For the past two years I have had the pleasure of interviewing different staff workers at the University of Notre Dame for The Rover’s Who’s Who section. I have learned a lot talking to various Notre Dame staff.  While all were endlessly grateful for their jobs and Notre Dame, I received the impression from many workers that they were being mistreated.  Although staff members often enjoyed the particular people and community at Notre Dame, they sometimes mentioned regretfully that taking a job at a local factory or a similar low-paying job would still offer much better insurance and benefits.

From my own time at Notre Dame I have found two very different experiences of the university, as a corporation and as a community, even a family.

There is a famous story about the familial bond of Notre Dame that I am sure many of you have heard before.  More than 50 years ago, a professor and his wife, Ralph and Connie McInerny, lost their eldest son Michael at a young age due to a brain tumor.  Living in a small home with two other children and a third on the way, they were struggling financially and of course emotionally.

After the funeral in the Basilica Fr. Hesburgh approached McInerny quietly with enough money for a down payment for a home. McInerny was not one of the universities top professors at the time. He was simply an assistant professor in the philosophy department. There were no cameras around to catch the moment on film and send to the nearest news agency.

Fr. Hesburgh acted as the father of a community ought, and was repaid over and over again after this by McInerny’s loyal commitment to teaching at the university for more than 50 years, as well as bringing recognition to the university by his many published books.  Fr. Hesburgh could not have known what would come about by his gesture, but he did the right thing, and individuals as well as the community benefitted from his generosity.

Notre Dame was clearly a family at some point.  In the face of tragedy it acted as a family would, quietly and actively responding to the sufferings of one of its own.  Unfortunately this no longer seems to be the whole story.  It is difficult to trust Notre Dame the corporation even when its familial side is still felt in the community of people.

It will of course be hard for Notre Dame to remain a family, particularly in the lawsuit-dominated atmosphere of the twenty-first century.  It might need to become more “insular,” focusing on caring for its workers who are living below the poverty level just down the street or its graduate students who are trying to support families.

I believe that by truly caring for its own, however, Notre Dame will find itself more closely knit and perhaps thus viewed with even more respect.  I know many have felt the tragedies of this year very deeply in the community.  Often the public responses of the university brought about even more pain. We are a family, and as such we should mourn the loss of one of our own, respond with love, and do everything in our power to rectify injustices done to our own, whether they were done by ourselves or by those in the outside world.

As a corporation, on the other hand, the university must calculate, talk to its lawyers, and distribute press releases.  A family responds with love and generosity, and at the very least justice, to its members in a way that corporations cannot.

Corporations must calculate the cost, while love can never be calculated: It must be given without expecting anything in return.  Acting as a corporation makes the people of Notre Dame, and those outside looking in, wonder whose interest the university really has at heart.

So the question still remains: Will we be a family and care for one another in private when the world is not looking on, so that even when outsiders do look, they find us a true community?  Or will we instead turn immediately to our many press agents and lawyers whose false advice fails in light of the truth as well often failing in the eyes of the world?

The university would become more coherent if it were to focus again on the closing sentence of its mission statement, “the formation of an authentic human community graced by the Spirit of Christ.” It is always risky to follow the Logos, but it is the most worthwhile of all tasks, one that brings and holds people together. Money and prestige and corporations come and go, but the Logos remains forever.

Kelly Mason hopes to graduate with her BA in philosophy and theology this year.  Contact her at