Letters to the editor (Autumn 2008)

Author: Readers

Editor’s note: The letters that appeared in the autumn 2008 print issue are marked with an asterisk. The original, longer versions of some of these letters also are included here, although a shorter version may have been used in the print issue.

Notre Dame women
* I always look forward to the magazine, but I was very disappointed by the lack of color (no African-American, Asian or Latino alumnae) featured in the summer issue (“Making Their Way”). It would appear that no women of color have ever graduated from the University.

I am originally from South Bend, and, after graduating from Notre Dame, I could not even get an interview to work as a secretary at Notre Dame. I had to leave because I could not find a decent-paying job, then worked two jobs for several years simply to make ends meet. When you consider that most of Notre Dame’s employees work in service-oriented positions, it begins to put things in perspective. While I am not shunning service jobs (my mother worked for slave wages at Notre Dame for more than 20 years so I could attend), I believe a Notre Dame education adequately prepared me to answer phones and make copies until I found a position in my field.

I just want to draw attention to the things no one writes or talks about in this magazine: Notre Dame’s public push for quality and social justice juxtaposed against the historical discriminatory practices that have been allowed to persist. Notre Dame is a great place to earn a distinguished liberal arts education, but when will the University begin to view minorities in a role other than statistics in an admissions brochure?

Monise L. Seward ’99
Snellville, Georgia

* No matter how many glossy, glitzy, self-congratulatory articles are published in Notre Dame Magazine, women will continue to be second-class citizens at the best Catholic university in the United States until there are women priests.

Robert J. Shedlarz ’72J.D.
Navarre, Ohio

Regarding Summer 2008’s “Making Their Way”: Ms. Moore profiles eight ND alumnae (Latin: The Mother of All Languages makes the gender differentiation not, as she puts it, “sticklers”). A noble effort in many ways about eight impressive women.

The one thing that strikes me (especially after reading class notes in ND Magazine’s back pages with all the marriages, births, alumni children, etc.) is that none of these women is (currently) married to a Notre Dame alumnus. Are they the exception or is marriage e pecially to an ND man) less prevelant and somehow less successful than I assumed?

Tim McKeogh ’80, ’81M.A.
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

Had occasion to see your Summer 2008 issue. Theme appears to be progress and achievements of women students/ grads. Didn’t Condeleez Rice earn her masters at ND? Or did I miss a reference to that?

Considering ND’s ambition to be recognized a world class, diverse and significantly influential center of learning; one would think that a black, female national and international leader – one who has attained the highest U.S governmental position of ANY ND alum – would be an obvious choice to merit mention.

I wonder why not???

J.P. McCarthy ’56
Via email

I want to compliment you on another excellent edition of our superb magazine. The “His” article brought back many memories. I still have a bookcase built by my dad when I was a kid (over six decades ago) and a workbench, with vise, which he built for my Phoenix workshop (about three decades ago). ND was a male bastion during my attendance and I had real reservations about the female “invasion” 35 years ago. The “Making Their Way” article was excellent and eye-opening.

My deepest respect and appreciation goes out to those early female pioneers. I also continue to marvel at the impact a ND education has had on my life. After retiring as a family law specialist, litigator, judge and volunteer deputy sheriff, most of my time has been dedicated to improving the lives of those who live in my community. My commitment as a volunteer firefighter, medical first responder and conservationist have all been influenced by ND. Thank you for keeping us in the loop.

John W. Nelson ’64, ’67 J.D.
Montrose, Colorado

I was very moved reading this issue of Notre Dame Magazine. Making There Way, The Politics of Pride, and Religion’s Reach and the tides of Change. I don’t remember being so moved by this Magazine. Maybe it is my turning 50, the election year, or my personal journey to understand my life and religion. These articles had me thinking how can all these words be like someone was reading my mind.

Liz Boo’s statement:" We have a responsibility to do something because of being at Notre Dame" struck me deeply. As a pediatrician for over 20 years outside of Cleveland,. I have had that thought in the back of my mind. My 4 years volunteering at Logan Center gave me my first taste of reaching out. I developed a strong foundation of caring and giving through these experiences at Notre Dame. My wife and I adopted three siblings from Cleveland 10 years ago and another child from our neighborhood. They all were exposed to multiple drugs prior to birth and the oldest was exposed to the worse case of abuses you can imagine. Presently they are 16, 12, 10 and 8 and they all struggle with severe learning difficulties.

A therapist asked my why would an educated person adopt so many children with so many problems. My only answer was that it was the right thing to do. Over the 10 years I have learned a lot about humility, about raising children that would challenge Nanny 101, about understanding expectations and about being open to all forms of parenting. While my Notre Dame friend’s children are graduating over these next years I think about the dreams for my children to do what I was able to do. Their struggles are real but their dreams to go to Notre Dame are real also. With all their challenges they drew me a poster that I hung in my office that says Play like a Champion above a Fighting Irishman. We draw from many strengths when times are tough and as Liz Boo says “Having gone there still motivates me after all these years”. We will always be there for our children as Notre Dame has always been there for me.

Tom Phelps, MD, ’80
via email

While I am willing to give you credit for sincerity in your “One guy’s point of view” column (Summer ’08), I admit to becoming quite angry at your description of your 1974 “Eureka!” moment. More than 40 years ago, I graduated with a degree in Latin and French Education from Marywood College, now Marywood University. I did so because I “felt personally driven to it” and not because I felt the need for a “nice safety net” in case Prince Charming never appeared. Then, while in my 40s, I pursued a doctorate in theology because I “felt personally driven” to move from junior high and high school education to working with college students. By the way, I am also single, and doing just fine, having spent most of my adult life studying and teaching in the fields of “the arts . . . or teaching.” And I am just as passionate in the classroom today as I was when I first walked into one and took the other side of the desk all those years ago.

Marie Conn ’90M.A., ’93Ph.D.
Via email

For over a century, the Notre Dame campus was barren of lay women except employees. Eligible ladies were a fantasy. Of course, there was the Saint Mary’s student body but the instructions were so strict, there was little cross feeding. A framed photo in our quarters was the extent of our liaisons with the girls.

Congratulations on your choice of current aspiring female standouts. Finally, however, Notre Dame has its "queen"—Olympic fencing gold medal winner Mariel Zagunis ’08. Congratulations: Not all your ND fans are contemporaries on campus.

Dan J. Gentile, MD, ’48
Scottsdale, Arizona

Church and state
* Although E.J. Dionne (“Religion’s Reach and the Tides of Change”) is purportedly concerned with “reducing religion to politics or to a narrow set of public issues,” he seeks to reduce the role of the Catholic voice, conscience and vote by endorsing Mario Cuomo’s limited view of the Catholic role in eliminating legalized abortion. Dionne quotes from Cuomo’s Notre Dame speech that “the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might someday force theirs on us.” Apparently neither Cuomo nor Dionne sees abortion as an objective moral evil, nor do they appear to understand the distinction between legislating a belief that can only be known through divine revelation and legislating morality that can be known through natural law. The idea that the killing of the unborn is merely a belief and not an objective reality is frightening coming from a person with a supposedly Catholic worldview.

The right to life is preserved in our very Constitution and is the right that all others are dependent upon. To claim that Catholics do not have a moral obligation to make such a heinous act illegal is to sell out our traditions, both religious and American.

Kelsey Wicks ’04
Boulder, Colorado

* E.J. Dionne, whose article reads at points like a political speech, overlooks the argument that overthrowing the judicial usurpation represented by Roe v. Wade might create a legal framework that aids and buttresses efforts to decrease the incidence of abortion. Law has symbolic and motivational import. Perhaps, too, the overthrow of Roe v. Wade would finally create a situation in which pro-life citizens would have the option to live in a state in which abortion is not officially sanctioned. Dionne disputes this point, without argument: “It is highly unlikely that most states in the country would ban abortion.” End of the matter.

There is an opposing view—according to which Dionne’s stance is tantamount to those of apologists for slavery or the institutionalization of racism in pre-civil rights days. A scrutiny of journalism from that period would likely reveal accommodationists who challenged the concept that changes in law on those issues would accelerate the demise of those corrupt institutions. Like such writers, Dionne justifies a corrupt status quo, in this case one consisting of the ongoing destruction of millions of unborn children, hostages to the aim of avoiding civil strife and sustaining an illusory veneer of social peace.

Dionne tells us that Latin America, despite making abortion illegal, has a high rate of abortion. What is this supposed to show? One needn’t study statistics to understand that correlations may, but need not, indicate causal relationships. Dionne fails to entertain counterarguments to his allegation of various causal connections, as for example between Democratic Party economic policy and declines in the practice of abortion. If there is such a correlation, then those economic policies should be taken seriously. But I would add that the goal of overthrowing Roe v. Wade is not mutually exclusive with instituting such policies, although, given a choice between the two, we should not dismiss the possibility that overthrowing Roe v. Wade could have profound long-term implications of a kind that mere economic policy, which changes over time, would not.

Brian Simboli ’91Ph.D.
Easton, Pennsylvania

* I was little swayed by E.J. Dionne’s assessment of the political landscape. Christian activism in the political arena has focused on reversing the legalization of abortion because the law is in direct conflict with the Fifth Commandment. What other law of our land directly conflicts with the commandments? Secondly, Mr. Dionne asserts that no progress has been made in the abortion arena and that young people who “tell us which way the political winds are blowing” are embracing the progressive view of religion in politics. However, his assertions ignore polling statistics which consistently show that support for abortion by young adults has been declining for years and is at its lowest point since the Roe v Wade decision. Furthermore his adherence to the relativistic stance proposed by Mario Cuomo that abortion should be legal because “the people of God” cannot stop themselves from having abortions is incompatible with our Catholic faith. Our faith guides believers towards adherence with the truth as revealed by our God at the same time as our fallen nature pulls us away.

His citation of the statistics concerning the abortion rate under the Reagan and Clinton administrations constitute a very selective use of statistics. It is hardly convincing, as proof of ineffective Reagan-era pro-life policies, to note that just a few years after abortion (for any reason) was granted legal status, abortion rates were still increasing. Dionne could have chosen to consider that this initial spike in the abortion rate has occurred in almost every country that has legalized abortion in the 20th century, and that such increases are always followed by a decline in the abortion rate (a “decline” from record-high levels of abortion). Finally he offers that “Democrats are far more comfortable talking about religion” in the current era. Few people would deny that political speech is perhaps the most contrived of any public discourse. Does he really expect to convince his readers that liberal politicians are embracing faith and values issues because of a deepening in their faith instead of responding to polling results showing they lost the Christian vote in the last presidential election?

I agree that all people of faith should seek to square the platforms of their political parties and leaders with all their deeply held beliefs. However I strongly disagree with the premise of the article that we as a country should move past the passé and stagnant legalized abortion debate to areas where the faith community can more legitimately and effectively have a voice.

Nick Winnike ’77
Villa Hills, Kentucky

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne (“Religion’s Reach and the Tides of Change”) expresses the opinion, perhaps better read as the hope, that the importance of abortion as an issue in national politics is declining. Looked at historically that is something of a climb-down for liberals, who for years after Roe v. Wade insisted that the pro-choice position was politically popular, perhaps immensely so, and represented a great source of strength for Democrats.

Dionne refers back extensively to Mario Cuomo’s 1984 speech on the subject at Notre Dame, calling it "complex, thoughtful, and at times highly personal reflection on his own role as a Catholic politician. In fact, the basic argument, that a Catholic politician should not let his “personal beliefs” intrude on the positions he takes on public issues, at least where abortion is concerned, had been around pretty much since the beginning of the debate. Likewise, Cuomo’s suggestion that pro-life Catholics should instead join pro-choice people in advocating funding and government programs for mothers was not new. Confronted with the rise of pro-life activism in the 1970s, feminists sought meetings with pro-lifers to discuss ways they could decrease the “need” for abortion. Of course, promoting the development of new government programs is a solution highly palatable to liberals. But it is pro-lifers who have actually tried to address the needs on expectant mothers in difficult situations, with their own money and efforts in such initiatives as Birthright.

Dionne cites “Notre Dame’s Mark Roche,” among other things, as imputing declining abortion rates during the Clinton years to “traditional Democratic concern with the social safety net.” But the most notable “social safety net” initiative undertaken by Clinton was Welfare Reform, an idea borrowed from Reaganites, which seriously cut back benefit eligibility.

Addressing the present policy impasses, Dionne says that if Roe v. Wade were reversed, it is “highly unlikely that most states would ban abortion.” If that is true, returning the issue to the states would finesse the whole debate. Be assured that liberals and Democrats (possibly including Dionne) would fight any such initiative to their last dying breath.

Dionne tells us that we need to move forward from a period where “public problems went unsolved and possibilities of broad alliances were lost because narrow political imperatives triumphed.” Indeed. Here’s how it could be done: the Democrats could open to pro-life candidates concerned about poverty and other social issues, could stop making the most extreme pro-abortion positions on legislation a matter of party orthodoxy, and could welcome a diversity of opinions on issues on which many Democrats and religious people feel strongly. And, to continue in a religious vein, hell could freeze over. But until it does, I’m afraid many voters will continue to face Hobson’s choice on election day, trying to decide which candidate’s policies are likely to destroy the most unrealized human potential.

Joe Farrell ’66
Cambridge, Ohio

I believe Bishop Sheen said “a greater evil than sin is the denial of the existence of sin.” In his book Church, Ecumenism, and Politics, Pope Benedict XVI says “Democracy without morals is tyranny.” The fact that robbing banks is sinful and illegal doesn’t stop robbers. I know making sinful abortion illegal wouldn’t stop abortions. A Catholic politician can neither vote to subsidize sinful robbery nor can he vote to subsidize sinful abortion.

Gerald Degnan
Deal, New Jersey

The power of humility
* From beginning to end, the summer issue was stellar, but making the biggest impression on me was Tom Rosshirt’s “The Politics of Pride.” The countervailing notion of a national humility is a concept that is so simple yet so foreign to the United States in this era of strutting our “democratic” stuff around the globe. The absence of humility here is at the root of the ill-will so many people feel toward America. And most important, as Rosshirt notes, you can’t improve yourself unless you acknowledge there is a problem.

Jeff Shula ’72
Belfast, Maine

Building boom
Thank you for publishing the statistics accompanying your feature on the campus building boom. The figures confirm what I have long believed: ND is a micro version of urban sprawl. To wit, a few additional metrics derived from those in the last issue, and additional information from the university website.

  • there are nearly twice as many structures on campus now, supporting a student body that is merely 18 percent larger. That’s a lot of additional upkeep for so few students to fund.
  • indeed, the operating budget is up 350 percent with a mere 18 percent larger student body.
  • cost of attendance has gone from $20,000 to $50,000 per year, up 250 percent as a means to try and fund the swollen operating budget.

Each of my biannual visits to campus perplexes me. Why must the University’s structures continue to sprawl in every direction, while serving essentially the same number of students? Will we end up with a campus with a decrepit “urban core”? ND does a fantastic job of educating people today, and I would contend it did a similarly fantastic job two decades ago, yet with half as many buildings to maintain. I am very concerned that the campus building boom, and associated operating expense commitments that such a boom places upon future students (literally for decades to follow), will put a Notre Dame education further and further away from students of modest or even upper middle class means. And don’t try to fool your readers by quoting the increase in financial aid grants (“up 550 percent”!!!). The average student had to fund $19,500 after aid in 1987. Today that figure has ballooned to $44,000. ND ought to better utilize its existing assets as a role model of the fiscal prudence that our nation so desperately needs. It’s a wise way to ensure a bright future for our great university. Clearly we can’t educate 12,000 students in a single log cabin or directly under the Golden Dome, but I also believe we can get the mission accomplished with far fewer than 177 buildings and counting.

I adore Notre Dame Magazine, in part for placing a critical eye on our university’s doings. Please don’t simply print what is produced by the propaganda machine in the front office (“up 550 percent”); the Board of Trustees surely sees plenty of that!

David Cathcart ’93
Sewanee, Georgia

With Innovation Park and Mind (Both innovation and mind are in caps to enforce their genteel provocation) joining the horizon with the golf course and Touchdown Jesus, ND finishes the first phase of its makeover and begins to realize Sinclair Lewis’s vision of Zenith. Here Babbit can cross the links, hit the rail and bubble up billions in “research.”

To counteract the charge that the new Notre Dame is constructing monuments to the genteel tradition, I recommend that another new building be planted next to MIND.It will have many fascinating chiaroscuro corridors of inquiry and will be called, in honor of Descartes, BODY. It will also serve to indicate the Touchdown Jesus is not the body of Christ.

Joseph Ryan
Via email

Financial aid
One thing hasn’t changed in the last 20 years, and I would bet much longer than that: the abysmally low amount of “financial aid” as a percentage of “endowment pool.” Granted, there may not be a direct relationship between the two numbers, but it sure is, to my mind, a prime indicator of priorities gone sadly astray.

Sean Keenan ’67J.D.
Canton, Ohio

A downer
You and your staff really outdid yourselves with assembling this summer’s issue. I found the accounts of the distaff side of both the faculty and student body to be exciting. The articles on the political scene – especially Tom Rosshirt’s “The Politics of Pride . . . and value of humility”—were really fine. The pieces on Guatemala and St. Anthony’s Camden ministry were inspiring as well as heart-rending. The entire section titled “Cross Currents”—McGuire’s remembrance of his mother, DePalma’s account of his family’s visit to Cuba and Raymo’s piece on his father’s workbench – I found very moving.

The one “downer” for me was the two-page photo spread of the flag being blessed at commencement liturgy. I don’t recall that happening at my late husband’s baccalaurleate liturgy back in 1958, but I think such a ceremony is really “over the top” and smacks not of patriotism but nationalism. Maybe a more fitting bit of patriotism at future liturgies would simply be to include a prayer that our country live out the core values of our various religious traditions during the Prayers of the Faithful. Maybe you can pass this feedback on to those responsible?

Keep up the good work!

Barbara Schlotfeldt
Tacoma, Washington

I am not an alumnus of Notre Dame but received the Summer 2008 issue of your magazine through a friend and was appalled to read the above-referenced article by Tom Rosshirt on p. 51, mainly for the lowly and degraded language the author employed to convey his politically charged message. In fact, it is hard to believe that this individual was a former foreign affairs spokesman and just goes to show how America has yet to put its best foot and elocution forward to the global community. Having a journalism background, I could not help but notice the plethora of negative and abusive language the author used to meditate and eulogize the politics of this country and abroad. In one sentence alone, I counted nine references to foul and uncouth language that promotes villainy in American politics and erodes the fault lines of bipartisanship. Words such as threatened, poverty, disease, war, terror, anger and hatred and nuclear weapons were used unsparingly by the writer and flung like hurtful stones at readers without abandon. In one breath, the author proves that he is only capable of utilizing terminology that has the most extreme negative connotation to prove his argument. Needless to say, that I cringed reading this essay in a magazine associated with a reputable learning institution as Notre Dame. As a university professional myself, I ask that the editors not condone such submissions in the future and use better judgment in printing essays that are predatory and full of connivance.

I could only think that there are better ways that one can express a political stance without resorting to such harmful language that diminishes any potential for cross-cultural understanding, and further discolors politics at home, especially during a time of war. I think the author should be called to task for his inability to practice positive speech standards and verbal etiquette and as an alumnus of Notre Dame be ashamed to promote such defeatist and corrosive speech to the Notre Dame community.

A.J. Naseem
Via email

The articles by E. J. Dionne, Robert Schmuhl and Tom Rosshirt are very timely and important to this year’s political process. Keep up the good work.

George E. Schroeder ’49Law
Ottawa, Ohio

Commencement kudos
Many thanks for the John Nagy article “Commencement ’08: A Beautiful Day” which highlighted Martin Sheen as the recipient of this year’s Laetare Medal. Each year I search for information in the spring and summer issues of the magazine concerning the Laetare medalist of that year.

My grandfather, Patrick V. Hickey, was the third recipient of this honor, in 1888. My grandfather’s career as a Catholic American journalist and publisher merited this recognition. As a child, I proudly found my grandfather’s name each year in the World Almanac’s list of awards. With each new edition of the World Almanac, I followed the list of new honorees until the Laetare Medal was no longer included.

In 1986 my husband and I visited the Notre Dame campus and the Laetare Chapel which was then a part of the main college chapel. We reverently read the long list of recipients and some of the descriptions of the individual awardees, only to find that my ancestor whose middle initial “V” stood for “Valentine” was listed as Patrick Vincent Hickey. It seemed to us an understandable mistake but a regrettable one since the name Patrick Valentine Hickey had been passed down now to the fourth generation of the family.

Mr. Nagy’s article, describing and quoting Martin Sheen in his remarks at the commencement, brought this now ancient honor out of the shadows for an appreciative family. Our hope is that the Laetare Medal will continue as a distinguished tradition at Notre Dame.

Gloria Hickey Walton
La Mesa, California

ALS clarification
I was surfing the Internet and stumbled across a letter to the editor in the Summer 2008 issue concerning the essay I wrote for your magazine “Faithfully Departing.”

Gerald J. Welch ‘44, Flemington, New Jersey,wrote that ALS is NOT hereditary. He’s right and wrong. 90 percent of ALS is sporadic or happens without any known cause. Often only one member of a family—for generations and generations—is the unlucky recipient. But, in about 10 percent of ALS cases, there is a hereditary link. And my husband and his family are among the rare few. My sympathies are with Mr. Welch,and I’m so sorry for the loss of his wife. The disease strikes each person differently, yet there are underlying similarities.

Just thought I would clarify that ALS can be inherited. Derrol has lost more than a dozen relatives to the disease and we’ve met with geneticists and researchers from Sweden and around the world who find Derrol fascinating for his rare strain of ALS. I guess he’s a rock star of ALS researchers.

Dawn Goldsmith
Via email

Recruiting athletes
I was just reading the Temple article (Spring 2005, “Notre Dame Football: The Indisputable Importance of Saturday”) and various commentary about it. But, how does one get input. I couldn’t find anyplace to log in etc.

I can do so easily at many other sites, but not at ND sites. It appears a bit closed society to me, not wanting input or controversy.

There is absolutely nothing that ND can do but keep trying to recruit the best athletes and just play with them for a few years, not graduating them. That’s the style now. Period.

Otherwise, ND could be innovative for college football forever. Begin a special department, maybe called Physical Sciences or something, and offer a BA different from youth who wish to go into medicine, law, etc.

The degrees could be in teaching physical ed, drivers ed, maybe some social science courses, hygiene, etc. Only persons playing or on varsity teams would be eligible. Any athlete could opt out and follow his/her desires into pre-med, law, etc.

Bernie O’Brien
Via email