The previous two blog entries (here and here) centered on my visit to Notre Dame this past week-end and on the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It was a long and very physically challenging week-end in many ways for me but exhilarating and faith-filling. I was not the only bishop on campus this week: Archbishop Joseph Kurtz had come up from Louisville for a mini-reunion with some of his high school classmates, Bishop Daniel Jenky, C.S.C. of Peoria was present as a member of the Board of Trustees and a Holy Cross priest/bishop, Bishop Dale Melchek of Gary and Bishop Bernard Harrington, retired of Winona were also seen by myself at one time or another. So the place was as I like to say “filthy with bishops”.
But my most memorable moments once again were those spent at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes where almost every hour of the day one can find a dozen or more students praying to Mary, our Mother. There was a big football player on Thursday night (she certainly heard his prayer and granted his wish on Saturday), students who were dating and at the end of the day stopped by for prayer and all manner of campus people pausing in prayer, a good number reciting the Rosary.
Notre Dame from time to time is accused of not being pro-life. All week long during Respect Life Month, there were 356 white crosses to be seen on one of the quads, one white cross for every child aborted during the average length of a Notre Dame football game. Awkwardly constructed posters carried strong and poignant messages on abortion as an assault on life and I saw a lot of students on their way to and from class stopping to read, or making a sign of the cross while passing this reminder of the modern tragedy.
Someone already asked me today were there any signs of fall-out from the Obama affair of last summer. To the contrary, I would say. One of my brothers brags about the amount of money Notre Dame has lost in donations in the last 16 months. Baloney! Their 1.5 billion dollar current capital campaign has eclipsed its goal [and at just a whisker from two billion, this effort will net a record amount for an American non-profit which does not have a medical college attached] and I know from a very reliable source that donations in cash to the university are up and at an all time high. The current crop of students are proud to be Domers and there is little evidence that any significant number of alums have backed off their love for their alma mater. There is now a new bishop in Fort Wayne-South Bend and relationships between local Church and university are also going very well.
How about sacramental life? Eighty-five per cent of the student body is Catholic and of those who reside on campus, in the dormitories, eighty percent attend Sunday Mass, mostly in the dorms. Try getting a spot to get married in the Basilica throughout the year – good luck. Five of our ACE students who used to teach or are currently teaching in our diocese came back for this week-end and a reunion with myself, the Gipper’s ghost, and the Grotto. All are fully engaged in the parishes in which they live. The challenge of the Church in the United States after a serious Catholic students departs the Dome is to provide them with a liturgy and homily which touches their hearts and minds as much as their experience of faith on campus.
I have known three Notre Dame presidents in my lifetime, Fathers Hesburgh, Malloy and Jenkins and each of them took or takes their priesthood even more seriously that their occupational duties as president. The priests on campus are priests first and astro-physicists second and their engagement with campus ministry provides the spiritual blood-stream to keep the faith alive in our young people. No other Catholic college of which I am aware has (1) a chapel in every dormitory and a (2) resident priest in every dormitory. Grads come back to greet their dorm priests before even stopping at the Grotto. There is a new engineering building on campus, yes you read that right, an engineering building. The Dean insisted that this new home for wanna-be engineers have a Chapel worthy of their future occupations and the result is stunning and spiritually beautiful. I think I was told that campus ministry now supports something like sixty chapels in as many buildings throughout the campus.
I have not been on campus while the students have been there in full complement in about five years. I left last night tired but energized once again that intelligently presented, traditionally preserved, and comfortable with every young person’s search for truth and meaning of life, Notre Dame gets the job done. I just wish it were not so hard to get admitted.