January 28, 2014
Bradley on Notre Dame and "institutional vocation"
Notre Dame senior Michael Bradley has a really nice essay-and-interview up at Ethika Politica called "How (Not) to Think About Notre Dame's Catholic Character." It it, Bradley reflects on the interesting and important idea of "institutional vocation" and provides a helpful counter-voice to the strident and usually under-informed criticisms of Notre Dame that the University's various missteps and imperfections trigger in the more "conservative" sectors of the Catholic blogosphere. Here is a bit:
I would like to see a more integrated institutional witness, one that unites administrators, faculty, and other staff in a vision of the Catholic Church’s mission as being truly normative for the life of the university. As things stand, it often seems as if facets of that mission are viewed as fungible, when the cost of discipleship begins to run high. Again, there are faculty and alums more ably suited to speak to this dynamic. But even a student can see that the Catholic “diamond in the rough” vibrancy at Notre Dame should be not so in-the-rough.
Notre Dame’s institutional vocation is very different from what smaller Catholic universities or colleges are called to be in and for the Church. Not better or worse, but very different. The mistake that many critics of Notre Dame make is to compare it directly to other institutions of Catholic higher education and compare and contrast, often indiscriminately in my opinion, the merits and demerits of life at Notre Dame. But such analyses bespeak a worrisome blindness to institutional vocation.
Yes, there are normative magisterial expressions that ought to govern and guide the life of the university, among which expressions Ex Corde Ecclesiae is foremost. And undeniably, Notre Dame is falling short by ECC standards; that much is obvious in a vacuum.
But, fidelity to the Church qua the Catholic university that Notre Dame is—not as a quasi-institutional “parish,” or “youth group,” or catechesis program, or retreat, or even a smaller Catholic college or less prominent Catholic university—is what should inform analyses of Notre Dame’s Catholicism. Not comparisons with other institutions, the missions of which we really can’t pretend are all equal in either scope or even intent. . . .