Bishop D’Arcy reflects on Notre Dame
Thomas Bounds | Friday, March 26, 2010
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
It is hoped that this column will inculcate a deeper, more honest and more profound love for Our Lady and Her University.
Mount Alverno rises over the agrarian landscape just south of Saint Joseph’s River in Mishawaka. Perched atop the hill, hidden within the Mother House of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Perpetual Adoration, in an apartment that serves as his home when he is in South Bend, Bishop Emeritus John Michael D’Arcy sits at a table covered in the slanting mid-afternoon sun. Resting in clerics, Bishop D’Arcy begins his story.
“I was born in Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston. My parents had emigrated from the west of Ireland, and came to the United States with nothing. My father had a small grocery business. They were people of great faith, and remain the great lights of my life.
“I entered St. John’s Seminary in Brighton after graduating high school. Upon ordination, I became a parish priest at St. Mary’s in Beverly, Massachusetts where I ministered for eight years until I was sent to Rome by Cardinal Cushing to get a doctorate in ascetical spiritual theology. I then returned to Brighton, serving as a teacher and spiritual director at my former seminary, where I served for eight years. In 1975, I was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Boston by Pope Paul VI, where I served for 10 years. In 1985, I was appointed by Pope John Paul II as Bishop of Fort Wayne- South Bend, and served until January of 2010.”
Reflecting on his ministry, Bishop D’Arcy says, “The most rewarding aspects have included fidelity to the Church and its teaching; preaching the Gospel; working with priests, who always show such willingness to do hard things for the good of the Church; and helping to guide the Church through a difficult time with its integrity intact.”
Considering his own relationship with the University of Notre Dame, Bishop D’Arcy says, “It has been a privilege to be associated with the Congregation of Holy Cross and Notre Dame all of these years. It’s a splendid place.
“There have been difficulties that arose over the years because the Bishop has special responsibilities to Catholic identity. That does not take away from the great joy of being associated with Notre Dame: a place I dearly love and respect. The Bishop sometimes has to do hard things for the good of the flock. He’s basically a teacher, and he teaches not just by his words but by his example.
“In recent years, two things have come up. One is the Monologues play; the other is the Commencement invitation and award presentation to President Obama. The latter, specifically the awarding of a Doctor of Laws to the President, required a public response from the Bishop because it was a public matter.
“I saw the whole event as a painful time, but with much beauty, especially from the young people. Being associated with them was a great privilege. They made their protest respectful and clear, rooted in Catholic teaching and prayer.
“There was so much publicity surrounding the event that the Bishops took it up in their meeting in San Antonio [June 2009]. I was asked to give a presentation, and there was a standing ovation afterwards from the Bishops. That’s when I decided that it was necessary to write an article in America to clarify the situation in light of the visit of Pope Benedict the previous year, in which he spoke about the importance of the Catholic University giving public witness to Catholic faith, which he said should shape all aspects of life inside and outside the classroom.
“Notre Dame is a Catholic educational icon. It is looked up to around the country as a place of learning and faith. It is dedicated to the Mother of God. That’s why there was the great trauma last spring; because people wanted it to be true to the Catholic faith in all its fullness.”
Reflecting on the University, Bishop D’Arcy comments, “The most significant improvement over the past 25 years has been in the Theology department.
“At the last ad limina visit I made with Pope John Paul II in 2004, I had the opportunity to meet with Cardinal Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI]. He said, ‘You have done a wonderful thing for the Church,’ referring to the Theology department. I said, ‘It wasn’t me. It was the Blessed Mother.’ ‘Well,’ he said, ‘you’re the instrument.’ I replied, ‘No, not really, it was John Cavadini.’
“He’s such an outstanding scholar, and he has recruited outstanding scholars who are also Catholic. You now have a department that is in close communion with the local bishop and is growing stronger theologically. No one’s freedom was threatened, and yet it has grown closer to the Church and the theology has improved.”
Reflecting on the relationship between the University and the Church, the Bishop observes, “I would refer to Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Constitution “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” — From the Heart of the Church. The University is part of the Church. It’s central to the Church’s life. It has full freedom and this should always include a close communion and unity based on truth between the local bishop and the Church.
“Catholic Universities have to address the question of Academic Freedom. “Ex Corde Ecclesiae” addresses it clearly. It links it to the common good, and the rights of others. It is a definition rooted in Catholic Social Teaching. The Catholic Universities must ask themselves, ‘Are we going to be guided by this understanding or by the Land of Lakes Statement?’ I hope that there will be gradual and steady progress towards what is outlined in “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
“I think Notre Dame is a splendid place, and I think it has a vocation to be a great Catholic University. I pray often that we’ll continue to grow in that direction. It’s always in my prayers.”
Thomas Bounds is a senior. He can be contacted at [email protected]
Bishop D’Arcy’s secretary, Maureen, may be contacted at
[email protected] His Excellency recommends that you read Jesus of Nazareth by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not
necessarily those of The Observer.