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Notre Dame: Shaking the Foundations

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 30, 2009

When the President of Notre Dame decided to invite President Obama to give this year's commencement speech and to receive an honorary degree, a number of student organizations banded together to make their moral opposition clear. Perhaps their most telling objection was stated thus:

Fr. Jenkins has placed some of his students in a moral dilemma as to whether they should attend their own graduation. Many pro-life seniors, along with their families, are conflicted about whether to participate in the commencement ceremony. The lack of concern for these devoted sons and daughters of Notre Dame, who love this University and the Catholic principles on which it was built, is shameful.

This is a remarkably pointed comment, and it strikes at the very heart of what it means for a university community to be a Catholic community. It would, in fact, be a wonderfully effective strategy if the combined forces of the various interested groups on campus could bring about a significant boycott of the commencement exercises by the seniors who are about to receive their degrees. Obviously the student body is divided on this issue, and that division probably mirrors to some degree that of the faculty. But it would not surprise me if the student body is, by percentage, more pro-life than the faculty, and substantially more pro-life than the current administration.

Sometimes students have led the way in promoting authentic reform at colleges and universities. In general, for example, it has been the students who have been most insistent that crucifixes be returned to classrooms, despite widespread opposition among faculty members, in universities where they had once been removed. Indeed, considering the moral cesspool that most college campuses have become, the ability of substantial numbers of students to take their Christian faith seriously is nothing short of astonishing.

I don’t have inside information about the student body at Notre Dame, but I highly recommend to them a boycott of graduation, which would be very dramatic even if as few as 25% of graduating seniors could be induced to participate. This would be a public embarrassment for the University that could not be hidden. The bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, John D’Arcy, has already announced that he will not attend the commencement exercises, breaking a 25-year run. If a significant number of seniors should join the bishop, it just might send a message that would shake Notre Dame’s current administration to its foundations.

This is an opportunity for effective witness of almost unlimited magnitude, the like of which arises only rarely in any one lifetime. I think the students involved realize this. Let us hope—and pray—that they do not miss their chance.

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