Letters to the Editor

Author: Readers

Editor’s note: Letters appearing in the spring 2019 print issue are marked by a double ##.


Bachelor dons


##I was delighted to read Phil Hicks’ story on the “true” last of the bachelor dons. Stories over the years often overlooked Paul Fenlon and, in my opinion, while Frank O’Malley lasted longer in the classroom, the real designation belonged to Professor Fenlon. My father, a student and Sorin Hall resident in the 1930s, took ill with pneumonia over Christmas break. While he was confined to the infirmary after a stay at St. Joseph’s Hospital, my grandmother traveled alone to be with her son for several months. She knew absolutely no one at the University, but Professor Fenlon adopted her, finding her an apartment, arranging transportation, introducing her to the nuns from Saint Mary’s that cared for Dad and treating her to dinner most nights at the University Club. Some 30 years later when I showed up, he adopted me. After a rather substandard freshman year grade-wise, I needed help staying on campus. He had Father Dan O’Neil get me a room in Walsh. In return, Father O’Neil made me serve at the “sinners” Mass — 12 noon, every Sunday! 

Steve Kirby ’69

Normandy Beach, New Jersey


Another Don


##Your tribute to Donald Sniegowski not only captured his unique persona, but brought back fond memories of the invaluable and transformative time I spent as an undergraduate under his tutelage. Adding to the others’ comments, I can attest that Dean Sniegowski, while a rigorous academician, was an inspirational and respected gentleman who sought to awaken the joy of academic discovery for its own sake. After participating as a freshman in an introductory seminar, I signed up thereafter for every class he offered, as he always brought the same fresh enthusiasm to the classroom regardless of the topic.


Dean Sniegowski mentored me even after I fretted for a time that I may have sold out by deciding to go to law school instead of pursuing a graduate degree in literature. In my last contact with him, after he critiqued a law school application essay for me, he gave me an old paperback of the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins from his personal library. A poem that he said he particularly liked, and next to which he had made handwritten margin notes, was “Pied Beauty,” which reflected pure Sniegowski exuberance:


Glory be to God for dappled things —

  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

  Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow, and plough;

    And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.


Bill Kolb ’82



Other memories


##I found the wonderful article on Father Julius A. Nieuwland, CSC, (“The Naturalist”) to be particularly enjoyable for several reasons. I received my Ph.D. from Notre Dame in organic chemistry in 1971 and, like Father Nieuwland, am also a plant lover, though with special interest in house plants. My research laboratory was in Riley Hall, probably a lab used by Father Nieuwland’s research group. I most enjoyed the references to George Hennion, who was my professor in organic synthesis, a challenging class but enjoyable because Dr. Hennion often interspersed his lectures with anecdotes about Father Nieuwland. Dr. Hennion was a true experimentalist. His mantra was: “Theorizing is no substitute for trying.” 


By the time I did my graduate research, instrumental methods were developed to greatly simplify the determination of chemical structures. Two techniques we used were infrared (IR) spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. I remember Dr. Hennion telling us one day that IR stood for “Instead of Research” and NMR stood for “No More Research.”  He was of short stature, very animated and spoke with a bit of an accent. I suspect that he had a green suit someplace and could probably dance the Irish jig. 


Jerry Franzen ’71Ph.D.

Florence, Kentucky


A pair of coaches


I enjoyed the articles about the Notre Dame basketball coaches but find it ironic, given the themes in Coach McGraw’s feature, that hers was printed second. Even “when you wiiiiin . . .” the women’s team is still second fidlle to the men’s.


Greta Kelly


Notre Dame and the business of college sports


##Putting aside issues with NCAA corruption, bloated athletic department budgets, fat-cat premium football seating enmeshed in academic buildings and the exploitation of students to be full-time athletes, the article, “Winning Traditions,” was silent about the accumulating dire medical evidence relating football with brain injury — the rhinoceros in the football locker room. The possible demise of a sport which requires high-speed collisions between elite athletes would be a cultural threat to Notre Dame (there goes our tradition) and an economic threat (there goes the NBC contract). But surely the brain pathology issue raises moral questions about the very nature of the game.


Would preserving the tradition and continuing to pursue the money be worth the consequences of what football can do to human brains?


Charles Radey, M.D. ’66

Sequim, Washington


##Monetary concerns and ongoing legal land mines notwithstanding, perhaps decisions regarding the future trajectory of Notre Dame football should focus on something much more fundamental: the future physical health and well-being of its student athletes. Evidence of the link between both concussive and nonconcussive repetitive trauma to the brain and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) continues to mount, just as the link between smoking and lung cancer once did decades ago. As Boston University neuropathologist and researcher Dr. Ann McKee has declared, “It is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football — there is a problem.” The question becomes: How will we, the Notre Dame faithful, respond? Will we hold the University accountable for upholding the values that make Notre Dame unique or will we allow the University to become morally bereft, sacrificing the future health of its student athletes in the name of national athletic prestige, tradition and Saturday afternoon entertainment?


Cynthia Williams

Lady Lake, Florida


##Jack Swarbrick and Our Lady’s University must accept that the “conference of one” model boosted by the NBC Sports contract will not last. Nor will being “half pregnant” in the ACC. While I love that we went undefeated this year (and in 2012), both poor showings in the national championship game and the semifinal playoff will make future selection committee members think twice. 


While it’s been proposed that we play a 13th regular season game, or form a “sub-Ivy league” with Stanford, Northwestern, et al., the better option is to go all-in with the ACC or Big Ten. In the near future, the superconferences (four 16-team conferences) will arise, and Notre Dame needs to already be in one before the aggregation begins. In this way, we will be able to compete for national championships for years to come.

Christopher M. Shea ’96MBA
Jacksonville Beach, Florida


##I totally agree with Jonathan Clarke. Sooner or later, the crap will hit the fan. We have pro sports out of control. TV networks calling shots. Money running a lot of schools. Allowing a student to major in a course of study that will help them in their growth as adults has become less and less required. We do still require our students to attend class and graduate. But even Notre Dame has gone wild with ticket prices, parking, clothing, etc. I hope we do not follow the path of other schools where greed has caused many institutions to turn their heads. Keep Our Lady’s University on the right path.


Ed Pescaro

Shrewsbury, Massachusetts


I was disappointed there was hardly any mention of the highly successful 2018 football season, which included a trip to the Cotton Bowl! Why not?


Chuck Vanoncini ’58

Walnut Creek, California


##I found “Winning Traditions” to be quite prescient, if dated. Jonathan Clarke ponders whether Notre Dame can continue to balance on the three legs of its stool: Catholic identity, academic excellence and championship-level sports. The writer seems to think that there is a balance in question, but there is little balanced about Notre Dame in 2019 — and your most recent issue proves it.


I hadn’t been to campus in a few years, but just this past spring I brought my high schoolers back to my alma mater for a visit. Having gone to several other regional and national Catholic and secular schools and listened to how other colleges presented themselves, I found Notre Dame to be a stark contrast. Other schools were proud of their traditions, but I found my old school to be brash. We heard far too much about football, far too much about sports in general for a university. Our tour even included a stop in the new center of campus, the football stadium, whose atrium is quite clearly the center of gravity for the whole enterprise (and it is clear that Notre Dame is precisely that, an enterprise).


All was very slickly presented, all was brilliantly marketed, but I felt like I was visiting a school I did not know. Yes, the library was there; yes, the Dome and the basilica loomed; but on that April day, with cold winds and snow blowing across the frigid quads, they looked forlorn and forgotten. How could they be any match for the monumental stadium complex which now dominates the corporate business park at the southern edge of campus?


My visit left me disappointed; it left me thinking that Notre Dame was dramatically unbalanced, crushed under the weight of big-time college athletics and the quixotic quest for championships. Indeed, if there was one flaw in Clarke’s article, it was that he wrote in the present tense. He should have used the past tense, since Notre Dame made its choice of which path to follow many years ago.

Liam Brockey ’94

East Lansing, Michigan


##I arrived at ND in the autumn of 1974, as a transfer student from a nondescript Pac-8 university. The environment surrounding football games was as different as night and day. But the experience of two completely different football cultures did provide me with a unique perspective on the relationship between a university and the game.


A few years later I was invited to a dinner hosted by Provost Father James Burtchaell, CSC, for students from my home state of Oregon. After the meal, in those heady days of the Era of Ara, the subject of football naturally arose. I took the then-heretical position that football was what was holding Notre Dame back from being a truly outstanding center of academic excellence. Regrettably, my views of 40 years ago seem to have come to pass.


Now the definitive fork in the road has finally been reached. When the name of our University is heard by the general public, do we want the popular association to be football? Or is it time to put this behind the University and instead join the Ivy League at the pinnacle of academic excellence coupled with, of necessity, sports mediocrity? My view is that, while this momentous decision may be delayed, it must eventually be made. The only choice is whether to pay now or to pay later.

Guy Wroble ’77



##While the author did a good job of outlining the problem, he did not suggest any solution. That’s just not good enough. Based on his analysis and my own observations as a fan and loyal alumnus for many years, I fear that Notre Dame has become content to remain passive on these matters: “Don’t rock the boat, let’s just wait and see what happens.” What this really means is that others will dictate the future of collegiate sports. 


I am not comfortable with putting the University’s future in the hands of others just because the problem at hand is difficult. Study the problem, formulate a position and then take the lead! Otherwise, Notre Dame’s future will belong to ESPN, to the oddsmakers in Las Vegas and to those folks who think it really is a good idea to spend $8,700 on a football locker. 

William T. Little ’73
Waxahachie, Texas


Football is not just a central function, an expressive “quality” of Notre Dame. It is definitive of its nature. Football is not primarily a sport or a business, although it is often both of these. It is centrally a religion, an exoteric religion, and as such is highly questionable in character. It is quite evidently a buttress, a key manifestation of religious authoritarianism. Its flamboyant, monumental symbols, often innocent of their self-satirizing hilarity, clearly point, like Moses, to an all-conquering law, as well as to the various golden calves around, especially to the new gilded age at the Campus Crossroads. The cultural significance of football under the Golden Dome has never really been examined. Any cogent critical attention would offend powerful special interests of various kinds. In Goodbye, Columbus the novelist Philip Roth did a brilliant satiric portrait of sports at Ohio State. Too bad he did not cast a Sinclair Lewis-style cold eye on ND football.


Joseph Ryan ’59

Notre Dame, Indiana


The Church scandal

##As a survivor of clergy child sex abuse and an advocate for child sex abuse survivors for nearly four decades, I understand my point of view is probably skewed and that it is hard for me to be objective about “Time for a reckoning.” But let me make several points.


Kathleen Cummings correctly suggests that bishops consider themselves “above the law” and points to valid historical reasons for their protecting themselves from anti-Catholic sentiment in the past. But she fails to point out that today’s American Catholic Church spends millions and millions of dollars each year to lobby for laws — quite successfully — which exempt them from prosecution for the rape and endangerment of children. This effort to ensure that they will remain above the law isn’t some historical artifact, but rather a foundational, essential tenet of their risk-management strategy.


People often conflate discussions of celibacy, healthy adult sexuality and clergy child sex abuse. Priests don’t sexually abuse children because they don’t have a healthy outlet for their sexuality or because they are celibate. They abuse children because they are gripped by deep pathology which makes the urge to sexually abuse children irresistible. The vast majority of child sex abuse happens in families, and is perpetrated by people who have unlimited access to healthy outlets for their sexuality. Discussions of celibacy and married priests do nothing but draw attention away from the central issue, which is that bishops knowingly enabled child predators to continue to abuse children long after they were found out.


If the faithful still believe the job of fixing the crisis rests with the Church itself, they are living in a fantasy world. There is a tsunami of criminal justice activity coming at the Roman Catholic Church in America. About 20 state attorneys general have launched investigations into the dioceses in their states. The U.S. Justice Department has finally woken up from its decadeslong nap and realized that an organized criminal enterprise is operating in America whose members have sexually abused children and whose leaders have systematically hidden and enabled that abuse. The days of hollow apologies and business as usual are ending.


A final point. The postscript to the article points out that Father Jenkins has established two task forces in response to the Church crisis. If those groups do not include clergy sex abuse survivors, it will be hard for me to imagine that they will do any more than engage in another intellectual exercise examining the “crisis,” once again failing to grasp its true essence and profound impact on the lives of those who were abused and their families.


John F. Salveson ’77, ’78 M.A.

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


“Time for a reckoning” eloquently expressed my exact feelings on this matter. I am certain this code of silence would never have continued for so long had there been women involved in church leadership. The Catholic Church needs to show Catholics, particularly young people (the future of the Church) that they are ready to make radical structural leadership changes that ensure that this type of silent betrayal (involving innocent children) never occurs again. That must involve the inclusion of women in leadership. There are too many people (men and women alike) working on behalf of and for the Catholic Church, myself included, who need to see a true response. I take particular offense to diocesan settlements being made without admission of guilt. As we Catholics approach the sacrament of reconciliation with humility, so must the Church admit its wrongdoing without secrecy. The gift of my Catholic faith is far too precious for me to sit by quietly and hope for the best outcome.


K. Hillsman


The interview with Kathleen Cummings dodged the primary problem of homosexuality among priests. Cardinal McCarrick bedded seminarians because he and others are homosexual predators. North of 80 percent of abuse victims are postpubescent males. If the bishops dodge the primary problem of homosexuality, the Church can’t heal.


Women have not fixed the horror of abortion, which we are told is their issue, and it is not likely the outcome regarding predatory homosexual priests will be any better.


My son is a seminarian and the seminary is profoundly watchful for homosexuality. So things will get better with time, but the bishops need to attack homosexuality among predator priests now. A return to black vestments would be a wonderful witness.


Dennis Larkin