CHAPTER VI: Campus Maverick
Two problems followed me home across the Atlantic and I cannot say which had the priority, but the two have ever since dominated me; otherwise my life would have been scattered shot.
One was the problem of what may be seen as justifying a Catholic university, if we may suppose, as I readily did, that it has a justification. To raise this issue is to ask what a Catholic university is, and because schools are operative enterprises and these are designated by what they do, the question is what a Catholic university ideally does.
A social institution cannot be strictly defined. But the field still is wide open, few having effectively labored on this problem, and today the problem of designation is as urgent and demanding as it was in 1936. Ructions at Catholic University in Washington have made the problem obvious. The "university problem" kept coming to me as I loafed around the Continent, and I recall that it was with me as, after making St. Patrick's Purgatory. with four hundred Irishmen and two Englishmen, I came by ship out of Belfast and started for Boston. The fact that respectable citizens of Catholic universities were untroubled by the problem neither elated nor distressed me. I would have to work on the problem in my own way in my own good time, with events working on me and often against me. What would the next dozen years have been without that problem?
The second issue, merely mentioned now, was the problem of human unity. This problem is correctly called the problem of community, Christian ecumenism a part of it. How are all to be one or as one? How are we to give up apathy toward each other, give up tearing people to bits in political, religious and racial hot and cold wars?
As I write these lines, I hear via radio that in Spain Catholics and Jews will worship together tomorrow. For the first time in history, and we all pray it will, not be the last time in history! That is a part of the situation: Spanish Catholics and Jews bowing together before God. Were not Jews in Christian Portugal called "murranos," which means pigs?
This problem had been vaguely at me for a long time and I have never been free of it. The chief characteristic of the Iowa spot where I sprouted was community. We lived community and without our being aware of this we understood and loved community, it was like our soul. People were nourished by a communal spirit deeper than the best soil. And in our home our mother, efficiently backed by our father, saw to it that we made neighbors with whoever was "over verninst" us, and saw to it that we said no word against anyone: "Ah! Ah! The little neighbor!" This unity sense was reinforced within the in-group by the fact that almost all were Catholics, attending the same church and the same Irish wakes, and aided, too, by the pioneers' need to help one another.
In 1936 and later, the problem of knowing one another, of working and playing together became insistent at Notre Dame. One way the question arose was how a lay and a clergy faculty not only can be one, but are one. How can labor and capital, Occident and Orient, Christian and Jew, make one world? In moral philosophy, the problem was sharp enough, though it scarcely seemed so to students, in the face of racial, religious and all sorts of historical and contemporary discrimination.
Raising these issues did me immense good, put me to work as nothing else had in the philosophy of institutions, and as Mein Kampf it would bring out any fight there was in me. Philosophy begins with people's genuine and not simulated interests and problems. Experience asks questions! I had no need to go looking for either the "Catholic university" question or the community question, I kept stumbling over both. But they would have to reach me piecemeal, as I cannot run to meet philosophical problems wholesale. The questions and any possible answers had to come to me as local people were going about their daily tasks.
If there was any life broken into bits, it was the priest's life at Notre Dame. He was teacher, prefect, counsellor, confessor, often a missionary to South Bend people and, in my own instance and that of others, to northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan; many also invaded Illinois and Ohio. Until I was nearly sixty, I kept up sporadic missionary activity, though not by choice. It was obvious to some bosses as recently as the 1950's that this was part of our job, a hard job taking time and leisure and freedom out of our week-ends. It was a good work to be done, and we were still as if in the Father Sorin days. The work continued also for negative reasons, because few Notre Dame administrators had wrestled with the question of what a university is to do, and few priest-teachers had yet developed a professional sense.
I went to work with students and classes, the same elements that had filled my university life before my European siesta. But the two questions were new and fresh. Those students who had been my life were gone, but the professors remained. I took up increasingly with the latter not because I was alienated from students, but because of conviction. I have never repented this relative shift in loyalty. It simply came to me that I should give my thought and energies, my work and my play, more and more to the professors' needs, ambitions and pleasures. That meant giving thought mainly to lay professors, for in raising the question of what a university and a Catholic university is, and how we are to work toward this good, anyone could see that those likely to collaborate in such an enterprise were laymen. Most laymen would not collaborate, few priests would; most laymen were simply uninterested, some few priests were hostile.
The question of where to head in, with whom to work on what was the heart and core of the university was settled for me simply and once for all. The day of the first Faculty Meeting in the Autumn of 1936, professors were streaming toward the Law Auditorium, myself from the Alumni Hall side, anticipating nothing and fearing nothing and because newly home from abroad greeting old friends. All at once the obvious idea hit me that if we had anything -- we, the University of Notre Dame -- it was here in the faculty. If the faculty was living and dynamic, loving its work, community was automatically made and a university was automatically made. I have no recollection of what was said at that session. I was thinking of this great thing, the faculty, the makings of a university.
But what could the likes of me do, a man expert on nothing, with no sense of organization and no practical experience? Better go on and teach my classes and leave others' business to them. Still, it seemed to me that light had come to me and I must open my eyes and see: else that one talent which is death to hide lodged with me useless. The question was how that great magma, the lay and clergy faculty, could be engendered, and what if anything I could do toward creating and activating a faculty -- these were wildly exhilarating questions. I was as if deaf and dumb at that meeting, but it was the greatest I ever attended.
My dream was like Wordsworth's on Westminster Bridge:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
It took immense cost in time and money to awaken me to the obvious fact that the character of the faculty, its preparation, its devotedness, Its happiness, its working unity was not only something, but in the university world was everything. For this pearl a man might sell all he had.
Sometime that Fall I started a discussion group, its initial session on Dewey's A Common Faith which, then relatively new, had caused a stir. Dewey was serious about the problem which was and is "a common faith" and was censorious of forces arrayed against his position; he said that the release of secular values "is so important, their identification with the creeds and cults of religions must be dissolved." Carthago delenda est was duly entered in the margin of my copy (pp. 28, 80). I don't know what I said in reaction to that fighting little book or what the seven others in discussion except that one man was expert in Dewey's philosophy of education. The meeting got us on the way to later meetings, twenty-five years of them; we said that we wanted to and would meet interdepartmentally to discuss any man, book or issue of contemporary concern (later we shall note how much our group was like that formed in 1944 at Columbia University by Frank Tannenbaum). There was no membership and our group needed no formal or legal props. We met when occasion seemed to invite or demand, when some event or issue asked us to meet. By 1936 Christopher Dawson was becoming somebody; the problem, easily solved, was to find our number one Dawson fan and several persons alive to Dawson; then sit down to say what Dawson meant to our understanding of anything. Like the Oxford philosophers, we might finally, late at night, find out where we disagreed. Grant Wood's death was the natural occasion for a tremendous session; a priest-artist said he would attempt to say how Grant Wood worked, a friend of Wood's summed up Wood's philosophy, and a professor mounted some of Wood's productions. People came from eight departments and the problem was to get them to go home. Graham Greene's The Loved One was plenty by itself, but with a professor protagonist vs. a "faculty wife" antagonist and with Greene's works in the hopper, not to mention Waugh's and Mauriac's, we had a resounding evening: in the Rockne Memorial, as it happened, with Knute on the wall looking more like a race-horse man than a philosopher. In that splendid session, my part was only to get it under way; and to insist, as I do now, on the churubic idea that in The Heart of the Matter, Greene expresses no remote mystical idea but as a plain Graham Greene moralist exploits in Scobie's person the Biblical idea of a struggle between mercy and truth or as Greene's book often says between pity and integrity.
Those happy catch-as-catch-can sessions occurred three or four times a semester for years on end. They included the most informal set-to's on war and peace, on Irving Babbitt, on "Species" in biology, on Eric Gill, on The Organization Man, on Aldous Huxley (an unsuccessful meeting led by me), and on Teilhard de Chardin. What we had going for us was a happy if a hole-in-the-corner university.
In the summer of 1938, Miss Julie Kiernan, then with Longmans, wrote me that Jacques Maritain was coming to America at Chicago University's invitation and expense, money still tight and "Foundations" in potency; she said we might have him for five lectures at Notre Dame. I had heard him lecture at Louvain and at Chicago University where he gave the first lecture, so some said and all believed, he had ever attempted in English; with me and two others went Francis E. McMahon then at Notre Dame, a scholar always interested in ideas. President John F. 0'Hara, Notre Dame's greatest churchman, afterwards Cardinal-Archbishop of Philadelphia, could be caught only in flight. One evening he walked me back and forth on the porch, because two young alumni were among the "Serfs of St. Gregory" and had signed an open letter to an otherwise inacessible bishop. Dr. 0'Hara said: "You know those boys!" Well, I did, but wondered how he knew this. He told me to write them that night; which I did, inviting them to come for a week-end of golf; they had to wait a few years before learning what he supposed was in that letter.
I caught him as he came out of Corby chapel from night prayers one evening, told him we could have Maritain lecture, and couldn't we, into the bargain, build a symposium on social and political philosophy around the name and fame of Maritain? We were far down the corridor when so much was said, and as it was contrary to Rule to talk in corridors, we stepped into Corby Library and stood to settle matters. He said the five hundred asked for Maritain's lectures was too little, to write that we would give seven hundred. Then I surely was led by the Holy Spirit. Because the chief interest of our churchman President was the Church and religious apologetics, I said we could bring together an array of scholars and show how devoted the Catholic Church was to learning. This approach sold not only the symposium to my dear friend, Father 0'Hara, but even, I do believe, sold me, the stupidest diplomat, to him. He said: "Go ahead. But-we can pay no stipends, and limit total expenses to four hundred dollars."
That was that, the show was on the road, a symposium of three days at one-tenth, one-twentieth, one-fortieth of what grandiose symposiums later cost; and ours too was grandiose. Not knowing whether big-money symposiums are better than poor devils' symposiums, I neither envy nor congratulate the directors of lush sessions sparing no money. With the idea confirmed, the next day I collared the always intellectually hungry Waldemar Gurian as he rounded out of the Post Office and I wedged in. He was delighted and at once was charging with all his bull-like power. "A symposium in social philosophy? Like the ones they had in physics and mathematics?" He said to get Frank O'Malley, a potent young intellectual, and come that day to Gurian's home. We found Gurian with papers spread out like a banquet, sketching how this heavenly thing could be done; himself short, heavy, his stomach almost on the floor as he sat on a sagging sofa; and soon the saintly Mrs. Gurian was ladling cold lemonade to us. The next day I invited people from Chicago, Georgetown, Harvard, Vanderbilt, and St. John's Universities to take part. Most of them came, but the Harvard men, no doubt warned by the missing stipend and/or our football prowess, remained uncontaminated at home.
I meant only to make the event what it ought to be, an expression of a university. I may be fooling myself, and like the President was out for apologetics and propaganda; possibly I was wondering whether our University could not have all the look of a university. I asked the President if anybody was forbidden to enter our sacred precincts! He said of course not; out went 1,300 invitations to bishops, old students, scholars, Dorothy Day's menage, and our neighboring Mennonites; fortunately Father Carrico, Academic Dean, said the work and cost of stamping should go through his office: for where, God help us, would a pauper rustle up two freshman helpers and stamps costing thirty-nine dollars? One other priest older and wiser than myself helped at a decisive moment; his moral support is not forgotten.
The event was a notable success, Maritain, the headliner; a Holy Cross priest said he would like to have on his faculty the assembled brains; people came from as far as Pittsburgh, St. Paul and St. Louis; and William Franklin Sands, who had been in South American diplomacy, been head of a boys' school in the East and been critical of Catholic boarding schools as over-clericalized, did, on receiving a copy of the program (from me and the freshmen) write to the President that this was the most distinguished intellectual event up to then ever staged in America. At lease one man was converted.
What surprised me when I came to think of it was the fact that some campus priests were against the event, they were opposed to even a tiny effort to build a university. Ambitious and power-hungry political climbers, with a scanty if any idea of sometime, somehow, building a university, they watched closely. "This man," they were saying, "is going to take away our city and destroy our temple." I did not want their city or temple or so much as their moral support. But with little sense or grasp of political ambitions, I remain unable to appreciate their opposition.
Out-of-the-way people had to try to conceive and even to build a Catholic university, at least try to begin to do the little they could. In spite of dead weight, we had to go in the direction that appeared to us forward. Others could see how our obtuseness and stupidity got in the way. A great saying: A man standing in his own light: "Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God": there is nothing between the saint and God. But what usually blocks the light is the man himself, his self-love and high opinion of himself. We had obstacles, and no doubt stood mostly in our own way and our own light.
Three months later, The Review of Politics, a Notre Dame quarterly devoted to a broad spectrum of social issues and open to historical and philosophical implications, published its first issue. Waldemar Gurian, master of big comprehensive views, was its inspirer and first editor, and after his death in 1956, it was ably edited by Matthew A. Fitzsimons. The day it got the go-ahead sign was also the first day that Professor F. A. Hermens and his wife (to become great friends of mine) arrived on the campus; and Gurian, never cluttered up in details and irrelevancies, that day launched the Review. He asked me to visit him and his guests, the Hermens. Could I arrange that he and Hermens would see President 0'Hara that day, and did I suppose that the necessary subsidy would be forthcoming? Yes, of course! That evening, a terrible day in August, the three of them sat in front of Corby Hall, Hermens looking sharp and pert, the bench tipped down Gurian's way, and the always informal O'Hara looking uncomfortable, since his genius was to be up and on the move.
In 1940, I started an informal association in philosophy with only the secretary as officer and with no identifiable members. The association soon became a reality that remained vital for many years. The idea was to benefit those who might care to attend meetings a couple of times a year, notably anyone working on problems within the Aristotelian - Thomist area (setting some limits) and wishing to expose a projected article or book to a critical audience. On our local staff, Yves Simon and Frank McMahon at once approved the, idea; a Dominican Father William Kane and Jesuit Father John J. McCormick acceded to it, as did Mortimer Adler, then at Chicago University, who, himself always incommoded, used to send his secretary, Janet Calven, a capable philosopher, to meetings. The first session, held at Notre Dame, was honored by the presence of the great Aristotelian scholar, Friedrich Solmsen, and two nuns from St. Mary's College, and I wonder if Solmsen recalls how surprised he was to hear the two nuns so aptly speaking and answering questions out of their then queer headpieces. All subsequent meetings were held in Chicago. This unnamed group was under what inspiration and direction I could give it; after several years I took a back seat; and now, perhaps from too much informality in the first place or merely from weariness incident to age, for all practical purposes the group has expired. There is need for new blood, new ideas and hopes. The original was a sort of microcosmic university, and above all was happy; people liked to take part.
When Friedrich Solmsen came in the mid-thirties as a refugee from Nazism to a college in Michigan, I had the pleasure of encountering this scholar while attending the annual meetings of the Michigan Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which, thanks to a then young Michigan University philosopher, Dr. Archie Bahm, I was a member. It was evident that it would be good if Notre Dame could have Solmsen lecture on Aristotle for a day once a week, at least one semester a year. To President O'Hara the idea seemed praiseworthy as he stood taking a glass of milk in Corby's snack bar. Money was tight, and the reluctantly refusing man said: "That would cost a thousand dollars, and we just don't have the money." Cornell University soon appropriated Dr. Solmsen fulltime, a consummation beyond any I had ever dreamed of for Notre Dame.
I was a radical. So I was progressively to learn to my surprise since I scarcely knew the terms "radical," "liberal" and "conservative." Perhaps I looked radical merely because our new President, Father J. Hugh O'Donnell, a magnificent man, was conservative and became progressively more conservative. To suggest how hopelessly radical I was eventually to become, it will suffice to take one incident from the early 1940's. The famous social philosopher and priest, Don Luigi Sturzo, leader of many freedom causes, was exiled by the more famous man, Benito Mussolini. Sturzo fled to England where, his health failing, he was unable to continue his work. So to America, the land of many a man's dreams. But Sturzo had nothing to live on; a group set out to finance his work, and Michael Williams, co-founder and pioneer co-editor with George N. Shuster of The Commonweal, flattered me by writing to ask how Notre Dame would help. Here was a chance for Notre Dame to prove its interest in becoming a university; a scholar of world renown, a Catholic scholar and priest, knocking at its door. I was excited and hopeful, too. But though something handsome would be done, it would take time. Calculated delaying procedures had developed. One had to write a formal statement to the President and a long time would elapse before anything happened. I made three suggestions, a minor one that we would give Sturzo some money, a minor one which I now forget, and one that seemed to me major, that we invite Sturzo to live at Notre Dame and go on with his work. As the years have rolled on, this simple and obvious suggestion, appears bigger and bigger; to have done this would have really been on the grand side, not for Sturzo, but for us. However, I must have been a radical for it did not seem to me extraordinary.
The custom was that the President sat on any proposal. He would not reply, and the suppliant had to appeal again and perhaps again. If the suppliant remained in the game, he was politely requested: "Send me a memo on that": and at last he was told that his request was being referred to a committee. Anyway, I received a mild if surprising request to look into Luigi Sturzo's orthodoxy and get a bishop to vouch for it. Not yet out of wind, I could do this since by this time the suspect was living with the bishop of Brooklyn, who, however, if I was fool enough to write him, did not reply. Finally a note came down from some choir of angels in the administrative sphere saying two things: Notre Dame would donate ten dollars ($10.00) to the cause, and I, a persevering Jacob, would come to the President's office to get that sum. I have not yet gone for it.
The difficulty, often a serious one in church-related and other American colleges and universities, was lack of professional sense, an image of what creates universities. Was not Dwight Eisenhower the president of Columbia, and did not, in the years under review, a midwestern state university, to the horror of the faculty, steal a city manager to serve as president? The Sturzo case is an extreme instance of the non-academic mind at work in the university. I suggested to a friend that if an opportunity of catching a Sturzo had occurred later, Father Hesburgh would reach across the Atlantic for the man. My friend replied: "He would fly to London and get him."
Believing or not believing in a university was the issue just below the surface. It had to make both sides suffer. Here was this exceedingly good man unhappy to have professors raise academic questions, problems about higher learning, and living in the same house was a Socratic trouble-maker who, to save his soul, thought he had to raise questions. It is facile to say that I should have been a lamb, submissive, obedient. Was I not in the position of a "subject"? I felt then and strongly feel now that to give up on questions that God wanted us to ask could only be a sin.
Not that any of us ganged up and formed what our Holy Cross rules used to call a "cabal." But a congenital crab, I was mean, unforgiving, far from brimming over with charity. Was it the Irish in me? Iowa-born Irish, I was cross-grained. Ten years before these struggles, Father Eugene Burke, the soul of congeniality, told me he had summed up my pride and mulishness in one word. James
A. Burns had asked, "What is the matter with this Ward, anyway?'" Gene Burke replied, "He's contrary!" The other party to this subterranean wrangling was the soul of goodness, a model priest full of charity and the forgiving spirit, a gentleman of the old school.
Friends suffered with me and far beyond me. I could run away from this problem by writing wibbly-wobbly books. But a professor or priest trying to develop a department had no escape hatch. Mein Kampf became sein Tod. Possibly the World War was a chief reason why Notre Dame did not have in the forties the sort of fiasco that developed elsewhere in the sixties. We were being hurt by the sort of situation that has often occurred in church-related colleges where it was long the custom to choose as top men admirable and zealous clergymen with hardly any ideas in regard to learning.
Whereas mine was a case of bullheadness, several laymen and clergy were getting something done toward creating and reÄcreating a university. Once totally a priest university, in the 1940's Notre Dame was much more a priest university than it is now. I shall mention some priests who in that rough weather struggled to build up the quality and spirit of the faculty; many, lay and clergy, might well be cited.
Father Leo L. Ward, then thoroughly distressed, was effecting in the English department an esprit de corps that carried a long way. Father Tom McAvoy, with weak personnel to start, found really Catholic scholars for the History department. Father Henry Bolger was a good man who like myself did not always allow for others' problems, yet, suffering agonies, he worked for the men in the Physics department; that department was his university. Father Philip Moore, plodder and prodder, never let up and he did more for the University from the mid-forties to midÄfifties than any other man; much of his work is a permanent structure. He built up the morale and good will of the lay faculty, was for and with those men and for and with the University. He took hard knocks and, some-times impractical -- "visionary," it was said -- and,naively imprudent, some of his projects went down the drain. But he was humble and could not quit.
Whatever university stature Notre Dame had attained by the 1950's was largely due to the foresight and persistence of James A. Burns and Philip S. Moore. The old war horse Burns was on his death bed in 1940 when I insisted on seeing him. He knew what I came for; as he reached out a bony hand he stated the question in words which may stand as his epitaph: "We must be patient, but we must fight." The two were unlike; James A. Burns was "cagey," a little sly and liked to pass the buck and pretend, Philip S. Moore went straight on as far as he could and knew no way around anything.
Each of those struggling was himself and something of a character. Moore's frankness and simplicity sometimes almost did him and others in. Officially advised that he must not spout everything to everybody, he immediately told people that he had been thus advised. Really an historian, he was allocated to the philosophy department where friction once arose. When the soreness was healed and everybody was yet uneasy, he arrived late for a meeting, and blurted out: "Now this trouble we've been having, all this friction --". At supper I scolded him: "You can never let bad enough alone, can't let sleeping dogs lie." He offered no defense.
The most killingly direct was Father William Cunningham, a man who, though naive in his candor, knew well some of the handicaps under which various colleges labored; sent by academic associations to make official visits to Catholic colleges, he did immense good by honest professional appraisal of what to do. He was used to paying a price for his boyish enthusiasm for learning; hardly arrived at breakfast, he was talking shop and writing notes in an up-and-down hand which even he could hardly transcribe; and it was a caution when he and Father Moore talked shop across a cup of coffee, neither one hearing the other: it was as if a world war had broken out. Cunningham was Mr. Professional Educator. Seeing him striking out early one morning, an all-weather narrow black hat on him, I asked if he was going to a conference. Without breaking stride and without irony, he shouted, "Going to two conferences." Once asked to give a talk in Indianapolis, he asked me to give it, because he discovered that he was billed to give, that same day, a talk in D.C. and another in New Orleans.
To the nth. degree he had a professional sense, as if born with it. This sense supposed work on our specialties, work with students and an academic and social life with the faculty. In Catholic colleges, the proportion of lay to clergy faculty has increased every decade since the middle of the last century and increased rapidly following each World War. Part of the practical professional task recognized by some priests at Notre Dame was to work and achieve with the faculty as one body. The task could be done if each priest took an active and co-creative part with those of his own department. The lack of professional sense is by no means limited to clerics or Catholics.
The peak of my official life was to be head of graduate work in philosophy. We then had no graduate faculty in any department, but merely gave some "graduate courses," so that I was and deserved to be the head of a non-existent faculty. That high-ranking office left everybody independent and gave play for a single-track mind whose chief function consisted, as a professor said of me and himself, in taking pot shots at the administration.
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