Father John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, meet Joseph Ratzinger.

In his day, Nazis were the ones denying the right to life to a class of people. Ratzinger’s school had refused to honor them, and so the Nazis shut it down.

Later, he and his school showed what Catholic identity means: fidelity despite intense hardship.

In light of the University of Notre Dame’s decision to honor Obama despite his record, we’ll first look at Joseph Ratzinger’s college days. From the (Register-affiliated Circle Press) book Benedict in Bavaria:

“The Nazis had shut down the theological department before the war, because Cardinal Faulhaber had refused to accept faculty who supported Hitler, so the faculty had to be rebuilt, drawing on refugee academicians from the parts of Germany that had been handed over to Poland and subsequently cleared of their German inhabitants.

“In 1947 Munich and its great university was still a heap of rubble, so the theology department had to be accommodated in an eighteenth-century converted royal hunting lodge, Fürstenried, about five miles south of the city center.

“The situation was anything but luxurious.

“The castle itself, with extensive surrounding park and gardens, was still serving as a veterans’ hospital, and the living situation for the students reminded Joseph of the military barracks. He slept on a dormitory bunk bed in an outlying annex that housed two professors, the administrative office, and the library.

“The director, Professor Josef Pascher, who also lived there, imposed a strict regimen of daily Mass, lunch in a common dining area, where he personally ladled out the soup, and evening readings from the Gospel. On Saturdays they all rode the tram into Munich, took up their shovels, and helped to clear the debris from the bombed-out university buildings.

“Lectures in Fürstenried had to be held in an unheated greenhouse on the grounds. There were no classes scheduled from Christmas to Easter due to lack of heaters and fuel.”

Now, we’ll look at Pope Benedict’s words on Catholic identity given at The Catholic University of America last year:

“Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church’s magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution’s life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual.”

Ratzinger’s time and place—World War II German—demanded a great witness of Catholics. Our times ask a much smaller witness. In those days, a school could be closed down for opposing leaders who rejected the right to life of a class of people. But the school closed down rather than honor the culture of death. Then, they rebuilt their school brick by brick.

A young man named Joseph Ratzinger learned one lesson from the way his school handled the challenges of his times.

Father Jenkins, what will your students learn from you?