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Notre Dame’s Father Bill Miscamble Promotes Catholic Identity on Campus
BY Christopher White
Father Bill Miscamble has been a Holy Cross priest for 25 years and a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame since 1988. During that time, he has served as chair of the history department and rector of Moreau Seminary.
Most notably, however, he has been one of the chief defenders and promoters of Notre Dame’s commitment to its Catholic identity.
His most recent book, For Notre Dame: Battling for the Heart and Soul of a Catholic University, recounts many of these efforts — both on campus and beyond — to preserve Notre Dame’s commitment to the Catholic faith.
He spoke with the Register about his new book, the current state of affairs at Notre Dame and his hope for continued renewal in Catholic higher education.
Ex Corde Ecclesia is the 1990 encyclical by John Paul II outlining his vision for Catholic universities, which you draw on throughout your book. By your assessment, in what ways has Notre Dame failed and succeeded in living out this vision?
Ex Corde Ecclesiae must be the essential blueprint which guides Notre Dame and all truly Catholic institutions of higher education. Unfortunately, the past decades have seen developments on campus which have taken Notre Dame well down a more secularist path and lessened its capacity to serve from "the heart of the Church."
While the university still has a vibrant liturgical life on campus and solid pastoral ministry, the academic center of the university has not lived up to the Ex Corde vision put forth by Blessed John Paul II. This is especially evident when one examines such crucial areas as the complexion of the faculty and the content of the curriculum.
Were you surprised with the university’s decision to sue the federal government over the HHS mandate, which would require Notre Dame to pay for contraception and other abortifacients?
I was not surprised by the eventual decision, in that I was aware of discussions regarding legal action that had been in the works for some time. Undoubtedly, the action was taken out of genuine concern for religious freedom. The university leadership could have been more forceful in its opposition. No doubt, there was some embarrassment over the need to sue, given that President Obama promised to "draft a sensible conscience clause" in his commencement address at Notre Dame [in 2009]. Yet there was a clear recognition that the HHS mandate’s requiring Notre Dame to provide health insurance covering abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives and sterilizations effectively forced the university to fund activities contrary to Catholic teaching. This has to be opposed. I hope that Notre Dame might play a much more vigorous role in the defense of religious liberty in the United States going forward.
As a priest first and foremost, I know that the spiritual life at Notre Dame is your highest concern. How would you describe the current spiritual health of the community?
We can be very grateful that there is still solid pastoral ministry and strong liturgical practice on campus, but there is much more that Notre Dame can do to aid its students to encounter Christ and to serve as a vehicle to bring the Gospel to the world.
Notre Dame must be an institution where what Pope Benedict called "the dictatorship of relativism" does not prevail. It must contest the secular forces so prevalent in the broad culture and energetically contribute to the crucial work of the New Evangelization. Notre Dame’s spiritual health, in a corporate sense, will be more robust when it rejects many of the prevailing and often shallow fads that beset American universities.
In my book, I suggest that a new generation of dedicated Holy Cross religious at Notre Dame might play a special role in spiritual renewal on campus, so that it will be a place which offers an integrated education concerned not only with the mind, but also with the heart and soul.
You mention the new generation of Holy Cross priests as giving you hope for Notre Dame’s future. Can you expand on that?
A decade ago, I had the privilege of serving as rector of Moreau Seminary at Notre Dame, the principal formation site of the Congregation of Holy Cross in North America, and I continue to live there. Consequently, I have a close familiarity with our recently ordained priests and with our men presently in the various stages of priestly formation — now numbering close to 50. They are zealous and committed men who want to place their gifts and talents in the Lord’s service and to call and aid others to deepen their relationship with Christ.
Fortunately, a good number of them are preparing to serve in the crucial higher education apostolate. They promise to be true educators in the faith and agents of the New Evangelization, who will bring Christ to the classroom and, indeed, to all parts of the campus. They are a source of great encouragement for me in my own endeavors.
You’re very involved in Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, which has really been a beacon of light since its founding by David Solomon. Can you describe some of the ways in which the center has buttressed both the intellectual and spiritual life on campus?
The Center for Ethics and Culture (CEC) is a special jewel at Notre Dame and a most notable contributor to the university’s Catholic mission. David Solomon’s key insight was to root the work of the center in the Gospels and in important elements of recent Church teaching, especially the encyclicals of Blessed John Paul II, such as Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) and Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life). The center emerged quickly as the bastion for pro-life activities on campus, and it has supported a whole variety of student and faculty initiatives in this key area.
Under David, and now under the guidance of his excellent successor, Carter Snead, the center also serves as an interdisciplinary hub for reflection, research and dialogue on the Catholic moral and intellectual tradition and its application to contemporary issues. Furthermore, the CEC provides valuable programming for students, such as its excellent Catholic literature series, and it hosts a variety of lectures and conferences that reach out to audiences from Notre Dame and far beyond. The CEC’s annual fall conference is an especially impressive gathering for dialogue and debate.
Let me encourage your readers to get details from the center’s website (EthicsCenter.nd.edu) of the upcoming conference, which will be held in November and will address the theme of the body and human identity.
How do you see students living their faith on campus?
The faith of the undergraduate students is one of the real strengths of Notre Dame. It is publicly evident in their participation at Masses in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and in the various residence halls, in their involvement in the various programs offered by [the Office of] Campus Ministry, including retreats and Bible study, etc. It is also very evident in the large numbers of students committed to some regular volunteer service through the programs of the Center for Social Concerns and, of course, through the terrific endeavors of the Notre Dame Right to Life organization, which had 500-plus students attend the most recent March for Life in Washington, D.C. Moreover, an increasing number of students of faith support each other in resisting the excessive drinking which unfortunately "fuels" some of what passes for social life on college campuses today and can devolve into the exploitative "hook-up" culture. Finally, a growing number of students are demonstrating a deep hunger for the truth. They want more than the limited vocational/career training that most colleges now provide. They want to face deep questions of meaning and to discern the path God calls them to travel. Notre Dame must be a place that allows them to do this well.
writes from New York.
Major League Soccer Player Keeps His Trust in God
BY TRENT BEATTIE
Matt Besler and his Sporting Kansas City team almost reached this year’s MLS Cup final, which takes place Nov. 20. What makes this an especially noteworthy feat is the team’s climb from last place earlier in the season and, on an individual level, the fact that Besler was not even sure he’d be playing professional soccer.
Besler guided his high-school team to a state championship in 2004 and went on to help the University of Notre Dame make four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He was named an All-American on the field and the National Soccer Coaches Association of America voted him the Men’s Scholar All-America Player of the Year as a senior in 2008.
In the professional ranks, however, the competition was particularly tough, so Besler wasn’t sure where he would be playing, or even if he would be playing at all. Nevertheless, he kept his faith in God, stayed focused on the field, and now starts as a defender on one of the best teams in the country.
In between recent playoff games in early November, Besler fielded some questions from Register correspondent Trent Beattie.
What are the highlights of the season so far that stand out for you?
I think opening up our new stadium and having such a good home record is a highlight from this season. I also think the fact that we were able to climb back from last place and go all the way to first place to finish as the Eastern Conference champions says a lot about our team. Now we’re advancing in the playoffs, when, at the beginning of the season, it looked like maybe we wouldn‘t even make it to the postseason at all.
Are there quite a few other Catholic pro soccer players (especially from South America)?
I would say that most of the guys that come in from South America are Catholic, but I don’t talk to them a whole lot because they speak a different language. Around the league you will find a lot of guys that are Protestant and a good amount of guys that are Catholic as well, regardless of which countries they come from.
How important was faith to your family growing up?
My family was a very Catholic family. My dad was raised very Catholic and went to Catholic schools his whole life. My mom actually grew up Methodist, but she converted to Catholicism when she married my dad. Attending Mass was important for my family, and I think my parents did a good job instilling those values in me and my brothers.
Has your Catholic faith influenced your soccer (and maybe vice versa, such as the discipline necessary for sports helping you to be more disciplined with the faith)?
Having my Catholic faith allows me to always feel confident and comfortable on the soccer field. Competition can be very intense, but knowing there are more important things in life and that God is in control helps to keep things in perspective. Then the confidence is there because you realize that, despite so much work and so many sacrifices, it still is a game.
In the same regard, my soccer career has always kept me on a set schedule and the discipline required to be a professional athlete carries over to attending Mass regularly and praying a lot. If I weren’t on as tight a schedule or didn’t have as many demands, I may not be as diligent in practicing the faith.
Were there rough periods in your soccer career or life in general that your faith has gotten you through?
Last year I wasn’t getting a lot of playing time at all, and it was a tough season for me, but I stayed strong in my faith, and that helped me get through the season. Also, at the beginning of my professional soccer career, I had no idea where I was going to play or even if I was going to play at all. Instead of worrying about it, I put a lot of confidence in the Lord, and it ended up all right.
What are some of your favorite aspects of the Catholic faith?
I really appreciate the eternal aspect of it; Catholicism will always be there. The same can’t really be said for soccer. As much as I enjoy playing it, soccer is not always going to be in my life, and everything else is going to come and go as well. However, my faith will always be there as the rock that gives support to everything else.
Former pro soccer player Chase Hilgenbrinck has entered the seminary to become a priest, and former pro baseball player Grant Desme has done the same. Do you have similar plans?
I do not have intentions of joining the seminary at this time, but I do intend on staying strong in the faith throughout my life. Whatever vocation anyone ends up embracing, the basic faith is still the same, with the foundation laid for us at baptism. Married life, religious life and priesthood are all continuations of that initial sacrament that has been likened to a door into the Church.
Do you have a favorite saint or devotion?
I like to pray the Rosary before games; that’s one of my rituals. You get into the right mindset by having a routine, and, of course, you get all the grace from the prayers as well. Mary is always willing to help us, if we only ask for it.
My favorite saint is St. Christopher, and I wear a medal with his image on it. I like how he is a strong man and how he used that strength to help someone in need. It shows that power and generosity should go hand-in-hand.
I also heard recently about Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, who lived in the early part of the last century. All the saints have something to offer, but he seems particularly interesting because of his youth (he died at age 24), his closeness to our own time, and the fact that he enjoyed playing soccer and other sports. He’s definitely someone to look into more.
Is there anything new about yourself you’d like to share?
I have a dog, a really small lab, and his name is Gipper. I named him after the famous Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne’s famous speech “Win One for the Gipper,” so that has some Catholic ties to it.
Register correspondent Trent Beattie writes from Seattle.