“How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!” These words of our responsorial psalm today truly express the sentiments of so many who visit this beautiful basilica, the lovely dwelling place of the Lord that stands prominently on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. This basilica and its title are a constant reminder of this great university’s Catholic identity, a reminder of the mystery of the merciful love of God revealed in the heart of His Son, so central to our Catholic faith and central to our lives as disciples of Jesus. Here in this Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, all are invited to contemplate the Heart of the Redeemer, the Heart which gives life to the Church and to this university, the Heart which awakens within us not only deep gratitude for our redemption in Christ, but also the desire to worship and to serve the One whose Heart was pierced after His death upon the cross. From that Sacred Heart flowed blood and water. His heart is the source and the fountain of the living water which gives us the life of grace, the sacraments, the Church, and the Holy Spirit. It is Christ’ redeeming love that is at the origin of our salvation. At every moment we are enveloped in the love of His Sacred Heart!
In our first reading today we heard part of the long prayer of King Solomon at the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord and stretched forth his hands toward heaven, praying for his people and begging the Lord for the forgiveness of their sins and for their daily needs. While praying, he found himself confronted by the mysteriousness of God. He realized that God, the Creator of heaven and earth, transcends all things, so he asks: “Can it indeed be that God dwells on earth?” He prays: “If the heavens…cannot contain you, how much less this temple which I have built!” Solomon then understands that though God is in heaven, He condescends to earth. He is, in some way, in the temple. He knows that God hearkens from heaven when people pray to Him in that temple. Here in this Basilica, in this temple of the Lord, and in all the dormitory chapels of this university, and at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, students and faculty, staff and visitors lift up their hearts in prayer. We can speak of this campus as “holy ground,” especially since Our Lord is present really and truly in the tabernacles in chapels throughout this campus and in this Basilica. At every hour of the day or night, I imagine that someone here on campus is praying before the Blessed Sacrament. What a beautiful testament to the Catholic identity of the University of Notre Dame!
My first visit to Notre Dame, and my only visit before my appointment as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, was for the Notre Dame-Penn State football game in the fall of 2006. At that time, I was privileged to celebrate Mass here in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart after the game. That was such a memorable experience for me, even more memorable than Notre Dame’s impressive victory that day. I had a great weekend. I never imagined that I would be back here, as I am today, celebrating Mass as the new bishop of this wonderful diocese. As I celebrate this Mass, I repeat in my heart the words of the psalmist: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord, mighty God!” And I repeat the words of Solomon’s prayer: “Listen to the petitions of your servant and of your people which they offer in this place. Listen from your heavenly dwelling….”.
It has been a wonderful first four weeks as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend. It has been a very busy four weeks – “I hit the ground running,” as they say. It was four weeks ago today that I came to Notre Dame with my family on the eve of my installation. That was a beautiful day, thanks to the great hospitality of Father Jim McDonald. I celebrated Mass that day in the log chapel. That was a very special experience for me, to offer Mass in the place where the University of Notre Dame began, the most historic spot on campus. I was reminded, of course, of Father Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers who came with him as missionaries. They came at the invitation of the Bishops of Vincennes, Bishop Simon Brute (who, by the way, came here from Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland where I served for 9 ½ years) and his successor, Bishop Hailandiere. Vincennes was the diocese for all of Indiana before the creation of the diocese of Fort Wayne in 1857. 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. I was delighted to learn that the date of his arrival was November 26th, 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.
When I celebrated Mass in the log chapel, I also thought about the priest buried there, Father Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States. He came to this area of the country in 1830 to serve the Potawatomi Indians at the abandoned Saint Joseph Mission, a mission that went back to the 1680’s. These native Americans were largely Catholic and persevered in their faith for decades, even without priests. Father Badin came and revitalized the mission. In 1832, he began the purchase of the 524 acres where Notre Dame now stand and he is the one who named the site Saint Mary of the Lakes. He built the log chapel here which later Father Sorin found upon his arrival. Within a few years, the Congregation of Holy Cross would receive the 524 acres 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. We should not forget the first devout Catholics of this region, the Potawatomi Indians, who were forced to leave their homeland by the U.S. government. Nor should we forget the great missionaries, Father Badin, Father Sorin and the Holy Cross brothers who accompanied him, nor all our wonderful ancestors in the faith here at this university. They remind us of our roots. They remind us of our Catholic identity and mission. I have enjoyed reading the history of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend these past few months. The history of this diocese intersects often with the history of Notre Dame. 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. 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. Many have asked me, including many in the media, about this relationship. My response is pretty much always the same: Notre Dame is a Catholic university so the relationship must be close. I believe, 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.” In the past few months, I have received an incredibly warm welcome from Father Jenkins and the whole Notre Dame community, including the priests and resident students at Siegfried Hall and Morrissey Manor where I celebrated dorm Masses last week. As I undertake my new responsibilities as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, I am very conscious of my responsibility to promote the Catholic universities in my diocese, “and especially to promote and assist in the preservation and strengthening of their Catholic identity” (Ex Corde Ecclesiae 28). In speaking about the Catholic identity of our educational institutions, Pope Benedict XVI said in his address to Catholic educators in Washington, DC, in 2008, that Catholic identity “demands and inspires… that each and every aspect of (our) learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith,” the Holy Father said, “can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom. In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the Church and truly serve society. They become places in which God’s active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ’s ‘being for others.’” This is my prayer for the University of Notre Dame, that it may always be faithful to its Catholic mission by constantly growing in its commitment to truth and charity and that Catholic ideals, attitudes and principles will 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.
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