.- Following a devastating fire which ravaged the campus of the University of Notre Dame in 1879, Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder of the University proclaimed to his brother priests, “If it were all gone, I would still not give up!”
On May 17, 2009, while addressing more than 3000 people who attended the Notre Dame Response Student Coalition’s “Rally Sons of Notre Dame,” Fr. Wilson “Bill” B. Miscamble, C.S.C., evoked this memory of Fr. Sorin and that of his founding vision of the University as a reminder and a celebration of the University’s call to greatness within the Church and the country.
After two months of planning, praying and preparing, the ND Response Coalition hosted their “Rally” on University’s commencement weekend—May 16-17, 2009—to celebrate the Catholic identity of the University of Notre Dame and the pro-life mission upon which the University does and should stand firm.
The ND Response events began Saturday evening with an informal prayer service held at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on Notre Dame’s campus. Following the Grotto service, Eucharistic Adoration was held through the night in the Alumni Hall chapel, one of the 28 on-campus undergraduate dormitories.
The events continued Sunday. As students, faculty, alumni, and unaffiliated Notre Dame and pro-life supporters began to fill the South Quad of Notre Dame’s campus, a travelers’ Mass was held to open the day’s events. Fr. Kevin Russeau, C.S.C., principal celebrant of the Mass, was joined by nine other priests, including Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Fr. John Corapi of EWTN’s “Life on the Rock.”
Reflecting upon the Mass readings, Fr. Russeau underscored Christ’s call to each and all to the commandment, “Love one another.” In light of the controversy triggered by President Obama being chosen as Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement speaker, Fr. Russeau emphasized the prayer-centeredness of the students’ response. Describing love as a vocation, the priest stated that as the students came to “the table of the Lord again in this of controversy,” the students of ND Response offer a powerful reminder to all. “The students remind us that we must do all things in love…[T]o respond in love requires the guidance of the love of God.”
After the conclusion of the Mass, the crowd was addressed by seven speakers, all Notre Dame, professors, alumni, or students. Each of the speakers gave rousing speeches. Even though all spoke about the greatness of Notre Dame, each speaker also directly called upon the University, particularly the administration and faculty, to rejuvenate and defend the Catholic, pro-life mission of Notre Dame.
Fr. Bill Miscamble, C.S.C., was the rally’s first speaker. Recalling the foundational history of the University, Miscamble declared that the administration’s decision to invite and honor President Obama “damaged the ethos and spirit of Notre Dame.”
The University’s founder, Fr. Sorin, started Notre Dame with the intention that it would be an institution that would de great good for the country and the Church. In sight of its invitation to Mr. Obama, Fr. Miscamble declared that the University had settled for “temporary attention over eternal honor”—making rhetoric on its fidelity to the Church and commitment to the defense of life “rings hollow today.”
However, Fr. Miscamble stated as he drew his speech to a close, the fight for Notre Dame is neither lost nor hopeless. Although the University has suffered a “painful, self-inflicted wound,” Fr. Miscamble explained, “this is not the end of the story.”
Chris Godfrey, a graduate of the Notre Dame Law School and founder of Life Athletes, an organization of professional and Olympic athletes who promote pro-life values, addressed the crowd after Fr. Bill Miscamble. A member of the New York Giants Super Bowl XXI championship team, Mr. Godfrey drew on his experience as a professional athlete to illustrate Notre Dame’s need for improvement. According to Mr. Godfrey, Notre Dame needs to “go back to the basics,” as it has lost sight of its own mission as a Catholic institute to a focus on its own prestige.
At Notre Dame, Godfrey continued, there are a lot of basics. However, lucky for Notre Dame, “there are a lot of good things [at Notre Dame].” Yet, Godfrey warned, “we must focus on these in the right order—or all lose their goodness.”
Another highlight speech was given by Fr. John J. Raphael, a ND’89 alumnus and a Josephite priest from New Orleans, LA.
Calling the ND Response “Rally” “not your ordinary gathering for Life,” Fr. Raphael went on to proclaim “the real Notre Dame is totally committed to defending sanctity of life.” Referring to the foundation and the mission of the University, Fr. Raphael explained that Notre Dame is “defined by its relationship to the entire community of the Church.” If Notre Dame truly desires to contribute to the culture of life within larger society, Raphael said, it must first nurture that culture within the bounds of its own campus.
The rally closed with a rousing address from Notre Dame professor of philosophy, Dr. David Solomon. Approaching the podium wearing the traditional professorial commencement gown, Professor Solomon began his speech by calling to the stage the Notre Dame faculty members who were in the crowd. More than 25 professors emerged from the crowd.
Professor Solomon went on to applaud the students of the Notre Dame Response Coalition. The students, Solomon said, stood not only in defense of the University, but also as witnesses to the moral principle and intellectual tradition of life. “This University must endeavor to be worthy of students like these,” Solomon declared.
The students of ND Response, Solomon went on to say, struggled to “speak truth to power” and in that struggle proved themselves the beacon that will guide to light the University, particularly the faculty and administrators. Solomon closed his address by calling upon the University to “choose truth over prestige,” saying that the world needs a “healthy and strong" Notre Dame that holds a strong commitment not only to the defense of life, but also a commitment to the Church.
“We cannot afford division at Our Lady’s University,” said Solomon as he spoke of Notre Dame’s role in the culture of life. “The task is too great and the time too short. The University alone cannot solve this issue.”
After the conclusion of speeches, the Rally switched to a live audio and visual feed from the University’s Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, where approximately 700 people had gathered for a “Vigil for Life” in honor of the graduates of Notre Dame’s class of 2009. Fr. Frank Pavone, of Priests for Life, led the Grotto service, which consisted of hymns, pro-life prayers, and a scriptural Rosary.
More than 20 graduates who had chosen not to attend the official commencement ceremony joined the crowd at the Grotto. Following the Rosary, these graduates, along with their families laid white roses at the feet of Our Lady’s image at the Grotto. The white roses represented those ND Response graduates who had chosen to attend the commencement and be a silent pro-life witness at the official ceremony. At the conclusion of the “Vigil for Life,” Fr. Kevin Russeau extended a blessing upon the graduates, who then performed the traditional moving of the tassel of the graduation cap.
The after-show of the Rally and Vigil was filled with joy that would be typical of a commencement day. However, this joy was also different from the usual celebration.
All the seniors who attended the Grotto Vigil felt that the service there was a very positive and special experience. “I don’t feel that I missed out on anything by going to this Vigil and not graduation,” said one senior.
“In so many ways, it felt so much more appropriate and special to celebrate my graduation here at the Grotto,” said senior Michele Sagala. “For four years I have lived under Our Lady’s faithful patronage while here at Notre Dame—what a better way to graduate from this place but here at the Grotto.”
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