I had thought this would be a healthy, almost cathartic experience but now find myself either too emotional or too scattered to find the right words. I had been asked to write about my leaving Notre Dame after 32 years — four as an undergraduate and 28 as a development officer.
One thing is for sure. After all this time, I still love the place . . . in a deeper, more subtle way, perhaps, yet with more objectivity.
Because I’ve been privileged to enjoy a close view of Notre Dame, I am sometimes asked to characterize the place. My favorite explanation is to paraphrase a travel guide about Ireland, which describes the country as a “beautiful, maddening place that once you visit, you fall in love with it.” That’s my version of Notre Dame — a beautiful, maddening place, and one I care deeply about.
The place is a little maddening for some obvious reasons. It’s too bureaucratic at times, with occasional incomprehensible rules. We hand out tough decisions (think admissions), and fond traditions get eliminated. We can be too overt in our pursuit of the dollar. We are tentative sometimes when we could be more direct and a little too direct when we could be more sensitive.
I know that I, too, have added to some of these maddening moments, and I am sure none of us is fully Notre Dame until we have experienced the “maddening” side.
However, the University’s beauty far outpaces its frustration. And I think that is always its challenge: to be cognizant of the maddening side so it does not overtake the beauty.
At its most basic, the beauty can be found in the place’s people and their experiences — the joy of your acceptance letter, the pride of graduation, a Basilica wedding, the response of Notre Dame friends when you are most in need. We have all experienced these types of moments and plenty of other beautiful events that define Notre Dame, and we are never sure when the next meaningful moment will occur. Somehow it always does.
Notre Dame’s beauty is also grounded in its ability to renew. I doubt I will ever again work where I experience such a sense of renewal more rapidly than here. I will miss Notre Dame’s uncanny ability to pick us back up after a bad day . . . a conversation with a student, a performance, Mass or event, or the campus itself — the Grotto, the Basilica — or a good talk at Leahy’s or Legends with colleagues and friends.
It took great soul-searching to decide to leave here now. But the timing seemed about right. The University offered a rare opportunity to retire early for those of us who have been here awhile. In the end, it motivated me to step away, to try something different. I am grateful for that. It has prompted me to think back, to remember how it starts, this “relationship” with an institution, with a place.
Each of us associated with Notre Dame has had someone in their life who introduced us to the University — a parent, a friend, a teacher, a sibling. For me, it was my dad, Jim, class of 1948. Dad passed away a number of years ago, but his voice is still strong in my heart and my head. When he and Mom dropped me off on campus for my freshman year in 1972, he took me aside and said, “You’ll never be alone now.”
I didn’t get what he was saying then. I do now. Dad was right. I never have been since and I don’t believe I ever will again be alone. Notre Dame has taken care of that. Wherever I go, whatever situation I find myself in, I will remain permanently connected to this maddening, beautiful place.
So perhaps I am not leaving at all.
Dan Reagan retired at the end of March 2012 as associate vice president for University Relations, having directed the University’s last two fund-raising campaigns. He and his wife, Margot Fisher Reagan ’87J.D., will stay in South Bend, where Margot is a superior court judge and Dan now a consultant.