“Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are.”
Three and a half weeks ago, race relations in our country erupted once again. This time, the flashpoint was Charlottesville, VA, the home of Thomas Jefferson’s pride and joy, the University of Virginia. In February the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee in what was then named Robert E. Lee park. From then on, the controversial decision was protested and counter-protested, culminating in a weekend of horrific violence in mid-August during which three people were killed and 34 were injured.
The events in Charlottesville, which many believe indicate a significant loss of ground for race-relations in the United States, happened to coincide with the 14-day pilgrimage commemorating the 175th anniversary of the University of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame Trail recreated the journey that Father Sorin and his companions made by foot in 1842, from Vincennes, Indiana to the site on which the University of Notre Dame would be built. The Trail concluded with a mass in front of Bond Hall on August 28th, during which University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, addressed the Charlottesville crisis in light of Fr. Sorin’s vision for the University of Notre Dame.
Fr. Jenkins used his homily not only to celebrate the momentous occasion, but also to push back against the viewpoint of one University of Virginia professor in the aftermath of the conflict. Fr. Jenkins stated, “a faculty member at Virginia wrote…that we should not look to universities for moral clarity. Universities exist, [the professor] argued, for epistemic virtues: openness to debate, a commitment to critical inquiry and attention to detail. As valuable as these are, the author argued, they are insufficient for responding to the hate that fueled these protests and the violence they engendered.”
Fr. Jenkins suggested that, while this may be true for many universities, Notre Dame’s Catholic mission sets her apart and charges her to a higher office. He reminded the congregation of Fr. Sorin’s vision that this university would be, “one of the most powerful means for good in this country,” and urged that in this time, she do so by, “giving witness to a different set of values.”
He went on to identify what exactly it is that sets the University of Notre Dame apart from other elite institutions and vibrant university communities. That crucial factor—Our Lady.
“There is something more at Notre Dame: the silent pondering of Mary,” Fr. Jenkins said. He called to mind the words of Father Corby, who, at the time of Fr. Sorin’s death, attributed everything Notre Dame had become to Our Lady, the driving force behind Fr. Sorin’s life and work. Fr. Jenkins invited us to emulate her “silent, pondering, loving presence,” and in that silence to “prayerfully ponder the mystery of God’s love, and what that love demands of each of us: to love in return.”
Fr. Jenkins condemned racism and hatred as “malignancies of the heart,” warning that if not rooted out, they will succeed in tearing our community and nation apart. However, he asked that, in the midst of this endeavor, the university continue to be a shining example of respect and brotherhood.
“We do not effectively counter [racism and anti-Semitism] by hating the haters or doing violence to the violent. We counter them most by providing an example of a university community where we pursue truth openly, speak freely and at times disagree passionately, but show respect for those with whom we disagree.”
In this time more than ever, Fr. Jenkins asked us to rely upon Mary, our Mother, remembering that she is always and forever atop the dome, overseeing all that we do. Fr. Jenkins’ homily concluded with a final appeal to Fr. Sorin’s wish: “Let us ask for God’s help to make our University even more a force for good. Let us make it a place worthy to bear the name Notre Dame, the University of Our Lady. Fr. Sorin would have wanted nothing more . . . and nothing less.”
Keenan White is a junior majoring in political science and history, with a minor in constitutional studies. She was, in fact, named after Keenan Hall. To talk with her about that contact her at Keenan.M.White294@nd.edu.