Thinking In Public

November 11, 2020

A Parable of God, Country, and Notre Dame: A Conversation with Historian Wilson D. Miscamble about Theodore Hesburgh

Transcript

Albert Mohler:

This is Thinking in Public, the program dedicated to intelligent conversation about frontline theological and cultural issues with the people who are shaping them. I'm Albert Mohler, your host, and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Reverend Wilson D. Miscamble is professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. He has also served as chairman of that department of history, and it's the university where he earned his Ph.D. in 1980. A native of Australia, Professor Miscamble has enjoyed a distinguished career as historian, particularly an historian of American foreign policy since World War Two. He's a two-time recipient of the Harry S. Truman award for his books, George F. Kennan and the Making of American Foreign Policy, and From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War. But his most recent book is the topic of our conversation today: American Priest: the Ambitious Life and Conflicted Legacy of Notre Dame's Father Ted Hesburgh, and it's going to be a very interesting conversation. Professor Miscamble, welcome to Thinking in Public.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Thanks very much, Dr. Mohler. Pleasure to be with you.

Albert Mohler:

I've really looked forward to this conversation. When I was first elected president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary back in 1993 ... this will intrigue you. My conservative, evangelical, Southern Baptist board chairman gave me a copy of God, Country, Notre Dame by Theodore Hesburgh, the very famous president of the University of Notre Dame. I found it, I must tell you, incredibly helpful and frustrating. That was my first really ... I knew who he was. That was my first real engagement with him. I was really looking forward to your book when it came out, and I have to tell you, I found it a feast. How did you decide to write this biographical work of Father Hesburgh?

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Well, there's a story there. It grows out of my own involvement. I'm a teacher at Notre Dame. I've been teaching here since the mid-1980s, so I tapped in right at the very end of Hesburgh's presidency. He finished in 1987, and Edward Malloy took over from there. In that period, as I was getting underway at Notre Dame, there was a lot of contestation over the Catholic mission and identity of the university. I was engaged in those conversations, and wanting to understand why it was that there was this ... I would describe it as a secularizing tendency about. It was out of concerns generated from that whole mixture of discussion that I began to conceive of a biography of Hesburgh as a way of understanding how using Hesburgh as a lens to reflect on how Notre Dame had developed over the previous couple of decades. I have to confess, it emerged ... I don't disguise this. It emerged out of my own concerns about the Catholic mission and identity of Notre Dame.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Now, I identified the idea to him, to Father Hesburgh, in the mid-1990s, about writing about him. I interviewed him in the late 1990s at some length, up at Land O' Lakes, Wisconsin. But I waited until his death, he died in 2015, until I set about writing the book. There was a long gestation period for the book, but that's how I came to it. I wanted to understand the journey that both Hesburgh and Notre Dame ... I thought it would allow me to tell some stories about religion and public life, and religion and higher education in America. I hope it's something ... it is a Catholic book, as you know, Dr. Mohler, but it's a book that I believe Christians of all denominations can read with interest and benefit from. I hope that's how you found it.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely. That's why I've been looking so forward to this conversation. When I tried to understand what was going in evangelical higher education, long before I came here as president, actually, when I was even here as a doctoral student, I began trying to trace the process by which academic aspiration, or cultural aspiration on the part of institutions, ran into a dissonance, let's just say, with the convictional basis and the ecclesial control over these schools. In the Southern Baptist context, you had so many schools that broke relationships right in the midst of the controversies of the '20s and the aftermath of the Depression, and then an entire new round by the time you get to the 1980s and '90s. The Southern Baptist convention, frankly, was just too conservative, in the view of many of these colleges, and their state conventions as well.

But it was actually seeing the parallels with the Roman Catholic experience that I think became very instructive. And of course, James Burtchaell, who was the provost there at Notre Dame, wrote the great book The Dying of the Light, on the disengagement of American religious universities from their church accountability, their church roots. Most of the institutions he covered, by the way, were Protestant institutions.

Wilson D. Miscamble: Yes.

Albert Mohler:

Then with Theodore Hesburgh and Notre Dame. Notre Dame is just an American fact. If American Protestants don't know much about Catholicism, they certainly know something about Notre Dame. It symbolizes Catholicism. Hesburgh was to Notre Dame, I would argue, what Woodrow Wilson was to Princeton. He was the transformative president who created an institution basically on the same real estate, but a very different institution. In reading his own autobiography, God, Country, Notre Dame, I have to tell you, a part of me as a young president here thought, "I want to do exactly that." But far more of me thought, "I want to do exactly the opposite of that," because by the time Hesburgh left office as president of Notre Dame, arguably, Notre Dame was less Catholic than it was when he arrived. You tell that story and it's simplistic to put it that way, but that's basically the story you tell. where Theodore Hesburgh had incredible ambitions for Notre Dame University, but by the time he left, the school was basically outside the control of the religious order that had established it and was redefining what it meant to be Catholic. Just tell us that story, if you can.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes. It's a complicated story in some ways, but as I think you are already aware of from having the Jim Burtchaell book The Dying of the Light, it's a story that gets replicated in differing denominations and in differing institutions. Father Hesburgh became president of Notre Dame in 1952. He served for 35 years in the position, until 1987. But he claims that he had this vision as to what he was destined to do right at the outset: that he was to create a great Catholic university. He would often say, "Well, they had some back in the Middle Ages, but it hasn't been good since then.

And he is correct to say that the Catholic universities and colleges formed in the 19th century, like Notre Dame, were struggling places. Some of them survived, some of them didn't, and they were very much teaching 'teaching' institutions. They were trying to help first- and second-generation Catholics grow. I imagine many of the Baptist colleges would identify themselves in the same way. The early founders of Notre Dame, members of the religious order to which I belong, thought they were trying to prepare good citizens to contribute to the earthly realm and good citizens for Heaven.

Now, Father Ted looked at the landscape, and he saw the best "universities" are those Ivy League places, and the elite of the state universities such as the University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Cal-Berkeley. What defined them? Research defines them, of course. They have an important research infrastructure. They have high-level professoriate doing original work. He sees right at the outset, "We're an institution that just doesn't rate with that crowd, and I'm determined to push Notre Dame into their company."

Now, the course of action to do that is you want to replicate who they are and what they do. That is what I would say happens to him fairly quickly. He starts off in the 1950s clearly with his thinking about this distinct way to be a Catholic university, and he never stops talking about being a great Catholic university right throughout. But by the 1960s, I argue he got caught in an association with the elite of American higher education, with the Rockefeller Foundation Board. He's mixing it up with this crowd. He's on the National Science Board, so he's seeing what top science does, and he realizes, "I've got to raise money," money, very important," and I've got to recruit faculty who can do elite research." And so the push, through a very difficult decade, the 1960s, there was a lot of upheaval in American higher education. The push is to replicate what goes on in these elite, mainly Ivy League schools, all of whom had started as religious institutions, but had by and large marginalized religion certainly by the 20th century.

I argue that Father Ted loses sight of the crucial religious dimension of the school. He preserves—

anyone who visits Notre Dame and looks at—our beautiful basilica, there are chapels in every residence hall, there's all kinds of icons ... folks who watch a football game would know of “Jesus the Teacher,” who's known as Touchdown Jesus. They go, "Bill Miscamble, what's your problem? There's religiosity all around the place." But the challenge is what goes on in the central academic heart. And increasingly, that began to be separated from the religious mission and purpose of the place. You want to be like the Ivy League? You recruit faculty from the Ivy League. You want to be like them? You want your curriculum to sort of reflect what they do. That is what happened. We did not pay enough attention to those fundamental questions: who teaches, and what gets taught.

So over time, this never happened by one single decision, although Land O' Lakes in 1967 is a key moment, it doesn't happen by one decision. It happens bit by bit, by lots of decisions. I'm sure that's happened in schools of your denomination. It's not that they— now, Notre Dame has never gone down the path where we have separated ourselves, like some Baptist schools have separated from their convention— We have never done that. But we have sought to declare our independence from the institutional church.

Father Ted, I think he was torn within himself by the 1980s, and then particularly through his retirement, I think he had some reservations about how it had turned out. But he could never really admit them publicly.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. Well, I understand that. I often tell people that, with reference to Notre Dame, I'm trying to undo a very similar effort. If you were to look at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary faculty in the 1950s, their model was, and I mean technically, was the Yale Divinity School. Not Harvard, but Yale. They really focused on that. I was reminded, even thinking about this last night, that for Theodore Hesburgh, Princeton was the precise model for Notre Dame. Not Harvard or Yale, because they had less emphasis upon undergraduate teaching, and he was still committed that Notre Dame would be an undergraduate institution of emphasis.

I was elected here in 1993 as a part of a conservative recovery in the Southern Baptist Convention to bring the school back to theological accountability, and what is in the Protestant world a very clear confessionalism, and accountable confessionalism, and at the same time, to make certain that it was unashamedly committed to Christian scholarship. But all before me was the model of Theodore Hesburgh and Notre Dame, and I understand the temptation. I want to say that. I understand the temptation. He writes about going to Notre Dame when the religion course taught undergraduates where he said they were no greater than high school level. There just wasn't much academic aspiration. That was true of a lot of evangelical institutions for decades in the 20th century as well. The problem is you have to decide whose rules you're going to play by. The reality is, you can't be a Princeton now unless you're going to play by the same rules as Princeton.

I saw that in Theodore Hesburgh's memoir God, Country, Notre Dame when he wrote about the fact that early in his presidency ... and you point out how early ... he came to the conclusion that Notre Dame would have to have an independent faculty and it would have to have a governing board that was not driven by religious impulses, but rather by this academic vision. Among other things, it would have to have a lot of money and a commitment to research. By the time you add all that together, even by the academic rules of the elite institutions in the 1950s and '60s, that meant what Burtchaell called a disengagement from the respective churches. Is that a fair word to use of Notre Dame, a disengagement from classical Catholicism?

Wilson D. Miscamble:

I would qualify it. I would say yes and no. In the 1967 Land O' Lakes that Father Hesburgh was not the drafter of it but became the principal spokesperson for it. Land O' Lakes declares, "We are not subject to any outside authority. We are only subject to the internal workings of the academic community." My former colleague Philip Gleason has termed this "a declaration of independence." Independence. Yet, Catholicism is of course a multi-layered operation. Father Hesburgh and the religious community to which he belonged – he's a Catholic priest, He can't separate himself off— he's a priest in that church. But functionally, Father Hesburgh wanted to declare, "I'm not under the control of any outside body." He once declared, "I don't want anyone in the Vatican telling me what to do." He said, "One of those Cardinals, they wouldn't know a university from a cemetery." By the way, that's a little unfair to most of the Cardinals over there, but that was Father Ted's view, to separate himself off.

And yet, Notre Dame, because of its embedded Catholicism, the fact that there is a religious order, there are still about 40 members of my order involved at Notre Dame even today. Our numbers have been inclined, but we're involved in teaching and in the resident's life and campus ministry and so on. We have a presence. There's a tension at work. I try to argue to my friends, "Look, we have not separated off." We have to— as you have done with your presidency—we have to recalibrate. We have reengaged, and we have to take John Paul II's ex corde ecclesiae as our guiding charter, which says, "No, we operate from the heart of the church." So Notre Dame is still in a mixed place. It certainly hasn't secularized, but it has gone quite far down a secular direction, and Father Ted, sadly, put it in that direction, even though I don't think he understood fully the consequences of the decisions he was making at the time.

Albert Mohler:

Well, I think that would be also characteristic of many Southern Baptist and evangelical leaders of the same era, whose intentions were not to secularize their institutions, but the effect often became that. While we're talking, you mentioned the Land O' Lakes Statement. I want to come back to that in just a moment, but among Catholic institutions, most of the Catholic colleges and universities have state charters, Father Hesburgh pointed out over and over again.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yeah. We're constituted by an Indiana legislative charter.

Albert Mohler:

But the Catholic University of America is a pontifical institution, and thus is governed differently. I say that in order to make clear that the institutions of the Southern Baptist Convention itself – not of the state conventions, but of the Southern Baptist Convention itself— and at the head of that, it's first institution, which is the institution I lead, we're all Baptist pontifical institutions. That is to say, our boards are elected by the denomination itself, by our churches. We don't have a self-perpetuating board, and so when I speak to Catholics, I say, "We're like CUA. We're not like Notre Dame." That's how conservative Southern Baptists were able to regain control of their institutions, it is because they had the power to elect trustees. That was the determining issue. And eventually, they hold the charter. They decide what the institution is.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes. Well, it may take us off in a bit of a side direction, but you're mentioning trustees. The important role that trustees play. It's a great regret of mine, because Notre Dame has had some fine trustees, but many of them are selected more for their giving potential— there are various buildings on campus that reflect trustees names— but they have not been as attentive to fidelity to mission as one might have hoped the trustees would have been over this four-decade, five-decade period.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. Can I just share with you, speaking of going off the main road here for a moment, I have to share with you an interesting anecdote about one of my visits to Notre Dame. I was visiting and was kindly being shown about the university by the provost's office. We came to the Eck center, the big student center. As an historical theologian, I was very intrigued by that. I said, "You know, I'm just frankly amazed that in the middle of this landmark Catholic institution in the United States, there'd be this massive Center in honor of Johannes Eck." Best known for his disputation with Luther in 1519. There was a puzzled look on my guide's face, and he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "Is this not named for Johannes Eck?" He said, "Oh, no, this is named for a businessman, I think from Toledo." Sometimes we can read more theology than is actually there.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, yes. I don't think Johannes is going to receive any particular attention at Notre Dame. I think Frank Eck was the person who it was named for.

Albert Mohler:

I found that out. And as a president, I appreciate those donors.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, yes. I'm all for generous donors.

Albert Mohler:

God bless Mr. Eck.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

But I'm for generous donors who understand the significance of the mission, and their own role in making sure the institution stays faithful to it.

Albert Mohler:

Absolutely, and that's absolutely crucial. In your history, you go back to the fact that Father Hesburgh, Theodore Hesburgh, began to lay out his vision for Notre Dame and basically got his board to adopt this plan. And then after that, he wanted to bring other Catholic institutions into that same system, and thus the Land O' Lakes meeting and the Statement you spoke about. As someone who deals in the history of the secularization of American colleges and universities, I go back to that statement over and over again. I think it'd be helpful of you to explain what that is. Land O' Lakes is a retreat center owned by Notre Dame, so that's where the meeting was held.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes. Land O' Lakes is in northern Wisconsin. Actually, the border of Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan crosses through some of the lakes on the property. Father Hesburgh, it was a place in the world that he absolutely loved, spent time there every summer. He would take books up to read, and listen to classical music, and to the loons on the lake, and so forth. It was a place that was near—by the way, he was a great fisherman as well. He loved to fish up there, but it was a place near and dear to him, and a place where he gathered a group of Catholic educators. They were mainly from Jesuit schools, Thorndon and St. Louis, so on.

Many of these schools were going through—Boston College—many of these schools were going through perhaps a similar experience as Notre Dame. They had significant leaders. These were fellows who wanted to separate themselves off from some of the restraints from being part of a religious community where you had to get permissions for various things. They also were part of this movement, were wanting academic improvement. They wanted to move from being just primarily teaching institutions, being more research-oriented, and to gain more credibility and respect in the larger American academy.

There's a broad theme of assimilation that's going on. I think it's connected somewhat to politics. JFK is running, and he's sort of Catholic acceptance in the country. Hesburgh was a deep, deep American patriot. He loved the United States, and thought that it was by far the greatest country in the world.

Anyway, Hesburgh gathers these educators together as part of a discussion group and conference, preparing for a larger meeting of the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He's a significant figure there, and he argues, "Look, we've got to have some statement that clarifies for secular schools and the wider academic establishment that we're not under the thumb of these outside religious figures." Hence, they drafted a statement. It's not a lengthy statement. In many ways, it's a rather weak and confused statement. But it declares that Catholic universities will meet the criteria of the academy, but they will not subject themselves to any outside authority. Now, they weren't talking about subjecting themselves to the NCAA with all kinds of athletic restrictions. We went along with all of those without any problem. By outside authority, they meant the church, our institutional church. That's who they were declaring.

Father Hesburgh then, ironically, tries to sell this statement to the International Federation of Catholic Universities. He's selling a statement that says, "We're not going to be under any outside authority," to a Catholic authority. This is where I say he's so confused. He wants the Vatican to give him approval to be separate from the Vatican. Father Ted went around constantly saying, "The Catholic university is where the Church does its thinking." That's a bit of a conceit on his part. It's where it does some of its thinking, but not all of its thinking. Some of the thinking is a little questionable at times. But anyway, Father Ted wanted to have the Catholic university do the thinking for the Church, and yet not be in any way responsible to the Church. You can see , I'm sure your listeners will see the confusion involved there, that he didn't want to break fully, yet he didn't want to be under any control by the institution of the Church.

Albert Mohler:

Yes. That's a very familiar refrain.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

I hope that explains it a little better for your listeners, Dr. Mohler.

Albert Mohler:

It does indeed. Thank you. It's a very familiar refrain. This is a very similar approach that was taken by many evangelical institutions, and some Baptist institutions, at the same time. But these things show up where I think two very clear signals are sent. This is the substance of it all. What actually happens in the classroom? Who is going to be hired to teach at this university? For us, it's just extremely clear that as a confessional institution, we not only hire people who are willing to teach these truths, but we want to hire the people who are animated by them and absolutely committed to them. How did this change the hiring policy at Notre Dame?

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes. That's an issue that I've been involved in, and sort of struggling with for 30 years. I was chair of the history department in the 1990s, and have tried to raise it as a concern, because from the 1970s really onwards, there's been a struggle over precisely this issue. Folks have tried to put up an academic excellence on the one hand, versus confessional commitment on the other. Now, I try to argue that it is indeed possible and, indeed, the availability of faculty is such that you can get folks who are academically excellent and committed to the Catholic mission.

By the way, for us at Notre Dame, we don't have any confessional statement. In my department, in the history department, two treasured colleagues were great evangelical scholars: George Marsden, replaced by Mark Noll. Those wonderful scholars, both terrific scholars, were deeply committed in their own way to the religious mission of the university, because they both recognized that Notre Dame could be a place that could help train perhaps a new generation of evangelical scholars. Nathan Hatch, who's now president of Wake Forest, was once provost here at Notre Dame.

What our charter calls for is a predominant number of committed Catholic intellectuals. If you have that number, the mix of them is going to be open to including other folks who share and want to join in the mission. Sadly, I would say we have not been as attentive to this as we should have been, and there are often battles over faculty hiring, as I'm sure there are in evangelical colleges. I have good friends at Baylor, and I know this has sometimes been an issue at Baylor as well.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, and in other institutions. It's not an issue here, but that has a story behind it as well. That's because the institutions in which faculty basically do the hiring, you end up with a situation in which faculty hire— and it used to be said faculty just replicate themselves. That's not entirely true. They hire towards their vision of the school. And so, when you look at many of these state Baptist colleges and universities, or when you look at Southern Seminary in the 1970s, '80s, '90s, until I came in '93, you had faculty who basically were the search committee, and all the president could do at the very end of the process is say no. The president had no input into who was put into the process.

In 1995, I'm very grateful the board of trustees changed that process, so that the president is in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end. There's a real search process. But I get to put people into that process, and then I get to be a part of the evaluation, and then yes, I have to decide whether I'm going to recommend it to the board. But that has changed things fundamentally. It's a much healthier situation, because I answer as the executive officer and president to the board of trustees. But I also learned the hard way that without that, a president sets a vision in words, but the faculty decides where the school is going to go.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, and that's certainly what occurred at Notre Dame. The faculty essentially handle hiring. As you say, it's only at the very end that a president could intervene. This emphasized the importance of having chairs of department, deans of colleges, who buy into and are willing to stand up for the mission. Sometimes it leads to conflictual situations because faculty, of course, many of whom have come from Ivy League institutions in the quest for excellence, want to replicate what they know from that school. They shortchange or even dismiss the commitment to the religious mission, which should be central to the nature of a school that has the commitments that Notre Dame claims that it does or that Southern Baptist does.

Albert Mohler:

Yes, I often say that, for instance, looking at the pattern that George Marsden traces in The Soul of the American University, and James Burtchaell in The Dying of the Light, they didn't put it in these words, but I do. There's a shift from affirmation of the church and its confessional basis to some detachment, and then after that, it's antipathy. There are faculty members in many universities, in seminaries, and others, who actually look to their own churches with a form of, I'd say the kindest word would be condescension. I was reminded at one point of that. I daresay, when I reread God, Country, Notre Dame, when Father Hesburgh said that his critics tended to be little old ladies wearing tennis shoes, and those in the far right. I was thinking, you know, I hear refrains of why, in the evangelical world, I hear many leaders say, not so much now, but in the past say things like, "Well, that's just the little old ladies in tennis shoes."

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, yes. Father Ted began to move, of course, in the book, I tell the story of his leadership of Notre Dame, but I also tell of his very extensive involvement in American public life. That involvement in American public, they're related, in a way. I separate them out just for understanding the story. But Father Ted's journey, from working with the Rockefellers in the late '50s, and then very much involved in the Civil Rights Commission, through the '60s and his admiration grew for Lyndon Johnson. But then he still had a friendly relationship with Richard Nixon until they had a rupture and Nixon fired him as chair of the Civil Rights Commission.

By that point, Father Ted is deeply embedded in a liberal establishment in America. He wants their regard. I suggest that he had become somewhat dependent on the approval and regard of the New York and Washington access. He loved leaving South Bend to go off for a blue-ribbon commission meeting in New York. His associates and friends began to be much more on the liberal side, and he became somewhat dismissive of more conservative Catholics who were concerned about life issues. It's not that Father Ted was ever suspect, but he just didn't make the life issues a very important matter of his public concern. So it became easier for him to dismiss the complaint of serious Catholics who were worried about the direction of Notre Dame. He was getting the approval of the East Coast establishment. "What were these little people carping at him? Who could really care about them?" became increasingly, I fear, his attitude.

Albert Mohler:

Well, in the book you mention, reading from page 288 here, speaking of Theodore Hesburgh, "He decide not to make opposition to abortion one of the great issues in which he would engage." You say, "At the very moment he had reached a pinnacle in his accomplishments on civil rights and had won the regard of key groups in the society, he refrained from using his power and influence to fight for the unborn." That's rather heart-breaking, honestly, to read, when you consider the urgency of the life issue, now life issues, as you say. But that gets to the second issue I wanted to raise, Professor Miscamble. I mention that it comes down to the faculty, but another very substantial indicator of who the institution thinks it is are the speakers who come to the campus. With Notre Dame, some of that controversy actually came quite early. In the twists and turns of Catholic history, one of the most controversial was John Courtney Murray, who would later be seen as something of a Catholic mainstream. But I'm thinking of Mario Cuomo, and I'm thinking of 1984. Just in speaking about these issues, how does Notre Dame come to the moment when a Mario Cuomo can speak at Notre Dame, and Notre Dame basically gets by with it?

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes. Well, the Cuomo speech came about in 1984. For the benefit of your listeners, just a little context. Geraldine Ferraro was running as Walter Mondale's vice presidential running mate. Cardinal John O'Connor in New York raised criticism of Ferraro's position on abortion. She was essentially Roe v. Wade all the way. O'Connor said, "Look, you can't be a serious Catholic if you're holding that stance. We're teaching as a fundamental moral issue that life begins with conception." So there's that tension. Ferraro was not capable of responding to O'Connor, but Mario Cuomo, who is a very clever man, certainly wanted to take on the responsibility and give a response back to O'Connor.

The invitation for Cuomo to come to Notre Dame was extended by the then chair of the theology department, a liberal theologian, Father Richard McBrien. Out came Cuomo to Notre Dame, under the guise of "Notre Dame is a place where the Church wrestles with these important questions. We have to hear what Mario Cuomo has to say." And of course, Mario Cuomo gave the classic line, "I'm personally opposed to abortion, but as a public official, I have to abide by the law. Hence I won't be doing anything to change Roe v. Wade." Interestingly enough, I point this out in the book, and this is to Father Ted's great credit. He was present and acknowledged that night in Washington Hall when Cuomo gave the address. And of course, everyone applauded. I was a seminarian at the time.

But a week or so later, Father Hesburgh wrote an op-ed response to Cuomo. This is what he said. I wish Hesburgh's response to Cuomo was as well-known as the Cuomo speech, which has been adopted by Catholic politicians from that point onwards. Including of course we have Joe Biden running for the president right now adopting that "I'm personally opposed, but abortion all the way." Hesburgh said, "Of course Governor Cuomo gave a wonderful address at Notre Dame. But," he said, "I would qualify what he said with this proviso. A Catholic politician has an obligation to build a public consensus in support of life." Hesburgh said, "What if Cuomo's rule had applied on the civil rights issue?" He said, "No, no one would have moved. Everyone would have said, 'We're just locked in place.' There was an obligation, a moral obligation among politicians, to build a consensus in support ..." Of course, Father Hesburgh was very proud of his own record on civil rights ... "build a consensus in support of the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65." Hesburgh said to Cuomo, "You have a duty to build the very public consensus, not to say, 'Oh, I'm personally opposed, but the public thinks otherwise.'"

I never saw a decent response. Hesburgh's response to Cuomo got lost in the weeds, lost in the shuffle. Notre Dame did host the address, but it was not as if they gave Cuomo a full stamp of approval. Hesburgh, as president of the institution, was trying to push back, but sadly, everyone just remembers the Cuomo address, and that it took place at Notre Dame. By the way, I'm trying to write a book about Catholic politicians, and I'm going to explore Mario Cuomo and a personal hero of mine, Governor Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania, who was a rough contemporary of Cuomo's, in that study.

Albert Mohler:

I would look forward to reading that as well, as long before this I read your work on George Kennan and American Foreign Policy. It's as if we're having a conversation by book when we're not having it in person. But this is an issue of great moral and academic interest to me. This argument about being personally opposed to abortion but refusing to impose that, because on the LGBTQ issues, we're hearing the same thing from many. It's not just Catholics, it's others as well. Trying to do a forensic study on this, I was led back to the fact that there was a meeting with members of the Kennedy family. I'm sure you're familiar with it. You had figures who came up with that rationale as a way for– eventually it was Ted Kennedy to run on, people forget Ted Kennedy was once classically pro-life, at least in terms of his stated beliefs. But he changed, and that has become a widespread argument.

It's unique to Catholicism in one sense, but only in a very limited sense, because there are others who try to pick up the very same argument. Some left-wing evangelicals have tried, and I think are tempted right now by, especially on the LGBTQ issues, just saying, "Well, this is my personal conviction but I don't translate that into public policy." Even some would go so far, as Governor Cuomo did, to argue that it would be a violation of the separation of church and state to impose morality. But of course, every law imposes morality. That's an illegitimate argument.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, there was an irony at the time. Cuomo was an opponent of the death penalty, as indeed I am myself. But in the state of New York, the public consensus favored the death penalty. He was caught on his own petard of certain issues, where his moral convictions outweighed what might have been the broad public consensus. A leader is elected to bring to office deep moral convictions as to right and wrong. Mario Cuomo, I see him as quite a tragic, tragic figure who has misled a generation of Catholic politicians down a really sad path. Hopefully, there might be a new generation of them emerging. One lives in hope, in that regard.

Albert Mohler:

Well, I have to say, with a genuine respect and gratitude, I'm very grateful for many at the University of Notre Dame who have contributed tremendously to the American conversation in a very healthy way. I'll just say the name Amy Coney Barrett, who's scholarship as a law professor at the University of Notre Dame I have tracked for years. Along with many others. It's a big institution, so there are some very fine scholars teaching there who contributed mightily to the conservative movement in the United States. I deeply appreciate that.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Yes, absolutely. You're mentioning Amy Coney Barrett. Prayers for her as she prepares to go through what's going to be a bit of an ordeal next week, I expect. But our law school at Notre Dame has some wonderful faculty, who have really wrestled with some of these fundamental questions that connect religious liberty and various life questions. And of course, as we know, the law is so important in the United States. What's determined in the courts, influences so much of social and public life in this country. But that's when I would say in a more general way, beyond the law school, there are still terrific Catholic faculty and other faculty who believe in this mission. I always say to folks, there are a sizable group of folks who are pretty critical of Notre Dame in toto. I say, "No, no, we're a place where a battle is being waged for the overall direction of the school. We have to hope that the Holy Spirit guides those who want the school to be faithful to its religious mission, to continue to be courageous and to contribute here in very important ways."

Albert Mohler:

Well, I know that's a word from the heart as well as from the head. It reminds of how there is a succession in these arguments and models. Princeton wanted to be the American Cambridge, and Notre Dame wanted to be the Catholic Princeton. Back a decade or so ago, we heard that Baylor wanted to be the Baptist Notre Dame. There's a genealogy here.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

I'll just be content if Notre Dame is its own Notre Dame. We don't have to model ourselves. We have to shape and define what a good, we don't have to use the word great, Catholic university should do. If we can accomplish that, I think we will have some ripple benefits for other schools. They will see that this model of higher education, which is distinctively located in the United States and borrows a lot from other American universities, but has its own core that grows out of its religious commitments.

Albert Mohler:

Professor Miscamble, this has been a most engaging conversation, and very profitable. I want to thank you for joining me today for Thinking in Public.

Wilson D. Miscamble:

Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure to be with you. Thanks so much, Dr. Mohler, for all that you do. God bless you.

Albert Mohler:

Well, that's what you can classify as a most interesting, if maybe unpredictable, conversation. You put together the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a professor, a Catholic priest-professor at the University of Notre Dame. Many people might not make that connection, but I hope the connection is extremely clear, due to the conversation we just had. When I heard of Professor Miscamble's book on Theodore Hesburgh, I knew I had to get it and I had to read it, and I devoured it.

I told a little bit of the story why that would be so in the course of the conversation. When you look at higher education throughout the United States— indeed, even beyond the United States— but right here in this country, over the course of, say, the last half-century, there have been few educational leaders who could come close to Theodore Hesburgh at Notre Dame as you think of influence and legacy. But it's a mixed legacy, and it's one with which I have had to deal as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I said, it was the chairman of my own board, a conservative evangelical Southern Baptist, very involved in the conservative resurgence in the SBC, who gave me Theodore Hesburgh's book God, Country, Notre Dame as a gift and wanted me to read it, and I devoured that. But I also, as I said, came to the conclusion, "I want to do a part of what Theodore Hesburgh did at Notre Dame, but I want to undo a larger part."

But in any event, I was indebted both to Theodore Hesburgh for the model, and to Wilson Miscamble later for telling more of the story. It's a story that, as I said, needs to be told through books such as James Burtchaell's The Dying of the Light and George Marsden's The Soul of the American University. But when you look at Professor Miscamble's book, it's a unique way of getting to these most basic issues, and it's extremely contemporary. Even though it begins back in the early 1950s, the issues are just as relevant as our conversation made clear today.

So, what did I learn from all of this? One thing I learned is this, and this has become not only something that I say to the public, it's something that I say to myself, and it comes from the depth of my heart. My goal has been to make The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as Baptist as possible, as confessional as possible. One of the benefits of this institution is its name, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As I say, every one of those words is vitally important: The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Every word's important and vital. Every word tells a story, including 'The'.

Many thanks to my guest, Wilson D. Miscamble, for thinking with me today. If you enjoyed today's episode of Thinking in Public, you'll find more than 100 of these conversations at albertmohler.com, under the tab Thinking in Public. For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to SBTS.edu. For information on Boyce College, go to boycecollege.com. Thank you for joining me for Thinking in Public. Until next time, keep thinking. I'm Albert Mohler.

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