A View from the Other Notre Dame

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2019/04/24/a-view-from-the-other-notre-dame/

When the woman showed me her daughter’s photos, I thought nothing of it, except to relish in the beauty of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

We were aboard a Delta flight out of Logan. My son settled in by window, and me in the middle, when the woman arrived to take her aisle seat. We got talking. I explained that my son, a high school senior, and I were headed to South Bend, Indiana to look over the University of Notre Dame, where he had been accepted.

At the mention of Notre Dame, she produced her phone. Earlier her daughter – on a spring break trip to Paris – sent photos of the Cathedral.

The next day, it would be in flames.

It was unsettling to be walking around one Notre Dame – home of fanatical football and Fighting Irish leprechaun mascots – while seeing the other Notre Dame ablaze on televisions around campus.

In South Bend, there would be an official response – the university president, Father John Jenkins, pledged $100,000 toward the Cathedral’s renovation – and other spontaneous ones, like the group of students who gathered to sing Hail Holy Queen for a video “to remind us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.”

That video summed up our time in Indiana, where I was pleasantly impressed with witnesses of faith. I have written before about concerns with Catholic colleges not being so Catholic. And I will continually recommend Christendom College to anyone who will listen.

For my son, Notre Dame has always had an appeal. Yes, he loves sports, but his faith is important. He recently led a retreat at his high school. At Notre Dame, he met two other prospective students who were also leaders of similar retreats, in Kansas City and Baltimore.

Our visit began with Notre Dame selling its residential program – chockfull of activities and fun, but also with a chapel in every dorm, with frequent Masses, and scheduled retreats; along with a rector in residence.

At the business college, the dean explained his reason to leave Yale for South Bend was, in part, because of his Catholic faith.

I’ve been to Catholic college campuses, where the Catholic part is nearly hidden. Another dean stepped up and said, “We are a faith-based institution. That should come as no surprise to anyone.”

Yes, I’m aware of Notre Dame’s shortcomings, among them being an invitation to President Barack Obama, an aggressive promoter of abortion, to speak at the 2009 commencement – despite a previous statement from the U.S. bishops that “Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

There may be failings, but there is also a presence on this campus. I’ll borrow the words of a priest who referred to his college’s faith as a “mist” that saturates the campus. It is not delivered with a high-pressure hose, but it is there, nonetheless.

The Catholic faith in the United States, France, and nearly everywhere else in the West is struggling. It will not experience a revival by force. There must be cleansing, and a continued presence of faith. I sensed that presence in South Bend, a faith that can fill the holes of doubt, when nothing else satisfies.

And what of the Notre Dame de Paris? A New Boston Post editorial already pointed out the positive possibilities from the fire, especially when, among the remains are “an altar untouched … a cross illuminated, beautifully … that beautiful 14th century sculpture of Mary, the mother of Jesus.”

The presence remains. For Catholics, that word is more than symbolic – ask Reverend Jean-Marc Fournier, the chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade who raced into the Cathedral to rescue the Eucharist.  

The cross shines through the rubble, as does Mary, the first to hold the broken Christ. Notre Dame is more than a beautiful, historical building. And, in America, Notre Dame is more than a stellar school with a football team and funny mascot.

With Notre Dame, we have the fiat, the thy-will-be-done that we are called to emulate.

Our Lady. 


Kevin Thomas is a writer and teacher, living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.