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UND News (General)
Creating this as a new thread since I couldn't find an established one dedicated to non-athletic university news.
I originally shared this in the Politics thread, but it (understandably) didn't get much traction there. Fr. Bill Miscamble, CSC recently published a biography of Fr. Hesburgh titled "American Priest: The Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame's Fr. Ted Hesburgh
". First Things
just published a review by Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ:
In 2008, Father Theodore *Hesburgh (1917–2015) gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he said, “I have no problem with females or married people as priests, but I *realize that the majority of the leadership in the Church would.” True, he was ninety-one at the time, and had long been retired as the president of Notre Dame, but the debonair self-confidence with which he conflated doctrine and discipline was entirely characteristic of the man, as was his subordination of both to the imperatives of liberal sentimentalism. He was an American priest.
Fr. Wilson Miscamble, like *Hesburgh a priest of the *Congregation of Holy Cross, joined the history faculty at Notre Dame in 198*8 and knew Hesburgh personally. When he approached Hesburgh in 1994 with the proposal of writing his biography, Hesburgh was initially hesitant: “He . . . explained that it would be hard for a single historian to capture in a full and meaningful way the extent of his actions over the years.” Hesburgh was not one to underestimate the magnitude of his accomplishments, and throughout his career was actively, even punctiliously, concerned with the curatorship of his reputation and legacy. Miscamble prevailed, happily, and brings to the task the extraordinary advantages of firsthand acquaintance with the man himself, intimate knowledge of Notre Dame and many of the key players in the pertinent period, and approximately thirty hours of interviews recorded in the summer of 1998, conducted expressly for the purposes of the biography.
For all that, Miscamble starts with a singular disadvantage, namely, that his protagonist had none. Most biographers have a level of interest built into their narrative simply by recounting the struggles of their subject in overcoming adversity: the usual ups and downs, setbacks and triumphs that attend the early lives of the famous. Never was Hesburgh an underdog. His career, from the time he left high school, was an unbroken series of advances, successes followed by more successes, rescued from monotony only by one’s curiosity as to how long the string might remain intact. Hesburgh was a man of exceptional energy, ambition, charisma, and self-control, endowed with a precise knowledge of his own abilities. He focused on using those abilities to advance himself and the institutions in which his allegiances were enshrined. In this he succeeded brilliantly.
In Miscamble’s telling, Hesburgh’s loyalties as a young man were typical of an upper-middle-class American Catholic of his era. He was conventionally patriotic in his churchmanship and citizenship, and studies in Rome and France in the late 1930s resulted in few strong attachments in either place. They did, however, give him a familiarity with the mechanisms of ecclesiastical influence, which he used to his benefit throughout his career. Assigned in 1945 to the Holy Cross community at Notre Dame, he immediately caught the attention of administrators, acquitted himself masterfully in a series of progressively demanding positions, and was named (by his religious superior) president of the university in 1952. On Hesburgh’s retirement in 1987, Notre Dame’s annual budget had grown from less than $10 million to $176 million, its endowment from $9 million to $350 million, student enrollment from five thousand to ten—and his own stature in the public eye increased proportionately. The evolution of Hesburgh’s allegiances is a more complicated story.
Hesburgh seems to have been almost preternaturally astute at choosing subordinates: men of exceptional competence and energy willing to put both at the service of their leader’s direction. Hesburgh didn’t surround himself with yes-men, but he was nervous in the company of assistants as ambitious as himself, and displeased whenever football coaches received more media attention than he. More than once in this biography one is reminded of Herodotus’s account of Thrasybulus of Miletus, who, when asked for instruction in the art of autocracy, strode silently through a field of wheat, snicking off with his switch the head of every conspicuously higher stalk. By the same token, *Hesburgh became resentful of direction—which he viewed as interference—on the part of agencies claiming superior authority, most notably the Holy See and his own religious congregation. Much of his career as a churchman and educator was spent in declaring, and effecting, independence from the Church, even as he emphasized the *atmospherics of *pious, picturesque Catholicism: choirs, clerical garb, the Marian grotto.
An instructive example is found in the history of Hesburgh’s ideas on the nature of Catholic higher education. Already in his first term as president he was lecturing on the subject. In a 1953 address to the faculty titled “A Theology of History and Education,” he said, “We do not rest in human reason, or human values, or human sciences—but we certainly do begin our progress in time with all that is human in its excellence. Then, after the pattern of the Incarnation, we consecrate all our human excellence to the transforming influence of Christ in our times.” In a 1954 talk, called “The Mission of a Catholic University” (note, by the way, the last-word-on-the-subject swagger of his titles), Hesburgh said that the task of a Catholic university was one “that no secular university today can undertake—for they are largely cut off from the tradition of adequate knowledge which comes only through faith in the mind and faith in God, the highest wisdom of Christian philosophy and Catholic theology.” Deprived of context, one might be forgiven for thinking that these passages came from Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on the *Catholic university. Yet by 1990, Hesburgh was vigorously opposed to Ex Corde and its ecclesiology. Says Miscamble, “He and Dick McBrien [then chair of the Notre Dame theology department] let no opportunity pass to express their opposition to what they saw as a dangerous challenge to the institutional autonomy of Notre Dame and a wrongheaded assault on the American approach to higher education.”
Much had happened in the intervening years; most important—at their midpoint, in July of 1967—Hesburgh summoned a group of carefully chosen Catholic educators to an informal caucus at the Land O’ Lakes villa in Wisconsin, including sympathetic college presidents from the U.S. and Canada and Fr. Theodore McCarrick, president of the University of Puerto Rico. The discussion resulted in a manifesto insisting on the independence of the academy:
The term “excellence” has become so debased today as an empty buzz-word that it is hard to believe it was once taken seriously. It was in fact a key concept, a non-negotiable, for Hesburgh, who Miscamble shows was caught up in the “near-mania for excellence” (Philip Gleason’s phrase) that intoxicated Catholic educators after the issuance in 1958 of a *Rockefeller Brothers Fund report called, without embarrassment, The Pursuit of Excellence. Hesburgh believed excellence in higher education to be objective and measurable, metered by the volumes in the university library, faculty salary levels, value of government research grants, percentage of faculty with doctorates in hand, and so forth. Nor was he in doubt about the way forward; Miscamble quotes Hesburgh more than once as saying that the ten greatest universities in the United States are those with the ten richest endowments, and he made it his goal to do the fundraising necessary for Notre Dame to buy its way into the premier league. It was an era of confidence in “the best and the brightest,” of Management by Objectives. The Land O’ Lakes statement’s insistence on a secular notion of excellence, and Hesburgh’s enthusiasm for it, should be viewed against this background of managerial optimism. Yet his fellow priests and religious spotted the flaw in Hesburgh’s project of severing the mooring lines between Church and university; Miscamble’s verdict on Hesburgh is as devastating as it is understated: “Without making a major and formal decision he began to allow what might be called the pursuit of excellence approach to supplant the pursuit of the truth.”
The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with a strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively, the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.
Among the good things on offer in the book is Miscamble’s perspective from inside the religious community that *founded, and remains connected to, the University of Notre Dame. We learn, for example, that in 1969 priests of the Holy Cross accounted for fifteen full professors, twenty associates, and twenty-two assistants at Notre Dame—numbers unimaginable today for any order at any university. He describes how Hesburgh, resentful of his order’s prerogative of naming its members to university posts, negotiated a two-tier trustee system on the Harvard-Berkeley model with a lay majority; how he outmaneuvered his superiors in their plans that Notre Dame fund a seminary on its campus; how he arranged that presidents succeeding him, though restricted to priests of the Holy Cross Congregation, would no longer be assigned to the job by the superior but proposed to the board for confirmation. We see too how the balance of power shifted, as a man in charge of an enterprise with a couple thousand employees and a budget of over a hundred million dollars not only gained *ascendancy over his nominal religious superior, but was able to advance, stall, or redirect the careers of many of his brother priests. Hesburgh was seldom bashful in wielding his influence.
Hesburgh’s climacteric year was 1968. The political turmoil of the time affected the student body, no longer docile under traditional measures of campus discipline, even when conveyed by Father Ted. Sentiment for and against the Vietnam War alienated Hesburgh from friends and political contacts on both sides of the issue. His steadfast and courageous stance on civil rights was inadequate, in some circles, to the new urgency in racial grievances. But for Hesburgh the Catholic, Hesburgh the priest, it was Humanae Vitae that starred the mirror once and forever.
The policy wonks of The Pursuit of Excellence generation were perfectly capable of devising countermeasures against political threats; what they failed to grasp was the depth of the lifestyle revolution, and its promise of sexual freedom, communicated to the younger generation through its headphones. Like the three hundred foxes Samson used to terrorize the Philistines, the issues that convulsed the universities in 1968 were joined by the tail.
Well before 1968, *Hesburgh himself had large areas of sympathy for the sexual revolution. Since 1961, he had been on the board of directors of the Rockefeller Foundation, which advocated “population control” measures—including abortion, sterilization, and contraception—in underdeveloped nations. While he consistently dissented from the Foundation’s promotion of abortion, he concurred with the other proposals, and his priesthood as well as his personal prestige helped—as the Foundation and he knew it would—to defuse some of the Catholic resistance. Further, Miscamble documents that Hesburgh lent support to a series of meetings held at Notre Dame annually from 1963 to 1967, sponsored by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations in collaboration with the Planned Parenthood Federation, ostensibly aimed at the “population problem,” but intended to provide, in the words of historian Donald Critchlow, “a liberal forum to create an oppositional voice within the Catholic Church on the issue of family planning.” Having done what was in his power in the matter, Hesburgh was confident that Pope Paul VI would accede to a change in Church teaching, and was shocked when, in July of 1968, he was proven wrong.
Stanley Hauerwas remarked, “It has been the project of liberal political and ethical theory to create just societies without just people, primarily by attempting to set in place social institutions and/or discover moral principles that ensure cooperation among people who share no common goods or virtues.” To some extent, Hesburgh’s support of population control measures was of a piece with the “management control systems” approach to problem-solving *associated with Robert McNamara and the Whiz Kids of the early 1960s, predicated on the conviction that, if the right policies were implemented by the right personnel, personal moral choice became *irrelevant to social change. On the other hand, Hesburgh, together with many liberal Catholics, had been infected by the sentimentalisms that the “human face” of the sexual revolution *transmitted through its summer-of-love mawkishness.
For Hesburgh’s fellow academics in the main, the permissibility of contraception had long been accepted, and they had moved on to push for easing constraints on homosexual activity and abortion. Miscamble relates a telling moment during an address at Yale in 1973, when Hesburgh included a few sentences in strong opposition to abortion, and female members of the audience hissed him into silence. Miscamble claims this was a turning point, in the wrong direction, for Hesburgh:
Hesburgh, painful as it is to acknowledge, was not the same man who in 1953 had urged his faculty to consecrate themselves to “the transforming influence of Christ in our times.” Though he occasionally growled at the disappearance of traditional Catholic decorum in matters of courtship and sexuality, fear of being lumped with the defenders of Humanae Vitae—the thick-necked “red meat and rosary” folks who typified working-class Catholicism—robbed him of his voice. We’re told that when Notre Dame’s Student Life Council voted to allow women’s visitation in the male dorms, he “yielded without a murmur.” The prestige he had won for himself was, quite simply, too precious to lose. In all matters, Hesburgh was as idealistic as expedience allowed.
Whatever his response to the hissing Yale feminists, he thereafter failed to make abortion and the right to life one of the great issues that he chose to address *forcefully. To have pursued it vigorously would have put him at odds with the liberal establishment figures with whom he wanted to associate in tackling global poverty and world peace.
Miscamble provides another glimpse into the character of his subject that merits reflection. He tells us that, while Hesburgh had great affection for Pope John XXIII and deep sympathy for Paul VI, he never warmed to John Paul II, put off by his hardline anti-communism, his dismantling of Vatican Ostpolitik (which Hesburgh strongly favored), and by his robust defense of Catholic teaching on abortion and sexual morality. Still, Hesburgh accepted an invitation by President Jimmy Carter to a reception for the pope on the South Lawn of the White House, at the conclusion of his pastoral visit to the U.S. in October of 1979:
Hesburgh may have felt that *Carter was in need of reassurance, but it’s hard not to see a twinge of regret at the admiration shown John Paul II. No one could call Hesburgh a mere spectator in regard to the problems of the world; he worked assiduously, and at the highest levels, to confront the crises of his time. But his work took place in committee rooms. John Paul II was a man who had experienced danger firsthand, a man who had helped make history by heroic fidelity to his Catholic faith, a man of exceptional and genuine intellectual attainments, a man—most of all—who patently believed in the truths that Hesburgh had himself professed in 1953 but abandoned at the hissing of a New Haven lecture hall. Small wonder if the moment was awkward for him.
Father Ted, who was seated close to the front of the animated crowd, remembered being struck that everyone was straining and reaching out for the pope when he and the president walked by. He made a point of reaching out to Carter and assuring him: “We love you too, Mr. President.”
Walking around the Notre Dame campus in his retirement, Hesburgh saw his legacy enshrined in two substantial buildings that already bore his name: One is the Hesburgh Center for International Studies, the other is the university library, bearing the famous Word of Life exterior mural depicting Jesus surrounded by *apostles, saints, and scholars. *Hesburgh told Miscamble he came to regret the absence of any women in the mural, a remark that dates the change in his sensibilities and those of our own time (according to which exogenous gender assignment is itself iniquitous). What is dismaying is *Hesburgh’s inability to unwind, his ceaseless need to fine-tune his reputation, here—as in the Wall Street Journal interview—by his genuflection in the direction of feminism. He passed his life in the gaze of the Lidless Eye of his *obituarist. Perhaps for this reason he fails to humanize himself convincingly, even in the indiscretions confided to his biographer. Like *Evelyn Waugh’s *Apthorpe, he “tended to become faceless and tapering the closer he approached.” Were his private correspondence to be published, it would almost certainly reveal nothing he didn’t already make sure that we knew about himself.
There is one delightful exception, an occasion in which Hesburgh cashed in his chips and gratified an impulse for its own sake. Having done some favors for Jimmy Carter, he browbeat the president into muscling him onto a Lockheed SR-71 for a wholly *gratuitous supersonic flight. Able for once to be a boy as well as a man, the author of The Humane Imperative got himself a ride on the fire truck to end all fire trucks. He had bought much shabbier wares at a much dearer price; one hopes he enjoyed it.
Here's Fr. Bill talking about the book at a recent First Things' symposium.
And lastly, here's an article Fr. Bill published a little over a year ago in the Irish Rover titled "Sorin's Bold Vision and the Future of Notre Dame
Father Edward Sorin has been the subject of renewed attention during this year celebrating the 175th anniversary of the founding of the University of Notre Dame by the determined Holy Cross priest and his band of brothers. The university administration has made the fulfillment of Sorin’s ‘vision’ a lynchpin of sorts in its “Boldly Notre Dame” campaign aimed at raising a mere $4 billion dollars to “embrace the opportunities of the future.” Assurances are given that the university is “following in Father Sorin’s footsteps,” and that it remains “rooted in the mission” he launched. One hears ad nauseam (and regrettably with preening satisfaction) that Notre Dame fulfills Sorin’s pledge to serve as a “powerful means for doing good.” Presumably a few billion more in the endowment will allow the school to do even more “good.”
It is hardly surprising that Father Sorin should be enlisted in the current fund-raising campaign. Most institutions apply the refrain of building upon their “storied pasts” so as to provide for a brighter future. Notre Dame could hardly resist taking up this intonation, especially given the institutional narcissism and endless self-promotion that characterizes the school at present. In the hands of the Notre Dame public relations machine Father Sorin’s ‘vision’ is enlisted to endorse virtually every contemporary venture from global gateways to the jumbotron.
Yet, the hype involved in claiming that contemporary Notre Dame is boldly fulfilling the founder’s vision needs to be challenged and corrected. Notre Dame increasingly and deliberately, it seems, evades the central component of Edward Sorin’s purpose for his school. A major course correction is needed if Notre Dame is to remain faithful to the true vision that led the young French priest to establish our school in 1842.
Anyone who takes the trouble to read Marvin O’Connell’s magisterial biography, Sorin, appreciates that Notre Dame’s founder hardly qualified as a great educational theorist or intellectual. Instead, Sorin was a practical institution builder and decisive leader whose courage and iron ensured that Notre Dame survived, despite the many crises that beset it during its formative decades. But Edward Sorin was also a priest of deep faith—a true missionary—who believed that God and Our Lady had summoned him across the Atlantic Ocean to undertake a crucial work in Catholic education.
From the outset Father Sorin hoped that Notre Dame would develop as a “most powerful means for good” by preparing young Catholics to go forth and serve well in the world. He held that Catholic education was not only about training minds but also about forming character and shaping souls. His loyalty to the Catholic Church was deep and profound, and he understood that the ultimate purpose of the school he founded was not simply to perform good works, but rather to secure the salvation of souls. He wanted to prepare good citizens for this world, and, much more importantly, for the next.
O’Connell noted that Edward Sorin was “no saint,” but, whatever his flaws, the Holy Cross priest held unflinchingly to his fundamental commitment to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The very design of his campus spoke to his commitment to have Christian faith at the very heart of his venture. Sorin’s placing of Mary atop the dome spoke to his desire that she oversee the work he undertook to win souls for her Son through His church.
For well over a century Holy Cross religious and their lay collaborators sustained Sorin’s vision at Notre Dame, and Notre Dame graduates assuredly contributed well in the world with the benefit of the Catholic education they received here. Recently, however, Sorin’s vision has been increasingly pushed aside. Rather than winning souls for Christ, Notre Dame has given priority to its own aggrandizement. It has been on a quest for success understood in primarily secular terms in which, with depressing frequency, image is chosen over substance, ratings are chosen over principles, and, ultimately, a false prestige is chosen over truth.
Notre Dame is now a school in the process of losing its true bearings by shunting aside the Catholic moral compass. Of course it wants to retain its Catholic gloss, but it seems only as much as necessary for fundraising and marketing purposes. The reigning ethos and approach emanating from its administration tends to be a very tepid and shallow progressive Catholicism. The prevailing tendency is always to accommodate to the dominant culture of the American academy and society and, sometimes obsequiously so in order to obtain its approval. Notre Dame advertises all the “good” it does in the world through its series of “What Would You Fight For” television ads, but this is largely virtue signaling to a secular audience. The university backs away from any serious public demonstration of its commitment to Catholic teachings that might offend the academic and media elites.
This sad tendency has been on recent display with the university’s complicity in the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients by its health insurance contractors, although it is now under no legal obligation to do so. No wonder NARAL-Pro-Choice America took pleasure in the university’s action. Notre Dame’s decision sends a definite message to its students as to the university’s casual dismissal of Catholic teaching on human sexuality and respect for human life. It undercut the very legal arguments the university had made in contesting the Obamacare mandate. It only confirmed that if one wants boldness and courage in upholding Catholic teaching one needs to look away from Notre Dame to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
Behind such actions as the contraceptive decision lies the deeper reality that Notre Dame operates increasingly as a corporate enterprise primarily concerned for enhancing its reputation and ‘brand’ among the other corporate research universities that dominate American higher education. While those who guide Notre Dame would smugly disparage the likes of Pastor Joel Osteen and his “prosperity gospel,” the university increasingly succumbs to its own variation of the ‘Gospel of Wealth and Success.’ There is a conceited sense that Notre Dame has won God’s favor by its fundraising success and, in light of such ‘success,’ faculty and staff are expected to comply meekly and to sing from the gospel of wealth song-sheet. (This compliance also is assuredly expected of the members of the Holy Cross Order who serve at Notre Dame.) Criticism of the university is discouraged in ways both subtle and not-so-subtle with the effective use of carrots and sticks. Increasingly faculty either get caught in the web of the gospel of wealth or they simply detach themselves from caring about the broad direction of the university. “Why bother?” is the refrain of some colleagues.
Given all the attention paid at Notre Dame to money and buildings and the associated consumerist excess and material indulgence, it is worth asking if the university Edward Sorin founded has been turned into a place where its denizens are immunized against hearing the true Gospel message with its strictures regarding the proper use of wealth. Has Notre Dame turned away from the Lady atop the dome to instead pay tribute to modern versions of the “golden calf?” And, in the process, has it lost the traditional sense of community and its moral purpose that were once the special blessings of the university?
Edward Sorin was a believer in the Lordship of Jesus Christ and he saw the Virgin Mary as always pointing the way to Him. Whatever his limited understanding of a genuine university, Sorin grasped that the one he founded must not simply accommodate to or conform with the world around it. Rather he believed that it must train young Catholics to be leaven in and for the world. Today so many Notre Dame students are shortchanged in such formation. While it is still possible to obtain a rich Catholic education at the university, far too many of our students leave the campus subscribing to what Christian Smith called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” They want to be nice and tolerant, but they are neither motivated by the call of the Gospel of Jesus Christ nor committed to live in accord with the teachings of His Church. Not surprisingly, many simply absorb the lukewarm, ‘beige’ Catholicism that characterizes the institution, and they drift along in the world content to take their place in the proverbial one percent. The failure of Notre Dame to provide a coherent and integrated Catholic core curriculum for all its students only confirms how it neglects to equip them spiritually and intellectually to challenge and transform the utilitarian and materialist culture of our new gilded age.
In his The Diary of a Country Priest, Georges Bernanos has a character say: “Faith is not a thing one ‘loses,’ we merely cease to shape our lives by it.” The sentiment certainly applies to institutions as well, and Notre Dame has drifted far from the profound faith of its founder in its search for power, wealth and prestige. Yet, the occasion of the 175th anniversary of its humble beginnings provides the university with an opportunity to refocus on its authentic mission as a university that “draws it basic inspiration from Jesus Christ.” Instead of manipulating the memory of Sorin as a fundraising device the Notre Dame community should revisit how effectively it meets the mission he set for the school. Sorin understood the meaning of the Lord’s injunction: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul.” It would be a demonstration of real boldness—one worthy of the young priest who set off from France to save souls in the new world—if Notre Dame would pose that question anew, and clarify that its central purpose is to shape true disciples of Jesus Christ who are willing to serve God and neighbor. A worthy tribute to Edward Sorin would be a robust reaffirmation that Notre Dame is a distinct place that cares deeply not only for the minds of its students, but also for their hearts and souls.
Needless to say, as one who believes ND can only thrive over the long-term by embracing its Catholic identity, I agree with Fr. Bill. It seems like one of the most significant things Fr. Ted did as President of ND was to wrest control of the school away
from the CSC and turn it over to laypeople. Reversing that decision would be a great first step, though I don't know of any interest group within the University advocating for it.