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For custodian who died in the parking lot

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Editor’s note: This letter to the editor was originally published on October 2, 2018.

On Thursday, Sept. 20 at 6:34 a.m., Michael Adamek, a 57-year-old custodian at the University of Notre Dame, was found unresponsive in the Hesburgh Library parking lot. Moments later, after the arrival of the Notre Dame Security and Police and Notre Dame Fire Department EMTs, Adamek was pronounced dead. That morning, Adamek explained to his supervisors that he was not feeling well and was instructed to go home and get some rest. This is particularly unfortunate as Michael Adamek seemed to never even leave the parked position in the library lot according to abc57’s news coverage of the occurrence. With the St. Joseph County Coroner on the scene to make an attempt to determine the cause, Michael Adamek died right in our “home under the dome.”

Before I go any further with this letter, I must ask, does this news sound familiar to you? Did you know that a custodian died right in the library parking lot last week? And for those of you who heard the news, did you even know the name of the lost worker? For many of you, I am sure the answer you are using to answer all of these questions is a consistent ‘no.’ But how can this be? How could one of our own, within our supposed Notre Dame family, die without our knowledge? I believe that the answer lies with the University itself.

This University has not shown very much of any action to recognize the loss of Adamek from the Notre Dame family. On the day of his death, Notre Dame’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications released a note for the event of Adamek’s death and inserted a quote allegedly from University President Fr. John Jenkins sending a prayer to the Adamek family. Was this the only way that his loss of life was published on this campus? Well two days, after his death was posted in the South Bend Tribune, Adamek’s co-workers were notified of his death, and all was back into its regular rhythm. In contrast, when a student dies, a mass, detailed email is sent out all over campus describing the loss of a considerably beloved member of our Notre Dame family. How can this be?

After Adamek’s 37 long and hard years of working as a University of Notre Dame custodial worker, earning little pay (especially in comparison to the fortune that the University’s college professors make), and even less appreciation, the best way for the University to recognize his service and time was a brief note by one of the University’s offices and an email to his coworkers. So, does the University not care about its custodial, culinary and blue-collar workers?

Notre Dame is known for being a Catholic institution, and with that comes an obligation to adhere and mirror the standards of the Catholic Social Teaching. One of the principles outlined in the Catholic Social Teaching is the Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers. This principle describes how work is more than simply making a living but provides an avenue for humanity to actively participate and interact with God’s creation. Within this Catholic value is also the discussion of the rights (to a safe environment, fair wages, etc.) and respect that all workers require from humanity. In all honesty, it doesn’t seem to truly believe it at all.

At Notre Dame, custodial workers are not valued in the same way as other members of the Notre Dame family. Constantly they are looked down upon by students and, at times, faculty alike as “other,” not fitting a particular, misconceived view of what type of person belongs in the “home under the dome.” Their wages are not arguably fare and stay relatively stagnant. As the University’s professors and other faculty members receive considerably larger pay quantities, many custodial workers never exceed about $20 an hour. Does this sound like a system that recognizes these custodial workers’ interaction with God’s creation? The answer is no, yet the University’s lack of concern towards one of their custodial workers dying right under the light of the dome itself is not surprising.

It is the University’s responsibility to recognize all of its members in the Notre Dame family. Whether they be a student, professor, faculty or staff, each member is called by God to be valued and respected. With that in mind, I would have to say that Michael Adamek deserves more than a hidden news line. Adamek deserves an email blast to all of the University’s students and faculty in addition to a prayer service recognizing the loss and praying for God’s guidance and condolence to the Adamek family. It should be acknowledged that a member of our Notre Dame community has passed and has now found a home brighter than our dome, and not forgotten in brief articles and co-worker emails.

Selwin Wainaina


Oct. 2, 2018

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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