Of course, most of our readers are also readers of the Shrine of the Holy Whapping, the ND blog to end all ND blogs. Over the course of time, the Shrine has taken, for the most part, a defensive stand towards the Catholicity of Notre Dame. There are those who, citing the presence of certain dissident professors such as Fr. McBrien, as well as the existence of such events as the V-Monologues, label the school as "non-Catholic." The Whapsters have always attempted to combat this by arguing that ND is really improving, that it is a far cry from the Jesuit schools, that many good things are happening on campus, that ND is a place where Catholicism is engaged in a meaningful fashion.
However, We (as in Pope Pius VII alone--we are speaking for ourselves and do not necessarily reflect the other Pontiffs' opinions in our commentary) would like to present another view of ND, a decidedly more negative view.
Granted, We ourselves have not been around the block as much as any of the Whapsters, who were all at ND for 4-5 years and are now graduated. In fact, We are but a mere rising sophomore. Still, We don't think our commentary is completely irrelevant. These are our initial thoughts, and we would welcome thoughts from the Whapsters, or any other ND grads/students, as well as from Our fellow Pontiffs. (We shall use the first person singular from here on out in this post).
I began my freshmen year at ND last fall, a bright-eyed, eager honors student. It was an interesting experience. For my intro philosophy class, I was assigned to a female professor who is a vegetarian and who was telling the class that she had tried to convince other classes of students that there is no such thing as a soul/"mind." In our text, I saw that we would read, among others, that distinguished moral (I should say immoral, based upon the wacky ideas he promotes) philosopher and biounethicist Peter Singer. This class was obviously very attractive for a young fellow with Catholic sensibilities. I dropped it after the first day and bulled my way into another Honors Philo section. In this one, the professor (a brilliant scholar of Aristotle) was at least sane, but he brought the class to his conclusion that religious belief is a subjective and personal matter, that it's not really more logical to believe in God than not to do so. No reference was made to the teaching or thought of the Catholic Church whatsoever on any of the philosophical ideas presented (I thought that this new fellow I was reading named Descartes was kinda cool--that is, until I read about him in the Catholic Encyclopedia and learned some of his works had been on the Index of Forbidden Books. Whoops.), or about the relation between Faith and Reason. I'm still not quite sure what religion my professor was/is (I know, for what it's worth, that he was a staunch Democrat).
This whole theme of our education being pretty much divorced from the Faith (as though the Faith had no relevance or place in the subject at hand) continued in all but one or two of the classes I took in my freshman year, and it was present in every one of the Honors classes. The Honors literature seminar read everybody uncritically, (Although quite humorously our Nietzche reading descended into a session in which the class was roundly denouncing him while our professor kinda weakly defended him; there is still sanity on earth, thank God); the Honors Physics/cosmology prof was scrupulous in refusing to acknowledge the hand of God in creation; the Honors Calculus textbook even contained a ringing praise for the Englightenment and its act of throwing off the shackles of religion telling man what to think, etc. Although I am going to be in the good (i.e., more orthodox) Honors Theology section for the fall '07 semester, I wonder what the other poor souls in the Honors Program will be learning in their Intro Theology.
Now, I did have one "good" class in the sense that it was more orthodox. I took another Philosophy course in the Spring semester which was taught by an orthodox, if mildly scatterbrained, professor. He was a faithful Catholic, and gave us an interesting class which had full reference to the teachings of the Church. I learned a lot, and my interest in Philosophy is due, in large part, to that class.
The problem, however, is that frequently you don't just stumble into a class like that. Basically, at Notre Dame there's a "Catholic Bubble." It's composed of certain student organizations which promote orthodox causes and suchlike things; certain Masses which we attend; and certain professors, classes, majors, and intents. Theology, Philosophy, Classics, Medieval Studies, and Architecture seem to be the dominant majors. If one stays within this Catholic bubble for one's theology/philosophy classes, and/or if one's major is something rather non-religiously charged like engineering, one can get an excellent Catholic education at ND.
But what about the vast majority of ND students, who don't know about the Catholic bubble and who don't know much of anything about Catholicism, in spite of the fact that they went to expensive Jesuit prep schools? Those kids don't know what they're getting into. They can be lead easily into grave error, and not even know about it. Fr. McBrien teaches an intro theology class with more than a hundred freshmen. What if, say, a fourth of those freshmen actually believe some of his wackiness? They're screwed! They've just swallowed a boatload of error, and goodness knows what spiritual damage might have been done to them. And let us not forget those poor souls who major in wackily-liberal Arts and Letters programs; or even some of the science or business majors who see how objective and hard-and-fast their disciplines are, in contrast to their phony theology and philosophy courses. The worst thing though, is that in their non-philosophy, non-theology classes, the Catholic Faith is irrelevant. There is a crucifix on the wall of every classroom and lecture hall at the University of Notre Dame, and in many of them, the reality represented there has about as much relevance to the subject at hand as the fluorescent lighting.
If a University's mission is to be faithful to the Truth, and if its mission is to help lead those within it to the Truth, and if Christ is the Truth, then Notre Dame is getting a D+. It is true that you can get an excellent Catholic education at ND if you know where to look. However, that's the problem: you have to know where to look. Most kids don't know where to look; indeed, they don't even know for what they should be looking. ND is failing these kids, the overwhelming majority.
Certain ND apologists frequently cite other areas in which progress has been made: the growth of certain orthodox Catholic clubs, the increase in the number and scope of Catholic devotions on campus, the now-Annual Eucharistic Procession, the Latin Modern-Rite Masses hosted by the Orestes Brownson Council, etc. These are good things, I agree. But the fact is that Catholic life is still not that hot. It's hard to find a convenient Mass celebrated by a priest who will just Read the Black and Do the Red. Some of the dorm Masses are real travesties. You still have the Folk Choir banging away on that darn drum during their Mass in the Basilica, singing Marty Haugen as though he's the next Palestrina or something. The powers-that-be have a minor cow over the idea of celebrating the Modern Rite ad orientem. And the Tridentine Mass? Forget it, you have to go into town at 7:30 on Sunday morning for that. And how damning is it that I find that that Tridentine Mass in town, which is celebrated in a dumpy parish by a simple old parish priest--who, I'm guessing, doesn't have the fancy degrees that a lot of the Holy Cross priests have--is more reverent, more beautiful, more spiritually nurturing, and HAS A BETTER HOMILY than ANY Mass I go to at the Basilica BAR NONE.
I'm not bitter against the school or a crazy radical traditionalist, or anything of the sort. I love Notre Dame. I would love to see her prosper, to see her as she once was, to see her as she should be. And ND has improved, I won't deny it. But I wouldn't really recommend attending Notre Dame to a new Catholic, or to a Catholic who doesn't know much about his Faith, when I could recommend them to a place like Thomas Aquinas College. It kills me to admit it, but that's the truth.
In short: we've got a LOOOOOOOOOOONG way to go, baby.