Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., University President
University of Notre Dame
Office of the President
400 Main Building
Notre Dame, IN 46556
April 13, 2011
Dear Father Jenkins,
I write my final editorial for The Irish Rover in gratitude for the support you have shown pro-life initiatives at the university. Thank you especially for your presence at the March for Life over the past two years. The students of the Right to Life group deeply appreciate your visible support. I am also excited about the newly established Office of University Life Initiatives, now coordinated by Mary Daly, a friend of mine whose pro-life witness I aspire to follow.
It has been a difficult year for Notre Dame. The deaths of Lizzy Seeberg, Declan Sullivan, and Sean Valero pushed the university into the media’s spotlight, often to confront heavy criticisms.
Unfortunately, Notre Dame has been uncomfortably in the spotlight since my first year as a student here, when President Obama was invited to give the commencement address and to receive an honorary degree. Prior to and since that controversy, no other event has raised so many questions about Notre Dame’s status as a pro-life university.
In my three years at Notre Dame I have been thrilled to be part of the university’s efforts to become institutionally more pro-life. I have been privileged this year to be a student leader in Right to Life and editor-in-chief of The Irish Rover. Since I only have one more year to be as closely connected to the university’s efforts as I am now, in this letter I would like to ask some questions about the future of pro-life initiatives at the university.
First, will you continue to show strong support for pro-life initiatives that have already been developed? The Office of University Life Initiatives, and the projects begun by Professor John Cavadini and Mary Daly, provide an institutional venue for your support. At the same time, the Notre Dame Fund to Protect Human Life and the Center for Ethics and Culture have also begun several critically important projects, most notably Project Guadalupe, a new three-part pro-life interdisciplinary educational program that will train future generations of pro-life leaders.
I have enjoyed the pro-life opportunities and support offered by the Center for Ethics and Culture since my freshman year, including the center’s annual fall conferences, their Bread of Life dinners for students and professors, and their support of the Right to Life club. At the Fall Conference in November, Professor David Solomon announced plans for his tenure as director of the center to end in May 2012. If and when his term as director ends, will you ensure that the Center for Ethics and Culture survives as a source of pro-life activity on campus? Will you also ensure that his successor promotes and supports Project Guadalupe, and advances the projects Professor Solomon has begun during his tenure as director?
Second, the Faculty Senate recently turned down a pro-life resolution proposed by Professor Phillip Bess. I am concerned that the Faculty Senate did not agree to adopt it because it was a proposal that commended you for your participation in the March for Life and your creation of the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It also commended the efforts of University Life Initiatives and students actively involved in pro-life work at Notre Dame. Faced with the vote against this resolution, will you continue to hire more Catholic faculty members who would support your efforts to strengthen Notre Dame’s pro-life commitment?
Third, will you continue to work for the inclusion of more courses about life issues in the university’s curriculum? Last spring I was a student in the first “Gospel of Life” joint theology/philosophy seminar, co-taught by Professors John Cavadini and David Solomon. The Center for Social Concerns also sponsors the “Gospel of Life” seminar trip to Washington, DC over fall break each year. Perhaps you might propose an interdisciplinary minor specifically designed to engage students on questions about life issues?
Fourth, when will you make life issues the subject of the University Forum? The threats to human survival and flourishing addressed by previous forum topics—the global health crisis, sustainability, and the global marketplace–are deeply connected to a widespread loss of respect for human life in its earliest and weakest stages.
In his address here at Notre Dame last Friday, Archbishop Chaput shed light on the most important thing I’ve come to appreciate about being pro-life in my time at Notre Dame: our responsibility to address not just one, but all the life issues. At the same time, Archbishop Chaput also emphasized the right to life as the most important right that we need to protect. His words express what I hope will be the continued aim of Notre Dame’s pro-life work:
“I believe that abortion is the foundational human rights issue of our lifetime. We can’t simultaneously serve the poor and accept the legal killing of unborn children. We can’t build a just society, and at the same time legally sanctify the destruction of generations of unborn human life. The rights of the poor and the rights of the unborn child flow from exactly the same human dignity guaranteed by the God who created us.
“Of course, working to end abortion doesn’t absolve us from our obligations to the poor. It doesn’t excuse us from our duties to the disabled, the elderly, and immigrants. In fact, it demands from us a much stronger commitment to materially support women who find themselves in a difficult pregnancy.
“All of these obligations are vital. God will hold us accountable if we ignore them. But none of these other duties can obscure the fact that no human rights are secure if the right to life is not.”
In closing, I urge you to make the office of the president a stronghold for Notre Dame’s commitment to defending the sanctity of all human life. Fr. Hesburgh engaged the defense of civil rights as the great moral battle of his day. Today we are fighting the same battle but for a more fundamental right, the right to live. Only from the right to begin one’s life can one’s right to live a full and flourishing life come.
I have written you this letter not simply because I am passionate about pro-life efforts at Notre Dame, but also because I truly love Notre Dame. I see great potential for the university to become the strongest and most outspoken voice for the pro-life movement. I am happy to have been given this chance to share with you my questions about what I still believe is the most important issue facing Notre Dame in years to come.
Thank you for your continued support for all pro-life efforts at the university.
In Our Lady,
Editor-in-Chief, The Irish Rover
Notre Dame Class of 2012