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Controversial Commencement

Jenn Metz | Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The words are carved in stone above the east doors of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart: “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

What they mean for the University indicate what is at the heart of the controversy surrounding the 2009 Commencement.

The announcement that President Barack Obama would deliver the address and receive and honorary degree, continuing in a long tradition of presidential invitations, has brought the debate over Notre Dame’s Catholic identity to a new height, perhaps unlike any other moment in its storied past.

Since the University and the White House announced Obama’s commencement schedule March 20, Notre Dame, thrust into a national spotlight, has felt only the beginning repercussions.

University President Fr. John Jenkins has commended the country’s first black president on his inspiring leadership during troubled times and said honoring Obama with a degree does not condone his pro-choice politics.

Student groups have mobilized, creating discussion at on-campus events.

National activists have camped out in South Bend, garnering support from some and angering others.

Local Bishop John D’Arcy will not be attending the ceremony.

Mary Ann Glendon became the first designated Laetare Medal recipient to accept, and then decline the prestigious award in its 133-year history.

As the nation’s president, who marks 100 days in office today, takes pro-choice actions domestically and internationally, the pro-life movement has responded with renewed energy.

Obama will arrive in South Bend as groups of students, alumni and the American Catholic community question Jenkins’ decision to confer an honorary Doctor of Laws degree upon a politician who does not agree with the Church’s stance on the protection of life.

A document issued by U.S. bishops in 2004 has found its way to the center of the discussion, and its interpretation has set Jenkins at odds with nearly 50 bishops, including the leader of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese.

Conversations about the growing tension between the University’s desire to remain a prestigious institution of higher learning while staying true to its Catholic mission will not end May 17.

The Observer examines Commencement 2009 at the University that believes in “God, Country, Notre Dame” in this special In Focus Edition.