Those who know Notre Dame, no explanation is necessary. Those who don’t, no explanation will suffice.”  -Lou Holtz

The divorce of Catholic values from the truth that underlies them has corrupted the character of many formerly Catholic institutions. For three years as an editor for the Irish Rover, I have worked with a team passionately and charitably devoted to maintaining the spirit of Notre Dame, which drew us all to this university several years ago. The Rover’s official mission statement attributes this spirit to the Catholic identity of Notre Dame. 

As a paper, the Rover seeks to preserve both the Catholic mission of Notre Dame and the Catholic identity—that is, the Catholic practices that undergird this mission in the world. I wish to use my final editorial as an editor of the Rover to suggest that we transform the terms of this discussion. Rather than addressing the mission and identity of the school as distinct, a more helpful device is that of her Catholic character.  

Character, in its most generic sense, is a reference to the unique personality and moral qualities of an individual. It is most fully expressed and understood in actions, rather than in theoretical ideas. Colloquially, there are two senses of the word that hint at its truest meaning. If one were to say that their friend “has good character,” they are alluding to his honesty, integrity, and virtue. If one were to describe a different friend as “a real character,” they are most likely referencing the friend’s unique and attractive personality.

Both uses—one referring to virtue and the other to panache—come together to form a fuller understanding of character. Character refers to the conglomeration of virtues, beliefs, and relationships that make up a distinguishable and consistent way of living. More than just an orienting founding mission or an abstract term like identity, this holistic integrity baked into the meaning of character implies inherent relationality and self-examination. 

Any visitor, admitted student, or current student who walks on campus is impressed with a certain indescribable spirit. This spirit is more than football traditions or Collegiate Gothic architecture. Notre Dame does not have the most successful football team in America nor is it the most beautiful campus in the country. Instead, it is an intangible sense that integrally unites things such as football or architecture to a living, vivifying character that holds a place of universal, one might say Catholic, importance. The Rover, in everything that it prints, articulates this character of Notre Dame. 

This character is one informed and reflective of a distinctively Catholic university. Albeit uncommon, an honest read of the Rover highlights lectures, clubs, people, and more that reflect an earnest consideration of the questions that arise from a university—and its students—being Catholic. 

The Rover politics section raises the important questions about political society that uniquely arise in the Catholic worldview. If we are members of a magisterial Church, how do we deal with earthly authority? If we are made to be citizens of heaven, how do we approach being citizens on earth? How do we deal with democratic principles of liberty in a religion defined by denial of self? All too often the university fails to force these rich questions of Catholicism and politics—questions that can only be asked at high-caliber Catholic universities such as Notre Dame that attract world-renowned political theorists and curious, intelligent students. 

The culture section combines analysis of the arts, events, and people that define the Notre Dame community. Notre Dame consciously produces architecture, music, and student performances that point towards the most authentic questions of what it means to be human and towards beauty in its fullest sense. It is this Catholic character that impels Notre Dame to hire in such a way that brings longtime South Dining Hall employee Dee Dolores together with her granddaughter. In her own words as reported by the Rover, Notre Dame uniquely “hires family.” The environment created by Notre Dame led to Forbes recently naming Notre Dame the best employer among large education institutions, and the number 20 large employer overall. 

Whether discussing Notre Dame’s world-renowned theology department and faculty in the religion section, or covering student groups that work to build a culture of life on campus, in the campus section the Rover is committed to articulating what it means to have a Catholic character. Instead of simply accepting Notre Dame as a public school within a Catholic neighborhood, this publication does the work that the university too often fails to do: promoting what questions and solutions truly arise from being a Catholic university. 

There is no character, and hence no Catholic character, without integrity. Holding incoherent and clashing values on an institutional level fundamentally violates this principle of integrity. An institution cannot form its members if it does not itself demonstrate what it claims to instill in others. 

Discarding truth, conflating Catholic values with relativistic secular agendas, and refusing to take courage in the face of violations of the faith erodes the character of the university that everyone holds so dearly. For example, no one believes that a university-sanctioned drag show is an essential academic endeavor just as nobody really thought walking around in groups of 10 people rather than 11 helped stop COVID when we began as freshmen four years ago. 

If we all want so desperately to admit that Notre Dame is an institution that can form people into not just good people but holy people, then we must admit that a weak, cowardly Notre Dame could equally form people in the opposite direction. While so many complain of the disruption the Rover may cause to the peaceful, collegial atmosphere of Notre Dame, I respond that there is no collegial atmosphere without the work done by the Rover. Without proper care for its character—for its honesty, integrity, and proper virtues—the good fruits we all reap from this collegial atmosphere, whether it’s the architecture, academics, or relationships, are bound to rot. 

There is no separating the values that may stem from Catholicism from the religion itself. There is no such thing as truth removed from the faith. And the faith cannot be watered down to mean open dialogue or niceness. Instead, in times of great discernment for the modern Catholic university we must be guided by an understanding of Catholic character

Instead of Catholicism “informing our discussion” about bipartisanship and how Republicans are destroying the free-world, let Notre Dame guide the rest of the world by its Catholic political philosophy. Instead of installing campus sculptures composed of a jumble of shapes and letters, let Notre Dame highlight art that reminds those entering campus of beauty, tradition, and their Divine Creator. Developing character takes hard work and courage. Most importantly, it takes having a conscience—a role that the Rover seeks to fill in all its endeavors. 

Nico Schmitz is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies from Pasadena, California. You can reach him at

Subscribe to the Irish Rover here.

Donate to the Irish Rover here.

Photo Credit: Matthew Rice