Notre Dame leadership visits Vatican

Earlier this month, Pope Francis addressed a delegation of Notre Dame officials in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican. In attendance were members of the Notre Dame Board of Trustees as well as other high ranking members of the university administration, including outgoing president Fr. John Jenkins C.S.C, incoming president Fr. Robert Dowd C.S.C., and Provost John McGreevy.

This marks the first time Pope Francis has met with an official delegation from the university since 2014. In June of 2017, Fr. Jenkins met and concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis during a trip to meet with Church leaders in Rome.  

In addition to the delegation from Notre Dame, Pope Francis has met with representatives from other Catholic universities over the past month. In January, he met with leaders of the International Federation of Catholic Universities as well as academic authorities and students of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem.

Pope Francis gave a brief address to the Notre Dame administrators and spoke to the administrators afterwards. In the address, available in full on the Vatican’s website, Francis exhorted those present to promote the “secret” of Catholic education. Quoting Blessed Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, he identified this “secret” as the call to educate the “head, heart, and hands.”  

Pope Francis first explained the meaning of the “head”: the call for Catholic educators is to uphold the “intrinsic harmony of faith and reason.” In the service of this, Francis identified “a deeper appreciation not only of the value of learning in general, but also of the richness of the Catholic intellectual tradition in particular.” He also emphasized the importance of engagement with other traditions from a particularly Catholic perspective.

For the heart, Francis spoke directly about the university’s commitment to the youth and its role in teaching them to “cultivate an openness to all that is true, good, and beautiful.” He also referred to his continued call about the “dreams” of young people, and emphasized the university’s role in this process. Pope Francis exhorted his listeners to uphold “the essential role of religion in educating people’s hearts.”

In speaking of the “hands,” Pope Francis delivered an admonition and a call to action: “We cannot stay within the walls or boundaries of our institutions, but must strive to go out to the peripheries and meet and serve Christ in our neighbor.”  

Regarding Notre Dame specifically, Francis expressed his pleasure that the university promotes “an atmosphere that enables students, faculty, and staff to grow spiritually and bear witness to the joy of the Gospel, its power to renew society and its capacity to provide the strength to face wisely the challenges of the present time.”

Francis concluded his address with a prayer to the Blessed Mother and words of encouragement to the attendees to continue making Notre Dame “a ‘powerful means for good’ in society,” quoting university founder Fr. Edward Sorin. After his address, the Pope spent time meeting and speaking with the administrators.

The Pope’s words in this address, especially in his discussion of the intellectual formation of students, echo similar statements he has made to Notre Dame officials in the past. In a 2014 audience, he explained that Catholic universities are a unique witness to “the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life,” referencing his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. 

Speaking directly to the University of Notre Dame, Francis directed administrators to “offer unambiguous testimony” to the university’s Catholic identity and to “defend,” “preserve,” and “advance” the same.

Francis stressed the importance for the “uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors.”  

While in Rome and before meeting with the Holy Father, the administrators also attended a convocation at Notre Dame’s Rome Global Gateway. During the ceremony, three honorary degrees were awarded to Dr. Barbra Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums; Bishop Brian Farrell L.C., noted scholar of interreligious and ecumenical issues and the secretary of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Christian Unity; and Dr. Roberto Benigni, famous Italian comic, actor, and director. At the end of the convocation, President-elect Fr. Dowd gave the closing benediction.

William Hunter is a senior in the theology and philosophy joint program. Did you know that a group of toads is called a “knot?” Now you do. He can be contacted at

Photo Credit: Notre Dame News

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