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Week celebrates Holy Cross

Kristen Durbin | Monday, March 26, 2012

In celebration of Holy Cross Week, four prominent members of the Notre Dame community reflected on the unique spirit of the Congregation of Holy Cross and its impact on their personal experiences at the University in a panel discussion Monday.

“Partners in Mission: Working Side-by-Side with the Congregation,” moderated by University President Emeritus Fr. Edward Malloy and hosted in Geddes Hall, demonstrated the wide-ranging influence of Holy Cross on the Notre Dame community through the personal reflections of the three diverse panelists.

“In reflecting on what they’ve seen as partners in mission with Holy Cross, our colleagues tell us who we are and remind us who we are called to be,” Vice

President of Student Affairs Fr. Tom Doyle said in his introduction of the panel.

Malloy said individual members of the Holy Cross and Notre Dame communities uniquely embody the mission and spirit of the University.

“The room I live in in Sorin Hall was previously inhabited by Fr. Paul Fenlon for more than 60 years. He befriended three generations of students and represented the best of what Notre Dame is about,” Malloy said. “My years have been full of individuals like him … who have their blood in the bricks.”

Malloy said Fenlon and the rest of the Holy Cross community have instilled in the University an “intergenerational sense of responsibility.”

“Even in its earliest days, Notre Dame was a place where Holy Cross religious and lay collaborators have shared a common sense of responsibility for the institution to our benefit and to the service of Church and society,” Malloy said.

John Affleck-Graves, University executive vice president, said he has developed a “deep respect” for the Congregation, as well as meaningful friendships, during his 26 years of service as a professor and an administrator.

“It was intimidating at first, but after you get past the ‘men in black’ thing, you realize what special people [Holy Cross religious] are,” he said. “The four people who served in my position ahead of me, [University President Emeritus] Fr. Ted [Hesburgh], Fr. Ned [Joyce], Fr. Bill Beauchamp and Fr. Tim Scully, were wonderful priests and truly exceptional people.”

Affleck-Graves used his expertise as a finance professor to compare his relationship with University President Fr. John Jenkins with that of a CEO and his employees.

“The relationship between me and my boss is different, because he is a priest and a president,” Affleck-Graves said. “Most CEOs think about next quarter’s earnings, but Fr. John has an insatiable quest for knowledge and truth and how students can gain an understanding of that. He’s a reflective person, and it gives him an enormous sense of inner peace.”

Affleck-Graves said Jenkins’s “commitment to the core person” gives him a unique perspective on leading Notre Dame, especially in relation to its core values of accountability, teamwork, integrity, and leadership in mission and excellence.

“I don’t think you get leadership in mission without having a priest as a university president,” Affleck-Graves said. “If you have a priest as president, it gives the institution a much longer-term focus than if you had a layperson president, because a priest brings a real sense of eternity to the job.”

Affleck-Graves said the administration’s first meeting following the death of student Declan Sullivan last year demonstrated the real importance of having a “priest first and a president second.”

“Everyone was shocked, and it was a very painful moment,” he said. “Someone started talking about legal liability, which is something any CEO would have brought up first, and Fr. John responded by saying, ‘We can deal with that tomorrow. Tonight, we pray for Declan and his family.’ How fortunate we were to have a priest as president at that time and in handling everything that followed. We were responsible, but he did it in a way no other organization could have done.”

Joe Russo, director for student financial strategies, said his personal philosophy on financial aid was a “good match” with the University’s core values.

“We had to [manage student financial aid] in a way of being accountable, disciplined and structured and develop policies and procedures that reflect the responsibility we have with consistency,” he said.

Russo said the principle of leadership in mission provides him with a unique angle on doing the “right thing” in his work.

“Leadership in mission means doing what we do in a structured, disciplined way, but with compassion when appropriate,” he said. “Those things seem contradictory, but they don’t have to be.”

Associate Vice President for Residence Life Heather Rakoczy Russell said the “irresistible” charism of Holy Cross played a crucial role in her religious and vocational formation over the past 23 years, beginning with her first year as a transfer student at Notre Dame, and culminating with her return to campus as a rector, director of the Gender Relations Center and her current position.

“When I think about the Holy Cross constitution and its call ‘to form communities of the coming kingdom,’ I think about the priests, brothers and sisters I’ve met and the roles they’ve played in my life and faith formation,” she said. “I have met professors, counselors, supervisors, mentors and friends in Holy Cross.”

As she studied as a philosophy and theology double major at Notre Dame, a master’s in divinity at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee and her various positions at the University, Russell said she realized the charism of Holy Cross drives the formation of “communities of the coming kingdom,” especially in terms of the formation of Notre Dame students.

“With rectors as role models … that charism becomes contagious and starts the transformation of communities at Notre Dame,” she said. “When that happens, we who are formed in Holy Cross are let loose on the world to transform it … which is what the Church and God call us to do.”

Russell said rectors and residence hall staff also play a crucial role in extending the sense of the “Notre Dame family” to all its members, especially those who may be marginalized by factors like race, gender, class or religious affiliation.

“The ‘Notre Dame family’ can be off-putting if someone doesn’t feel they’re a part of it,” she said. “Communities form within the community … but these communities are sustained because [Holy Cross religious] living among students can see who is marginalized and call everyone back home.”

The vital link between generations of the Notre Dame family is the continual presence of Holy Cross at the University, Affleck-Graves said.

“When I think of the Notre Dame family, [the Congregation] is the sinew that holds it together,” he said. “It’s a permanent thread that’s always there. It’s why other universities are different and why Notre Dame would lose everything without it.”