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A different side of Father Poorman

Andrew DeBerry | Thursday, October 30, 2003

Many on campus think of him as the author of du Lac, a conspirator behind the alcohol policy and the reason why the sexes must part at night in the dorms.

While parts of this may be true, those who know Father Mark Poorman in Keough Hall praise him as a great, social, positive guy. I dropped in his office to bridge the disparity between personal and public perceptions of our vice president of student affairs.

Poorman was studying English at the University of Illinois when he felt the call to the priesthood. He enrolled in Notre Dame’s Masters of Divinity Program and appreciated the tremendous people of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and its integration of the intellectual and spiritual life. He has been a resident assistant and assistant rector but has many great memories, in particular from his time as the rector of Dillon Hall. He later earned a Ph.D in Christian Ethics from the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley and returned to Notre Dame to hold various teaching and advisory positions. He gladly accepted University President Father Edward Malloy’s invitation in 1999 to be vice president of student affairs.

Poorman works with 27 rectors and 10 directors overseeing departments such as Campus Ministry, Health Services, Campus Security and Career Services. He calls administration “the art of the possible.” One must wade through numerous constraints to discern the best decisions. His work involves less controversy than many may think. In reality, he is thankful that he can work with the students, which he considers “an incredible privilege.”

He thoroughly enjoys teaching and praises his students as bright, motivated, value-oriented individuals. Students reciprocate his praise through high, online professor ratings. Poorman also treasures performing alumni marriages and baptisms, which he said he does more than all the campus priests.

He also cherishes the residential life. Alumni usually ask each other two questions – when they graduated and what dorm they lived in: “I love that,” Poorman says. He esteems Notre Dame’s unabashed and pervasive Catholic character. In particular, he values working with the “outstanding, extremely dedicated, professional, student-oriented and service-driven” rectors and department directors.

He also has high aspirations for students. “I want people here to catch fire intellectually,” he said. He doesn’t want students to be too content just hanging out and letting opportunities pass by during their short time here. He wants alumni to be Catholic leaders in their various fields who have a keen sense of responsibility for people who are less privileged. In particular, he would like more students to enlist in the fields of scholarship. While many do pursue professional training, he wants more students to pursue advanced education with Ph.D. aspirations.

Poorman’s many responsibilities have not precluded numerous personal encounters. While living in Grace Hall, he had to tell a freshman that his father had died after an accident on the way home from Freshmen Orientation. He invited the RA and freshmen in his section to get away from the move-in mayhem and come together at the Morris Inn. The guys dropped what they were doing and stayed up until 6 a.m. to mourn with the student.

Notre Dame life has also had its gags, mostly from Poorman’s 4A section in Keough Hall. I ventured up to 4A to see what they really thought of their neighborly administrator and was led to two guys working in the Keough kitchen who live near him. When Poorman would come home after a long day, they’d run out, greet him like an old friend, then proceed to rampage in his room.

They’d jump around, eat his cookies and pretend to make important phone calls to Father Theodore Hesburgh: “Yeah, Ted, how you doing?” Poorman would kindly entertain them before bidding them good night. Sometimes guys in 4A could convince him to get “Recked” with them at Reckers. They would want to live in no other section without Poorman.

4A had good reports of this administrator. I wondered if it could all be true. I called his sister, Janice Poorman, who works in the Masters of Divinity Program. I asked about Poorman before his ministry. “He was considered a heartthrob,” she says. They called him Father What-A-Waste. Some girls were very sorry that he joined the priesthood. He was active in student life and was a popular guy. He has kept in contact with a few of the girlfriends he had as a student, even baptizing some of their children.

Janice noted Poorman’s personal kindness in family life. She is a single mother who has two daughters adopted from China. Uncle Mark visits her daughters every week to play with them. He organized a trip to the Notre Dame Fire Department for their day care and put each kid in the fire engine. Janice wants students to see Poorman as a very kind family man who genuinely keeps others interests at heart.

While some students may disagree for valid reasons, Poorman and many of the administrators act with special regard for the students. They model a lifestyle that integrates intellectual, spiritual and professional living. But most importantly, they maintain personal relationships that show the heart and soul that is leading the University under Mary’s watchful eye.

Andrew DeBerry is a fifth-year senior studying aerospace engineering and minoring in Middle Eastern Studies. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be contacted at adeberry@nd.eduThe views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.