The phone calls, letters and e-mails come pretty regularly these days. They routinely bring good news; it is always a cordial interchange. But they do present a problem, and I find myself dodging, cringing and politely apologizing. They come from Catholic school administrators with young Notre Dame grads having profound effects on wayward youngsters. “You’ve got to do a story!” They come from social workers whose clients are touched deeply by Notre Dame students staffing soup kitchens and homes for unwed mothers. “You’ve got to do a story!” They come from alumni — people hammering and sawing with Habitat for Humanity, doctors performing life-changing surgeries on the least fortunate people in the world, friends telling of lives dedicated to society’s most forgotten. “You really should do a story!”
“We have tried,” I always explain, “to work such stories into the magazine.” The medical clinic in Ecuador. The orphanage in Honduras. Students on summer service projects. Graduates writing about their experiences with the disadvantaged and diseased, the addicted and dying, the stricken, the street people so many of us ignore, stereotype, turn away from. “We cannot do them all,” I explain. “I am sorry. So many stories are worthy. So many stories deserve to be told.” They are unfailingly poignant, moving, inspiring. But how do you pick and choose? How do you do them without lapsing into the predictable and self-serving? How many can you do before readers become jaded, indifferent page-turners who don’t want to read about yet another Notre Dame person doing some sort of social service work?
Or has the abundance of good deeds become so routine it has changed our criteria for determining what is newsworthy?
Three-fourths of ND undergraduates do service work before graduation. Ten percent do volunteer work right after graduation. The University’s Center for Social Concerns and Notre Dame’s Alumni Association have generated an incredible amount of volunteer commitment and service activity. Then there are those — the numerous, countless others standing in the tradition of Tom Dooley, Louie Putz, CSC, and Al Sondej — who have individually devoted their lives to helping others, making a difference.
The truth is, I’ve spent 26 of the past 30 years of my life here at Notre Dame and nothing has impressed me more, nothing makes me prouder of this place than the amount of self-sacrificing good that comes from the people who have graduated from here. It really can inspire awe — even in someone schooled as a journalist, even in someone who consciously guards against doing a magazine with too much rah-rah promotional stuff in it.
But given these feelings and all those phone calls, we thought it time to recognize this aspect of the Notre Dame spirit. So, with apologies to the many deserving heroes we’ve left out, we pulled together a cast of servants, saints and pretty regular folks to represent all the people who make us proud and who make the world a better, more loving place. We hope you also find it good reading.