On this day of protest against Notre Dame for sullying its Catholic identity by inviting a pro-choice president to give its commencement address, we might do worse than recall an earlier outcry against the university for bending its knee to the idols of American accommodationism. That occurred in the summer of 1953, when six members of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the religious order established by the excommunicated Jesuit priest Leonard Feeney, showed up on campus to call the university back to Marian devotion. But let’s let the Slaves’ organ at the time, The Point, tell the story.
Six Catholic Brothers were sent to jail in Chicago a couple of weeks
ago. They were Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary from Saint
Benedict Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the charge against
them was “disorderly conduct.” All over the country their story was
reprinted, supplemented by tabloid photographs and “serves-them-right”
editorials. The Chicago incident got its start in South Bend, Indiana —
the whole story in the press sounding somewhat as follows:
On Tuesday, July 28th, six clerically garbed young men from Saint
Benedict Censer, headquarters of the controversial Father Leonard
Feeney, appeared on the Notre Dame campus at South Bend and managed to
stir up the whole University summer school. Their apparent purpose was
the conversion of Notre Dame to their own “peculiar” beliefs.
Two days later, the group of six presented themselves at the
Chicago Chancery Building and demanded an appointment with Samuel
Cardinal Stritch. The “rumpus” raised by them forced Chancery officials
to call in Chicago police and have the noisy sextet locked up. On the
following morning in a local courtroom, the young men insisted that
their case was a matter for the Church, not the civil courts. They were
fined. They refused to pay. They were sentenced to five days in jail.
Next day, fines for the six were paid by a Chicago Catholic who did not
agree with the boys doctrinally, but thought that they ought to be
allowed to “go back to Massachusetts.”
The whole thing might very well have ended just where it began, at
Notre Dame, had it not been for what appeared in the newspapers as a
result of the Notre Dame incident. All that the six Slaves of the
Immaculate Heart of Mary had originally intended to do was to go out to
South Bend, talk to as many of the students and teachers as they could,
and then come home again.
The message that they brought to Notre Dame was a simple,
straightforward one: that no one can get into Heaven who does not love
the Blessed Virgin Mary. Later, the newspapers scoffingly reported that
the six Brothers had come to “convert” the Notre Dame students. This
was the strange doctrine to which they wanted to convert them.
The Brothers talked to more than three hundred Notre Dame
students and priests. They told them that Notre Dame was letting Our
Lady down. They said that there had once been a time when every
Catholic American boy had thought of the Notre Dame football team as
somehow representing Our Lady; but now, they said, it had turned into
an eleven-man Interfaith meeting, many of whose members would refuse
even to say the Hail Mary.
It was this attack on the sacred Notre Dame football team that
really aroused the press. There was hardly a newspaper in the country
that did not print the Brothers’ statement. Of course, it was twisted
to try and make it sound queer and absurd: “The first sign of your
approaching damnation is that you have Protestants on your football
team.” But people could see through the way the papers had put it to
what the Brothers had said, and they could see that a very telling
point had been scored against Notre Dame. The University was officially
upset enough to issue a statement on its policy regarding Protestants
in the athletic department.
Though the current protest against Notre Dame’s behavior is more broadly based than this episode, involving as it did a handful of members of a small schismatic sect, the issue is the same: To what extent is Notre Dame a sectarian Catholic institution of higher learning and to what extent a true university, open to the world?