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A meeting with Father Jenkins

Drago Flores | Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It finally happened. It took me four years to actually get around to meeting him face-to-face, but I finally did. Father Jenkins holds office hours and I went through all the administrative rigmarole and, with a little luck, secured a time slot with our president.

When I first heard about the chance to meet him I thought that it would be an excellent way to round off my years here at Notre Dame: go to school for four years, get the president’s blessing, what more could a Domer ask for? But when I got the e-mail confirming my meeting I really did not know how to react. I had to come up with something to talk about! What does one say to the president of the University? Do you sum up your life and ask for suggestions? Do you ask him about his future? I asked my roommates for advice and in all honesty, considering one is allotted only 8-10 minutes of office time, the best idea we came up with was to play Jenga with Jenkins and maybe have a quick conversation in the process.

I asked other friends and eventually some questions emerged that everyone seemed to share: Who is Father Jenkins? What has he done for us? Do you feel like he is reaching out to you? Still, despite all the help, a half an hour before my meeting with him I had no idea which one specific question I ought to ask him … until about 15 minutes before my scheduled time when … I don’t know … it just became clear. I knew what I wanted to ask him. So, at about 5:35 or so I walked into Main Building, room 400, and into the office of the president of the University of Notre Dame.

Suddenly I was face to face with him. He has a nice office, not extravagantly big, really, and surprisingly hidden, tucked away past his secretary. He stood up to greet me and shook my hand, asked me my name, and we sat down. I was nervous at first but his smile was genuine, his questions broad but sincere, and so I quickly became at home. We laughed a bit about the Jenga idea, I told him about my struggle to find a suitable thing to ask or talk about, and then I prefaced my question with a statement to the effect of, “Father Jenkins, every one has pride but everyone makes mistakes. Sometimes, the hardest and most testing time of someone’s character is when they realize they have made a mistake but do not admit to it out of a skewed sense of pride.” So my question to Father Jenkins was this: When was one point in life when you knew in your heart that you had made a mistake but did not admit to it out of pride? He answered me first with a lesson: Pride never goes away. Especially as the President he told me that he feels a need to always be correct in his actions. Understandable really, with so many eyes upon him any minor mistake and he would have to deal with the brunt of the criticism afterwards. Father Jenkins was becoming more and more real to me. It may seem strange to say it but I realized then how human he is. Like you or me he has little internal struggles on a day to day basis; he struggles with pride and mistakes that we can all relate to.

Many times in the past I felt that I could not relate to Father Jenkins, as if he were some great bird on a high perch called 400 Main and I would never really be able to see eye-to-eye with. In my experience he rarely gets the chance to interact on a more personal level with his own students and he always seems to be more interested in the construction around campus. Now after talking with him I realized that I was both right and wrong. Right, because above most things Father Jenkins, to me, is genuinely interested in the growth of the university and its image as a premiere research institution. Wrong, because Father Jenkins can also equally be genuinely interested in a single student’s voice. At the meeting’s end I gave him two gifts: one on behalf of the Japan Club, the other something to remind him that even people who look most at peace with their lives have made their share of mistakes in the past. It was a quick meeting, I was out the door by 5:50, but I walked away lighter than ever, with a peace in my heart and a smile on my face. Now I just had to tell my roommates that our robot theory was a bust…

Drago Flores is a senior Finance and Japanese major. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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

necessarily those of The Observer.