Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities (FADICA) Keynote Address

January 26, 2007

Thank you for inviting me here this evening. It is an honor to address a group of good and generous people whose goals align so closely with Notre Dame’s mission and whose members are profoundly committed to finding new and better ways to serve the Church.

There are literally thousands of charitable organizations in this country doing commendable things to make the world a better place. But FADICA stands out from the rest, because your mission is a transcendent one: to help the Church preach the Gospel, to serve in Christ’s name, and to work together to build the Kingdom of God. You serve an eternal kingdom, not a temporal one.

So before I begin tonight, I want to offer my personal and very sincere admiration and gratitude for the work that FADICA is doing. Thank you!


Pope John Paul II wrote in Ex Corde Ecclesiae that Catholic universities were “born from the heart of the Church,” and thus their mission is to serve the Church and society. They do this in three main ways:

  • First, by educating future Catholic leaders who will, as citizens, be committed to the common good.
  • Second, through their scholarship and research, they contribute to human knowledge and provide a privileged place for dialogue between the Church and the wider culture.
  • And, third, they serve as rich and creative resources for the life and work of the Church; it is this particular role—the Catholic university as a resource—that I wish to explore in my address tonight.

Catholic universities have always served the Church well, but today, they are called upon in a special way to help the Church address the daunting challenge of prospering in a world that is both increasingly secular and more radically religious—a world that is, in some quarters, hostile to religion in general and Catholicism in particular.

We all know these challenges well:

  • There are fewer vowed religious to serve a growing Catholic population. Thus, although priests and religious sisters and brothers did truly heroic work in the past, we can no longer rely solely on them to do this work.
  • Also, many of our dioceses, schools, hospitals, and religious orders face unprecedented financial difficulties. They are also being challenged to maintain their distinctive Catholic identity amidst increasing organizational complexity and bureaucracy.
  • And, of course, the widely publicized sexual abuse scandals have badly tarnished public opinion of the Church, shaken the faith of some, and heightened the financial strain on our dioceses.

One hears it said frequently—usually by the press, who love to dramatize these things—that the Church is “in crisis.” That word suggests disarray and desperation, and even that the Church is in its death throes. I reject that description. Yes, the Church is facing great challenges today, but it has faced great challenges in every age. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has continued to survive and thrive. It will do so long after we are gone.

Fortunately, for every challenge we face, the Church also has tremendous strengths. For one, the Church today enjoys a deep spring of hope in its lay people who, like all of you here tonight, are resolute in their commitment to serve the Church in many capacities.

The Church also enjoys a network of institutions—grade schools and high schools, universities, hospitals, social service organizations, and many others—all of which do a remarkable job of serving the Church and the wider world.

And, of course, the Church’s greatest strength is the Holy Spirit that Christ has promised to send to us, particularly in difficult times. “As for yourselves, beware: for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. … When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given to you at that time, for it is not you who speaks, but the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 13: 9,11)

Perhaps the prayer of our time should be, “Come, Holy Spirit.” We must ask the Spirit to guide us through whatever challenges come our way.


While I reject the notion of a Church in crisis, there is another sense of that word which does apply to us. “Crisis” comes from the Greek word that means decision or discrimination. While we are not in crisis, per se, we are in a time that calls for discernment, critical thought, and sound and courageous decisions.

There are generally two phases in the life of any organization. The first, which you might call the normal phase, is the one in which the organization simply carries out strategies that have already been determined—and maybe even tries to perform them better. In the second phase, which we might call the re–direction phase, organizations have to take a step back and reflect on what they have been doing and seek more effective ways to accomplish their mission. The re–direction phase signals crisis only in the sense that it is a time of discernment and decision.

As the leaders of businesses, families, and foundations, you know how difficult it can be to motivate people in a time of re–direction. Human beings are resistant to change; we get comfortable doing what we’ve always done. There’s a cartoon I like very much that represents this tendency well. The first frame shows a team working very hard to cut a path through a dense jungle, when someone standing on the hilltop yells, “Stop! You’re going the wrong way.” In the next frame, someone from the team cutting the path yells back: “Shut up! We’re making progress!”

At this time in our history, we in the Church in America are called to put down our tools and ask, “Are we going in the right direction? Are there better routes to move toward our goals?”

I want to make this point tonight: We are at a time in the history of the Church in America when we need to do some hard, careful, innovative thinking about where we are heading and how best to get there. I also want to make a second point: Because this period in our history calls for reflection and innovation, Catholic universities have an especially important role to play, as they are the places dedicated to reflection, to innovation, to the discovery of new knowledge and the application of that knowledge—and full of young people eager for us to show them a way to serve. As Catholic universities, we are called to fruitfully apply these abundant resources to the work of the Church.

So this is our challenge: to bring to bear, in a systematic way, the vast intellectual and spiritual resources of our Catholic universities—to address in creative ways the needs of the Church at this moment in time and to anticipate future needs.

Needless to say, there are a lot of Catholic colleges and universities doing a lot of wonderful things for the Church today. But tonight I’d like to talk about what Notre Dame is doing because that is where my expertise lies—and I’ve been cultivating that expertise for almost twice as long as my current students have been alive! First, as a student myself, then as a Holy Cross seminarian, as a Notre Dame professor and administrator, and now as president.

If you’ll indulge me, I want to share with you some of the initiatives Notre Dame has undertaken to address the Church’s greatest needs. I’ve grouped our responses roughly into 3 broad categories—each of which encompasses ideas and practices that can be applied, and in many cases already are being applied, at Catholic colleges and universities across the U.S.

I. Catholic Theology

At the heart of any great Catholic university—and at the heart of Notre Dame—is the Department of Theology. Perhaps the single greatest service a Catholic university can give to the Church is to foster Catholic theologians who are intellectually able, grounded in the faith and teachings of the Church, and capable of engaging with the challenging issues of our day.

There are, of course, the handful of theologians at Catholic universities who get the bulk of the media’s attention for attacking the Church rather than thinking with it. But, for the most part, Notre Dame and other Catholic universities are home to wonderful theologians who want more than anything to address critical theological questions in a way that deepens our understanding of the faith.

Our responsibility as Catholic universities extends beyond hiring and supporting top Catholic scholars, of course. We must also ensure that there will be a qualified pool of Catholic scholars to teach and lead our nation’s Catholic universities in the future. In this respect, Notre Dame has much to contribute, as it is one of the few universities in the U.S. capable of graduating a mass of Catholic PhDs in a variety of disciplines–academicians who can both sustain the Catholicity of the faculty at our faith–based universities and bring a much—needed Catholic perspective to the faculty of secular universities.

And, finally, Catholic universities must be vigilant in providing all of their students—not just those destined for the academy or the clergy—with some training in theology, so that our graduates might bring the values of the faith into their families, their communities, and their professions. Thus, at Notre Dame, every student takes at least two courses in theology and philosophy.

II. Service to the Church

Ensuring that our students have a sophisticated understanding of theology is one way to ensure a healthy future for the Church. But how can we put our theology departments and professors at the service of the Church today? How can we have an immediate impact?

The resources—intellectual, financial, and otherwise—of the nation’s dioceses and parishes are being stretched to their outer limits. John Paul II, Avery Cardinal Dulles, and many other Church leaders (and parents, I might add) have all said that the most pressing need of the Church is America is for improved catechesis and religious education. Yet, in many cases, the resources to do so do not exist.

Catholic universities can help. They have the infrastructure and—in their theology departments and related academic ventures—the intellectual capital necessary both to train lay ministers and, through their students, to provide the lay ministers themselves where necessary.

Notre Dame’s president emeritus, and my esteemed predecessor, Father Ted Hesburgh responded to this challenge 30 years ago when he established the Institute for Church Life as a way to systematically deploy the University’s resources in service to the Church. Father Ted imagined theICL as a vehicle for linking particular units, functions, and people within the University to churchgoers and church leaders—from the parishioner in the pew who longs for a better homily or more instructive catechesis for her children, to the parish priest who needs training for his lay leaders, to the bishop who seeks ways to re–energize his pastoral leadership.

Today, the ICL has risen to national visibility under the leadership of our current director and chair of our theology department, Professor John Cavadini, who cleverly describes the role of the ICL in this way: “The ICL is like the function machine in a math textbook: you put the University in, and it comes out in user–friendly forms for non–academic church leadership.”

By and large, one of the most effective—and “user–friendly”—initiatives of the ICL is Echo, our Faith Formation Leadership Program. Echo is a dynamic, 2–year education and spiritual formation program that trains recent Notre Dame graduates to serve as apprentice catechetical leaders. Participants spend the summer after graduation taking academic courses on campus. In August, they begin their service in one of our partner parishes, where they live together in intentional faith communities. After 2 years, participants graduate with a M.A. in theology—a degree that is based in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and profoundly enriched through real ministerial experience.

Since its inception 3 years ago, Echo has enrolled 36 students, who are ministering in a growing list of partner parishes in Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, and soon, Delaware. Based on reports that put the average U.S. parish size at 3,254 persons, we can surmise that our 36 Echo participants have served roughly 120,000 Catholics nationwide.

Echo participants minister from “cradle to grave”—from directing catechesis programs for schoolchildren to bringing the Eucharist to elderly and homebound parishioners and, in the process, reenergizing their parish’s catechetical programs. Their impact on our partner parishes has been profound. As one diocesan director remarked, “The presence of Echo participants has brought a much–needed boost to our diocese’s awareness of the importance of catechesis, across the board. We couldn’t be happier with our involvement.”

This past spring, Echo graduated its first class—13 wonderfully bright and devout young men and women who are continuing to serve the Church. As Echo grad Michael Sena noted, “Echo made it possible for me to sample a little of bit of everything that parish ministry has to offer.” The breadth of experience these young people glean from their parish ministries has not only served the parishes well, but has opened our graduates’ eyes to the variety of needs in the Church today and to the many ways they can serve those needs. As a result, some of our new graduates have remained in parishes as religious education directors, others plan to teach in parish schools, others are involved in social justice work, and still others are pursuing law school so that they might minister, in a legal sense, to the Latino immigrant populations they met in their Echo parishes.

The zeal with which Echo has been pursued by parishes and by our graduates is a testament to the very real need for Catholic universities to train effective and theologically competent lay ministers to further the work of the Church.

Yet, in addition to filling the pipeline with qualified lay ministers from their own institutions, Catholic universities also have an opportunity—and a responsibility—to nourish the faith formation of the thousands of clergy and lay ministers already serving our dioceses and parishes.

Notre Dame has responded to this opportunity with an online, distance–learning program called the Satellite Theological Education Program, or STEP for short. Through STEP, we offer courses ranging from 4–week book review sessions to 7–week professor–led courses for parish and diocesan leaders, clergy, catechetical and religious education teachers, and any other interested person in any parish or school anywhere in the world.

The key to STEP—and programs like it—is the ability of Catholic universities to offer the high–quality teaching and content that our most under–resourced dioceses cannot afford to develop. Since its inception in 2000, STEP enrollments have grown steadily, to our current enrollment of around 1,000 students this year. These students come from every state and nearly every diocese in the U.S., as well as a few from other nations. We even had a nun from HoChiMinh City enroll in our course on the Eucharist. Imagine that—a theology professor in Indiana sharing her expertise with Catholics in Vietnam. Remarkable!

Nearly all of our STEP students work in dioceses and parishes, translating the topnotch theological instruction they receive through STEP into direct and immediate ministerial impact. Indeed, the effect of programs like STEP and Echo are exponential: we instruct a few thousand, who go on to touch thousands more in their parish ministries.

Every Catholic university in the nation—no matter the size—has the ability to replicate this kind of deep impact through the systematic sharing of their resources. Our potential to serve the Church is limited only by our creativity and willingness to do so.

III. Support of Catholic Elementary and Seconadary Schools

Catholic universities, as we have just heard, are well–equipped for theological study and adult faith formation. But there is also a third way in which they can offer creative responses to the needs of our Church: by supporting the educational work of the thousands of parochial schools around the nation that very much need our help.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings once called parochial schools “a national treasure,” and indeed Catholic elementary and secondary schools are one of the Church’s greatest gifts to this nation. Yet the problems facing parochial schools are well known: declining enrollment, affordability, accessibility—particularly to new Latino immigrants—diminishing academic quality, and far fewer vowed religious among the teaching ranks.

In 2005, when the U.S. Bishops released a statement on “Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools,” Notre Dame convened a national task force—with representatives from 49 dioceses—to conduct an in–depth study of Catholic schools. The study, which was chaired by my friend and colleague Father Tim Scully, resulted in a report published just this past December, entitled “Making God Known, Loved, and Served: The Future of Catholic Primary and Secondary Schools in the United States.”

The report offered a detailed look at Notre Dame’s response to the challenges facing parochial schools, as well as a specific set of recommendations on how our bishops can systematically strengthen these schools. We sent a copy of the report to every bishop in the U.S. and to many others with a stake in Catholic education.

We are tremendously exited about this report and about Notre Dame’s responses to the challenges described in it. I’d like to highlight just one of those responses tonight:

By all accounts, our most successful and oft–replicated response has been the Alliance for Catholic Education, or ACE, as it’s more commonly known. A teacher–training program, ACE was founded in 1994 by Fr. Scully and Fr. Sean McGraw in direct response to the pressing need to attract and form a new generation of talented Catholic school teachers.

When they began, Tim and Sean had just 40 eager young people to work with—40 new Notre Dame graduates who were placed in some of the South’s most under–resourced Catholic schools. In 1998, the late Cardinal O’Connor, Archbishop of New York, predicted to Fr. Tim: “Pretty soon, you’ll have a movement on your hands.”

He was right. Twelve years after it was founded, ACE supports nearly 200 teachers every year in more than 100 Catholic schools nationwide. The ACE model has been replicated by some 13 colleges and universities, which support an additional 450 teachers annually. In 2002, we took it a step further, establishing the ACE Leadership Program for Catholic school teachers who want to serve as administrators.

In an age of teacher shortages, ACE has more than four applicants for every opening—the program is teaming with talented, committed young people from a variety of undergraduate disciplines who could most certainly find easier, better–paying jobs elsewhere. So why is there a waitlist to join our program? And why do more than 70% of them continue teaching in Catholic schools after their 2–year commitment to ACE?

Carol McCarthy, an ACE teacher stationed in Savannah, Georgia, put it this way: “In ACE, you are constantly asked to give of yourself: in ways that you may not choose, at times that may be inconvenient, and with results that you would not always prefer. Yet you come to find that this type of generosity is the true definition of service.”

Patrick Vogtner, an ACE teacher in Jackson, Mississippi, was more blunt about it: “ACE,” he said, “is the hardest job I ever loved.”

At its most essential level, ACE represents an invitation to discipleship, to follow ever more closely Christ the Teacher, to “go forth and teach” the Gospel in Catholic schools. ACE teachers are provided not only with professional skills and credentials, but with an opportunity to live together in faith communities of four to seven ACE teachers. They are shaped by their contacts with students and with local bishops, priests, school superintendents, principals, and mentor–teachers. They are instruments of grace and hope for our Catholic schools.

A few years ago, Archbishop of Los Angeles Cardinal Mahoney, summed up the effect of ACEteachers on under–resourced Catholic schools in this way: “Our students have seen so many failed promises,” he said, “they have lived in despair for so long on so many dead–end streets, that for them to encounter a person of true hope is a great gift. This profound sense of hope is perhaps the greatest gift of the ACE teachers. These teachers bring a renewed spirit to Catholic education…their work creates something special in their own lives, in their communities, in the schools and dioceses, as well as in the Church across the country—they are creating a new momentum in Catholic education.”

If we could continue to replicate their work—if more Catholic colleges and universities joined us in supporting even greater numbers of ACE teachers nationwide—if, as Cardinal O’Connor said, ACEwere to become a true “movement”—the effect on the Catholic Church in America would be truly monumental.


These are just a few of the ways that Notre Dame has responded to the pressing needs of the Church. There are others, too many too enumerate here: initiatives like the partnership that our business college has developed to share its expertise in organizational management and values–based decision–making with senior personnel from Catholic Charities, which serves more than 7 million people throughout the country every year.

…Or initiatives like the Summer Peacebuilding Institute sponsored by our Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which has teamed up with Catholic Relief Services to train dozens of church leaders and CRS staffers every summer before they head off into conflict–ridden zones in the Catholic–rich nations of Africa and Latin America.

Forgive me if I have talked too much about Notre Dame. As I said, I do that because that is the school I know. Catholic colleges and universities throughout the nation are doing similar kinds of work that is profoundly valuable to the Church. But none of us, Notre Dame included, have yet fully realized our potential to serve the Church and, in doing so, to serve society. We must be steadfast in our commitment to use the gifts with which we have been so richly blessed to create a stronger Church in the U.S.—a Church that vividly reflects the bounty of Christ’s love for us.


In closing, I want to reiterate that, at this time in the Church’s history, we are in a moment of crisis only insofar as we are called to discern and make important decisions—the impact of which will be felt for generations. This is a time of great opportunity—particularly for Catholic universities which are superbly equipped to address questions of how best to catechize and educate the next generation of Catholic leaders; how to enhance ministry and worship in our parishes; how to make our institutions more effective and more distinctively Catholic; how to serve the Church and society as heroically in the 21st century as we did in centuries past.

I believe that we can do this: we can make the 21st century one in which the Church in America will flourish. Catholic universities have tremendous gifts to give to the Church. We at Notre Dame are committed to doing everything in our power to share these gifts and enhance the Church’s sacred work—to ensure, as St. Augustine said, that the Church will remain “ever ancient, ever anew.”

Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity to share a bit of our mission and vision with you tonight. And thank you, too, for the life–giving work that you continue to do on behalf of the Catholic Church. Please let me know if Notre Dame or I can ever be of service to you in your important ministry. Thank you, and God bless.