Letter from Campus: Go Irish

Author: Carolyn Woo

Carolyn Woo

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way — as with almost all Domers — “Go Irish” became my standard closing.

As I sat in the Mendoza Chapel on Friday, June 24, trying to find the words to tell cherished colleagues that I would be leaving after14 years as dean of the business school, those two words took hold in my head — despite my attempts at more profound articulation.

What do these words mean to me, and why do they take hold of my heart?

Once I focused on their meanings — “Go team” and “Go to our challenges” and “Go with God” — I realized we had lived them every day.

While I have received much congratulation for the success of the Mendoza College of Business, the truth is that the college has an unbelievable team of faculty and staff. From my first day when Assistant Dean Sam Gaglio promised that he would never bring me a problem without a solution, I knew I was with colleagues who cared about me, the students, each other, the college and the University.

Mendoza has a small faculty of about 110 serving a large student body of 2,500 across five undergraduate majors and four graduate programs. We had to work together to resolve resource conflicts and create an ethos that says that no problem is solved until every constituent is better off. We made decisions with an unspoken understanding that what is good for the students will always be our priority.

We did sometimes let frustrations get the better of us. Yet there has also been grace and the ability to let each other know that we needed support. In the end it was about a trust that we have a common purpose, that we are sufficiently objective to weigh the pros and cons, and that we have the honesty to call out the deficiencies when things don’t work out.

And every day I reminded myself that this is God’s work, that I call on the name of the Blessed Mother each time I sign a letter, “Yours in Notre Dame.”

It was impossibly difficult to think about leaving Notre Dame and the Mendoza family. Yet so often in my 14-year tenure we encouraged students to go out into the world, and I have been inspired by the many alumni who have left their comfort zones to apply their talents and engage a world in need. This inspiration summoned the “yes” I needed to accept the presidency of Catholic Relief Services.

During the six months of discernment prior to the appointment, I would awaken at 3:30 a.m., sweating bullets. I worried about my lack of experience in international relief and about assuming responsibility for an organization that serves 100 million people in the most difficult of circumstances. How would I operate in locations rife with conflicts and hardships, navigate among different constituents and stakeholders, and make changes in almost all aspects of my husband’s life and mine?

Fear. It arose in many different guises and wrapped itself around things big and small. No logical assessments of pros and cons are capable of answering what ultimately is a question of the heart.

Fear. Its only antidote is faith: Do I or don’t I believe that our welfare is in God’s hands? Do I or don’t I believe that His promise to be with us and His call for us to serve those in need are not just good-sounding words but the “word made flesh”?

So off I go on this journey, taking leave of my comfort zone to tend another part of the vineyard. As I do so, I go with gratitude to the whole Notre Dame family. Keep Catholic Relief Services and me in your prayers, and know that you are in mine.

Go Irish!

Carolyn Woo will leave her position as the Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business at the end of 2011.