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An Unhappy Anniversary

July 22, 2023 Frontpage No Comments


In 1974, I attended a meeting in Chicago designed to probe the possibilities of rescuing Catholic education from the nebulous but ubiquitous “Spirit of Vatican II” that was already raging at the time. At lunch, I joined Fr. Christopher O’Toole, CSC, and my own bishop, Most Rev. Leo Pursley, DD, who had confirmed me years before.
Why were these two retired luminaries interested in supporting efforts to preserve orthodox Catholic education for the next generation of college students?
Their answer was blunt. “I’m doing penance,” said Fr. O’Toole, somberly.
Bishop Pursley nodded in agreement.
Penance? Penance for what?
Well, Fr. O’Toole explained, as the superior general of the Congregation of the Holy Cross throughout the 1960s, he had not done enough to prevent the secularization of the University of Notre Dame during that fateful decade. Bishop Pursley, who had presided over the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend during the same era, also admitted that he had not been forceful enough with the university.
That afternoon, both men agreed that, as far as Notre Dame was concerned, they had failed.
“Failed.” But had they, really?
Well, as Superior General of the Holy Cross, Father O’Toole could have intervened, quietly reassigning Notre Dame’s president, Fr. Ted Hesburgh, CSC, whose 15-year tenure had already long broken with the traditional six-year appointments of his predecessors, surpassed only by the term of Fr. Edward Sorin, CSC, who founded the school in 1842.
And Bishop Pursley could have intervened as well.
He could have removed Notre Dame’s “Catholic” affiliation, perhaps going so far as to require that it change its name to a more secular title commensurate with its new “modern” mission.
Correct. That’s exactly what Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde did in 2009 with the Notre Dame Academy in his Virginia diocese. The school, founded and run by the Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio, in 1965, had been taken over by a lay board of trustees that no longer wanted to uphold the teachings of the Church.
In response, Bishop Loverde announced “that Notre Dame Academy can no longer identify itself as a Catholic school…the school will no longer have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in its chapel and the diocese will not be able to guarantee the quality or authenticity of religious or other instruction,” he wrote.
Bishop Loverde saves the best till last: “I have strongly suggested to [the chairman] that the Board of Trustees consider changing the name of the school. The title ‘Notre Dame’ (Our Lady) is so closely associated with our Catholic faith that continued use of the name would undoubtedly be a cause of confusion to potential students and their families.”
Well, well, well.
While the new “Middleburg Academy” lasted less than twelve years, “Fighting Irish® U” could probably have lasted longer.
But who cares? Had Fr. O’Toole and Bishop Pursley acted in 1967, the “Catholic identity” issue would have been properly put to rest, and the school’s secular shards could go marching on to welcome federal funding (lots of it), confer a secular canonization on Barack Obama, hire tenured professors cheering abortion, adopting DEI, “Gender,” and LGBT-etc. programs as fast as the Left could concoct them, and all the other trappings of the Culture of Death so beloved by the elites that the school is so desperate to impress.
But alas, they didn’t act. So today, Notre Dame has emulated the “modern” secular model of higher education in every possible way, while boasting (much to Georgetown’s chagrin) the label of “America’s Premier Catholic University.”
In the past year, The Wanderer has covered some recent particulars of the school’s collapse: Its embrace of the celebration of sodomy; its gruesome requirement that all students not only “welcome” it but “ally” with it; and its enthusiastic response to the Biden administration’s requirements that federal grantees conform to all “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” particulars, including “family planning” and “gender equity.”
How did all this come to pass at “Our Lady’s University”?
The seeds of this collapse were sown 56 years ago this week, in an event to which we now turn.

In Search Of Prestige . . . And The Payoff

In July 1967, twenty-six men gathered at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and bordered a chartered plane bound for a conference center in Land O’Lakes, Wis., owned by Notre Dame University. Their stated goal was to discuss the way Catholic universities might join in the renewal of the Church sparked by the Second Vatican Council.
The meeting was held under the auspices of the North American region of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. Fr. Hesburgh, who hosted the meeting, was the group’s president.
After several days, the conferees (including the Right Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick, president, Catholic University of Puerto Rico) produced a document that came to be known as Land O’Lakes Declaration.
The opening paragraph constituted a brazen declaration of independence from Holy Mother Church:
“The Catholic University today must be a university in the full modern sense of the word, with a strong commitment to and concern for academic excellence. To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself. To say this is simply to assert that institutional autonomy and academic freedom are essential conditions of life and growth and indeed of survival for Catholic universities as for all universities.”
Longtime Wanderer contributor and Notre Dame Professor of Law Charles E. Rice spelled it out in his classic, What Happened To Notre Dame?
The statement, as Fr. George Rutler noted, “neglects to explain what ‘the full modern sense of the word’ is, and why a university ‘must’ conform to it.”
Nevertheless, most Catholic universities, around that time, severed their juridical connection with the Church and transferred control to lay dominated boards of trustees. Rev. Leo McLaughlin, SJ, president of Fordham University, explained why: “One reason that the changes are being made in the structure of the boards of trustees is money. . . . These colleges simply cannot continue to exist without state aid.”
What? Come on! It was all about money?
We don’t know, but that same year Fr. Hesburgh engineered a historic move, changing the governance of the university from the Congregation of the Holy Cross to a lay board of trustees.
That move further insulated the school from possible interference by religious superiors in the CSC’s and in the hierarchy, as well as making it eligible for government funding, which it proceeded to pursue with vigor.
So, wait. Was it simply for filthy lucre, this radical, and profoundly brazen, betrayal of a thousand years and more of Catholic education?
No, it was more. Philosopher Ralph McInerny, one of Notre Dame’s most widely published scholars, put it succinctly. “It’s the vulgar lust for prestige.”

“It Takes A Lot To Undo It”

Fifty years later, Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke told The Wanderer how lasting the damage would be.
“So much was undone,” he said, “and there’s a mentality [that] entered into the universities by which those people who dedicated their lives to Catholic education believe that they could not be an excellent university and at the same time be faithful to the Church’s teaching and discipline. That is a fundamental error,” he wrote, seriously, yet calmly, “and it takes a lot to undo it.”
Today, the collapse of the Church worldwide might be described as “Land O’Lakes” writ large.
In coming weeks, we will consider some other long forgotten, yet groundbreaking events and documents that contributed to the crisis faced today not only Notre Dame, but by the entire Church.

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