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Congregation’s Catholic mission and identity link presidents

Meghanne Downes | Wednesday, April 27, 2005

As the Malloy era draws to a close and the eve of the Jenkins era approaches, there is one thing that will remain constant – the Congregation of Holy Cross’s presence.

In the foreground of the most recent transition lies two Holy Cross priests with different personalities who publicly disagreed over a significant University decision. But in the background they share common ideals and are bounded by their congregation. Many University administrators comment that it’s not the individual that defines a particular office, but the Holy Cross values and Notre Dame mission that dictate its purpose and goal. Notre Dame presidents are linked by their Holy Cross identity, ensuring continuity despite varying personalities or visions. This combined with its Catholic values forms the core of Notre Dame.

“I think those sort of ideals animate this place in ways that are difficult to articulate, to put into words, but nevertheless are present in how we do things and present in how we live,” University President-elect Father John Jenkins said.

In its 162-year history, the University has witnessed 16 presidential transitions, a changing balance between the clergy and laity within the University and an ever-evolving relationship between the University and the Congregation. Yet the Holy Cross character remains strong and consistent, and both Jenkins and University President Father Edward Malloy realize the important of the Holy Cross tradition at Notre Dame.

Since being named University President-elect in April, Jenkins remained steadfast to upholding Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, mirroring Malloy’s priorities for Notre Dame. This follows an example set by Malloy’s predecessor, as he adopted one of University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh’s main priorities. Malloy emphasized throughout his tenure the necessity to focus on maintaining Notre Dame’s mission and identity as a Catholic university.

“Now I have said this, and I totally believe this, if I felt that we had lost our sense of mission and identity as a Catholic university and succeeded in all the rest, I would feel like a failure,” Malloy said. “So the necessary quality in the midst of all that, is that we preserve our fundamental distinctiveness as a Catholic university.”

Hesburgh, Malloy and Jenkins – the recent past, present and future of Notre Dame – advocate the need for the University to remain faithful to its core, but caution leaders from trying to duplicate their predecessors.

“Well, I don’t think continuity is as important, except in the idea that all presidents coming to the greatest Catholic university in the world certainly have their own personal views of what this means,” Hesburgh said, “but they are brought together mainly in the history of the University and its developments in recent years, and I expect that to continue.”

Jenkins believes that there does not necessarily have to be complete continuity between presidencies, but that there should be a commitment toward the values.

“The thing about a new person is there’s the new approach, and a new way of doing things, and that’s a good thing in any organization,” Jenkins said. “What you want is the continuity of the most important values of the University and the most valuable traditions. I hope there is not complete continuity; I hope we can pick up things to move us forward a bit, but I hope we don’t lose the heart.”

The heart, or mission, dates back to the University’s founding when Father Edward Sorin came to Northern Indiana with a land grant purchased by Father Stephen Badin and a vision to create a great Catholic university. Holy Cross priests ran the University and infused their Catholic ideals and mission into the education curriculum to create a unique character.

The Congregation’s official link to the University is cemented in Notre Dame’s bylaws, which state the University President must be a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Unofficially, the relationship can be seen in the presence of Holy Cross priests on campus and in the buildings known simply to students as Zahm, Nieuwland, Corby, Sorin or Hesburgh – named after Holy Cross priests who not only physically built the University but shaped its underlying spirit.

Notre Dame’s Catholic and Holy Cross identity continues to remain strong despite the smaller role of the Congregation and the growing presence of the laity in the classrooms and Main Building offices. Though the University may not have as many Holy Cross priests serving as professors or administrators today in comparison to previous eras, the Congregation’s purpose and mission remains intertwined with Notre Dame.

“There are certain aspects of how [the Congregation of Holy Cross] approached education that still exist at Notre Dame since the community made a pretty serious commitment to intellectual life, and a real commitment to being a deeply Catholic university in the richest sense of that word,” Jenkins said.

Hesburgh strongly believes the spiritual force of Notre Dame has always been drawn from the Congregation. This force, coupled with the relationship between the University and the Congregation, provides stability and life to Notre Dame.

“I think the CSCs are in a very real sense the spiritual heart of the University, and are constantly trying to attract very bright young men to join the community and hopefully come back here some of them and continue a tradition that goes back a long time,” Hesburgh said.

While both Malloy and Jenkins acknowledged the recent change in leadership balance between the Holy Cross priests and members of the laity, they did not believe the University’s fundamental mission would be overshadowed. Malloy said he would like to see more Holy Cross priests holding leadership positions at Notre Dame, but added that the distinctiveness of Notre Dame is reinforced by the professors and administrators who actively encourage Catholic values and identity.

Jenkins believes the Holy Cross priests are necessary to reinforce tradition and “leaven the dough.” However, he sees the laity as a strength because they enrich the community and are guided by the Notre Dame mission.

“It isn’t about numbers,” Jenkins said. “This place could be loaded with Holy Cross priests and it wouldn’t help us if we didn’t bring a kind of animating spirit.”

Even in its early years, members of the Congregation of Holy Cross did not solely compose the University’s administration. Notre Dame looked to its leader for direction and from him the values continued to resonate. The link that connects each president also reinforces the University’s identity.

From the presidents in the foreground to its history in the background, the Holy Cross core of Notre Dame – the link between leaders – thrives.