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Beyond survival

| Monday, August 24, 2020

The past five months — more pertinently, perhaps, the past five days — have made us acutely aware of what we value about our beloved Notre Dame. The largess of our University is undeniably found in her people, in the friends we’ve made and the relationships we’ve formed. Coming to know the other is the great gift of this University; Clark Bowden’s “A liberal’s survival guide to Notre Dame” suggests we ought to curate that gift. As students whom Mr. Bowden might be tempted to “put [his] headphones in and walk the other way” from, we instead want to reach out in a spirit of Christian charity and in the hope of sharing Our Lady’s great gift.

Our concern and response is two-fold.

First, we are troubled at the likelihood that a new member of our University community might read the piece and come to an insufficient — indeed, an incorrect — understanding of those identified centers, organizations and student groups that might “completely derail” one’s day. We offer a few corrective measures on behalf of the groups we represent:

  1. Less than a month ago, the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture convened a candid conversation among African American leaders at Notre Dame and beyond, exploring the integral ties between defending the sanctity of life and supporting our minority brothers and sisters in their pursuit of genuine equality. Among the participants were a Democratic state senator, a retired NFL player, a Harvard University professor and the dean of the Notre Dame Law School. The event, like the Center we have come to know, was hospitable, rigorous and far from monolithic.
  2. Throughout the academic year, Notre Dame Right to Life regularly supports expectant single mothers with baby showers, packs backpacks full of supplies for children placed in foster care, organizes donation drives for Hope Ministries, writes letters to prisoners on death row and even provides free childcare for graduate students with families. These initiatives, like the Right to Life group we have come to know, have been creative, inclusive and joyful.
  3. Each year, the Knights of Columbus raises up to $100,000 through its (delicious) game-day steak sales and donates all of those funds to charitable causes, including to organizations embedded in our local South Bend community, such as the Women’s Care Center, St. Adalbert’s Catholic School, the Center for the Homeless and others. In addition to their steak sales, the Knights also engage in charitable works such as cooking and serving Thanksgiving dinner to the members of Corvilla House. These efforts, like the Knights we have come to know, have been politically diverse in their scope and graciously Christian in their spirit.

Our second and greater concern surrounds the rhetoric of Mr. Bowden’s piece. Whether meant as counsel or comedy, the article nonetheless suggests the presence of a subtly corrosive spirit that limits the Notre Dame community from living out the vision to which it is called.

To “put some headphones in and walk the other way” not only rejects any university’s obligation to the pursuit of truth, beauty and goodness; it fails to build up the “authentic human community” at the heart of this University’s mission.

We are called and co-responsible to this community, which is founded in the gifts of friendship and relationality. At Notre Dame, we strive to assume a posture of charity and care for our peers. We shouldn’t “quarantine” ourselves from ideas but rather charitably engage those with whom we differ.

At Notre Dame, we don’t merely survive. We can — and should — do so much more. We can and should think deeply about the pressing issues of our times. We can and should engage thoughtfully with the traditions and institutions embedded in our University and nation. We can and should break bread around the Eucharistic table, or at the dining hall over a difficult but necessary conversation, especially among those with whom we disagree on moral, ethical or political grounds — indeed, even with those whose ideas may make us feel uncomfortable. 

Notre Dame is a place to resist the ease and allure of backing away. It is a place where we learn to look beyond survival, where we learn to live and live well, where our academic, social, professional and spiritual lives integrate. To strive for anything less is to renounce the tremendous privilege we possess as members of this family. The goal of “survival” is a reduction and pale imitation of the good to which we can attain.

Don’t sell yourself or your neighbor short by putting in some headphones and walking the other way.

Yours in Notre Dame,

Zachary Pearson


Mary Benz


Patrick Gouker


Aug. 21

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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