The National Catholic Review

In All Things has received a copy of a letter sent by Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., the President of Notre Dame, to this year's graduating class. It speaks for itself.

May 11, 2009

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Graduating Class of 2009:

This Sunday, as you receive your degrees at Commencement, your joy – and that of your families – will be shared by the faculty, staff, and administration of the University. We have had the privilege of laboring with each of you to inquire and discover, to teach and to learn, and we will send you off with affectionate and fond hopes for the future.

For those of you who are undergraduates, I feel a special kinship. You arrived in your dorm rooms as I arrived in the President’s Office. You have learned much; I may have learned more. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to learn with you, come to know you, and to serve you during our time together at Notre Dame.

During your years here we have endeavored to train you in the various disciplines and urged you to ask the larger questions – discussing not only the technical and practical but also the ethical and spiritual dimensions of pressing issues. I have been proud of you as you’ve grappled with intellectual, political, and spiritual questions. But I have never been more proud than I have been watching the way you’ve conducted yourselves over the past several weeks.

The decision to invite President Obama to Notre Dame to receive an honorary degree and deliver the Commencement address has triggered debate. In many cases, the debate has grown heated, even between people who agree completely on Church teaching regarding the sanctity of human life, who agree completely that we should work for change – and differ only on how we should work for change.

Yet, there has been an extra dimension to your debate. You have discussed this issue with each other while being observed, interviewed, and evaluated by people who are interested in this story. You engaged each other with passion, intelligence and respect. And I saw no sign that your differences led to division. You inspire me. We need the wider society to be more like you; it is good that we are sending you into that world on Sunday.

I am saddened that many friends of Notre Dame have suggested that our invitation to President Obama indicates ambiguity in our position on matters of Catholic teaching. The University and I are unequivocally committed to the sanctity of human life and to its protection from conception to natural death.

Notre Dame has a long custom of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States. It has never been a political statement or an endorsement of policy. It is the University’s expression of respect for the leader of the nation and the Office of the President. In the Catholic tradition, our first allegiance is to God in Christ, yet we are called to respect, participate in, and contribute to the wider society. As St. Peter wrote (I Pt. 2:17), we should honor the leader who upholds the secular order.

At the same time, and born of the same duty, a Catholic university has a special obligation not just to honor the leader but to engage the culture. Carrying out this role of the Catholic university has never been easy or without controversy. When I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, Fr. Hesburgh spoke of the Catholic university as being both a lighthouse and a crossroads. As a lighthouse, we strive to stand apart and be different, illuminating issues with the moral and spiritual wisdom of the Catholic tradition. Yet, we must also be a crossroads through which pass people of many different perspectives, backgrounds, faiths, and cultures. At this crossroads, we must be a place where people of good will are received with charity, are able to speak, be heard, and engage in responsible and reasoned dialogue.

The President’s visit to Notre Dame can help lead to broader engagement on issues of importance to the country and of deep significance to Catholics. Ultimately, I hope that the conversations and the good will that come from this day will contribute to closer relations between Catholics and public officials who make decisions on matters of human life and human dignity.

There is much to admire and celebrate in the life and work of President Obama. His views and policies on immigration, expanding health care, alleviating poverty, and building peace through diplomacy have a deep resonance with Catholic social teaching. As the first African-American holder of this office, he has accelerated our country’s progress in overcoming the painful legacy of slavery and segregation. He is a remarkable figure in American history, and I look forward to welcoming him to Notre Dame.

As President Obama is our principal speaker, there will no doubt be much attention on your Commencement. Remember, though, that this day is your day. My fervent prayer is that May 17 will be a joyous day for you and your family. You are the ones we celebrate and applaud. Congratulations, and may God bless you.

In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

President

 

Comments

Anonymous | 5/17/2009 - 11:54am
I find Fr. Jenkins' decision to honor President Obama unacceptable.  Speaking at Notre Dame is one thing, honoring him is quite another.  It is unbelievable that our Pope has not interceded in this matter.  These graduates that worked so diligently in seeking a prestigous education along with the financial burden and support of their loving and caring families in making this a reality.....are now deeply saddened with a decision that is not pro-life.  Being a convert to the faith, I realize it is a privilege to be Catholic. We need priests and bishops that will make a stand on what is right within our faith and once again get politics out of Catholicism.  We need to live by the law of God, not man and liberal practice within our faith should not be acceptable. Notre Dame has lost extreme amounts of contributors because of this radical decision which in turn only hurts the University students even further.  Fr. Jenkins letter to students was political and emulates our present day government......slanting the facts to the students in a non-traditional perspective.  Fr. Jenkins stated this was the students' day......indeed, it should have been!!!!! 
Anonymous | 5/15/2009 - 7:29pm
Fr. Jnekins is undoubtedly an above average apostolate. His position at one of the premier American Catholic  Institutions speaks to this.  Personally I am  saddened at the gesture extended to this President. I voted for Obama becuase he was the better choice but I pray for him and hold him responsible for his actions when it comes to abortion. Remember when he enected the most recent abortion legislature he stated "we don't have time these distraction. We are moving on." He blew off the pro life camp. This invite and the honorary degree, I fear is, another example of the loss of direction, the accpetance of relativism, the acdeptance of dualism and the rationalizatiom of a dichotomy that -lpagues the church. His letter here is well written as should be expected but the example to graduates and undergraduates is very dishearterning. I would hope that the Holy Cross Order will examine his stewartship at Notre Dame. Our greatest failing as a church is the ambivalance we exhibit when church teachings are rastionlized away or take a back seat to worldly rewards. This is one of the events.Again it is a poor re[resentation of the Universal Church to the students and the rest of the world.  
Anonymous | 5/13/2009 - 7:23pm
"Remember, though, that this is your day." Ugh. Father, it ceased to be their day the instant you invited this circus on to campus. I'm just glad I'm graduating next year my senior friends are out of luck with their commencement.
Anonymous | 5/13/2009 - 3:50pm
Perhaps Fr. Jenkins is merely confused on the meaning of the phrase ''people of good will''?
Anonymous | 5/13/2009 - 2:41pm
Great letter , great tone.. Let's have no vitrol here.
Anonymous | 5/15/2009 - 2:11pm
An excellent letter! Completely misses the point that Notre Dame's honor gives the APPEARANCE of APPROVAL of this president's ATTITUDE toward the UNBORN. It is ammunition for non-Christians and anti-catholics in their war against moral standards. What hypocrites Catholics are, going on about the sanctity of life and honoring a president who has no problem of not only killing uinborn but harvesting their sometimes still living bodies for 'research. I am speaking from the street, the kind of talk which goes on in break rooms at work and in stores and clubs.     Its a sad commentary on our society when a good person has to compromise their deeply held values, in a phrase, hold their noses, to get elected to public office. How much more so, when the values held are already formed by the culture of death. I taught my children that a lie is a lie, not a verbal inaccuracy.     I left the protestant Episcopal church because of their ordination of an openly gay man in New Jersey in the early eighties. Now there is a lavender epuiscopal church. Is this the way the Catholic church is heading?     E. Michael Jones wrote a book, 'Is Notre Dame still catholic?'. It bears another and closer reading. David B. Rasch
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 11:09pm
Fr. Jenkins is a sad representative of Catholicism and higher education unfortunately, he is the best representative (as we see from many of the comments on this board) of the religious laxity among most Catholics today.  I suggest that anyone who agrees with Obama's policies, toward human life and Christianity, needs to retreat from the world and catch up on their reading of scripture and prayer with God.  The only bright spot in this whole scandal is the number of faithful alumni, bishops, students, and laity who have been as "voice[s] crying out in the desert," protesting the worldliness of Fr. Jenkins.  Indeed, Notre Dame, and American Catholicism, deserves better.  
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 7:20pm
I have been watching EWTN while Our Holiness Pope Benedict XVI is in the Holy Land! WWJD what would Jesus do?  Our successor of Peter Pope Benedict calls for UNITY, as did our President Obama, and I'm concerned about what this is doing to the USA Catholic Church as a whole.  Let me explain my remarks, first off the media is not mentioning much about ND, or the Charity dollars the the first Lady and Pres. Obama gave to Catholic Relief, but they ARE mentioning Fr. Cutie in Florida? How does that make us as Catholic sound? Not in good light, I'm afraid.  If we don't keep our families educated like he is his daughters, turning off all the garbage in television. I see protestants going to their churches, ladies dressed like ladies, and men in suit and tie.  Look around our Masses on any Sunday, or Saturday and see how we dress in our congregations.  It it the gov't fault that Catholic families don't have large families any longer or is it our own fault.  Come on, lets look what our problems are, and look like, and see how Pres Obama treats and teachs their daughters, as a UNITE filled with the Love of the Holy Spirit.  Now he is no more PRO killing, than I am a Southern Baptist.  Lets trust our Novena's, our offering up our sufferings, pray for our fallen away priests, and nuns that now dress like any other women in our communities.  Take responsibility of OUR daughters and sons, and by our examples we won't need to worry about abortions.   Debbie      
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 9:57pm
Fr. Jenkins is speaking out of both sides of his mouth!
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 5:57pm
It is very difficult to read the final paragraph that Fr Jenkins describes as "this is your day" when I can't help but think how this was always about Fr Jenkin's day.  Never have we experienced more results in so short a period of time that all so anti-life.  May Chrsit be our light and may our President begin to walk in it.  
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 5:10pm
Sadly, American Catholic church seems to, sadly, not be what it used to be. Does it stay true to church teaching, tradition and scripture. I hope Catholics don't embrace a larger bureaucratic government. Government has no heart and ought not have heart. Heart should come from the people (including those who serve us in government) and even more so from the Body of Christ. We should keep government honest and accountable (as we do private citizen and commercial corporations) but don't expect anything but more eventual ineptitude and institutional corruption with a larger and larger government. During the campaign, the President claimed that he was not a socialist, now he's attempting to socialize/nationalize industry, finance, healthcare, etc.... Nationalizing healthcare will make people feel better emotionally at first but it won't help heal anyone faster. Capitalism is not perfect, because it's a human institution but Government has shown itself to be as imperfect and dangerous because it has police power. And now with the potential ability to affect lives via nationalized healthcare, are Catholics prepared for government mandated right-to-die, abortion, and yes eventually euthanasia? Immigration continues to be a difficult issue for Christians, I personally hope for a Bush-like solution. Catholics can be pro-death penalty and pro-Iraq war without running afoul of Catholic teaching (there are good arguments on both sides), but they can't be pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage. I'll pray humbly, with Christ's love, for the President and all leaders. But I haven't been able to support his agenda, if I were graduating at N.D., I couldn't partake in that ceremony. That is so sad for those students and families. I hope the discourse remains civil-and especially among Christians, loving.          
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 4:54pm
Just sortof wondering if Notre Dame's "long custom of conferring honorary degrees on the President of the United States" included former President Bush, a serious supporter of pro-life issues, e.g. Mexico City rule, decreasing public funding of abortion stateside and globally, refusing research money to embryonic stem cell research, just to name a few....how about former President Reagan, also a great supporter.  Where is a list of honorary recipients who have served as president of the United States?  If it is a "long custom" certainly there is a list somewhere.
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 1:24pm
Father Jenkins is, I'm sure, a person of good will. I wonder whether he realizes, however, that he has made himself and Notre Dame into tools of Mr. Obama's political agenda. I voted for Barack Obama, because I believe he was the best choice for President at this difficult time in our national history. But I have no illusions about his outreach Catholics. He expects us to move toward him, not the other way around. That's what he hopes to accomplish by speaking at Notre Dame. What does the Catholic Church get from him in exchange? His pledges to work to decrease the number of abortions are important but insufficient, and only history and statistics will tell us whether his efforts will result in any real change. The media will play this story as one of division within the Church On one hand, the hopelessly intransigent and dogmatic Church, and on the other, the enlightened intellectuals who embrace the American ideology of enlightened individualism. This won't be a dialog, as Father Jenkins describes it. It will be a speech by a gifted liberal politician who wants more Catholics to look past their Church's teaching and vote for Democrats. In other words, Barack Obama will score one more political victory at the expense of Church unity.
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 12:24pm
Nice letter.  Shame on those who accuse him of bad faith.
Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 11:48am
Fr. Jenkins is right to be proud of his students and Notre Dame and Catholic America have every reason to be proud of him.
Anonymous | 5/15/2009 - 4:01pm
Having had to succor my daughter with the matter of student loans to pay for a college education, A word from Fr. Jenkins about this matter would have been helpful. Perhaps a suggestion on how to cope.