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Continuing tradition of faith at Notre Dame

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, September 15, 2005

This afternoon at the Basilica there will be a Mass at 5:15 p.m. to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, the patronal feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Of course, everyone is invited to attend this special liturgy, which I think takes on a special character this year in view of the inauguration next week of Father John Jenkins as president.

Many books have been written about the fascinating history of the University. In one of them, a former professor, Ed Fisher, refers to the many people who have played special roles in developing our Catholic identity as “a long descending blessing.”

Over its 163 year history, the story of Notre Dame is intertwined with the history of Holy Cross. It is the story of a religious congregation composed of men and women who fulfill their vocations working together, at the call of the Church, often under challenging circumstances, but almost always inspired by great leaders, clerical and lay, whose vision necessarily exceeded what appeared to be within their reach. Father Jenkins is the 17th priest to serve as president, but numerous and dedicated men and women have always worked shoulder-to-shoulder with his predecessors in pursuing what has often appeared to be an impossible dream.

Many special and well beloved places around our beautiful campus stand as testimonies to our predecessors’ faith. More than 150 years ago, in 1854, the Catholic Church declared as revealed truth what erudite thinkers and simple believers had believed and held in their hearts for many centuries – that Mary was conceived without sin in view of the Son she would bear. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is beautifully proclaimed by the statue of Mary atop the Golden Dome in shining splendor. In a completely different setting, Mary is honored under the same title by a simple statue in the Grotto surrounded by rocks, foliage and a sacred silence.

Extraordinary leaders, filled with simple faith and with astounding insight and intelligence, fill volumes of our history as an institution. First among them is our founder, Father Edward Sorin, whose love for Mary led him almost instinctively to dedicate this institution to her.

Other religious leaders who stand out in our history include other Holy Cross religious such as Cardinal John O’Hara, and Fathers John Cavanaugh and Theodore Hesburgh. For each Holy Cross religious from our first 125 years whom one could name, there are numerous lay members of the faculty. Some of them are depicted on the “Wall of Fame” on the ground floor of the Main Building, but the number of those so honored could be multiplied by 10 or even 100.

In our more recent years, when the governance of the University was given over to a board composed of Holy Cross religious and lay people in 1967, numerous and significant benefactors and a faculty composed of some of the best minds and most effective teachers in our country join this long line of distinguished men and women. Today, some of the brightest minds in the country have come to Notre Dame, or stayed here, precisely because of our religious character.

The Notre Dame Community is also composed of intelligent young men and women who are extraordinarily well rounded, energetic, service-oriented and steeped in the Catholic faith or in another faith tradition, and who are completely satisfied at a university which has exceeded their high expectations and who are proud to be “Domers.” Most of these students have worked hard to achieve what for a significant number of them is the realization of a dream to be here for their undergraduate education and formation. And in the years to come, they will be our most significant supporters in every way because of their four years under the Dome which will change their lives forever.

As our community prepares for the events surrounding the inauguration, thoughts about our living Catholic heritage and tradition will undergird our celebration. I hope and believe that Notre Dame will never be deterred from speaking unabashedly about our Catholic heritage and tradition. It is who we are.

What is special about Notre Dame for so many of us is that our University understands the special role of the Congregation of Holy Cross, embraces our commitment to faith, accepts the challenging attractiveness of our significant and achievable aspirations, expresses our gratitude for who we are as individuals and as members of a community of scholars and a community of believers, and embodies our deepest desire for what we know is the work of God, at the continuing call of the Church, under the loving patronage of Mary, Notre Dame, Our Mother.

Father Richard Warner is the director of campus ministry. He can be contacted at Warner.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.