Tom and Jerry: Defenders of All Things Right and Good

Monday, August 24, 2009

My Letter to the Notre Dame Board of Fellows - Part 2

Here is Part 2 of the letter I sent to each member of the University of Notre Dame's Board of Fellows. Part 1 can be viewed here.


While those questions touch on an issue of primary concern for me, there is another concern I would like to bring to your attention. One of Notre Dame’s great gifts to me as undergraduate student was introducing me to G.K. Chesterton. One of my favorite quotes of his was (to paraphrase) that Christ must have been a truly colossal figure for so many to be able to carve "little Christs" out of Him. I mention this particular favorite passage of mine as a way of introducing another concern I have about my beloved alma mater. As a software engineer and web designer, I can often tell a lot about an organization by their website – the effort put into it, the "look and feel" of it, and what it contains and/or does not contain. Notre Dame’s website ( is a very good site, both technically and artistically, and its use of multimedia is excellent. More importantly, one could hardly visit the site and come away with any other impression than that Notre Dame’s administration is immensely invested in and immensely proud of having its students committed to a wide variety of social justice and human rights issues, all undertaken from a uniquely Catholic perspective. As it states on the "Faith and Service" introductory page, "We invite you to explore the many ways in which Notre Dame fulfills its Catholic mission through faith and service." Taking the time to start there, one can "link-walk" through the various and quite numerous student groups and campus initiatives dedicated to just about every social justice and human rights cause imaginable.

However, as someone who – being the result of an unwanted pregnancy – spent a portion of his early life in an orphanage, whose sister – also being the result of an unwanted pregnancy – was adopted as well, and whose adoptive father – yup, another unwanted pregnancy – had spent his entire pre-adult life bouncing from orphanage to institution to foster home, I could not help but notice that at no time in exploring the entire site did I encounter a single link to or even mention of a single group or initiative devoted to the protection of the lives of the unborn. This struck me as odd, as during my undergraduate days at Notre Dame, the campus Right To Life group was among the largest and most popular groups on campus; even more odd, and somewhat troubling to me, was that a school that had so much it wanted to advertise in the way of its concern for social justice and human rights had absolutely nothing that it wanted to advertise in the way of a concern that any child conceived today – or for the last 36 years – does not and will not enjoy the protections that ensured that my adoptive father, sister, and I – though unplanned and unwanted – would be allowed to be born.

A little investigating revealed that this omission was not a matter of a web design team with too much content to include and too little time to fit it all in, but rather that the administration of Notre Dame, while publicly stating when challenged that they are "of course" advocates of the protection of unborn human life, offers little in the way of support to those who undertake this cause. The Notre Dame Student "Right To Life" organization did not receive any financial support last year from the university, nor did their sponsoring faculty organization, the Center for Ethics and Culture. Additionally, the Notre Dame Fund for the Protection of Human Life, launched under the auspices of the Center for Ethics and Culture, has also not received any financial support from the University. This past spring, The Sycamore Trust requested the University’s public affairs office to describe all University-sponsored pro-life activities so that they could mention them in a news bulletin. The Trust received only a list of a handful of speeches, most by the aforementioned Notre Dame Fund for Life board members.

I called the Center to inquire why it is that they and the other groups advocating the protection of the unborn had been relegated to the status of the proverbial "red-headed stepchild" of social justice and human rights groups, and the response I received was, in so many words, "they [the ND administration] think we’re all a bunch of right-wing nuts". Perusing the Center’s listing of its Fellows, Advisors, and Staff, I found it hard to believe – unless such figures as Alasdair MacIntyre, Sr. Helen Prejean, and Stanley Hauerwas are heretofore unnoticed Ann Coulter enthusiasts or can be found frequently breaking bread with the likes of Randall Terry – that any serious person could describe this accomplished and diverse group in such dismissive terms.

From the University administration’s attitude towards those organizations dedicated to the protection of the unborn, it is very saddening to me to think that my alma mater has, whether consciously or unconsciously, engaged in the very type of behavior Chesterton wrote about in regards to carving a custom-fit "Christ" out of the real Christ; that out of the fullness of the Church’s witness in calling for justice and human rights for all from conception to natural death, it has, similarly, carved its own little custom- fit "witness" that excludes any public or monetary support, or even acknowledgement, in service to the protection of the unborn. It saddens me further to see that Notre Dame, a university whose leaders provided such strong witness in the cause of civil rights, and whose leaders continue to address many right and good and holy issues pertaining to social justice and human rights, has decided, in the case of advocating for the protection of the unborn, to sit this one out.

I thank you for taking the time to allow me to voice my concerns. I will continue my heartfelt and determined prayers that Notre Dame always strives to be the greatest institution of higher learning that is both truly Catholic and truly a university.

And our hearts forever love thee Notre Dame...

Most Sincerely,

John Gerard Beckett ‘95


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