The letters we publish here are edited for space and are representative of those we receive. We print only those letters referring to an article in the most recent edition of the magazine, not those responding to letters or commenting on issues not addressed in the recent edition.
Notre-Dame de Paris
Thank you for the article on Notre-Dame de Paris by Paul Elie (“Our Lady of Paris and Why It Is So Important to Save Her”). I don’t know the author, but I found his take touching and thought-provoking. I share his worry that the new Notre-Dame will be different, pandering to contemporary culture, when what it needs to do is to remain the dark, mysterious and somewhat alien place that refuses to “meet us where we are,” but instead demands that we rise to meet it.
The composer Olivier Messiaen once said of Chartres cathedral, “We enter because we want to be overwhelmed. And we are.” That is what a Gothic cathedral should do, uncompromisingly. Efforts to be “relevant” and Instagram-worthy miss the point. We need places that make different demands on us, that invite us to get out of our comfort zones and experience something that isn’t prepackaged for our entertainment. We need places that are truly awesome, in the original and goosebump-producing sense of that now meaningless word. Elie brought all that up for me, and I hope he continues to have access to such experiences — and that his children will, also.
Professor of Architecture and Director, Duda Center for Preservation, Resilience, and Sustainability
So many of us have visited this landmark sacred place and have strong memories of our experiences. Mine was prompted by a referral from a local who told us, “When you’re in Paris, you must go early to Notre-Dame on Sunday morning before Mass.” She told us about the choir who sang the morning Lauds in Gregorian chant before the service. We could join in and sing along. We got there in good time and found a small section cordoned off at the front. There were copies of the chant for us on the seats. We did sing along with the small choir of about 12 singers. As we finished, tourists began entering the church looking at the glorious decor and the light through the stained glass. We were smiling with the special feeling of being “insiders,” not just gawkers. We were in those moments part of the Parisian Notre-Dame community. Unforgettable to say the least.
Willem O’Reilly ’70
Bonjour and merci for Paul Elie’s piece — a souvenir of the six years I lived and worked in Paris in the 1970s and ’80s. Notre-Dame was within walking distance, and I was a frequent visitor. His mention of the cathedral’s stone portals on the west façade struck a powerful note. The portal on the left side of the three is surrounded by statues. To the left of that doorway, you will find Saint Denis, patron saint of Paris, with his head in his hands. Notre-Dame de Paris is indeed still a liminal space.
Dennis Killeen ’64
A doctor’s advice
Thank you for publishing the inspirational article by Dr. John Fisher, “A Doctor’s Prescription.” His description of the ideal doctor could have come straight out of an illustration by Norman Rockwell. But as an older person I recognize the hazard of dispensing advice to those younger than myself — especially when so much has changed over the last half-century.
In 1970, medical expenditures in America accounted for 7 percent of the GDP. Now it is nearly 20 percent. And our “for profit” medical system attracts financiers like bees to honey. Did you know that, according to Just Care, roughly 40 percent of emergency rooms are owned by private equity firms? This has changed some doctors from being practitioners of medicine to producers of profit. It also means that many doctors are just another employee. And if a doctor can be replaced by a cheaper physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner, the company will be delighted to do so — especially if a doctor complains about being “overworked.” Add to this the burden of hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt accumulated to become a doctor.
While Dr. Fisher may advise limiting patient numbers, the new model of medicine in America may not allow doctors to do this. So, if new doctors are hardened, cynical and money driven, it’s because our profit-obsessed medical system has made them that way.
Guy Wroble ’77
The real prescription for our future physicians has been written over the last several decades by economic forces. The current healthcare model in the United States has shifted away from private practice to employment. This trend has been driven by profit motives, directed and controlled by managed-care or large corporations. It was reasoned that this rationing and management of care would rein in expenses and improve overall outcomes. There is little evidence that this is the case. As a surgeon practicing for over 33 years, I have seen a precipitous decline in the continuity of care this system provides patients, both insured and uninsured.
Don’t get me wrong, I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Fisher that physicians need to maintain their humanity and sense of a noble purpose. But this is increasingly harder on young physicians, as the loss of autonomy in a dysfunctional system has been accompanied by an erosion of their relative stature. This has a demoralizing effect, as physicians are now termed “providers,” and are lumped in categories with other employees. The autonomy I was so rigorously taught to rely upon has now been supplanted by metrics, patient-care guidelines, institutionally set policies and procedures, and shift work.
My medical students are genuinely concerned about their futures. They possess all the qualities Dr. Fisher and I had when we were students but are facing a more restrictive work environment. I believe our best and brightest are having serious doubts about a career in medicine. The prescription for the future of medicine needs a deeper dive than platitudes imploring physicians to maintain their humanity.
Frank C. Candela, M.D. ’78
Thousand Oaks, California
Jessica Keating Floyd (“A New Equality”) reviews her evolution over time from pro-choice to pro-life. She also reviews the opposite trend of feminists from 100 years ago to today. To accommodate a comfortable work-life balance, Floyd advocates for a variety of government and corporate actions, such as subsidized day care, the elimination of taxes on diapers and formula, extended leave after delivery and others. All good ideas. However, it is unlikely that the United States is becoming another Norway or Sweden. Given our competitive societal environment, especially in the workplace, women need to have abortion as an option.
Christopher Kashnig ’72
The author quotes her theology professor: “If the unborn child is a human being, then we are talking of unparalleled, state-sanctioned killing in excess of 300 million souls worldwide.” The key word is “if.” Not all agree upon the point in development when a pair of gametes, a fertilized egg, an embryo or a fetus becomes a human being. This is a personal ethical and moral decision. Is it not wrong to enforce one’s own opinion on this issue on others? Is it not wrong to imprison or fine those involved in abortions if this is a personal decision?
Regarding the passage of anti-abortion legislation, my understanding is that employers’ concern is that they will not be able to attract female employees to work in a state that prohibits abortion, not that employers desire women to have access to abortions to enable them to more fully participate in the workforce.
Hank Lieber ’76
Floyd does provide a laundry list of programs that would lessen the burdens of motherhood — compulsory or otherwise. Among them are those called for by John Paul II in 1995 and not acted upon in the intervening quarter century. Is it hypocritical (or simply naïve) to expect that the same states that have refused to adopt these social programs to discourage abortion will do so now that they can simply forbid it?
Sadly — thanks to the actions of Catholic justices who relied upon misrepresentation to achieve their lifetime appointments — the “new equality” for America’s women will be the old inequality.
Philip F. Cardarella ’73J.D.
Kansas City, Missouri
I am dishearteningly amazed that the author of “A New Equality” did not once mention the term “contraception” in her piece, even to restate the Church hierarchy’s longstanding opposition. It has been said many times and more eloquently by others: If you are truly opposed to abortion or wish to relieve women of the burden of having to “choose” regarding a pregnancy, then make contraception widely and inexpensively available. Or perhaps instead of amazement, I am supposed to recall that the Church hierarchy considers contraception to be just another form of abortion and that both are “gravely immoral acts.”
Unfortunately, the “three essentials” that Floyd recommends as means to “advance authentic equality” for women in American society will require major expenditures of public and private funds. I see no evidence that any states are moving, post-Dobbs, to enact them into law. Contraception, on the other hand, is here and has been for decades, and it is already widely practiced by Catholic and non-Catholic women and their families.
If the author is concerned with “women’s equality and full participation in society,” then wait and see what happens when someone takes up Justice Clarence Thomas’ unabashed invitation in his Dobbs concurrence to bring a lawsuit that will enable the current Supreme Court majority to overturn Griswold v. Connecticut and allow the states to criminalize contraception as well as abortion. Would that advance the cause of women’s “equality” or simply enshrine an oppressive and ill-conceived doctrinal “equivalency”?
Michael Moore ’73
Halfmoon, New York
Floyd does an admirable job walking and questioning the line between the purported two sides of the choice dichotomy, but, as a student of feminist theory and cultural politics, I am concerned about her conceptualization of women’s freedom. In short, Floyd overlooks the possibility that some people might simply not want to carry a pregnancy or be mothers. She also fails to acknowledge the immediate realities of the multiple layers of oppression pregnant folks might face due to their race, location, ability or means. By saving points about intimate-partner violence and the maternal mortality rate of Black women until the end of her piece, Floyd repeats the mistakes of some of the suffragists she cites, whose urgency to secure the vote for white women led to an abandonment of their partnership with Black activists. We absolutely should strive for “authentic equality”; however, striving does not offer relief to the women suffering — and dying — under unequal conditions right now.
Ultimately, Floyd’s article promotes a distracting theoretical debate over ideals rather than encouraging everyone, regardless of opinion, to grapple with the realities of Dobbs today, when many pregnant people are unable to get the care they need.
Lesley Stevenson ’16
While Floyd attempted to shift the abortion discussion from its legacy framework, she leaves us with the only two main characters and perspectives that have ever been part of this debate: a woman and her unborn child. No fault of hers, I suppose, given that this dual narrative has been the only game in town for this debate since it began. But we must recognize that the starting point for all abortions is sex between a woman and a man. Not one sentence can be found in this article about the third actor. Floyd is too right when she describes the current debate structure as ineffective and nonproductive. Until we bring this third actor into account for his role in the unplanned pregnancy and his ongoing role in the lives that follow, it will remain shamefully just a woman’s issue.
Mike Riegler ’87
It was personally gratifying and important to our Notre Dame community that you highlighted the outstanding accomplishments and scientific and philosophical trajectory of Helena, Montana’s prized achiever Dava Newman ’86 (“Cosmic Explorer”). My interactions with Dava stem from her support and enhancement of our local Exploration Works children’s museum. The excellent summary of her visionary work with Earth DNA demonstrates what a gifted person with a liberal arts education can accomplish. Her leadership and guidance give hope to the planet.
Rick Pyfer ’74