Speaks about first month as bishop
By Diane Freeby
NOTRE DAME — A busy few days spent by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on the campus of the University of Notre Dame last week typifies the first month following his installation as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
“It couldn’t have gone better,” said Bishop Rhoades, taking a break to chat with Today’s Catholic after celebrating the All Schools Mass and before having lunch with the South Bend area priests. “I can’t believe it’s been a month. I’ve hit the ground running and it’s been kind of a whirlwind, but I’ve had a variety of experiences. I’ve already visited a number of parishes and some schools, and also met with various directors of offices of the diocese. I’ve met a number of the priests and I’ve been up and down between Fort Wayne and South Bend … but I think it’s been going great!”
An untimely flat tire prevented Bishop Rhoades from celebrating Mass with the students of Notre Dame last month, before nearly 400 of them left to participate in the March for Life in Washington, D.C. He has since celebrated Mass in a couple dorms at Notre Dame, before his official welcome Feb. 9 in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Bishop Rhoades said he has enjoyed spending time with Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame.
“Last evening, we had a wonderful meeting and, of course, he’s welcomed me very warmly to the University of Notre Dame,” said Bishop Rhoades. “So I’m looking forward to having a strong relationship with him and the administration of Notre Dame, and a close relationship with the whole community — the students, the faculty, the staff.”
Father Jenkins, joined by a full basilica and over 20 concelebrating priests, opened Mass by saying, “We welcome you to Notre Dame, not as a visitor, but as our bishop!”
Met with thunderous applause, Bishop Rhoades smiled and began the liturgy. During his homily, he offered his thoughts on the relationship between a bishop and a Catholic university. A student of history, Bishop Rhoades recalled celebrating Mass in the log chapel on the eve of his installation. He said he was reminded of Father Edward Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers who came with Father Sorin as missionaries.
“As you know, Father Sorin arrived here in 1842 at what was then called Saint Mary of the Lakes and here he found a log building with a chapel on the second floor,” stated Bishop Rhoades. “I was delighted to learn that the date of his arrival was Nov. 26, so I share a birthday with the University of Notre Dame. Soon Father Sorin changed the name of the place to Notre Dame du Lac, Our Lady of the Lake. Students began to show up soon after the arrival of Father Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers.”
Still reflecting on his experience celebrating Mass in the log chapel, Bishop Rhoades remembered the priest who is buried there, Father Stephen Badin. Father Badin revitalized the abandoned St. Joseph Mission and began the purchase of the 524 acres where Notre Dame now stands. Within a few years, the Congregation of Holy Cross would receive the land Father Badin had purchased and given to the bishop of Vincennes.
“It is good to remember the holy and humble beginnings of our beloved University of Notre Dame,” said Bishop Rhoades, referring to the first devout Catholics of the region and the great missionaries who served them. “They remind us of our roots. They remind us of our Catholic identity and mission.”
“It is especially interesting for me to learn about the relationship between my predecessor bishops of this diocese and the University of Notre Dame, as well as the relationship of those earlier bishops of Vincennes with Notre Dame,” continued Bishop Rhoades. “It is an important relationship, an essential relationship. This relationship is one of the many exciting aspects of becoming the Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. I look forward to a close relationship.”
Bishop Rhoades said many have asked him about this relationship.
“Notre Dame is a Catholic university so the relationship must be close,” stated Bishop Rhoades, who went on to quote the papal document, “Ex Corde Ecclesiae.”
“I believe,” he said, “as Pope John Paul II said when he visited the United States in 1987, that bishops ‘should be seen not as external agents but as participants in the life of the Catholic university.’”
Earlier, Today’s Catholic asked Bishop Rhoades about a Feb. 4 letter to the editor in the South Bend Tribune in which Notre Dame theology professor Jean Porter publicly criticized Father Jenkins for leading Notre Dame students at last month’s March for Life. In her letter she wrote of her dismay at the university’s particpation in the national march as well as its consideration of adopting an official statement committing to pro-life.
Bishop Rhoades told Today’s Catholic, “I think it’s unbelievable that at a Catholic university, you would have a professor that would disagree with the president of a Catholic university leading students to the March for Life in Washington.”
He said, “To me, that is terribly, terribly sad and really unbelievable in my mind. I’m really grateful that Father Jenkins did lead the students at the March for Life. I was so glad to see him there, and I thank him for that leadership. I would presume that the great majority of faculty at Notre Dame would disagree with that professor … I would hope.”
For those who continue to question the motives of Notre Dame’s president when he decided to attend the January march, Bishop Rhoades reiterated his support: “Father Jenkins is pro-life, for heaven’s sakes.”
Bishop Rhoades said it is his prayer at the Mass of welcome that Notre Dame constantly grow in its commitment to truth and charity and that Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles pervade all aspects of university life: teaching, research, curricular and extracurricular activities.
“Through fidelity to its Catholic mission and its commitment to serve the Church and the human family, may Notre Dame always be faithful to its founder’s vision, to its historic roots, and, most importantly, faithful to the One in whose Heart we discover and experience the wondrous reality of God’s infinite love for us. May Our Lady who watches over this university lead us all to encounter Him, her Divine Son, who is the source of all wisdom and truth, goodness and love.”
The best news. Delivered to your inbox.
Subscribe to our mailing list today.