This issue started with an idea that’s been around awhile — the concept of the “Notre Dame man.” Three decades ago the editors here talked about doing a story that answered the question, “What do we mean by the ‘Notre Dame man?’”
At one time the phrase meant something significant. It was an ideal. I still get a handful of letters each year from alums who have written about a father who has died; they talk about their father’s strong but quiet life and all the good he did. “He was a true Notre Dame man,” they conclude. In the past year or two I have written obituaries of colleagues here, and each time I have thought those three words the best summation of their lives.
So one Thursday at coffee we were talking about this characterization and what traits might fill out that profile. And I told the story of being in grad school in Louisiana in 1974, first week of class, when six or eight of us strangers were standing around, trying to figure out where to get a beer. I hadn’t said a word, but a woman looked at me and said, “You went to Notre Dame, didn’t you?” When I nodded, she said: “My husband went to school there. You guys are all alike.” I didn’t ask what she meant, because I knew.
When that conversation over coffee turned to talk of our next issue, the cover blurb first slipped into my head: Who We Are.
We knew we couldn’t talk about who we are these days without giving proper attention to the Notre Dame woman. Or to the individuality and variety of us all. I mean, we had stories working for the issue on an opera singer and a rancher and the former mayor of Juárez, Mexico, who was caught in the screaming vortex of bloody drug wars. We had a piece by a boldly honest alcoholic woman and an intrepid, soul-stirring priest whose borderland parish is a battleground. You’ve really got to read these.
I am well aware of the homogeneity that reigns among Notre Dame people, but I have also loved the diversity. I like that Ralph McInerny and Dick McBrien, Charles Rice and Peter Walshe have been influential voices here. I am fine knowing that at least two Domers work in the Obama White House while others will never forgive Notre Dame for the president’s honorary degree. When I speak to Notre Dame gatherings, I always note early on that those of us gathered here would probably disagree on any number of provocative topics: Who could expect unanimity among 133,000 alumni?
But we are all of us.
The main reason I came here to work was because I wanted to be part of a large group of uplifting people intent on making the world a better place. It just seemed less daunting, more powerful to think collectively than to ponder the impact of one little life. Even when faced by those Notre Dame people who confound me, I am heartened by their noble intentions, the values behind their thinking. Passion of conviction is a good thing. So is kindness.
I have also seen through the years that even if the individual pieces are dissimilar and distinctly drawn, the mosaic accommodates the differences and makes cohesive sense.
We’ve got a mixed bag of people in this issue, showing us who we are by telling individual stories. We didn’t choose the best, the goodest, the most famous. We picked out a representative cast of characters, folks doing interesting things.
We know we missed people. We’d welcome your telling us who and letting us know why. There are always more magazines to do.
Meanwhile, take a look at those seven pages of faces. Look close. In those eyes and grins and generations of faces is the humanity we have in common. Be glad of it — that while the portrait keeps changing, the family album endures.