Madeline Gillen, Managing Editor
“You are all revolutionaries.”
Thus began Princeton professor Robert George, addressing participants of the sixth annual Love & Fidelity Network Conference: Sexual Integrity and the University. He deemed me and the other attendees as revolutionaries in light of our belief in and advocacy for conjugal marriage, the importance of family and holistic views of sex and sexuality.
The Love & Fidelity Network (LFN) is not a religiously affiliated organization, and the conference presenters approached the weekend’s topics—which included the links between sex trafficking and pornography, the disintegration of pastoral care into therapeutic affirmation and the negative impact that contraceptives have effected for both men and women—from non-religious perspectives. Rather, the speakers relied on social science data and statistics to equip “college students with the resources, arguments, and support they need to advocate for the institution of marriage, the special role of the family, and the integrity of sex within their university communities and as leaders in the public square.”
George’s statement to the contrary, I didn’t always feel like a revolutionary over the course of the weekend. Speaking to friends from Yale about their efforts to combat Sex Week there and about what a triumph it was for them to take 25 students to the March for Life last year, I felt somewhat uneasy. A friend from a secular institution’s divulgence that daily Mass isn’t offered on his campus solidified my feeling of whimpishness.
Unlike my peers at Yale, attending Notre Dame’s LFN club (Rodzinka) doesn’t make me a “joyless prude.” My belief in conjugal marriage is met with some hesitation and occasionally with furtive affirmation, but never with shouts of hatred. Notre Dame brought over 600 students and 75 faculty members to the March for Life last year. And if I miss daily Mass while at school it is either because I’m sick or I don’t choose to attend––there are too many options for attendance to be difficult.
All of which blessings made me wonder: Is there such a thing as revolutionaries at Notre Dame, which affirms Catholic teachings on the sanctity of marriage, the family as the fundamental building block of society and holistic teachings on gender and sexuality?
Most students here want what the Church advocates: a faithful spouse of the opposite sex, a close family and (before those things) a stable, romantic relationship. But most students seem not to know how to have these and they certainly couldn’t articulate why they want those things to peers who don’t.
It’s not that students who do want a sacramental (possibly Basilica) marriage and a stable relationship during their time here are obligated to sharply articulate why they do. Since it’s easy and common to avoid following parietals, to hook up and to forget family amidst the plethora of once in a lifetime service trips or tours, the simple witness of living differently is powerful enough.
The typical Notre Dame student is, well, a typical college student with too little time, too many friends, too little self-confidence to date and lots of stress about post-grad life. Most of all, though: students at Notre Dame, like students everywhere, find it hard to engage with (let alone live out) the Church’s teachings.
But Notre Dame, more than any other Catholic university, provides myriad venues—conversations, lectures, prayer and the sacraments—by virtue of which students can engage with and live out these teachings.
In my time at Notre Dame many people and groups have encouraged and facilitated a deep and knowledgeable understanding of what it means to be a Catholic woman.
Institutes like the Center for Ethics and Culture and the Institute for Church Life have impressed on me the intellectual richness and cultural import of the Catholic faith and tradition.
I have benefitted from reading Doctor Christian Smith’s illuminating sociological studies, which he is conducting very expressly in service of the Church. I have enjoyed reading the works of Notre Dame professors who are often featured in publications—like Public Discourse, First Things, Ethika Politika and Crisis—that keep readers up to date on important cultural, moral and ecclesial issues.
Through my four years’ involvement with the Edith Stein Project I have connected to a wider national network of both adult and peer Christian leaders and have discovered the beauty of the Church’s teachings on gender, sexuality and human identity. My club advisor has become a mentor as I have sought to grow both in professional competencies and as a woman of faith, and my fellow conference organizers have become great friends.
Most importantly, access to daily Mass, communal prayer in the form of Vespers and Lucernarium, weekly confession and spiritual advising have provided me with much needed grace.
Indeed, resources abound at Notre Dame, and many students take advantage of them. Majors from every discipline attend daily Mass and regular confession. A number of students—including some who personally struggle with same-sex attraction—have embraced the truth and beauty of the Church’s sexual teachings. Many students laugh at the idea that gender relations are skewed at Notre Dame because of the single-sex dorms—it isn’t difficult to befriend anyone when he or she lives two minutes away, even if you have to do so prior to 2 a.m.
Many Notre Dame students volunteer and perform service generously, and the university is far from hosting a Sex Week comparable to those plaguing other college campuses. Nearly every student who departs Notre Dame does so with a deeper appreciation for the importance of faith and faith communities.
No, there are no Notre Dame revolutionaries. Our students are not labeled “revolutionaries” for maturing in and embracing their faith during their time on campus. They are not labeled “revolutionaries” for caring deeply about the topics that brought 300 students to Princeton in November.
This is what makes Notre Dame so beautiful. This is the inestimable advantage it enjoys over its Ivy League counterparts.
In today’s university culture, sadly, this is also what makes Notre Dame revolutionary.
Madeline Gillen is a senior living in Welsh Family Hall. Please contact her at email@example.com.