Campus Crucifix Initiative promotes religious art in academic buildings

In the late 1990s, when questions were raised at Catholic universities around the country about the necessity of religious imagery in the academic environment, Notre Dame’s then-president, Father Edward “Monk” Malloy C.S.C., professor of theology, decided that every classroom should contain a crucifix.

In 2019, the Campus Crucifix Initiative was launched with the purpose of reinforcing “the universalism of Catholicism and the internationalism of Notre Dame through an expanding collection of crucifixes from artists around the world,” according to its website.

Fr. Malloy told the Rover via email, “It seemed to me to be appropriate for a Catholic university. I still feel that way.” Today, the crucifixes continue to display the university’s commitment to a Catholic approach to higher learning.

Chairing the Campus Crucifix Initiative is Mark Roche, the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., professor of German language and literature, and concurrent professor of philosophy.

Roche explained to the Rover in an email that having crucifixes on campus, especially in classrooms, helps to highlight that “the triadic identity of Notre Dame as a residential liberal arts college, an increasingly dynamic and ambitious research university, and a Catholic institution of international standing is strongest when all three elements are interwoven.”

He continued, “The crucifixes in academic buildings help ensure that we regularly recall that animating vision. Further, the international crucifixes remind us of the diverse ways in which the universal Church and its teachings are embodied, adding to our cultural awareness.”

Commenting on the role of crucifixes in campus life, Father Wilson “Bill” Miscamble C.S.C., professor of history, told the Rover, “Our Catholic education is to be pursued, of course, in the residence hall chapels but also in the classroom. The crucifix reminds us of Christ’s sacrifice for us. This essential Christian symbol helps give us a foundation [upon] which we then pursue our work.”

Miscamble referred to the Constitutions of the Congregation of the Holy Cross: “The Lord Jesus loved us and gave up His life for us. Few of us will be called to die the way He died. Yet all of us must lay down our lives with Him and for Him if we would be faithful to the gospel. We must take up our cross daily and follow Him.”

Miscamble underlined that the presence of a crucifix in the classroom is “a call to us to be in touch with the deeper things of what matters, no matter what the class: no matter whether it’s accounting over in Mendoza, or physics in the science building, or theology.”

Likewise, Roche said, “Sacramental vision is an important part of Catholicism. The transcendent is not exhausted by our physical reality, but it is nonetheless present there. The idea of sacramental vision is that the absolute reveals itself in sensuousness. The crucifixes add greatly to our visual perception of that higher reality.”

He also emphasized that the Campus Crucifix Initiative is still in an “early, pilot phase” and that they are working both towards bringing crucifixes from around the world and encouraging student-created crucifixes. He indicated that there may be a competition in the future for student-created crucifixes. As Professor Roche and the Initiative continue their work, and as students have begun returning to classes for the semester, crucifixes hang in every classroom on campus as an ever-present reminder of the Catholicity of a Notre Dame education.

William Hunter is a sophomore in the theology and philosophy joint program. If not staring into the middle distance or trying to reinvent the wheel, he can be contacted at:

Image description: Croatian Crucifix created by sculptor Ivan Meštrović hangs in Jordan Hall of Science.

Image courtesy of Campus Crucifixes Initiative, University of Notre Dame