The Pastoral Presidency of Monk Malloy

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Author: Walton Collins '51

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On June 1, 1987, the day he officially became the 16th president of Notre Dame, Monk Malloy was more than half a world away, wrapping up a three-day visit in the Tibetan city of Lhasa. Which is to say he was on a 12,000-foot mountain in a part of the world so remote that only a few years earlier U.S. travel agents were discouraging travelers from going there. And he was feeling a lot better.

Two days earlier he had been feeling about as bad as an altitude-sickness victim can feel. His symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, nightmares and an inability to concentrate. But the malady lasted only 24 hours, and he considered it “a small price to pay for seeing the world,” as he wrote later in a travel diary.

His presence in that corner of the world on a day when many people in his shoes might have been celebrating on home turf says much about the kind of man the Rev. Edward A. Malloy, CSC, is. He considers the entire planet home turf, for one thing, and is unimpressed by the trappings of power or celebrity, for another.

He had already had an early taste of celebrity, thanks to an appearance on a 60 Minutes TV segment. En route to the Far East, he was recognized in the Chicago, Seattle and Tokyo airports by people who had seen the program. And to his astonishment, it happened again in the gift shop of the Lhasa Holiday Inn.

This June Malloy ‘63, ’67M.A., ’69M.A., will complete 18 years as president of the world’s leading Catholic university. Over that time he has visited more than 40 more foreign countries and encountered a lot more celebrity, yet he remains pretty much the same unassuming person he was in Lhasa.

If a film were to be made about the Malloy presidency, which concludes this summer, it might aptly be titled The Quiet Man. His administrative style is grounded in consensus and collegiality, and his personal style is low key and unflappable. Says Nathan O. Hatch, who has been provost of the University since 1996: "Monk does not initiate; you don’t wait for him to tell you what to do, you get moving and let him react to your proposals. That’s a certain style of leadership, and I would say it works effectively at Notre Dame.

“Monk is not a politician,” Hatch adds, “and he’s not very calculating—sometimes to his detriment. He does not schmooze. The other side of all that is a streak of virtue: He just is who he is.”

Friends insist, however, that his calm demeanor masks an intense competitiveness—ask anyone who ever participated in Monk Hoops, the late-night pickup basketball games he played with students for years until he developed tendonitis in his shoulder and couldn’t shoot effectively. Of that moment he says, “I decided, why play if I can’t shoot?”

Shooting was one of Malloy’s strengths on the court, says Jack Burke ‘83, a Sorinite who played Monk Hoops two nights a week during his four years at Notre Dame and credits that experience with making him a first-team All-Bookstore player in his senior year. “He was a great outside shooter, and he had a quick release,” says Burke, now a consulting actuary at Milliman USA in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “He was not shy about putting up shots. And he had real good hands if you tried to drive around him. He was an intense player in that he worked hard at it.”

Both his competitiveness and his unflappability date to Malloy’s teenage years and his skills on the basketball court—skills that helped his team at Archbishop John Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., to a 55-game winning streak and brought him offers from more than 50 colleges. Malloy was a one-year varsity letterman at Notre Dame. In a talk last fall to a Notre Dame class in management and human behavior, he acknowledged: "My style as a player was never to let on. If somebody beat you on a particular play, you didn’t let on that you were going to get him the next time. Emotionally I’m very much engaged in what’s happening. But on the basis of my athletic experience, I do not manifest the kind of quick emotional response.

“Coach Willingham and I have a lot in common in that way,” he added, drawing an appreciative laugh from the class. “We all have our style, and with me it has nothing to do with indifference or lack of enthusiasm. Watching games on TV by myself I’m very vociferous. But that’s not my style in public settings.”

His style served him well in the days after he was chosen to succeed Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, ‘39, the president who personified Notre Dame to the world for 35 years. Malloy faced two challenges: being perceived as a “jock president” because of his athletic background, and following a legend.

As far as the “jock president” image was concerned, he simply refused to play along. “I considered the fact that I was a basketball player in school as a kind of interesting sidelight, or something that made me stand out from the crowd,” he says. "It’s funny—only in recent years when I’ve been more directly connected with the NCAA have people seen me in the athletic world. Before that it was just something curious about my background."

As for succeeding Hesburgh, Malloy seemed to slip easily into his new role. Hesburgh helped out by disappearing from the campus for the better part of his successor’s first year. Malloy also took full advantage of the nine-month period between being elected president and taking office, using the interval to prepare for the transition.

In an invited talk he gave a few years ago at Wake Forest University entitled “Succeeding a Legend,” he reminisced: “I would summarize my overall condition of mind at the end of the transition period . . . as confident I could get the job done but fully aware that I would need to develop my own administrative style.”

***

One morning in 1991, a group of about 100 black and Hispanic students sat down outside the registrar’s office and settled in for a polite but determined confrontation with the University over racial conditions. The sit-in group called itself Students United for Respect, SUFR for short, and its demands included a multicultural center on campus, compulsory African-American and Latin-American courses, more minority faculty and a University anti-harassment policy.

Malloy considers that one of the low points of his time in office. “The hardest thing about SUFR,” he says, "was that all my life I had been an advocate for multicultural realities. I probably took it more personally because I had tried to be an advocate and supporter of some of the things they were trying to move forward. But I think the way it played out was fine, and if you look at where Notre Dame has come from that point, I think we’ve made a lot of progress.

“This isn’t to say that everything is hunky-dory,” he adds, “but my experience with the students who come here today is that, whatever race they are, they are very well prepared. So they’re not asking this kind of ‘should I be here?’ question. There’s much more diversity. There’s more interracial dating. There’s more support groups of various kinds.”

Chandra Johnson ‘96 , an assistant to the president and the assistant director of Cross-Cultural Ministry, agrees. “We have created programs that help students hear from the top down that they are valued,” says Johnson, an African American who believes her office in the president’s suite makes her a visible symbol of commitment from the top.

Like Malloy, she sees a change in the type of student coming to Notre Dame. For one thing, she observes, "We have many more biracial students. Each year the numbers of African-American students grow, but now at least half are clearly biracial. The mindset is, they don’t necessarily see themselves as rejected or marginalized. We are also getting a different kind of majority student, with much more social sophistication.

“You still see a black table in the dining hall,” she concedes," but now there are smatterings of white and Hispanic students—roommates of black students—who are part of the black-table experience. We also have all kinds of alumni groups of color now."

The pains of implementing diversity were not the only low point in Malloy’s presidential years. Another came in 1999 when the NCAA put the athletic program on two-year probation after finding the Irish guilty of serious rules violations for the first time ever.

“One of the hardest things for me,” he says, "was the day on which I handled all the media for four or five hours. I could say, well, the penalty imposed upon us was not as severe as it could have been if the violations were more egregious, but it was still the first time and it was on my watch, and I had to describe my version of what happened and what we were going to do about it.

“One of the things that happens is that when they write your obituary, it just naturally comes up because it got a fair amount of publicity. I think we’ve made a lot of structural changes that have been helpful,” he says. “In terms of how it informs where we are today, I don’t think it informs very much of our awareness of ourselves or anybody else’s awareness of us. When people look at us, they say, ’Here’s a place that’s running a clean program and they’re doing it right.’”

***

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Monk Malloy was still in his room in Sorin Hall when the telephone rang. “Turn on the television,” said his secretary, Joan Bradley.

Pausing only long enough to take in the horror of the unfolding events, Malloy hurried to the Main Building and called together the University officers and everyone else who reported directly to him. They quickly decided to call off classes and declare a day of prayer and reflection.

“We wanted to be in contact with the faculty, the staff, and especially the rectors and staffs in the dorms,” he has written of that day. “We wanted to have convenient and comfortable places for students to bring their cares and concerns, and we decided that the dorms would be the best focal point. We also wanted to mobilize the staff of the University Counseling Center, the staff of Campus Ministry, and as many faculty as we could reach with voice mail and Internet communications.”

Hurriedly the group began planning for an afternoon Mass of Remembrance. “Because it was a warm and sunny day, we chose the South Quadrangle adjacent to the flagpole right next to the Law School for the Mass,” Malloy has written. “After lunch, I took a long and slow walk around Saint Mary’s Lake. I remember with great vividness the sense of serenity that prevailed on campus. The ducks were sleeping, there was almost no noise, and in the far distance I could hear the tolling of the funeral bell in Sacred Heart Basilica. It seemed such a contrast between that scene and the ones I witnessed on television during the course of the day.”

In his homily that afternoon he spoke of “the reality of evil, the sense of tragic loss, the uncertainty about the future, and our need for one another and for the living God.” He invoked the image of “the beautiful text that is suggested right below the Sacred Heart Statue in front of the Main Building. It says Venite ad me Omnes: ‘Come To Me All You Who Are Weary And Heavy Burdened And I Will Give You Rest, For My Yoke Is Easy And My Burden Light.’”

He considers that as the most vividly memorable moment of his presidency. “I was playing a presidential role and also a priestly role, and the community was responding, and all the things we try to cultivate here were manifest that day. It happened quickly and everybody pulled together, and anyone who was there will never forget being a part of the day.”

Another traumatic moment occurred on January 24, 1992, when a bus carrying the women’s swim team home from a meet overturned on the Indiana Toll Road, killing two students, ages 19 and 20, and temporarily paralyzing a third. Another tragedy occurred in 2003 when a freshman student went missing before finals and was later found drowned in the Saint Joseph River. Such moments, painful as they are, “also show how we pull together,” he says.

***

Notre Dame is a startlingly different place than it was in 1987 when Monk Malloy took office (see chart).

From operating budget to endowment to research funding, the numbers have rocketed. The profile of students gets headier each year, and you often hear campus old-timers confess they’re glad they’re not trying to enter the University today, given the level of competition. Two-thirds of all undergraduates now enjoy some measure of financial aid, and the school pledges to meet students’ full need. This means Notre Dame could appeal to more star students who might formerly have ended up at a Harvard or a Duke or a Stanford because of their attractive aid packages. Female students now make up almost half of the undergraduate head count, and more than one in five students belongs to an ethnic minority.

Pick any other benchmark and the contrast is equally impressive: Library volumes are nearly double, endowed chair holders have quadrupled, and new construction has been relentless. An entire new quad stands where cars used to park on football weekends, a new cluster of residence halls is located on part of the original golf course, and 20,000 more seats fill the stadium.

Administrative colleagues call Malloy an intelligent and empowering leader who is not always comfortable in large settings but can mesmerize donor groups with his vision of what Notre Dame can be and how his listeners can help make that vision real.

“He quietly and consistently leads by example,” says Louis M. Nanni ‘84, ’88M.A., vice president for university relations. "For 18 years he has lived in a dorm with a sofa that doubles as his bed and only about three feet between the bed and his desk—it’s almost like a hermitage. And he teaches a class for first-year students. Talk about having your president model a commitment to undergraduate education."

Sorin senior Jeremy Staley thinks it’s kind of neat to have the president living in his dorm. “He has a welcome sign on his door, handwritten, and anybody can drop in. After one of the games this fall when the mass exodus from the stadium reached Sorin, I noticed he was lined up to get in the building like everyone else. Each August right after the semester starts he invites all the Sorin freshmen to his office in the Main Building for pizza. It was kind of a strange experience for me, eating pizza where administrators and trustees usually meet.”

With the exception of his inaugural year, Malloy has taught a seminar course throughout his presidency. The classes meet for two and a half hours on Sunday evenings and pursue a common theme: “The Stories of Peoples and Cultures.” As his syllabus this fall noted: “By employing eight novels and two films, we will attempt to understand human persons and social groups from a variety of historical and cultural settings. . . . Our goal is to seek insight and understanding in a world undergoing rapid change and troubled by conflict and hostility.”

Among the books assigned were Nikolai Gogol’s Taras Bulba and Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. The films included Monsoon Wedding and In America. This spring will mark the 34th semester he has taught the seminar, and only once has he used a book or movie more than one time.

Marie-Christine Luijckx, a present-day senior who took the seminar in autumn 2001 as a freshman, remembers being “a little nervous at first” when she found herself in a class taught by the University’s president. “But he was very open and we all felt comfortable pretty quickly,” she says. Claire Kelley, another freshman that fall, thought the name Malloy sounded sort of familiar when she received her seminar assignment. She asked her father, an ‘80 grad, if he knew the name “and he was really excited.”

Kelley remembers Malloy as a good discussion leader with a great appreciation for literature and a sense of humor: “We were laughing a lot,” she says. But more than the laughter she recalls an eerie coincidence just before September 11. The previous week’s reading was On the Beach_, a 1957 novel by Nevil Shute about an attack on America, a misdirected response, and a nuclear exchange that wiped out life in the northern hemisphere. “Our class discussion on Sunday focused around a hypothetical scenario in which New York was attacked,” Kelley says. Then came Tuesday’s morning horror and the afternoon Mass on the quad, and she couldn’t help thinking about Sunday’s class. “I was so shaken up,” she says.

Malloy rations his time judiciously but is generous with it. He has chaired or participated in dozens of educational organizations such as the American Council on Education and the International Federation of Catholic Colleges. He serves on the boards of Vanderbilt University (where he earned his Ph.D.), the universities of Portland and Saint Thomas, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. “When he makes commitments to such organizations,” says Lou Nanni, “he really delivers.”

One cause he feels strongly about is CASA, the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, located at Columbia University. Says CASA President Joseph A. Califano Jr., a former U.S. secretary of Health Education and Welfare: “When we first started CASA I called Father Hesburgh, whom I knew from the Johnson administration, and told him I wanted him to chair a commission. He said Monk is the man, and I called Monk and he immediately agreed. He is clearly more concerned and knowledgeable in this whole area of smoking, drinking and drug abuse than any other college president.” Califano recently added Malloy to CASA’s board.

Among internal constituencies, Father Malloy is particularly attentive to University alumni and goes out of his way to make appearances at alumni clubs and functions. Alumni office records show he has spoken at more than 100 Universal Notre Dame events—and the records are incomplete.

***

It was April Fool’s Day 2001 in Saint Louis when the women’s basketball team, after a come-from-behind win over Connecticut in the semifinal game, beat Purdue by two points to claim the NCAA championship. As the 68-66 final tally lit up on the scoreboard, Monk Malloy, in an uncharacteristic burst of exuberance, bounded onto the court and hugged coach Muffet McGraw.

“That was a program that went from nothing to filling the fieldhouse and then actually winning the championship,” he enthuses as he recalls one of his favorite presidential moments. Another joyful moment was winning the national football championship in 1988. “Being on the field at the Fiesta Bowl was great fun,” he says.

Malloy’s connection to athletics these days is largely through roles with the NCAA; he is currently chair of a task force on gambling by athletes. Myles Brand, president of the NCAA and a former president of Indiana University, calls him “a leader who always takes the moral high ground.” Citing an anecdote he calls typical, Brand recalls a meeting last spring aimed at seeking a memorandum of understanding regarding the Bowl Championship Series. “I was facilitating, and there was one president from each conference and Notre Dame,” says Brand. “We were stuck. Monk hadn’t said much during the meeting, and all of a sudden he volunteered a solution, saying ‘this is the right thing to do.’”

Malloy had urged the presidents to find a compromise among their contending positions on the complex bowl formula. As he recalls the meeting, “I tried to remind them what was at stake and how we all had to be concerned with the future well-being of intercollegiate football. I suggested that there was enough suspicion and concern about the behavior of student-athletes and coaches, not to speak of athletic administrators, and that we didn’t need to be perceived as driven by self-interest.”

When he took office in 1987, Malloy had an agenda for his presidency, and as the end of his term nears he ticks the items off with a certain satisfaction. First and foremost was his determination to preserve the University’s Catholic mission and identity: “If I failed in that and succeeded in all the rest, I would not feel I had done a good job.” Among other goals were maintaining the tradition of excellent teaching, building up the graduate schools and the research environment, promoting diversity, expanding Notre Dame’s international character, creating and maintaining good town-gown relations, nurturing residential life, balancing budgets and having success at fund raising. Looking back he says, “The thing I feel best about is that we’ve been able to do multiple things simultaneously. As far as I was concerned they’re all important.”

Nathan Hatch, who joined the faculty in 1975, has detected no discontinuity between the Hesburgh and Malloy years. “I see us on an evolutionary course to building a great Catholic university,” he says, “one that nurtures the tradition of great undergraduate teaching and establishes a new trajectory of research; one that’s not self-referential but can compare itself with the top 25 schools; and one that’s distinctive in its Catholic mission. If you look back over Monk’s time, we’re better at all three of those things.”

The research-teaching debate has been a perennial issue over at least three decades, particularly among Notre Dame alumni who earned undergraduate degrees. Hatch insists that the current emphasis on research is nothing new. “When I came here, I was expected to teach well and do first-rate research,” he points out. “There was a time when some people saw research and undergraduate education as inversely related. My philosophy is, you build both.”

***

It was in on a mountaintop in Aguascalientes, Mexico, that Malloy began to think seriously about the priesthood. He was there on a summer service project between his junior and senior years at Notre Dame. “There was a period that summer when I was by myself, and I just had this sense of certitude that I was being called to the priesthood,” he recalls. “I decided to pursue it, and I applied to Holy Cross.”

The Rev. E. William Beauchamp, CSC, ‘75J.D., ’81M.Div., who for 13 years was Notre Dame’s executive vice president and now is president of the University of Portland, says Malloy’s priesthood is at the very core of his being: “He is first and foremost a priest. He didn’t aspire to be a college president, or even desire it. It was the fact that he was serving Holy Cross that made the difference.”

Malloy echoes that insight. “The only reason I became president was because of the Holy Cross priests,” he says, “and I think the role we have played and continue to play is a very essential one. It’s very much a part of my sense of what makes Notre Dame special. Unlike some religiously affiliated schools, we’ve been able to sustain that connection to the founding religious community.”

On July 1, at age 64, Malloy will turn the keys of office over to another Holy Cross priest, Father John I. Jenkins, CSC, ‘76, ’78M.A., who was chosen last spring by the trustees to become the 17th president of Notre Dame. Malloy probably won’t be in Tibet then, though he is looking forward to a sabbatical.

But that doesn’t mean he’ll vanish for a year the way his predecessor did. “What I intend to do is be in and out,” he says. "I want to have an operative office, and I want to continue working on writing and other projects. When I come back I’ll teach. I’ve thought about teaching a course in biography and autobiography, and I’d like to teach a course in leadership and maybe a course in higher education.

“I have a lot I want to learn, a lot of things I want to pursue,” he adds, “and the older I get the more I’m interested in a wider variety of things. I don’t have any limitations on the things I want to know.”


_Walt Collins is a former editor of this magazine.

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