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Celebrating an ‘extra large’ Observer milestone

Gary Caruso | Friday, April 21, 2006

Former and current newspaper staff are converging this weekend to celebrate four decades of publishing The Observer. Their reunion may not excite others as does the Super Bowl – coincidentally now marking its fortieth year – but their pilgrimage is no less important. The victorious Steelers, led by former Notre Dame star Jerome Bettis, made reference to the Roman numeral “XL” as representing their “extra large” game. For Observer alumni returning to campus, this celebration is as extra large as any.

It matters not what the first Observer headline shouted or first editorial preached, although it was a time of war and student death. Today we have come full cycle since that first printing. Whether the news be good or bad, the newspaper sought to speak the truth daily to the campus about America, the Church, college life and the war. And so it has, for 40 years – and so it shall for 40 years more.

I was most anxious to come here personally this weekend, because I place such great importance in the work that we specifically are doing. The Observer occupies a key part in the story of American Catholic life. What we do here on campus, who we are and what we want to be, represent a great experiment in a most difficult kind of self-awareness. It is the organization, maintenance and development of progressively discovering how to unconditionally love others. Now it is our task, as the executives and participants in The Observer, to tell that story around the world through the Internet.

This can be an extremely difficult and sensitive task. On the one hand, we are an arm of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore an arm of Christianity. It is our task to bring our story around the world in a way which serves to represent Catholicism in its most favorable light. But on the other hand, as Americans who are supposed to represent the cause and arm of freedom, we are obliged to tell our story in a truthful way, to tell it, as Oliver Cromwell said about his own portrait, “Paint us with all our blemishes and warts, all those things about us that may not be so immediately attractive.”

This presents an almost impossible challenge, and it is a source of satisfaction to me that in the last 40 years many have met that challenge so well through this publication. At the heart of the matter, of course, is the position of the individual – his importance, his sanctity, his relationship to his fellow men, his relationship to his God and country.

This is in essence the struggle to make a common effort to seek the truth. It is necessary, therefore, in these difficult days when men and women with strong religious convictions are beleaguered by those who have none, or worse, by those who are only icy cold with certainty. We compete with adversaries who tell only their so-called good stories. But the things that go bad on campus, in the Vatican or America must also be told. And we hope that the bad and the good is sifted together by people of judgment and discriminating discretion and taste.

We who have contributed a little to telling the story do not realize the magnitude of reporting what become our personal “extra large” efforts. Last fall during President Jenkins’ inauguration, a single editor wrote the Viewpoint editorial against coeducational dormitories, defending parietals. Any other university president could have cited those words as broad-based student sentiment to prevent discussions for campus change for decades.

Weeks ago this column exposed the plight of an alumnus who has more than honored the quite specific terms of his contract but is battling for his release from the U.S. Army rather than ship out to Iraq. It is humbling to think that a mere phrase I wrote may ultimately prevent injury abroad. Daily we strive to meet our responsibility as journalists, which carries with it an obligation to our faith, but in a larger sense carries with it an obligation to all who desire to live a life of freedom and a life which permits them to participate with their neighbors and with God in the way they choose.

Some have always been critical of The Observer. But over the years, faced with a very difficult challenge, we have been able to tell our story in a way which makes it believable and credible. And that levelheaded exchange is what I hope will continue for as long as The Observer and the Super Bowl share anniversary dates.

We welcome the views of others. We seek a free flow of information across international boundaries and oceans, across ideologies and brick walls. We are not afraid to entrust our readers with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation or religion or campus that is afraid to let its own judge between truth and falsehood in an open market is one that is afraid of itself.

This is our touchstone and the code of The Observer. Congratulations to all who have at some time or another exerted an extra large effort at The Observer. You served as an inspiration in a quest for truth and deserve an extra large party this weekend.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at hottline@aol.com.

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