Biden will not address Notre Dame commencement, was invited by the university

Notre Dame University of Notre Dame/ CNA

In a break with recent tradition, President Joe Biden will not be delivering the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame this year - although he was invited by the university to do so.

On Tuesday, the university announced that its May 23 commencement speaker will be Jimmy Dunne, a finance executive and trustee of the university. During the last three presidential administrations, U.S. presidents or vice presidents have addressed the university's commencement in their first year in office, but that trend will not continue in 2021. 

Although a university spokesman told CNA that, as a policy, “we do not discuss who may or may not have been approached to address our graduates,” sources from the White House confirmed to CNA that Biden had indeed been invited by the university but could not attend due to scheduling. 

The White House expressed its hope that Biden would appear at a future commencement ceremony of the university, during his first term. 

U.S. presidents have customarily been invited to address graduates at Notre Dame’s commencement ceremonies. Both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama addressed the university’s commencement in their first year in office, while other presidents have appeared later on in their presidential terms. 

In 2017, Vice President Mike Pence - a Catholic who now identifies as simply a “Christian” - addressed Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony. The university would not say if it invited President Trump to speak. 

“Neither President Trump nor President Clinton, we understand, was invited,” stated an open letter to Fr. Jenkins asking him not to invite Biden. The letter, signed by more than 4,300 “members of the Notre Dame community,” cited Biden’s “pro-abortion and anti-religious liberty agenda” as reasons not to invite him to address the commencement.

A university spokesman said on Tuesday, “While Notre Dame has had more presidents serve as commencement speakers than any university other than the military academies, we have not always hosted a president in his first year in office--or at all."

Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and George H.W. Bush each addressed Notre Dame’s commencement in their last year in office, Brown noted. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter each addressed the commencement in their first year in office. President Gerald Ford did speak on campus, but the event was an academic convocation on St. Patrick’s day.

Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, and Donald Trump did not address Notre Dame’s commencement at all. 

Obama’s address in 2009 drew controversy due to his ardent support of legal abortion. Bishop Thomas Olmstead of Phoenix sent a letter to Notre Dame’s president Fr. John Jenkins, CSC, saying that the invitation of Obama to speak and receive an honorary law degree at Notre Dame’s commencement is a violation of the USCCB’s 2004 statement “Catholics in Political Life.”

Bishop John M. D’Arcy, who served as the bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend until his retirement in November 2009, issued a statement at the time that Jenkins gave a “flawed justification” for the university’s commencement invitation to President Obama, and should have consulted with his bishop before extending the invitation. 

Biden is just the second Catholic president in U.S. history. While he has mentioned his faith on the campaign trail and has attended Sunday Mass while in office, he has supported taxpayer-funded abortion and pushed for the passage of the Equality Act in defiance of the U.S. bishops’ conference. 

His administration has begun rolling back restrictions on public funding of abortion providers, and is fighting in court to keep a mandate in place that doctors provide gender-transition surgeries upon referral, regardless of their medical or conscientious beliefs.

While Biden will not be speaking at Notre Dame’s commencement this year, he has spoken at the university in the past. 

In 2016, Biden appeared at the Notre Dame commencement with former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); the two were given the Laetare Medal, the highest honor given by the school. 

“By honoring Biden, Notre Dame would make a bad situation worse,” the open letter in protest of Biden's invite stated.

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“The University would be seen as little troubled by Biden’s actions, the voice of a more ‘progressive’ Catholic Church. Catholics – including especially Catholic politicians — and others who share Biden’s views would be confirmed in their ruinous error while others would be newly led astray,” the letter stated.

This article was updated on May 12.

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