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In Moreau, Jenkins sees ND’s values

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, September 13, 2007

University President Father John Jenkins took his top-ranking administrators to France this week for Saturday’s beatification of Father Basil Moreau, but the point, he said, isn’t that the man indirectly responsible for Notre Dame’s existence is one step closer to sainthood.

Instead, Jenkins said Monday, it’s a reminder of what the Congregation of Holy Cross founder stood for – and what Notre Dame stands for today.

“I think there’s nothing that defines Notre Dame more powerfully than that sense of community … and the kind of ideal that we as teachers strive for, and I think students expect, is try to educate the whole person – try to give the highest level of intellectual learning, but also to live a worthy life,” Jenkins said. “All those are characteristics of Moreau, and I don’t think one even has to be Catholic to say, ‘Yeah, that’s who we are, I do feel part of that.’

“And I hope that’s what people celebrate in these coming days.”

Moreau in the 1830s formed what later became the Congregation of Holy Cross and sent several members, including Father Edward Sorin, to the U.S. a few years later. In 1842, Sorin founded Notre Dame.

“I believe that even though Sorin founded the University, I think Moreau’s vision influenced Sorin and influenced Notre Dame,” Jenkins said. “So in a way, the life we live and kind of the place we are emanates from this person and his vision.”

The two priests “had clashes,” Jenkins said – Moreau later wanted to send Sorin on a mission to Bangladesh, but Sorin resisted, thinking it would undermine his work at Notre Dame – but their strengths were complementary.

“I think they were both strong personalities, and in many ways, I believe, they needed one another,” Jenkins said. “Because they were very different personalities. Moreau was very prayerful, and generous to people who were having trouble, a very compassionate person of strong will.

“Sorin was more of an entrepreneur, he was always kind of opening missions and finding new opportunities. And I think in a way, it’s the two of them that shaped Notre Dame.”

Notre Dame has kept its shape thanks to the Holy Cross community, Dillon rector Father Paul Doyle said.

“I think religious communities provide a continuity for institution, be it a hospital, or a school,” he said.

About 65 Holy Cross brothers and priests work at the University, said Father Charles Kohlerman, religious superior at the Holy Cross House.

What those Holy Cross religious also provide, Doyle said, is a “prophetic voice.”

“You’ve got a [Father Theodore] Hesburgh who was head of the [U.S. Civil] Rights Commission, you know?” he said. “That’s a pretty big deal, for minority people, for the entire country, [Hesburgh] standing arm in arm with Martin Luther King … when not many Catholic people were saying that.”

Holy Cross priests like Hesburgh, a former University president, Doyle said, can “step back and assess things more easily than the average bear.”

He pointed to Methodist-founded schools like Emory and Duke that have since lost most of their distinctive religious character – “great universities,” he said, “but no religious community to sustain that impetus.”

If Holy Cross were gone, “there would have to be someone around here who could consistently point to Jesus,” Doyle said. “It just did not work in the case of the other great education institutions in this country.”

During his two years as president, Jenkins has frequently spoken of the need to protect and maintain the University’s Catholic character. He doesn’t see the influence of Moreau – or Holy Cross – fading anytime soon.

“Through the decades Notre Dame has existed, even though [Moreau] passed away, that spirit of zealous service is still present, that passion to care for people,” Jenkins said. “I believe it comes from Moreau’s mission, and I also think it’s through Father Moreau praying for us that we sustain that.”