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Fr. Jim King on Sorin, Notre Dame family

Thomas Bounds | Thursday, September 3, 2009

In this column, “The Notre Dame They Know,” I will interview individuals who have been influenced by the University of Notre Dame.

I will seek to discover the unique role that Notre Dame has played in their life and vocational journey.

It is hoped that this column will inculcate a deeper, more honest and more profound love for Our Lady and Her University.

Evening lays gently on the turreted edifice as students, enjoying the summer breeze, rock lazily on porch swings beside the front door.

Passing through the sweeping archway and turning right, past the toe-worn statue of Fr. Sorin, a plaque marked ‘Rector’ is found hanging beside a door.

Inside, wearing a sweater over an open-collared cleric, sits the rector of Sorin College, Fr. Jim King, a middle-aged priest with a close cropped haircut and a no-nonsense expression that gives way to a smile at the first sight of a friendly passerby.

Resting in a chair with his right fist planted firmly under his chin, Fr. Jim begins his story.

“I was born in Chicago, an only kid from the South Side. My father, a subway alum, went to work right out of high school. Notre Dame was kind of a religion.

“I went to Catholic grade school and high school, and enrolled here in 1977. There wasn’t any other place that I really considered.”

While studying as an undergraduate, “the residential life and proximity of priests … reinvigorated a vocation that I had thought about off and on for years.”

After several years of formation, Fr. Jim was ordained in 1988. He returned to the University for a final time in 1997, and has called Notre Dame home ever since.

Fr. Jim’s love for the University and its Catholic Holy Cross mission is readily apparent.

“The essential characteristic of a Holy Cross education,” he comments, “is the recognition that we are here to develop people’s minds … and that we are also here to develop their hearts, because it’s ultimately fulfilling one’s heart’s desire that should be the goal of any person’s life.

“Ultimately, a Catholic university is an extension of the Catholic mission of preaching, educating and evangelizing people in the faith, and the Catholic view really doesn’t make much sense divorced from that perspective.”

On the changes at the University over the years, Fr. Jim observes, “The culture of intellectual life for its own sake and for a person’s own intellectual development is much more pronounced now … we’re able to offer a richer variety of opportunities both in the academic environment and outside of it.

On the downside, Fr. Jim comments, “we simply don’t correspond and communicate with one another personally as would have been the case a generation ago.”

“The biggest danger for people that work here,” he admits, “is that their loyalty and their knowledge about the University are limited to their own particular area rather than embracing the University and its mission at large.”

With the glimmer of a tear in his eye, Fr. Jim considers the affection he has for Notre Dame.

“Number one … I love Notre Dame because of the feeling that I share with thousands of people that have walked here. It’s home.”

“I think that this University is, in many respects, the fulfillment of Fr. Moreau and Fr. Sorin’s educational philosophy of educating people in both heart and mind.

“In recognizing that what we do here is a ministry to people.

“In cultivating the sense that, whatever job or career they may go into when they leave here, graduates will carry some sense of responsibility to spend their lives discovering that, at root, we all share that vocation to minister to and serve one another.

“As long as that’s the case, then this mission is worth investing in, participating in, and being a part of in whatever way that I can be.”

Fr. Jim’s particular ministry at Notre Dame bears its own unique rewards.

“Sorin,” he comments, “is close to the ideal of a home: A large, rambling, old, drafty home. I sometimes sit here and think that this is just like one big summer beach house with all the cousins of a like age.”

This familial character displayed itself dramatically last spring when resident Kevin Healey, Class of 2011, succumbed to a battle with cancer.

“One of the proudest moments of my life,” Fr. Jim, eyes glistening, recalls, “was standing outside of the Basilica last May … and seeing the dorm step out from the courtyard behind Sorin and walk to the Basilica in a double file line that would have been the envy of a general viewing a regiment.

“And it said to me that they got it. They got what Notre Dame is about. They understood the meaning of commitment and friendship: That here was somebody who worked harder at it than anyone … just because he so much wanted to be at Notre Dame, and so much wanted to be in this hall.”

Commenting on their fallen brother, Fr. Jim concludes, “I think to myself that if anyone knows what it’s like to be an Otter in heaven, it’s going to be Kevin Healey.

“If anyone is going to look over them, it’s going to be him.”

Thomas Bounds is a senior double majoring in math and philosophy. He can be contacted at [email protected]

Fr. King’s book “Known by Name: Inside the Halls of Notre Dame,” chronicling dorm life on campus, is available for purchase at the University bookstore on campus.

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

necessarily those of The Observer.