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Students appreciate Jenkins’ presence at March for Life

Madeline Buckley and Joseph McMahon | Sunday, January 24, 2010

WASHINGTON — Coming to Friday’s March for Life in Washington, D.C. in the shadow of last spring’s Commencement controversy, University President Fr. John Jenkins said there was a “certain energy” in the students who participated.

Jenkins participated in the March for the first time alongside many students and faculty who protested his decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the Commencement address and receive an honorary degree because of his stance on abortion.

“Out of all the controversy from last spring, we wanted to take steps to deepen the pro-life cause,” Jenkins said.

At the rally before the March, protestors greeted Jenkins with several large yellow signs demanding he drop charges against the “Notre Dame 88” — referencing the group of people arrested for trespassing on the University campus during Commencement last year.

One sign was held directly in front of the Notre Dame Right to Life banner before club members decided to move.

Jenkins said he was not surprised to see these banners displayed throughout the March route.

“I felt it was important not to let those banners take away from the central goals of the day,” he said. “And I refuse to let them distract from advancing pro-life cause.”

Senior Mary Daly, co-vice president of the Right to Life Club and a leader of the student response condemning Jenkins’ invitation last spring, said this year’s March had record-breaking attendance from Notre Dame students.

“I thought that there was some great interactions and between students and professors,” she said. “I think everyone really appreciated having the administrators there.”

After Jenkins’ announcement that Obama would deliver the Commencement address last year, Daly helped form the group ND Response, which held several prayer rallies and protests in the months that led up to the president’s speech on campus.

She also wrote an April 2009 letter on behalf of ND Response that asked Jenkins to “formally support pro-life initiatives on campus through financial and personnel resources.”

Daly told The Observer in May that the goal of ND Response was to “challenge people to really think about the issue or issues surrounding the invitation to President Obama.”

Right to Life has invited Jenkins to participate in the March every year, so the group was pleased he marched with the students this year, Daly said.

“I think that what we had at the March is a good start by the administration, and I really hope we can expect to see more involvement down the road,” she said.

Despite past disagreements, Jenkins said his interaction with all the students has always been positive.

“I completely commend the students for their hard work in the spring, and how they interacted with my office,” he said.

Before, during and after the March at a reception for students, faculty and alumni, Jenkins intermixed with the students, talking and occasionally sharing a laugh.

“I enjoyed being with them,” he said. “I admire their efforts and was proud of the way they came out themselves.”

Before the March, Jenkins presided over a Mass for Notre Dame students and faculty at Saint Agnes Church in Arlington, Va.

“It’s a delight for me to be with you today,” he said in the greeting.

Jenkins said in the homily that abortion is “an act of despair.”

“We come today to not to condemn or judge but to be a witness of the Gospel of life,” he said of the March. “I think what we’re called to today through readings is to be witnesses to hope against despair.”

Participation in the March was one of several preliminary recommendations that were made to Jenkins by Notre Dame’s Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life, which was formed last September partly as a response to critics who said the University did not do enough to support the pro-life cause.

Jenkins said in addition to attending the March, he would most likely implement all of the recommendations in some form.

“They are all reasonable suggestions and advance the goals we share,” he said.

Along with participation in the March, the task force also recommended that the University adopt a formal policy statement about the sanctity of life and offer better support for pregnant students.

Vice President for Student Affairs Fr. Mark Poorman, who was a member of the task force, said he was glad Jenkins accepted the recommendation to attend the March.

Poorman, who also was attending the March for the first time, said last year’s Commencement ceremony increased the visibility of the pro-life culture at Notre Dame.

“Commencement really helped raise the pro-life issue so this is something we wanted to support,” he said.

Poorman also said he was “delighted” by the high turnout of both students and faculty members.

“I’ve always admired the faculty and staff who come on the March,” he said. “It’s great to have so many people here.”

Although Jenkins said next year’s March is too far away to determine if he would be able to participate again, he said he will “find some way to continue deepening commitment to the pro-life cause.”