SOUTH BEND, Indiana, (Zenit.org).- While the debate over Notre Dame's Catholic identity is nothing new, the recent controversy surrounding its decision to honor President Barack Obama may be a watershed moment for the university.
Father John Jenkins, the university's president, put the issue front and center when he invited Obama, a staunch defender of abortion rights, to give the May 17 commencement address. The university also bestowed on him an honorary law degree.
The gesture drew national and international media attention as some 80 bishops and more than 367,000 Catholics voiced disagreement with Father Jenkins, saying he was compromising the school's Catholic identity. They said he disregarded the 2004 guidelines from the U.S. bishops that state: "Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles" with "awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."
The university's leadership didn't budge, and Obama was greeted on campus with a standing ovation at commencement. Hecklers were shouted down while students chanted, "Yes, we can." Forty seniors -- out of a graduating class of more than 2,900 -- boycotted the ceremony.
Such a reaction might seem to indicate there is only a small remnant of faith left on campus.
But according to senior Mary Daly, president of the Notre Dame Right to Life group and chief editor of the Irish Rover, a campus newspaper, that's not exactly the case.
Daly told ZENIT that the admissions office reports that 80%-85% of every incoming class is Catholic.
She also noted a "strong subculture within the student body of earnest Catholics: people who are making sincere efforts to grow in their faith and to discern and live out God's will in their lives."
She described Notre Dame as a place that has "adoration five days a week on campus, Mass in all the dormitory chapels at least four times a week, and priests in every dorm."
Thus, Daly said, "if you are serious about your Catholic faith and want to grow in your personal relationship with Christ, this is an excellent place to do so," though, she acknowledged, you have to be willing to "challenge yourself." ::MORE