An Open Letter to John Jenkins
John Jenkins, CSC
President, Notre Dame University
Notre Dame, Indiana
Dear Father Jenkins,
Now that Mary Ann Glendon has announced that she would not accept Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal, because she was “dismayed” by the university’s awarding of an honorary degree to President Obama, the search is undoubtedly on for another recipient. Let me suggest one candidate you may have otherwise overlooked: me.
Now, I know many more notable and famous and accomplished and, well, deserving names may spring to mind. Names that would probably draw more of a crowd, names of people with a lifetime of service behind them, or names that would probably pose fewer problems in terms of Catholic orthodoxy. Say, Pope Benedict XVI. (Though draping a medal on top of his papal pectoral cross seems a little like overkill.) Or, say, Susan Boyle, that awesome YouTube singer, who is not only super-Catholic but would be a huge hit when she belted out the Notre Dame fight song. Or Mother Teresa, who everybody likes, though being dead might be a strike against her if a speech is expected.
Anyway, I think there are plenty of good reasons to offer me the now in-play Laetare Award. Let me list just a few.
1) I don’t have one.
As it turns out, I've only received a few real “awards,” like one from Plymouth-Whitemarsh Senior High School, and a Christopher Award, which is really nice, and just last week an award with the longest name yet: “The Loyola Institute of Spirituality’s Hearts on Fire Writer’s Award in Spirituality,” and, let me tell you, that’s a lot of words to fit on a chunk of crystal: it must weigh five pounds. I could kill someone with that award. (But I won't of course: I'm pro-life.) But the last time I checked I didn’t have a Laetare Award. I’ll bet it’s nice, too. Is it a real medal? With a ribbon? Cool. I could wear it over my vestments at Mass. In fact, I would be so happy to have that sitting on my shelf that…
2.) I would accept it.
I mean, if someone’s going to give me an award the very least I can do is accept it, whether or not I agree with what they’re doing or not doing. It's just common courtesy. Refusing is like not accepting a birthday present from a friend because you don’t like his wife or something. Anyway, I’d be really happy to accept it. And I wouldn’t cause you the least bit of controversy because…
3.) I’m Catholic.
I mean, really Catholic. For example, I believe one God, the Father Almighty, and all that...like a lot of people you might be considering, but I also, unlike many of them, know all the words to the Salve Regina. In Latin. And if you give me the award I would sing them. (Or if you prefer, I would not sing them.) Your board of trustees might ask for more than that so how about this: I’ve been to Lourdes four times. I pray every day. And I know three versions of the Act of Contrition. (Very helpful on an airplane during turbulence, by the way.) What’s more, and here’s a good reason, p.r-wise, I would be nice to all the people who gave me the award, and would be friendly and polite to President Obama (like you would be to anyone at a party you were invited to) and like any good guest…
4.) I wouldn’t criticize you for being insufficiently Catholic.
Look, I've never worked at a Catholic university. So I don’t know what it must be like to maintain your Catholic identity in a secular culture while trying to maintain the highest standards of academic excellence, nor can I imagine how hard it must be to follow what the Vatican wants, what the bishops want, the parents want, the students want, the benefactors want, and the trustees want. That’s a tall order. So I wouldn’t criticize something that I've never tried to do. But when I came to collect my award…
5.) I’d give a speech.
Now, I might not have time to write an actual “new” speech, since your commencement is coming up fast and I'm pretty swamped these days with work, but I’m sure I could tell a few jokes that would have everyone forgetting all about the whole Obama-Glendon controversy in a jiffy. And, just to sweeten the pot and win over your trustees in these parlous economic times, I wouldn’t even ask for a stipend, in fact, and I'll bet not many other awardees do this…
6.) I’d pay my own way.
That’s right! I figure if you’re going to go to the trouble of giving me a prestigious award I would scrape together what little money I have, and buy a cheap ticket to South Bend. (Did I mention I take a vow of poverty? That’s pretty Catholic, too.) Does JetBlue go there? It doesn't matter--buying my own ticket would be no trouble because…
7.) I’ve never been to South Bend!
Ever! Can you believe it? Never seen Touchdown Jesus or The Dome or that famous Lourdes Grotto you have. (Did I mention that I've been to the real one four times?) My never having visited South Bend might surprise you because of the most important reason of all, which I hope clinches my upcoming Laetare Award, which is that…
8.) I’ve seen “Rudy” ten times .......
James Martin, S.J.
P.S. I'm Irish.
A Modest Proposal for the Recipient of the Laetare Medal: Me
An Open Letter to John Jenkins