Father Malloy paves the way

Author: James Wensits

Rev. Edward A. “Monk” Malloy, who grew up in Washington, D.C., brought an urban perspective with him to Notre Dame and an appreciation for how important the health of a city is to those people and institutions that inhabit it.

“I am a big-city person by background and by interest,” the former president of Notre Dame says, stretching his long legs out in front of him during an interview in his third-floor office in DeBartolo Hall.

During the nearly five years Malloy served as vice president prior to becoming the University’s 16th president, he began studying its relationship to the South Bend-Mishawaka community. Aided by the Rev. William Beauchamp, CSC, and Rev. David Tyson, CSC, former vice president of student affairs, Malloy approached then-university president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, with their ideas for improving town-gown relations and was given the green light to begin connecting with local government leaders.

The trio’s approach was to ask about the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship and what steps could be taken to make it better.

“Over time, I think we built up a certain credibility,” Malloy says.

The priest shrugs off a suggestion that he deserves credit for fostering the brothers-in-arms relationship that has grown between Notre Dame and the surrounding community, implying that his predecessors would have done the same had they not been preoccupied with other endeavors. Still, Malloy’s interest in improving the campus-community relationship became his priority when he assumed the presidency of the University. “We’re in this together,” he says.

To that end, Malloy approached the Notre Dame Board of Trustees with an unprecedented request, asking them to give him money from the University’s endowment so he could buy a building in downtown South Bend. The building, which had formerly housed Gilbert’s, long a popular men’s clothing store, was to be renovated and, with the aid of various local groups, transformed into a homeless shelter.

The success of the Center for the Homeless may be attributed in large part to the next thing Malloy did, which was to recruit Lou Nanni ’84, ’88M.A., his future executive assistant and now University vice president, to head the operation. Under Nanni’s guidance the Center for the Homeless became a national model for such shelters by working to prepare its inhabitants for a return to society as functioning and productive individuals.

Far from done, Malloy looked for other endeavors to strengthen the town-gown connection. Among these were helping to establish what is now known as the Sister Maura Brannick Health Center at 326 Chapin Street in South Bend. Popularly known as the Chapin Street Clinic, the facility caters to those in need of low-cost medical care. It, too, is a model by which all such clinics may be measured.

The University’s helping hand was extended to the community in many other ways, not the least of which is the Notre Dame community relations office in downtown South Bend.

“I think it’s worked reasonably well," Malloy says. The downtown office provides local groups with meeting space and also offers space to display the results of campus projects and activities. It also serves as a community relations center under the leadership of its director, Jackie Rucker ’83. Best of all, the center reinforces Notre Dame’s commitment to South Bend and helps it build strong relationships with the mayor and the city and county council members.

Beyond politics, Notre Dame Downtown helps the University be seen as an asset by business leaders. “We kept telling people we can’t be the local banker, but we have a lot of other resources to bring to bear," Malloy says.

What many regard as the crown jewel of Malloy’s efforts to reach out to South Bend and the neighborhood immediately adjacent to the campus is the Robinson Community Learning Center, located at 921 North Eddy Street. The Robinson Center has served as a springboard for a variety of programs intended to revitalize the Northeast Neighborhood, which is just south and west of the campus. The intention, says Malloy, was to find ways to renovate the neighborhood without making anyone who lived there feel that they were being forced out. “Lou (Nanni) was very active in pushing that,” he adds.

What lies ahead might be the most ambitious community outreach project of all. “The biggest thing we do for the community is to provide a stable, well-paid workforce,” Malloy says. “Unfortunately, we’re the biggest employer by far.”

If that sounds contradictory, it isn’t. What Malloy means is that it would be better for the community to have, in addition to Notre Dame, a large for-profit company that could provide even more well-paying jobs. His long-term hope is that the combination of nanotechnology research on campus along with Innovation Park and Ignition Park will someday lead to the kind of industrial success which will result in a major employer operating in South Bend.

“We used to debate about the value of research parks adjacent to universities,” he says, noting that such efforts often depend on the development of successful patents to be successful. While it is true that only a certain percentage of such research products end up in production, “if one or two do pan out, it could be a huge plus for the community.”

It is too early to predict what the future will hold, but Malloy is convinced that for the sake of the nation’s economic future, every university should be investing in projects like Innovation Park. “This is where the future is going to lie,” he says.

James Wensits is the host of Politically Speaking on WNIT-TV and a former political writer for the South Bend Tribune.