Fr. John Jenkins made his first trip to the Vatican last week as president of the University of Notre Dame, marking a new era in Notre Dame-Vatican relations.
In recent decades, university presidents have fostered relations with the Vatican and the different pontificates.
Trips like this, Campus Ministry Director Fr. Richard Warner told The Observer, help the Vatican "to see Notre Dame as the treasure it is for the Church."
For example, university president-emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh had a personal friendship with Pope Paul VI, which began in 1960. Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope Paul VI, joined President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Notre Dame's commencement ceremonies to receive an honorary degree. During his four-day stay, Cardinal Montini became good friends with Fr. Hesburgh. This friendship lasted into his pontificate, leading the pope to ask the Notre Dame to revitalize the International Federation of Catholic Universities and rewrite the universities’ constitutions.
University president-emeritus Fr. Edward Malloy developed a more institutional relationship with the Vatican, paying regular visits to Rome, meeting with Pope John Paul II every other year, familiarizing Vatican offices with Notre Dame, and awarding one honorary degree a year to a member of the Vatican.
Fr. Malloy had also served on a 15-member commission to help revise the papal Apostolic Constitution, a draft document released by the World Congress on Catholic higher education in November 1989.
"I believe as we face the challenges of the 21st century, a Catholic university like Notre Dame is absolutely critical," Fr. Jenkins told The Observer. "I think those in the curia kind of see that, and we need to work together so the Church can be enriched by Notre Dame's work and Notre Dame can be enriched by its connection to the universal Church."