Oct. 20, 2005

By Dennis K. Brown

Citing the wisdom of popes and priests, saints and scholars, and, of course, his mom, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., challenged the University community in his presidential inaugural address Sept. 23, to “build a Notre Dame that is bigger and better than ever – a great Catholic university for the 21st century.”

During a two-and-one-half-hour convocation ceremony witnessed by some 4,000 spectators in the Joyce Center arena, Father Jenkins was formally installed as Notre Dame’s 17th president. Like all of his predecessors, and in accordance with the University’s bylaws, he is a priest of the Indiana Province of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Notre Dame’s founding religious community.

It was, in fact, Notre Dame founder, Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., to whom Father Jenkins referred to most often during his 35-minute speech. He began his address by quoting from Father Sorin’s letter to his religious superior, Rev. Basile Moreau, C.S.C., just days after founding Notre Dame in 1842. “This college,” Father Sorin predicted, “will be one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country.”

In his closing remarks, Father Jenkins again referred to the University’s founder. He told the well-known story of the fire of 1879 that destroyed the Main Building and then quoted Father Sorin’s famed remarks to a stunned campus community: “I came here as a young man and dreamed of building a great university in honor of Our Lady. But I built it too small, and she had to burn it to the ground to make that point. So, tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it, bigger and better than ever.”

Father Jenkins then made a similar proclamation for a new era.

“With respect and gratitude for all who embraced Notre Dame’s mission in earlier times,” he said, “let us rise up and embrace the mission for our time: to build a Notre Dame that is `bigger and better than ever’ – a great Catholic university for the 21st century, one of the pre-eminent research institutions in the world, a center for learning whose intellectual and religious traditions converge to make it a healing, unifying, enlightening force for a world deeply in need. This is our goal. Let no one ever again say that we dreamed too small.”

Father Jenkins devoted much of his address to his own dreams and goals for Notre Dame in coming years, among them:

• Creating greater “intellectual engagement and achievement” in Notre Dame’s historically strong undergraduate program, with a particular emphasis on student participation in significant research efforts.

• Improving upon the advances made in faculty research and scholarship so that Notre Dame becomes a “more significant leader in expanding knowledge and understanding. No department should be in the bottom tier of the rankings; the number of top tier departments must increase; and in some programs and specialties, we must be the best in the world.”

• Connecting the Catholic mission of the University to its research. All academic units, he said, “must, whenever possible, find dimensions of their research agenda that reflect our Catholic character and values.”

• Stepping into the great national and international debates of the day, adding Notre Dame’s voice to issues such as the relationship between science and religion, domestic and worldwide poverty and hopelessness, environmental concerns, and the uses of technology. “We must take on the social, moral and economic issues where we can make a distinctive contribution,” he said.

• Enhancing racial, ethnic, gender, socio-economic and geographical diversity on campus, and affirming and recognizing the value of religious diversity.

As he concluded his inaugural address, Father Jenkins asserted: “Notre Dame is different. Combining religious faith and academic excellence is not widely emulated or even admired among the opinion-makers in higher education. Yet, in this age especially, we at Notre Dame must have the courage to be who we are. If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?”

Prior to Father Jenkins’ speech, Patrick F. McCartan, chair of the Board of Trustees, led the investiture ceremony with the presentation of two symbols – the Presidential Medal, which symbolizes the office itself, and the origins and purposes of the University, and the Presidential Mace, which represents the authority of the office.

The convocation was preceded by an academic procession of nearly 1,000 University faculty, trustees, administrators, student leaders, representatives of learned society and other colleges and universities worldwide, and Notre Dame alumni/ae.

Father Jenkins, 51, was elected April 30, 2004, by the Board of Trustees to a five-year term as president and began serving July 1.