Dear readers, it was worse than agnosticism. I was more than skeptical about the Irish Rover’s future. I was a denier. Some twenty years ago when the idea for the Rover was incubating in the minds of several students, I told two of their leaders: “You have a good idea; you have perceived well a need on the Notre Dame campus. But no, I do not recommend founding an independent avowedly Catholic and more conservative newspaper here.” At that time I had been at Notre Dame for thirty-eight years and had witnessed the founding and the folding of two such newspapers. Incidentally, one of these had the captivating name, Right Reason.
That track record—plus my concern for the academic future of the leaders and potential editors—was what drew me back from endorsing the project. Joe Lindsley and Chris Brophy were perceived as very promising students in their initial months in the Program of Liberal Studies (PLS). Joe was in one of my classes, and Chris’s depth and seriousness as a thinker was reported to me by his seminar leader.
The two young men and a small group of other students had met at one of the fly-in weekends for accepted students before enrollment here. Conversations began then about the secular and conventional cast of the student media on campus, so strikingly at variance with the University’s mission and Catholic traditions. Those discussions continued through their first-year at Notre Dame. Their desire to found an alternative publication struck me as demanding too much of them and potentially derailing them from the kind of intellectual development and excellence possible for them. I urged them to consider becoming active contributors to the Observer as a way of creating the balance and genuine diversity they were seeking in Notre Dame’s student media. I do not know all of the reasons they founded the Rover, but I respected their choice for they were both thoughtfully principled as well as courageous and generous young men.
Now in the light of what the Rover has achieved and has come to represent at Notre Dame, I am very pleased to have been wrong.
Joe and Chris weathered well the extra effort required to get the Rover off and running. Joe Lindsley pursued a career in writing and now reports, as readers of the last issue know, from Ukraine’s capital. A number of Rover editors and staff have followed Joe’s path, and experience at this newspaper has been important to their turn to journalism.
Chris Brophy left PLS to concentrate his studies in classics and philosophy. He responded to the call to the priesthood and entered the Dominican order. Chris returned to Notre Dame to complete a Ph.D in political philosophy in the Political Science Department. His post-graduation trajectory into religious life and education also represents a path followed by a fair number of Rover staff over the years. (Special note here should be made for those who have gone into education through the ACE program.)
Then, in the years that followed, the Rover regularly attracted exceptional students of exemplary character, student reporters and editors who gained the respect of the administrators and faculty who often confessed to becoming uneasy when a Rover reporter walked in or when they were asked to respond to an email. That respect was—and is—often found in the general student body, not withstanding the efforts of one or another faction to suppress the Rover’s commentary by dumping issues in the trash.
Headed to an Academic Council meeting one spring day, I walked with a colleague from the theology department. He and his liturgical interests had just been featured in a Rover faculty interview, and I mentioned how welcome that piece was. “Yes,” he said begrudgingly, “But do not infer that I read the Rover, because I don’t.” I asked him why not, and he responded he did not like “the tone,” adding no more.
Then, there are some of my Catholic friends who say they do not like the approach and do not view it as the way to strengthen the Catholic dimension of the university. I hesitate to question anyone’s sincerity, but I do wonder what that way could be other than what I have seen so consistently in the pages of the Rover: students giving witness to the beauty and wisdom of their lived Catholic faith, seeking transparency, especially in decisions bearing on the Catholic character of the University, and promoting that distinguishing character of Notre Dame, an institution they so clearly love.
The Rover was there to give voice and representation to those who questioned the university’s honoring of President Obama; it was there to contribute to the successful effort to pull the university back from a significant collaborative effort with China. It consistently has sought to shine light on how the university lives out the Catholic teaching on sexuality and marriage and how the university remains faithful to its own mission statement on the critical importance of faculty who are practicing Catholics and potential intellectual stars in their fields.
One observation I can now make would likely leave the Rover staff—as well as the Observer and Scholastic staffs—very uneasy, but for different reasons. Bear in mind, however, that I have a much longer view of the print media in Notre Dame’s community than the undergraduate gains in their four years of readership. The Rover’s presence over the last two decades has made the Observer and the Scholastic better publications. Those publications now show more fairness and more completeness with respect to the range of opinion at Notre Dame; they both cover better and more consistently lectures and events bearing on the religious character of this university. At this point and in this specific way, the Rover has made Notre Dame a better place, a greater university marked by more freedom, serious exchanges, and mutual respect than is the norm elsewhere these days.
Entering its twentieth year, the Rover’s new leadership team now has a tradition to draw on, a tradition of truth-seeking and service to the common good of Notre Dame, the nation and the Church. I congratulate the students, from the founders to this year’s departing seniors, for carrying the torch, and I thank the discerning alumni who have supported them.
Professor Walter Nicgorski a faculty advisor for the Irish Rover and a professor emeritus in the Program of Liberal Studies and Department of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.
Featured art: Unknown artist, “He Was Reading The News”, appears in “Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes”, London, New York: George Routledge and Sons, 1877