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How Catholic is Notre Dame?

Fr. Joe Corpora | Thursday, September 29, 2011

This is a question that is asked somewhat frequently around here. And since many of those asking the question say that the answer is “not too Catholic” or that Notre Dame has lost its soul, I feel compelled to write a few words to the contrary. Notre Dame is a very Catholic place.

I attended the University of Notre Dame as an undergraduate student, 1972-1976. As a student, I found Notre Dame to be the most Catholic place I had ever been to in my life. I loved it.

After graduation I returned to Notre Dame in 1977 to study for the priesthood. During my years at Moreau Seminary and while studying for the Master of Divinity degree, I found Notre Dame to be a very Catholic place. I loved it.

From 1983 until 2009, I was assigned to work in Holy Cross apostolates in Oregon and in Arizona. I returned to Notre Dame on average three times a year during those 26 years. During my years away, I began to hear rumblings about the Catholic nature of Notre Dame. The controversy surrounding the commencement visit of the President of the United States in 2008 made this question the talk of the nation. Some of my brother priests found it necessary to write articles and letters questioning the Catholic character of Notre Dame.

For 19 of the 26 years that I was away, I served the Church as a pastor. Both in Oregon and in Arizona I was repeatedly struck time and time again by the love, respect, admiration and affection that the people of God have for Notre Dame. Notre Dame is dearly loved by millions and millions of Catholics, not just in the United States, but the world over. And they love it because it is Catholic.

In July of 2009, I was assigned to live and work here at Notre Dame. Through living in Dillon, celebrating the Eucharist in many hall chapels and being around students, I have found Notre Dame to be as Catholic as it ever was. To me this spirit is found everywhere — in our Sunday night masses, in our students, in the staff and in the literally hundreds of programs that are part of Notre Dame life. I find that Notre Dame is still deeply committed to serving the Church, perhaps more now than even when I was a student here.

On Sept. 11, 2011, the Office of the President and the Office of Campus Ministry organized an outdoor Mass in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. The Mass was beautiful beyond words. As a priest I sat in the front rows facing the altar, so I had no idea how many students were at the Mass until communion. When I walked into the congregation to bring communion, there were students everywhere. There were students for as far as I could see. As I walked back to the altar after communion, there were students kneeling on the grass in prayer. I won’t forget this image.

And then there was a candlelight procession from the Hesburgh Library to the Grotto. I was deeply moved by the prayerfulness of the students as they walked silently in procession. And I thought to myself … what’s all this nonsense about how Catholic is Notre Dame? An event like this Mass reveals the deep faith that is part of Notre Dame. It is at the heart of Notre Dame.

Some might say that this Mass does not show that Notre Dame is very Catholic. But I would argue that indeed it does. Our theology shows itself best in our instincts, and so does our life of prayer and faith. I am repeatedly inspired by the deep faith at Notre Dame.

One day last week I received an email from the President of Dillon Hall where I am privileged to live. The email was announcing an upcoming dance. Part of the email read, “Tickets will be on sale in the 24 hour lounge tonight after Mass.” I wonder how many other universities and colleges have residence hall presidents sending emails saying, “tickets will be on sale after Mass.” It’s just how Notre Dame is.

Notre Dame is Catholic, very Catholic. I am very grateful to be working and living at Notre Dame. It is the very Catholic place that it has always been. It strives today, as it always has, to serve the Church. I love Notre Dame.

Fr. Joe Corpora, CSC, works with the ACE movement and is a priest-in-residence in Dillon Hall. He is a sinner whose sins are forgiven. And he loves anything made with tomato sauce. He can be reached at [email protected]

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