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Notre Dame our Alma Mater

| Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I read The Observer column titled “Catholicism at Notre Dame” with a sense of being challenged. I’m one of those weird people who thinks that Notre Dame, “Catholic Disneyland” as I’ve heard it called, is not Catholic enough. What could that mean, at a school with over a hundred Masses a week, a leading Theology department and a Basilica in the middle of campus? I see the actions of this University in a different valence than “Catholicism at Notre Dame” does. The other piece points to issues like parietals and the lack of non-denominational services as indications of Notre Dame’s Catholicism coming on too strong. I think things like the recent contraception debacle are indications that the University isn’t taking Catholicism seriously enough.

I’m incredibly grateful to be a student at a Catholic university. Our secular peers try to be welcoming, to embrace all sorts of different perspectives, to privilege no opinion or position over another (or at least, they say they do). And there is a place for these things: I am a firm believer in a “free marketplace of ideas.” And yet, it remains that Notre Dame is not one of these schools. Notre Dame’s education is not “value-free,” not scrubbed sterile of moral or ideological positions. The University is very clear about this.

Yes, we students are adults. We can make our own choices. But this also means two things: first, we can choose to go to a school which is aligned with our values. Second, we should be willing to accept the consequences of our choices, especially when those consequences are public knowledge. The Community Standards in du Lac are no secret. The parietals policy is certainly no secret, and has community benefits independent of and unrelated to the University’s explicit intention: many residents and hall staff members can attest to this. Nor is parietals enforced as strongly as it could be; I say this as one of those hall staff members. And those 3:30 a.m. conversations can still happen even with parietals, without limiting who can be there, at any time. I’ve had a few myself.

Perhaps this difference boils down to the difference between myself and the other author about how we view evangelization: we can agree that it is about showing people the love of Christ and love for each other, that it’s not about forcing one’s beliefs onto others. However, evangelization is certainly about pressure, pressure to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” After all, isn’t love a kind of pressure? A pressure to receive love given, and a pressure to respond accordingly?

A school may be about the pressure of love, like the love of a parent guiding a child to a right answer or towards good habits. And while I am a legal adult, I have many childish impulses, even as a senior. I have bad habits, I get lazy and apathetic, I am forgetful and occasionally unthinking, I get overly critical and insufficiently charitable. Why should it not be in the interest of the University to help overcome these shortcomings by fostering a culture on campus which helps her students flourish? When we graduate from this University, we call her Alma Mater, “gracious mother.” We sing “Notre Dame, Our Mother” at every football game and at formal University functions: Notre Dame which is both Our Lady, Alma Redemptoris Mater, and our University, our Alma Mater.

Perhaps we need to reorient ourselves. We tend to think of education as a product, and ourselves as consumers. If we are unhappy with the product, and “the customer is always right,” the product should change. But perhaps this just leads to more frustration and disagreement, and less learning. Perhaps we should think of education as formation. We come to Notre Dame to be formed: in our minds, characters and souls, in Notre Dame’s image. We are not here to tell our teachers and educators how to instruct us, but to receive, with open hands, what they have to offer, internalizing it for ourselves. This is the last time in our lives, for most of us, to be students first and everything else second. Why not allow ourselves the luxury of having open hands and taking in what is around us?

This does not mean we have to submit unthinkingly to Notre Dame, or think that the University is necessarily right. But it means we should remember that we are students, here to learn, and not simply customers. It means that whenever I feel critical towards the University, I need to pause and remember that my Alma Mater, like my mom back home, always has my good in mind, even if I don’t feel it. And she’s right more often than I care to admit.

Jarek Jankowski

Class of 2019

Feb. 11

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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