Timothy Dolan, Cardinal of New York City
Delivering the Commencement Address at Notre Dame University
May 19, 2013
Thank you, Notre Dame, for the joy of your company, the gracious invitation, the warm welcome, and the high honor of this degree.
It was so obvious I almost missed it . . .
See, ever since, almost a year ago, Father Jenkins, with characteristic thoughtfulness, invited me to deliver this commencement address, I’ve been mulling over just what to say to you, class of 2013.
Only Friday a week ago I still had not yet completed this talk, and I got on the train in New York City to travel to D.C. In Philadelphia, a distinguished looking man boarded the train and sat next to me.
He turned out to be a fanatical, in-your-face, obnoxious Notre Dame alumnus! You ever met one? Nice to meet you! Now I guess I am proudly one, after the privilege of this honorary degree which I so appreciate and cherish! He begins to speak with obviously radiant pride and gratitude about Notre Dame, telling me his faithful Jewish parents wanted him to attend a Catholic college – – because, in their words. “The Church founded the universities, and educate better than anybody else” – – and reporting to me that, even as a faithful Jew, he considers his four years here at this Catholic university a gift beyond measure. When I told him I’d be here for graduation, he beamed.
“Father,” he went on, holding my arm and looking me in the eye, “let me tell you the secret of Notre Dame. It’s not the library, as first-rate as it is; it’s not the professors and courses, as stellar as they are; it’s not the campus, as enchanting as it is, or even the football team, as legendary as it is. No, the secret of Notre Dame is really a person, whom we Jews call ‘Miriam,’ and you Christians call ‘Mary.’ She’s there . . . she looks down from the ‘golden dome’; and, if you really want to discover the secret of Notre Dame, visit that grotto you Catholics call “Lourdes.” There’s something there . . . no, there’s someone there . . . we call her Notre Dame, and she’s the secret of her university.”
Thank you, Howard. Hope you’re listening to me now, as you promised me on that train you would. Because with those words you solved the riddle about what I should say in these few moments. That was Mother’s Day weekend; it was May, the month dedicated to her; and I had just returned, with fifty sick and disabled people, from a pilgrimage to the “real” Lourdes in France. So obvious I had almost missed it . . . I’m going to speak of Notre Dame . . . Notre Dame . . . our Lady . . . Mary, the mother of Jesus.
One can make the point that she’s perhaps the most important human person ever. Even history itself is divided “before” and “after” the birth she gave to her firstborn. She was there at Christmas at His birth; at Cana, His first miracle; at the foot of the cross; at Pentecost, the feast we celebrate today.
“But when the appointed time came, God sent His own Son, born of a woman . . .” St. Paul writes the Galatians;
“And while there in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her firstborn . . .” records St. Luke;
“Mary said to the servants at Cana. ‘Do whatever He tells you . . .’ ’’ reports St. John;
“Near the cross of Jesus stood His mother . . .” recalls the Beloved Disciple;
“The apostles were in continuous prayer, together with Mary, the mother of Jesus . . .” writes St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, in the account of Pentecost.
Notre Dame . . . Our Lady . . .
John Ruskin held that “every brightest and loftiest achievement of the arts, dreams, advancement, and progress of humanity has been but the fulfillment of that poor Israelite woman’s prayer, ‘He who is mighty has magnified me!’ . . .”
While Wordsworth extolled her as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
“All things rising, all things sizing, Mary sees sympathizing . . .”
. . . claims Gerard Manley Hopkins, as you, the class of 2013, have sensed her maternal presence “rising, sizing, and sympathizing” these blessed years on a campus wrapped in her mantle, and praise God that Father Sorin and that pioneer band of priests and brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross placed this most noble endeavor under her patronage from day one 171 years ago.
Might I propose to you, my new classmates, class of 2013, that she’s not just our patroness, but our model. It all comes down to this: she – – Miriam, Mary, Notre Dame, our Lady – – humbly, selflessly, generously, with trust, placed her life in God’s hands, allowing her life to unfold according to His plan. She gave God’s son a human nature; she gave the Eternal Word – – God the Son, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity – – flesh. That’s called the Incarnation. God became one of us.
“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Incarnation . . .