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Tears For Old Notre Dame

March 7, 2015 Frontpage No Comments


On February 25, The Wanderer, America, The Church, and unborn babies everywhere lost a great friend when Charles E. Rice, Professor of Constitutional Law at Notre Dame, crossed the river to receive his eternal reward.
A frequent contributor to these pages, Dr. Rice is known worldwide as a pioneer in the front lines of the pro-life movement since its very inception. A Marine all his life (“There’s no such things as an ‘ex-Marine’!”), he personified the motto that motivated his service, his faith, his family, and his life: “Semper Fi.”
A graduate of Boston College Law School, Rice began his teaching career at Fordham, but soon came to Notre Dame with a new law dean, who quickly left.
But he left Charlie Rice behind.
Once settled in on the South Quad, Charlie dug his foxhole. He revived the central role of the Natural Law at the Law School, a theme which my father had emphasized as Dean a generation before. He also tenaciously advocated the Catholic character of the University in the face of a growing tsunami of dissent and what Charlie’s friend and colleague, philosopher Ralph McInerny, once called the school’s “vulgar lust” for prestige that Notre Dame pursued among the progressive elites since the 1960s.
Charlie’s arrival came on the heels of two events that shaped the next half-century. The first was the adoption of the Land O’Lakes Document, signed by a gaggle of Catholic educators in 1967 to sever the connection between their institutions and the Catholic Church. The second was the promulgation of Pope Paul’s Humanae Vitae a year later.
At Notre Dame, Rice immediately devoted his keen professional skills to defending the principles of Humanae Vitae, both in the Natural Law and in Catholic moral teaching. In the face of widespread dissent he identified the “contraceptive mentality,” the Promethean rebellion that, like Land O’Lakes on the personal level, sunders man’s relationship with God and turns him into a self-centered, self-indulgent godling.
With lucid and bombproof logic, he recounted how contraception opens the door to abortion, to homosexuality, to euthanasia, to persecution, and ultimately to tyranny.
But what does contraception have to do with Notre Dame?
That brings us to the rest of the story.
Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, died within hours of Charlie’s death. I met him as a toddler in the late 1940s, when he was chaplain of Vetville, the Army-style bivouac where married veterans lived with their young families while finishing their studies interrupted by World War II.
Named president of the university in 1952, he immediately sought to give Notre Dame a makeover, in the image of the eastern elites, especially Princeton. He ardently sought to make Notre Dame a landmark of “academic excellence.”
To do so, he enlisted the aid of the Rockefeller Foundation, whose board he joined in 1961, eventually becoming its chairman.
Unfortunately, Fr. Hesburgh never used his gavel to end the foundation’s population control programs. Had he done so, he would have been sent back to flyover country in a heartbeat.
In return, the foundation and its swanky allies did a lot for Notre Dame, using Fr. Hesburgh as its moral seal of approval. But Fr. Hesburgh did even more for the pro-abortion, pro-population control moguls. Their contempt for the Faith was manifest. They funneled money to Notre Dame — prestige does come, after all, at a price — and Fr. Hesburgh’s presence conferred a moral seal of approval to the elites’ quiet but grimly serious efforts to erode Catholic teaching — especially on contraception and abortion.
But private money wasn’t enough. So, in 1967, Fr. Hesburgh spearheaded the Land O’Lakes Document, a declaration of independence signed by major universities from Catholic teaching and the Catholic Church, all the while insisting that they were still “Catholic”; and, simultaneously, he revised Notre Dame’s charter and installed a lay board. Now the now quasi-Catholic university could receive federal funding. (But the lay board can also give the CSC’s the heave-ho someday. A bitter bargain indeed.)
By the early 1970s, the die was cast. Both the retired Bishop of Notre Dame’s diocese and the retired Superior General of the Holy Cross Order admitted in 1974 that they had not acted, when they could have, to stanch the bleeding of Notre Dame’s Catholic character before it went dry.
Meanwhile, Fr. Ted triumphantly brought to campus a dissenting theologian, Fr. Richard McBrien, who became the schools resident Pope-critic. He even gave McBrien’s catechism (Catholicism) an imprimatur (the bishop didn’t).
I am certain that Fr. Hesburgh considered himself “pro-life.” But so did Mario Cuomo, whom Fr. Ted infamously invited to campus, where Mario brayed, unopposed, the new mantra of “personally opposed, but.”
All along Fr. Ted was showered with modest but prestigious honorifics from the elites, sealing the deal and demonstrating that “America’s most prominent Catholic” was “one of us.”
It’s a classical political scenario. Perhaps Fr. Ted thought he was using them. They certainly thought the reverse to be true.
But the results are in, and will soon be featured on the new stadium’s big-screen Jumbotron scoreboard.
Notre Dame’s character castration was complete. And by all accounts, it was voluntary.
The rest is history — and Charlie Rice wrote about it, and this writer reviewed it in this space some six years ago (What Happened to Notre Dame?, St. Augustine Press). Notre Dame and the government scratched each other’s back for decades, culminating first in Obama’s reception of an honorary degree in 2009 (which was quickly followed by a $30 million federal grant to the university); and second, to the announcement five years later that Notre Dame would spend $400 million to rehab its football stadium with thousands of premium skyboxes.
And yet, Fr. Hesburgh, a very gifted man, maintained personal charm and loyalty throughout it all. He said Mass every day of his priestly life, he once told me, but one — when he was taking care of a sick friend in Africa, and unwittingly broke his fast.
When Ted Kennedy called and asked him to help kill the nomination of an ND alum nominated by President Reagan to an important post, Fr. Ted told him no.
“Sorry, Ted, he’s family,” he said — even though Kennedy “has done a lot for Notre Dame,” Fr. Hesburgh told me shortly thereafter.

What Will Come Next?

As I write, the snow is falling on Charlie’s grave as a lone backhoe digs Fr. Ted’s nearby. Yes, the stadium will replace Sacred Heart Church as the new “Crossroads” of the campus — but what will replace the “Old Notre Dame” for which we all cheered?
What will replace The Notre Dame that defended the Faith against the Know-Nothings, the Protestant elites, the bigots, the Ku Klux Klan, the Masons, the Communists, the dissidents, the atheists new and old?
When Fr. Sorin planted the Cross in the Hoosier Wilderness in 1843, he named his college in his native tongue after Our Lady — Notre Dame. Anti-Catholics swarmed the land in those days; error and hatred abounded. Few took notice when Fr. Sorin built the Log Chapel, dedicated on the Feast of St. Joseph that year. But prayer, penance, fortitude, and the blood of martyrs prevailed.
For a time.
Notre Dame now has its own jet. It boasts an endowment of some ten billion dollars. Big money to some — but, to put it in perspective, the federal government wastes more than that in a week.
What will come next? Let us pray that Charlie and Fr. Ted be granted the opportunity to peek into God’s plan. And that we are allowed to accomplish it.

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