Notre Dame invites Obama to graduation

NOTE: Here's a follow-up post with my reflections on this matter.

The South Bend Tribune, the daily newspaper in the land of the Fighting Irish, reports:
President Barack Obama will deliver the commencement address May 17 at the University of Notre Dame.

Obama will be the principal speaker and the recipient of an honorary doctor of laws degree at the university’s 164th commencement ceremony, which will be in the Joyce Center, Notre Dame officials announced Friday.

Obama will be the ninth U.S. president to be awarded a Notre Dame honorary degree and the sixth to be the commencement speaker.

(complete report here)

I'm a Domer, a Notre Dame graduate (M.A. Theology/Liturgical Studies, '80), and worked in the ND Office of Campus Ministry for three years. That job found me on the commencement platform in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan received an honorary degree. Reagan's presence on campus sparked some controversy but I'll wager that was nothing compared to what we're going to see when Obama steps under the Notre Dame mantle.



  1. Not sure I get this one. Why would ND fight to be in the first batch of schools to have Obama speak? Two of his first major policy decisions were to extend support for abortion rights and then explicit advocacy for embryonic stem cell research. Add that to several other distinctly non-catholic political agenda items, and it makes for a less than obvious decision.

    Does position and celebrity overule everything today? In a world dominated by situational ethics and morality, can't we at least expect religous institutions stand on principle? Is it really that hard to find a speaker that is both inspiring and at minimum non-hostile to the beliefs of the church? Is that too high a standard for 2009?

  2. Yours are excellent questions, Ken. I am surprised, too, that my alma mater would be among the first to make such an invitation.

  3. I guess ND is giving up on be a faithful Catholic college!

  4. I suppose that all I can add to this fray is what comes to me in my prayers...

    That we might all be one. Who understands how things happen, but I do know that God uses all things for good.

    Maybe this too... who knows?


  5. Austin, a blessing to find your voice and presence online. The Globe's story led me to your page, a true Lenten grace. I'll weigh in and say that I am proud of our alma mater for keeping the discourse open about what our broadest and most fundamental moral principles are. Please know that you are so often with me in thought, prayer and song with the Lord. Alan Crowley.

  6. On Dec 2, 1980, three Catholic nuns and a Catholic layperson were raped and killed by Salvadoran military death squads that were supported by the Reagan Administration. Ronald Reagan spoke at Notre Dame the following May. Those so scandalized by the invitation to Obama, would they also have protested Reagan's visit? Did they question the invitation to George W. Bush, who as governor of Texas condemned men to death? If not, the outrage is selective and sounds more like right wing ideology than fidelity to Catholic values.

  7. In the "Reflection" part of your Friday's Lenten prayer one line was:
    "God never fails to see the good in each of us."

    Perhaps, Notre Dame never fails to see the good in each of us!

    And Barack Obama has much good in him, as do we all.

  8. There has to be a good reason for Obama's speaking at ND. Is it possible that he's going to use it as a platform to attempt to justify the decisions he made? If so, why ND? Why not a secular school?

    I had a thought: perhaps he realizes at some level that he stepped in it with regard to the pro-life movement in general. It's possible he's going to use ND to try to "meet in the middle" somewhere. To me, that's the only thing that would make sense.

    However, I could be wrong.

  9. So let me see if I have this right. The president of the United States, a man of faith and family, with two children and a model marriage, should not be welcome to give a commencement address at an American Catholic college. But a Holocaust-denying Catholic Bishop is welcome back into the embrace of the Church and the Pope. Something doesn't add up.

  10. Hello, Father! Found your blog through the link in the Globe article. I'm a Domer also (Class of '65). Look, I don't like the President's views on abortion rights, but I cannot demonize those who are "pro-choice". I like the man, I respect him, I voted for him because I wanted someone competent to lead the country and I am happy with him as commencement speaker. To not award him an honorary JD would simply be an insult.

  11. ...so, CP, will you be making the trip?

  12. Alan Crowley: great to hear from you! Would love to be in touch - would you email me?

  13. RE: Malloy. First, I would respectfully suggest that using your obviously pejoritive "right wing" comment is counter productive to a conversation in this context. Besides, leaving out your labeling, your points are quite valid.

    In my limited experience, I think it is pretty difficult to find a professional politician with enough morality and demonstated values of Catholic beliefs to be held up as a role model to graduates. The character that allows the compromises required to appeal to 51% of the voting population and relentless raise money to stay in power over time does not usually correlate well to our religons teachings.

    So your implication that Reagan or Bush would be less critized is quite disingenuous, especially given the history of relentless protests just about everywhere either spoke in their day. And the criticism of the Popes recent actions are very visible, here and abroad.

    Most importantly, the argument is a red herring. It is exactly the example of situational relativity that allows one to explain away such issues and accept them despite the obvious conflicts. We learned first hand about such tradeoffs from Cardinal Law.

    The argument of "Your guy/woman was way worse, how can you complain about my guy/woman" is morally bankrupt. In magazines, coffee shops and even the voting booth, the concept of the lesser of two evils can be quite compelling. But within the church, it seems like it should have higher standards for the people it holds up as an example for young people.

    If you are running a secular or public university, maybe having an "interesting" or "famous" or "celebrity" speaker overrides other considerations. No matter what your opinion is of various teachings of the church, I sure wish it would at least stand up for them conistently, publically, and with confidence. I am not sure that was accomplished in this situation.

    I will just repeat my original question. Was it really that hard to find a speaker that is both inspiring and, at minimum, non-hostile to the major beliefs of the church?

  14. What Globe article are two of your bloggers referring to? I read the Globe...am a few days behind actually, but I haven't seen an article that mentions your blog, CP.

  15. The reference is to the Globe's religion reporter Michael Paulson's blog, from which the print edition offers posts. I believe the print edition is a day or to behind the blog posts. Check my sidebar blogroll for Articles of Faith and you'll end up at Paulson's place.

  16. I've not been to (nor have I been invited to) a Notre Dame graduation since 1982.

  17. Hello Truth Seeker,

    I agree, there is a strange juxtaposition of events here (Pres. Obama's invitation to speak versus a hypothetical one to hear the formerly excommunicated holocaust-denying bishop who is no longer in that state - but certainly remains in a state of confusion, to take the most charitable view). I know, if I were to be invited to Notre Dame to listen to a speaker who would be one of the two above, which one's speech I would skip if he were to be the speaker and which one I would accept an invitation to hear. By the way, I would not expect the President to attempt to change my religious beliefs even if he does not share them.

  18. I am outraged by the invitation of President Obama. I would encourage any student with the courage to do so, to stand up, turn their back, and quietly pray the rosary for the unborn during his speech. Many would applaud you!


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