins administration’s accelerating pace of its pro-LGBTQ agenda, the Alumni Association’s advocating for Pride Month through its network of alumni clubs, Student Affairs VP Rev. Gerry Olinger’s use of religious and institutional authority to instruct first-year students with anti-Catholic training on sex and gender, Keough School Prof. Tamara Kay’s campaigns to assist students abort pre-born babies, and Notre Dame’s termination of its long-standing sponsorship of Right to Life Michiana’s major fundraiser for its pro-life programs because Ben Shapiro was selected as the keynote speaker. 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 alumni, students, faculty, staff, family, and friends of Notre Dame to join us in signing an open letter. This year, we published two open letters. The first letter was to Notre Dame Alumni Association Executive Director Dolly Duffy expressing asking her to respond to the many concerns expressed by alumni about the Association’s promotiong an aggressively pro-LGBTQ agenda through its “Alumni Rainbow Community” in opposition to Church teaching. The second letter was to Notre Dame’s Office of Student Affairs Vice President Rev. Gerry Olinger, C.S.C., urging him to correct the misrepresention to first-year students of the Church’s teaching on sex, gender and marriage in his mandatory “Building Community the Notre Dame Way” training.
The Olinger affair outraged many in the Notre Dame community, and our breaking news on Notre Dame’s First Year Sex-Ed triggered numerous media reports including that by The Irish Rover on Sexuality-Ed. Not only did Father Olinger take advantage of both his priestly vocation to contradict Church teaching on important moral issues of the day and his institutional authority to force this on new students, but, like Dolly Duffy, he has refused to answer questions about it.
Through the Mike and Nancy Hansen Student Award in Memory of Rev. Jake Smith, C.S.C., we recognize the contributions made by students who assume leadership roles with organizations that promote Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
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 award carries with it up to 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 this year’s recipients 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, resumed this year after being cancelled twice due to the university’s COVID-19 response.
Our featured speaker was Rev. Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., award-winning historian and former chair of the History Department and Rector of Moreau Seminary. In his presentation on “Wealth, Wokism, and a ‘Neighborhood’ in Decline: Notre Dame’s Challenging Future,” Father Miscamble provided our guests with his illuminating insights on recent developments at Notre Dame and commented on some of the major challenges the university confronts in maintaining its Catholic identity in the immediate future
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.
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 university, and their organizations are vibrant and absolutely essential to the Catholic character of Notre Dame.
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, last academic year we funded the revival of a Catholic Leadership Summit for students. The event serves to deepen the commitment of student leaders to Notre Dame’s formative mission and to improve coordination among their respective organizations. Participants build community as they learn from each other and from prominent voices in the fight for Notre Dame’s Catholic identity such as Father Bill Miscamble, Professor Emeritus Walter Nicgorski, Professor Patrick Deneen, Professor Craig Iffland, and Professor David O’Connor, who delivered the keynote address.
We also established a summer internship to increase coordination with student leaders and to organize one of the most important initiatives that we have launched since our founding 17 years ago — our Young Alumni Group (see below).
Students are on the front line in the fight for Notre Dame’s Catholic identity. As much as possible needs to be done to support and encourage their efforts — both to live out their faith and to speak up for the truth of Catholicism even as increasingly aggressive forces on campus press their opposition to the Church’s teaching on abortion, sex, and marriage unchecked by the administration. We count on these talented and faithful students to advance our shared mission on campus and look to them for the future of Sycamore Trust and the continuation of our effort to restore a rich Catholic identity to this great university.
Young Alumni Group
In mid-August, Mitch Boersma, Chief Operating Officer of the Catholic Information Center and co-founder of The Leonine Forum joined a large and lively group of young alumni online to help to frame a discussion about the value and viability of establishing a young Notre Dame group of faithful Catholics under Sycamore Trust. That discussion resulted in the creation of a 28-member Young Alumni Leadership Team led by our newest and youngest Trustee, Zach Mercugliano, ’21.
Dubbing their initiative “Sycamore Decade,” the Leadership Team has identified the following goals as both high value for young alumni and as distinctive within the broad context of the Notre Dame Alumni Association:
- Having a space to openly discuss the counter-cultural view of Catholicism in light of the censoring and silencing climate of woke workplaces.
- Supporting student activities and influencing university decisions to strengthen Notre Dame’s Catholic identity.
- Introducing first year students to campus resources that reflect Notre Dame’s Catholic identity and to the communities of students and faculty that make them possible.
- Providing opportunities for dispersed alumni to connect through shared devotions and enriching content developed by alumni.
You will hear a great deal more about Sycamore Decade projects and their impact on our mission as we work with Zach and his leadership team to establish operations and to expand membership.
With our 2017 Annual Breakfast there was an swelling interest in establishing an apostolate within the Sycamore Trust community to encourage each other to pray collectively for the success of Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. This resulted in an extremely popular Novena that concluded on the first day of classes during the 2017-2018 academic year — a novena that has been repeated each year since and has been expanded to include similar projects such as our Twelve Days of Christmas Meditation.
Aware that we cannot achieve our goals without prayer, we continue to create opportunities for our Apostolate to seek to make God and his redeeming love present in our mission through prayer. For example, Sycamore Trustee Father John Raphael (’89), who leads our Apostolate, now concludes our bulletins with a prayer; after Ash Wednesday next year, we will begin to observe Ember Days for Notre Dame students, administration, faculty, and alumni, respectively; during Reunion Weekend prior to our Annual Breakfast we will continue the Rosary at the Grotto started by Richard (’72) and Margaret Wall; and, expanding on our original prayer card for Catholic education, we will release other prayer cards periodically that are intended for students and distributed on campus by Catholic identity organizations.
We invite you to join our Apostolate here.
Our student website, NDCatholic.com, provides recommendations of teachers who will contribute to a truly Catholic education for students electing 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 and has positioned our organization 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.
“J” is for Jeremiah
Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you
When faithful Catholics think of the letter “j” in the context of the sanctity of life, they are more likely to think of Jeremiah than abortion access. But not Keough Professor Tamara Kay who, since the Dobbs decision, has used the letter to signal to Notre Dame students that she will help them obtain an abortion.
The poster on her office door has been removed. But the Jenkins administration continues to provide Professor Kay with a prominent platform to promote her personal views by spotlighting her on the university’s media page as an “expert” to “analyze, provide context and commentary” to reporters on abortion. This is not the price of academic freedom. It is the price of infirm leadership.