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A truly ‘catholic’ identity

| Friday, February 20, 2015

During Monday’s Town Hall Meeting with University President Fr. John Jenkins, students learned about a number of changes Notre Dame will see in upcoming years. With Campus Crossroads underway and a review of the core curriculum beginning, many members of the Notre Dame community have expressed concern about what these changes to our campus, classrooms and curriculum mean to our identity as a Catholic institution.

It is still too early in the process to know exactly what changes lie ahead for theology requirements or academic buildings, but additional announcements during the Town Hall Meeting, such as initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion as well as the formation of the Keough School for Global Affairs show that the University is transforming in other ways.

Notre Dame undoubtedly values and emphasizes tradition, including the religious traditions inherent in being a school that is Catholic with a capital “C.” However, we must recognize such a Catholic identity isn’t necessarily antithetical to change and growth. It is the spirit of inclusion that led this University to enroll women more than 40 years ago. And after all, the word “catholic” first means “universal.”

The unique identities of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s show that Catholic identity does not necessarily look the same at every point in time and in every place but instead can be an identity manifests itself differently in different places in society. The College not only dedicates itself to education through the Holy Cross order but also encourages women to participate as leaders in the Church and as members of a Catholic, universal community.

For example, female members of Campus Ministry at Saint Mary’s led this week’s Ash Wednesday services, with Holy Cross priest Fr. John Pearson in attendance but taking a less active role in the gathering.

Saint Mary’s has maintained a strong Catholic identity while still making diversity a crucial priority for its faculty, students and curriculum, which includes religious studies courses recognizing several different faiths and exploring the concept of conversion.

Nonetheless, just as members of the Notre Dame community at times feel uncertain about Notre Dame’s relationship with its Catholic tradition, so too do members of the Saint Mary’s community question the essence of its religious identity.

Ultimately, the Catholic identity of an institution cannot be reduced to numbers only or strict rules alone — to think of it as such denies the complexity and profundity of the identity. Catholicism is a universal faith found around the world, and the spirit of inclusion and goal of diversity reflect what we should study and celebrate as a Catholic institution.

When Fr. Basil Moreau founded the Congregation of Holy Cross and the school Our Lady of the Holy Cross in Le Mans, France, it was to meet the needs of the community around him. Education for all was essential to the mission of Holy Cross as it began to grow around the world, including the foundation of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. This universal education is still key today.

Changing and growing as a university does not categorically compromise our Catholic identity, and creating a spirit of inclusion is not only possible but actually essential to our school’s faith. While some students may not identify as Catholic, Fr. Jenkins rightfully pointed out that increased diversity of all kinds allows us to teach and learn from each other

We commend both Saint Mary’s for its commitment to diversity and Notre Dame’s initiatives for inclusion. Though we still don’t know what changes are to come, we can see in both schools’ unique histories as Catholic institutions that change and integration do not contradict or compromise Catholic identity. Inviting more students into our communities and inspiring openness will only strengthen our bond as brother-sister institutions and as agencies for spirituality.

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