Annotated timeline of Notre Dame’s downward slide

At NCReg Fr. Raymond de Souza gives an annotated timeline of the dissolution of Catholic identity at Notre Dame over the last 25 years.

The article is rather long.  Read and come back to discuss.

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  1. Ann says:

    A very good article. The timeline given shows clearly the progression down the wrong path that Notre Dame has taken. I’ve been hearing it said that ND had left behind its true Catholic identity but I wasn’t clear on when the administration had become blatant about it. No wonder graduates came away thinking that they could choose a candidate for his stance on economic ideas even though he was pro-abortion.

    An advantage of a secular institute is that you go in knowing that the school is hostile to your Catholic faith. But when people send their kids to a Catholic university they expect that they will NOT have their faith undermined but educated into an adult acceptance of it!

    Good for Glendon!! She is a woman I would gladly have my daughter try to emulate!

  2. Dean says:

    Wow! It all looks so premeditated and self-damning when laid out like that. It is a shame that more bishops have not come out publically in support of Bishop D’Arcy. Especially notable (as you pointed out earlier, I believe) is the silence of Bishop Jenky, C.S.C.

  3. Father Michael says:

    Dean, Bishop Jenky is a Fellow of the university and has real power/authority/influence there and doesn’t have to resort to public letters. Don’t sell him short in all of this just yet.

  4. fh in Houston says:

    Bottom Line: Notre Dame will do whatever it wants to.

    Lesson: Use your brains and research the “Catholic” school where you want to educate your children. I suggest the Newman Club list of Catholic colleges. Otherwise, just send your child to a public university and save some money.

    I was at the Cardinal Mass here in Houston. The homilist touched on how Catholic Universities should model Catholic beliefs not only in academics, but in campus life (they were raising money for the Catholic University of America in DC). He said if this is not happening, it is not the Church’s fault, it is our fault. At first, I thought he was quite wrong in that the universities are not run by “us”. But now I understand his point: how we teach our children at home is directly reflected at these colleges and the students’ response to issues such as this.

  5. Dean says:

    Fr. Michael, I’m not selling him short, at least that isn’t my intention. His silence just seems so… silent.

  6. Gary says:

    As an alum who just recently discovered the Land O’ Lakes Statement, the last 40+ years all makes perfect sense. While the ND campus remains a MOSTLY Catholic environment (save for the occasional V Monologues performance and queer film festival), the administration has slowly chipped away at its Catholic identity to the point where its current President utilizes the logic of a 5 year old to rationalize a stupid decision. It’s embarrassing and shameful.

    I had just arrived on campus my freshman year when Cuomo came to speak. I thought his speech was mealymouthed political squirming back then, and just re-read it recently and came to the same conclusion (after being amazed at how long it was–why can’t these politicians say more with less words and quit being gas bags?). I had forgotten about the background issues the author points out that contributed to the controversy around his speaking engagement.

    Hopefully, the current controversy results in a seachange in the attitude of the people who run the university, but it will most likely take the millions in withheld donations to force them.

  7. Brother Ass says:


    You can’t make an honest appraisal of what is wrong with Notre Dame and make no mention of the Land o’ Lakes Conference of 1967. That was the real beginning of the end.

    This article is preoccupied with politics. It was a spiritual crisis and a question of obedience and authority.

  8. Father Michael says:

    Dean, thanks for your comment. I suppose the silence is for a reason – background activity is most likely going on. Let’s keep praying! God bless!

  9. TNCath says:

    This is a must-read for a good background into the history of this mess. I wish Cardinals O’Connor and Law had gone public with their objections. Had they done so, we might not have been in the mess we are in today. But, I guess they knew best at the time.

  10. Father Z: Thank you for citing this great article. It is a keeper. My wife and I were married in 1966 and we have seven wondeful adult Catholic children. We accomplished this with God’s grace in spite of the Church, the minions of which we were quarreling with all the time. We were “pre-conciliar”, “archaic”, old fashioned. This was in a “Catholic” high school which we were using for its academic reputation. It is interesting to see how God “heaps ashes on the heads of one’s enemies” just as He promised. “The American Church” is finally paying for its sins.

  11. Brother Ass says:

    … 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.

    1967 not 1984

  12. Ricky Vines says:

    Why does no one even cite the APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF JOHN PAUL II 8/15/1990

    It did not even come up in the radar of the timeline, like it never existed. Is that another
    symptom of the rebelliousness of the academic community vis-a-vis the hierarchy?

    If so, then perhaps the local bishop should just kick ND of his diocese because, they’re doing more harm
    than good. The bishops had it right when they were ready to close the hospitals as soon as the conscience protection
    was rescinded.

  13. John says:

    Just out of curiosity….

    What kind of financial shape is Notre Dame in? Though they would appear to have a great deal of institutional donations, it is possible that these have declined over the last 20 years.

    If Notre Dame’s financial position has been weakened, it might only take a relatively small drop in enrollment from students drifting towards more authenticaly Catholic Universities to have a financial impact. A financial impact could then lead to an ordered “regime change” and a change of course.

  14. Art ND'76 says:

    I am a cradle Catholic. My first 3 years at ND nearly made a convinced atheist out of me — and it was largely due to priests espousing what I only saw as a humanistic creed of \”social justice\”. The only \”God\” they taught was some vaguely defined artifact of the human psyche.

    Thank God for the charismatic renewal. Even with all of its problems at times with emphasis on the gifts instead of the giver and spiritual elitism, at least there was found the witness to God that is genuine and real.

    The ND administration appears to still be caught up in what Hesburgh started: pandering to the politically and monetarily powerful as the key to accomplishing the \”greatest good\” instead of staying faithful to the Church from whence our knowledge of God flows, and from which therefore the greatest power to accomplish the truly good comes, which is God\’s will.

    Obama supports evil in supporting legal abortion (you shall not murder), but that is not the only evil. His \”spread the wealth around\” approach violates the command not to steal. If it is wrong for the rich to use legal and financial machinations to cheat the poor, then it is equally wrong for the majority of voters to use political and legal machinations to help themselves to the bank accounts of the rich.

    The latter is used in the voting booth as the \”economic justice\” argument to justify overlooking the intrinsic evil of abortion. But the so-called \”economic justice\” is evil too!

  15. TJM says:

    Father Sirico,as always, is spot on. I remember Mario Cuomo’s speech. I lost all respect for the man because I then realized that he was a Democrat
    first, and a Catholic last. Being a member of a party that has an intrinsic evil in its platform is incompatible with the Faith. And spare me
    the social justice drivel about the Democrats. Social justice begins with the unborn. Tom

  16. amdg says:

    Last year, Notre Dame accepted fewer than 25% of its applicants. The university recently was listed fourth in the \”Parents\’ Top Dream Schools\” by the Princeton Review (see There will be no shortage of applicants in the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, the pool of solidly orthodox students who are qualified for admission and whose parents are willing to pay the steep tuition has always been somewhat small, so recent events won\’t make much of a dent in the overall applicant pool. The effects of withheld donations and pledges will be felt much sooner, IMO.

  17. John says:


    Thanks for the information and the good analysis. What the unknown factor appears to be is how much impact Notre Dame’s secularization has had on pledges and institutional donors and how much these sources contribute to the operating budget. My guess is tnat the contribution is rahter large.

    If the impact of current events is also large, I would not be surprised if the school’s current leaders ignore the impact and continue with their agenda to the detriment of the school (similar to the LCWR’s “steering commitee”).

  18. Mum26 says:

    It is great scandal to me (and to my children as they will grow up) how our Catholic leadership is, um, just not leading.

    The level of disobedience is unprecedented. The deliberate – it seems – avoidance of hot topics such as Humanae Vitae, Subsidiarity, Sin esp. against the 6th and 9th commandment, Confession, etc…. is equally as unprecedented.

    It appears that most of the members of the episcopate are fast asleep at the wheel. I hear voices that say “wow, isn’t it great that about 100 bishops spoke out” (that was before the elections), or now “nearly 60 bishops made their voices heard”…..
    Honestly, this is absolutely pathetic. How many bishops does this country have? about 300 perhaps, or more? And 100 and/or 60 come out of their closets? This is both laughable, pathetic, deplorable as well as scandalous! The episcopate should be united and should be leading in a united fashion WITH ROME! As it stands now, their cowardly inaction only serves to confuse people – one day we will know how many souls were actually lost by NOT speaking the truth.

    Blessings and let’s pray for each other and our priests,

  19. Clara says:

    A couple of things about this article:

    1) I don’t believe that the decision was anything like so calculated as Fr. Souza suggests. Indeed, at a few points Fr. Souza’s analysis almost borders on dishonest, in my opinion. Specifically, his portraying the Vagina Monologues issue as though Fr. Jenkins had *intended* to make the celebration of the play a centerpiece of his presidency. What he really did was try to ban it, and then cave under pressure when half the faculty went into revolt and when he was skewered by the mainstream press. And then he did some poorly-managed attempts at damage control. That’s not devious calculation, just weak leadership, which is, I believe, the same thing we’re seeing in the Obama incident. I don’t believe for a second that Fr. Jenkins was scheming to add his brick to the evil edifice of pro-choice Catholic America when he invited Obama to speak. It is, after all, a tradition at Notre Dame to invite first-term presidents, and lots of people were clearly expecting it. He didn’t have the heart (or backbone) to refuse them. Probably he thought offering Glendon the Laetare would be a mitigating measure. And then when that blew up (with a force that surely surprised him, and me as well I’ll admit), he again went into badly-handled damage-control mode. Again, weak leadership, but I think Fr. Souza’s way off in suggesting that bolstering the pro-choice Catholic position was Fr. Jenkins’ calculated goal.

    Fr. Jenkins, in his own way, really wanted to make Notre Dame more Catholic at the first. I do believe that. But he didn’t have the gumption to fight the good fight — he cares too much about pleasing people and making them like him — and it should also be noted that his predecessors undermined him right from the start. Malloy all but called him racist (over the Ty Willingham incident), in a very public way, before he even took office. And then when he tried to take a stand on the VM, Hesburgh came out swinging with a public interview about how the university should be a marketplace of ideas blah blah blah. I’m not saying it’s excusable that he caved so thoroughly, but that’s what it was — a cave-in. Not the fulfillment of a long-standing ambition to move Notre Dame further towards leftist politics and away from the heart of the Church.

    2) I don’t really see the “decline” here. The Cuomo incident has always burned me, but I think it’s at least as embarrassing as the present episode. Really more so, because in that case the message about abortion politics was the direct *intention* of the invite, whereas I just don’t think it was in this case. And offering Moynihan the Laetare really was gratuitous to a degree that this isn’t. The present incident is bad, but it doesn’t strike me as a “new low” from the administration’s standpoint. Fr. Souza’s analysis is also a little thin in his efforts to suggest that this has been a continuous “Notre Dame against the bishops” sort of battle. Actually, in the early 80’s, the bishops as a group weren’t too far off from Notre Dame’s position — they had also, in large part, swallowed the bitter pill and allowed abortion to go to a back burner in an effort to keep some of their long-standing influence within the Democratic party.

    Notre Dame hasn’t been steadily in decline. It’s just failed to recover from that unfortunate period to the degree that some other parts of the Church have done. What’s really novel here is not the university’s actions, but the *reaction* of the bishops, alums, and others. So now the thing to do is *not* to write of the university as lost, but rather to figure out ways to channel that newly-kindled energy into making it better.

  20. michigancatholic says:

    I beg to differ but ND has been in steady decline for a long time. I live not far from there and one of my children attended Holy Cross, where he left the Church in disgust over what was going on in the ND complex that both schools plus St. Mary’s are part of. He ended up transferring to a good public university–a great choice and what we should have done in the first place.

    When I decided to enroll in some theology classes, I was urged to enroll at ND, since it is close and has this “reputation.” But I refused because it would have been next to pointless. I would have spent too much of my time trying to figure out which professors to avoid so that I wouldn’t have to write heretical papers to pass my classes. So instead I enrolled somewhere else more consistent, and well….more Catholic….and put up with the inconvenience.

    For Catholic parents, I would recommend that if your son or daughter is pursuing a non-theological degree, that you help them pick a good secular university and be done with it. You’ll get a better job of subject matter education because Catholic schools like ND tend to be second rate anyway. You won’t get to drive by Touchdown Jesus but hey, put a picture on your wall if you like it. It’s a lot cheaper and means just as much, it turns out.

    For those whose children want to study theology, be careful. Choose one of the other more Catholic places rather than ND & the like. Otherwise, you’ll probably end up with a kid who won’t go to Church–&/or just as bad, believes totally wacky things about the Church. And a lot of expensive receipts worth less than nothing.

  21. michigancatholic says:

    If this:

    Notre Dame hasn’t been steadily in decline. It’s just failed to recover from that unfortunate period to the degree that some other parts of the Church have done.

    Isn’t being in decline, I would like to hear what your definition of decline is.

  22. Clara says:

    Roughly, decline would be a gradual process of getting worse. In the period covered by this article, what I see is a failure to notably improve. If I’ve been a solid C student since middle school, and my brother used to be but now has started earning B’s and A’s, that doesn’t put me “in decline” as a student. He’s just improved, while I haven’t.

    Anyway, to counter Michigan Catholic’s bad personal experiences… I entered Notre Dame as a Mormon, and wound up a traditional, Latin Mass-loving Catholic. Notre Dame had a lot to do with that. I’m well aware that it has its weaknesses, but your assessment of the school is very unfair.

  23. michigancatholic says:

    Actually a C student who never gets better over time *is* in decline. The more you learn, the more you can learn. The less you learn, the less you can learn. This is so because failure to learn compounds upon itself, as any good teacher can tell you. [For example, people sometimes fail science classes for want of reading comprehension skills that were supposed to have been learned in previous years.]

    I’m glad you had a good experience, but one experience does not equal data. It’s interesting that you entered Notre Dame as a Mormon. I hope you don’t mind my asking, but did you have any inkling of what was to come? I’m a convert too, BTW.

  24. Clara says:

    One experience *does* count as data, though admittedly a limited amount of data. But it seems to me to count for more than the vague impressions of a person who *didn’t* to go to Notre Dame, assuming that it was a “second-rate” school and a nest of heretics. Obviously, having spent four years there, I have some notion of what the environment is like, and I know that some questionable things go on there, but also some very good ones. It’s a mixed bag, but I think on the whole dramatically more wholesome than the atmosphere at most secular schools (with which I also have some experience, being in academia myself.)

    Did I have any inkling of what was to come? Well, does any freshman, come to that? Actually, I was moderately jaded towards religion in general when I got to Notre Dame — not an atheist, but definitely inclined to be suspicious of religion teachers. I had had some bad Sunday School experiences. I expected more of the same… but what I actually got was an excellent philosophical/theological education, featuring many very bright people with an obvious love of Catholic orthodoxy. Navigating the waters there was a bit tricky, but not inordinately difficult — in the beginning I credit Providence with helping me some, but as time went on I developed a nose for it myself and managed to avoid the flakes and the heretics deliberately. Didn’t actually convert until a few years after I left, but a solid foundation was definitely laid at Notre Dame. And they also set me on the path to studying the medieval Doctors of the Church, which I went on to do in graduate school.

  25. michigancatholic says:

    “Navigating the waters there was a bit tricky, but not inordinately difficult—in the beginning I credit Providence with helping me some, but as time went on I developed a nose for it myself and managed to avoid the flakes and the heretics deliberately.”

    Yeah, well, on this we agree. When I first came into the church, I read and read. After a few years, I realized that very easily I could separate all my books into about 3 piles on the floor, and then I set out to see exactly what had happened. I think that happens to many converts–particularly the ones who are paying attention to what they see, once in the Church. And yes, I agree that we Catholics have some ..colorful.. characters around. I stay away from them whenever possible because some of them are downright dangerous. There are some doozies at ND, you realize… of them used to be the chair of the theology department, if I’m not mistaken, and he’s quite the famous guy. The president of ND right now is a real piece of work too.

    Clara, if I had gone to ND, I would’ve been commuting. It wouldn’t have been a simple matter to find out ahead of time which instructors I would’ve been trapped by, so I opted out of ND. I didn’t need the grief and I still don’t.

  26. Clara says:

    Well, for the record, the present chair of theology (assuming Cavadini is still chair? Anyway he was for a long time.) is a great guy — a very solid Catholic, and a real soldier for the faith. And also an extremely nice person.

    You know who else was a terrific teacher? Fr. Jenkins. No really, he was. He has a great passion for St. Thomas and St. Augustine, and (somewhat ironically, I know) Newman. He opened every class by reading a prayer from one of the saints, and taught us Catholic philosophy with zeal and impeccable orthodoxy. I can credit him personally with giving me my first inkling of what is meant by the phrase “Credo ut intelligam”, and he was also of great help in illuminating for me a Catholic understanding of the development of doctrine. Of course, this was back in the day before everyone knew his name. It kills me to see what’s happened to him, but he’s not cut from the mold of a Hesburgh or a McBrian — it’s really just a shame that he didn’t stay in teaching, which would have made him much happier anyway.

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