Notre Dame honors Potawatomi land 180 years after Fr. Sorin’s arrival

Nov. 26 marked 180 years since Fr. Sorin’s arrival in 1842 on the land now known as South Bend and as home to the tri-campus community. This land is the ancestral home of the Pokégnek Bodéwadmik, which are the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi, an indigenous nation.

The Potawatomi migrated from north of Lake Huron and Lake Superior to present-day Wisconsin, southern Michigan, northern Indiana and northern Illinois. Their first contact with European settlers was when they came upon the French in the 1600s. 

In the mid-17th century, the Potawatomi entered the fur trade with the French. Catholic French priests, like the Jesuit missionary Claude Allouez, were even invited by the Potawatomi in the late 1670s.

In 1754, the Potawatomi were brought into the French and Indian War, a war between the British colonies and the French in North America where different Native American tribes supported different sides. After the British won the war in 1763, they focused on profits rather than the more mutually beneficial relationship the Potawatomi had with the French. 

Brian Collier is a faculty member and fellow for Education, Schooling and Society at the University, a historian and the senior advisor to the American Indian Catholic Schools Network (AICSN). Talking about this time of upheaval, Collier said, “different Native people sided with the French and some with the British– they were just trying to find the best deal for their families in a time of war and chaos.”

This continued period of changing politics forced the Potawatomi to take sides. In an article in Notre Dame Magazine, Collier writes, “there were Potawatomi who sided with the British during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, both of which led to citizens of the new United States calling for the removal of the Potawatomi from their ancestral homelands throughout the Great Lakes region.”

The Battle of Fort Dearborn in August 1812 also contributed to the new American citizens having ill-will towards the Potawatomi people.

Collier said, that “when the Potawatomi burned down Fort Dearborn — which is located where Chicago’s ‘Miracle Mile’ is today— the newspapers made a big deal of the incident and portrayed the Pokagon band as dangerous.” 

The Indian Removal Act was signed in 1830 by then-President Andrew Jackson. Leopold Pokagon, a tribe leader within the St. Joseph River Valley Potawatomi, asked Fr. Gabriel Richard in Detroit to send them a priest that year. Leopold Pokagon knew that showing the American government that the Potawatomi could integrate into American culture through Christianity would give the nation a greater chance of keeping their land.  

On Leopold’s request, Richard sent Fr. Stephen Badin to minister to the Potawatomi along with two other Catholic missionaries — Fr. Benjamin Petit and Fr. Louis Deseille. Petit was eventually martyred on the Trail of Death as he administered to the Potawatomi during their forced removal. 

Though the Pokagon Potawatomi’s connection to Catholicism aided in them getting to keep their land, it was also the coincidence of geography that led to this fact. Collier explained that another Potawatomi tribe that lived in what is present-day Rochester, Indiana, was forced to vacate their ancestral homelands.

“At the time, what is present-day South Bend and Mishawaka was officially part of Michigan territory which had a lot of French and Catholic influence, which was why Leopold Pokagon was able to make the argument to keep the land,” Collier said.

Collier explained that the other Potawatomi tribe was residing in what was considered to be Indiana territory at the time, which was being influenced by the Ku Klux Klan and Protestant-nation building forces rather than a Catholic one. 

 In the early 1830s, Badin bought the land that would become the University, and then in 1835, Badin donated that property to the Diocese of Vincennes who ended up giving it to Fr. Edward Sorin, on the condition that he establish an educational institution there. When Sorin first arrived, the Potawatomi were the ones who welcomed him in the winter. 

Talking about the current relationship between the Pokagon Potawatomi and the University, Collier said that the University engages in the annual tradition of sending Potawatomi families food baskets during the holiday season. 

On the occasion of Indigenous People’s Day, celebrated Oct. 9, until the weekend of the Stanford game on Oct. 15,  the University flew the flag of the Pokagon Potawatomi above the football stadium.

“The Provost office has been giving out Pokagon flag magnets which have been going like hot cakes among professors,” Collier added.

Collier also said that Jason Ruiz, associate professor of American Studies, received a grant to acquire more flags in a collaboration with Pokagon Potawatomi artist Jason Wesaw. 

Andrew Crowe ’06, a member of the board of the Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame (NAA of ND), weighed in on how the lack of acknowledgement of the University’s connection to indigenous people can impact the experience of native students.

“[There is] little to no acknowledgement of Chief Leopold Pokagon’s work to ensure that the Potawatomi land that included what would become Notre Dame was already a Catholic stronghold before the University was founded. He remains a forgotten ‘founding father’ of Our Lady’s University,” Crowe said in an email.

He encouraged students to research and gain awareness about the “historical role of the Catholic Church in the creation and running of residential and boarding schools.”

Zada Ballew ‘19, director of student relations in NAA of ND, posed some questions that students can consider as they learn about the history of the land that the tri-campus inhabits.

Examples she gave over email included, “Why are there carvings of Indigenous peoples on South Dining Hall and ‘the Rock’?” and “Why are Potawatomi people buried in [mass graves] in the campus cemetery?” 

Ballew said she appreciates the University leadership’s efforts to “acknowledge failures of the past and recommit to the work of the future.” She points to increasing efforts to recruit Native and Indigenous students, increasing the number of Native and Indigenous staff, faculty and course offerings, even a major or minor, as a way to “raise awareness of overlooked, but no less significant, aspects of our shared history.”

Collier also suggested the revival of the tutoring program Notre Dame students used to run with Potawatami children in Dowagiac, Michigan, a few years ago.

“Some of those Potawatomi kids actually grew up and attended Notre Dame, so that kind of interaction and engagement really makes a difference,” Collier said.

Collier also proposed making the Moreau First-Year course curriculum more inclusive of Native history.

“We could have elders in residence come and share their story with first-year students,” he said.

The Native American Alumni Association of Notre Dame has set up ‘The Native American Alumni Fund,’ a scholarship intended to provide much needed financial support to current Native and Indigenous students. The scholarship is solely funded through donations and private giving. Crowe encouraged all readers, including alumni, staff and friends, to consider donating to the Fund on ND Day.

Contact Angela Mathew at


Five people are dead. The University is silent. 

On Saturday, Club Q opened its doors to Colorado Spring’s queer community. What was supposed to be a night defined by community and fun soon turned into a night of horror. Around 11:50 p.m., Anderson Aldrich allegedly opened fire into a crowd of queer folk, injuring 25, and leaving at least five dead before two patrons repossessed the firearm to disarm the shooter. The shooter took on the role of God to execute an immense act of hate that left five families without their children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. 

Let that sit with you for a moment. Five people were killed after a gunman opened fire at an LGBTQ+ nightclub. 

This shooting is just one example of growing violent hate crimes targeted at members of our country’s LGBTQ+ community. According to the FBI’s Hate Crime Database, hate crimes against LGBTQ+ Americans have gone up by the hundreds in the last five years. This increase in hate has left queer folks around the country reeling from trauma. Our campus is not immune to this trauma. “No one understands that I feel my life has been deemed worth less than my cisgender counterparts by not only this shooter but by the wider political context,” Morgan, a first-year at Notre Dame who identifies as nonbinary, says. 

It shouldn’t be contested that queerness is under attack by national political figures; With Congresswoman Boebert arguing that LGBTQ+ people should not come out until they are 21, Republican talk show hosts like Tucker Carlson decrying drag brunches and state legislatures like Ohio and Texas introducing legislation to limit accessibility to gender-affirming medical care, queer Americans are left feeling voiceless, vulnerable and threatened by those in power. 

This alone should warrant a response from the University. A statement affirming the queer community at Notre Dame that they stand in solidarity with those whose fundamental identity is under attack, a statement that queerness at Notre Dame is valued, a statement that the University seeks to protect its queer students from the violence in Colorado and the hateful, emotionally damaging rhetoric spewed in our country’s democratic institutions. 

But, being queer at Notre Dame means living in constant exposure to this hateful violence. Everyone remembers the Rover article last year that decried University attempts at inclusion. Myler claimed that extending employment benefits to married same-sex couples, including affirming pronouns in student news and instructions to use inclusive language during Welcome Weekend are damaging to Notre Dame’s Catholic character, making the University inclusive of a “secular agenda” that is “in direct opposition to the Church.” And it’s not just the Rover that forces queer students to live in perpetual exposure to hate and loneliness: PrismND, Notre Dame’s queer-allyship group can’t come out in direct support of LGBTQ+ equality, trans students are left without a dorm community and the University has effectively placed a gag-order on student groups vocally supporting queer rights. 

“It’s not just the Rover or the University that makes me feel unsafe as a queer person on this campus. It’s the students. We don’t learn about queer issues in Moreau and, in our theology classes, I haven’t heard of one professor ever promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity,” Morgan adds. 

The institution of Notre Dame is clear in its opposition to queer identity. In its pastoral plan, “Beloved Friends and Allies,” the University emphasizes its commitment to acting “consonant with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” It is true that the Church orders human sexuality to be the conjugal love of man and woman, and those within the Catholic hierarchy certainly have promoted anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes: In 2019, Rhode Island’s Bishop tweeted, “A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events.” But, I ask the University: what is the central teaching of the Church and of Christ?

It’s love. 

Not the gilded love of having a queer-ally group that can’t support queer rights or the gilded love of merely admitting queer students. Christ’s love is radical because of its acceptance; it’s an affirming love for the vulnerable. In fact, the Catholic Social Teaching of Solidarity demands Catholics to give “greater attention to the vulnerable,” reminding us that “there are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide.” The University cannot hide behind the political barriers of our conservative climate or the social barriers of our traditional alumni and campus network. The University must fully open its arms to the vulnerable. Clearly, the queer experience at Notre Dame is defined by vulnerability. 

Pope Benedict XVI echoes my definition of Christ’s love: “To love someone is to desire that person’s good and to take effective steps to secure it.” To love a queer person, fully, as Christ loved Mary Magdelene or Zacchaeus, is to give them a home, a recuse from the hateful violence experienced by queer folks around the world. 

The “effective steps” the University can take to secure love are simple: a statement of affirmation and safety, a reformation of our dorm community to include queer identities and an overhaul of campus culture to make queer students feel welcome. 

Solidarity and love are not “vague compassion or shallow distresses at the misfortunes of so many people.” (St. John Paul II’s words, not mine.) On the contrary, the very love of Christ Notre Dame hopes to dedicate itself to is an endless determination to improve the lives of queer students. Queer students can hear in the University’s silence Notre Dame’s disregard for the needed pastoral care of LGBTQ+ folks. Queer students feel pain as the University we love acts as an extension of growing indifference towards queer folk. 

Love is a challenge. Look at what Christ’s love cost Him. But, love, especially at Mother Mary’s University, is required. The gilded love the University has been expressing is not enough, especially as homophobia is welcomed in American democracy, and especially as five patrons of an LGBTQ+ nightclub were stripped of their God-given dignity. 

The University must embrace the radical love of Christ by fully accepting its queer students if it truly wants to call itself Catholic. 

Connor Marrott


Nov. 21

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


Student Diversity Board hosts annual Mosaic celebration

On Tuesday, the Student Diversity Board (SDB) at Saint Mary’s hosted its seventh annual Mosaic celebration. Students socialized by listening to music and eating light snacks in Haggar Hall. At the event, SDB president Crystal Ramirez and vice president Anaís Juliano mingled with fellow students and class peers. 

[Editor’s note: Crystal Ramirez is a former associate news editor for The Observer.]

At every table, there was a centerpiece highlighting the accomplishments and continued progress of the College community toward diversity, inclusion and equity. The accomplishments showcased ranged from years 2015 to 2021. Some of these accomplishments included the opening of the LGBTQ+ center and the announcement of Katie Conboy as president-elect of Saint Mary’s in 2020. Other highlighted accomplishments included the welcoming of Redgina Hill as executive director of inclusion and equity in 2019 and Saint Mary’s recognition of Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a College holiday in 2018.

“I have really felt the impacts and seen firsthand how the hiring of Dr. Redgina has affected the campus and the students having a director for Inclusion and Equity, and a decision that has worked to make Saint Mary’s diverse, inclusive, and equitable for all,” Ramirez wrote in an email. 

The Student Diversity Board has hosted an annual Mosaic celebration for the past seven years. The entire college community was invited to participate in the event, including all Saint Mary’s faculty and staff. 

After the event, when asked what SDB does for the community of Saint Mary’s College, Ramirez said the three pivotal roles of the organization is to celebrate, advocate and educate on the diverse student body.

“And for us, it’s been developing what that word means for us and what that word means for the campus over the past four years for me and the past two for Anaís,” she said. “It’s learning to go beyond the boundaries of diversity that come to mind. Which you know, are like race, ethnicity and looking to things like being able-bodied, not able-bodied, your religious affiliation, your gender identity or sexual identity. So it’s just been looking into all of these different backgrounds that make you who you are and make up your identity.”

Juliano added that SDB is a place for everybody in the community to feel welcomed.

“That’s the part that I love about SDB is that everybody has a place somewhere, and SDB is that place for me,” Juliano said. 

At SDB, Ramirez and Juliano said they have unique opportunities to meet new people from all walks of life as well as work with prominent faculty and staff members, such as Liz Bauman and Liz Palmer. 

“Being part of the Student Diversity Board does get you the chance to elevate other voices, whether that be of your own, or the voices of students that you’ve heard concerns for the changing that they want to see. And so in this role, you have the privilege of being able to have a seat or conversations, to set the agenda, to have a voice that hopefully echoes the voice of the students,” Juliano said. “It’s been a privilege to kind of be able to do that and sit at different committees and at different boards through these questions we have to hopefully influence the student impact and influence the changes on campus through what we’ve learned through student engagement.”

Events such as the annual SDB Mosaic celebration provide outreach to the members of the Saint Mary’s College community about the accomplishments of the board’s goals. In addition, events like Mosaic tell students that they belong. 

“You can be whoever and be a part of the board, because in you, being yourself you bring a diverse identity to Saint Mary’s,” Ramirez said. 

You can contact Chloe Coddington at


Panel discusses theological interpretation, LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church

Monday night in DeBartolo Hall, PrismND hosted a panel titled “Theology and LGBTQ+ Inclusion.”

The panel featured Baumer Hall rector Fr. Robert Lisowski and Saint Mary’s College assistant professor of religious studies and theology Jessica Coblentz. The panel was followed by a question-and-answer session.

Lisowski opened the discussion by talking about his role in Baumer and his work ministering to the LGBTQ+ community. Lisowski said he became Baumer’s rector in 2020 and was ordained a priest in April 2021.

“During these past three years, it’s really been one of the greatest joys of my priesthood, of my ministry, to accompany our LGBTQ students,” Lisowski said. “I use this phrase of accompaniment because it is one dear to Pope Francis, who has made the reality of accompanying a variety of folks but particularly those who find themselves on the margins, to be the hallmark of his pontificate.”

Lisowski said when he thinks about the reality of pastoral accompaniment, he thinks about stories.

“So often in my ministry, I find myself honored as students begin to share their stories, when they let me learn from their various chapters in life and when they share the ups and downs, the joys and the struggles that brought them to this unique point in life,” he said.

Lisowski said he is honored when students share their hopes and dreams for the future. He said, as a priest, this is when he feels he is on “holy ground,” and that he seeks to make Baumer a welcoming and inclusive community.

“One of my favorite philosophers is a 20th-century French and Christian existentialist named Gabriel Marcel, and he often writes and speaks about how we so often are tempted to see everything, even persons, not as mysteries to be embraced, but as problems to be solved,” Lisowski said. “I think that’s one of the key issues in our world, in our church, today.”

The exile, Lisowski said, represents a moving spiritual symbol and biblical narrative for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

“We all know the important role that exile played in biblical texts, particularly the Babylonian exile, in which the chosen people find themselves far from home,” he said. “They find themselves questioning their previous understanding of God, find themselves wondering if God had abandoned them, if maybe God’s plan did not apply to them any longer.”

He said this reality — a spiritual narrative of searching for a home and belonging and wondering where God is to be found — is one the LGBTQ+ community knows well.

Lisowski said one way he seeks to minister to LGBTQ+ students is by being intentional in using inclusive language in his liturgies.

“After speaking with some students, I started last year to pray explicitly during my Masses for an end to homophobia and transphobia, to pray for a unity in the body of Christ,” he said.

He said when praying or leading prayers, people should speak of “inviting sisters and brothers and siblings in the Lord Jesus” to gather at one table where everyone has a seat.

Saint Mary’s College assistant professor of religious studies and theology Dr. Jessica Coblentz speaks at the “Theology and LGBTQ+ Inclusion” panel at DeBartolo Hall on Monday, Oct. 24.

After Lisowski concluded with a short prayer, it was Coblentz’ turn to speak.

Coblentz — who teaches courses in feminist and queer theology — said some LGBTQ+ Catholics feel excluded by the church’s teachings on sexuality. She said it is important to remember that church teachings on sexuality and LGBTQ+ people are directly tied to its greater teachings on sex and gender.

“The church holds that sexual activity should be confined to heterosexual marriage,” she explained. “The church also teaches that sex in this context should be unitive and procreative.”

She said these teachings can cause LGBTQ+ Catholics to question how they can “be good in the eyes of God and the church when [their] very nature is inherently disordered.”

Coblentz added that her primary area of research is on Christianity and mental health. She said her research has exposed her to studies linking social and religious messages about LGBTQ+ persons to conditions like depression and suicidal ideation.

“Many LGBTQ+ Christians perceive that they are not really wanted for who they are by the church. They perceive that they do not truly belong in God’s eyes and in the church’s,” Coblentz said. “The exclusion experienced by LGBTQ+ Catholics is, therefore, not just about hurt feelings. It is, for many individuals, a matter of life and death. As such, any Catholic or Catholic institution that strives to be pro-life must contend with the role the church plays in LGBTQ+ exclusion.”

Coblentz said it’s important for Catholics to remember that, when it comes to moral issues, they are not called to unthinking submission to church teachings but rather to form their own opinions based on “rigorous and careful discernment.”

“We are called to study Church teaching, to seek wise spiritual counsel about it and, ultimately, to follow the well-informed conscience that results from this even in difficult moments when one’s conscience leads them to disagree with an official moral teaching,” Coblentz said. “With regard to sexual morality, this process is the responsibility of faithful Catholics and one we should engage in as we grapple with the realities of LGBTQ+ inclusion.”

Coblentz said some theologians debate whether church teaching on sexuality needs to be changed or reinterpreted. Some scholars, particularly those in the subset of queer theology, question whether inclusion should be the end goal of Christians who are concerned about the well-being of LGBTQ+ persons, Coblentz said.

“These theologians call for a more radical rethinking: Instead of inclusion, they call for revolution,” she said. “This revolutionary approach … asks not ‘How do we include LGBTQ+ Catholics in the church, but instead, ‘Can we begin to imagine a church where questions of inclusion are entirely irrelevant because our belonging is simply taken for granted?’”

Contact Claire Reid at