University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
My Fifty Years at Notre Dame / by Leo R. Ward, C.S.C.

CHAPTER VIII: Thy People, My People

We had many happy parties at Professor and Mrs. Yves Simon's, parties almost sure to be academic because only the academic community was eligible. Once, however, Simon had as house guests Dan and Mary Kane, case-hardened exponents of Grailville, a school near Cincinnati, and it was said that Simon, Julian Pleasants, Frank O'Malley and I were members of the Grailville faculty because we often lectured there. This school had at first been located outside Chicago. Its founders, two magnificent Dutch women, had been invited by Cardinal Mundelein, but while they were in transit the imprudent Cardinal called Hitler a house painter "and a poor one at that," and the women were caught in the middle. Mundelein's successor, named Stritch, the greatest American Catholic churchman since Gibbons, hung out no welcome sign to them. But several of us adopted the Grailville people and were happy to be adopted by them.

Mary Kane led us in singing at Simon's, and late at night she had all, including Simon, a crippled man, leaping up and down in an Apache song. Dr. Gurian always kept things on the sedate intellectual side and with him we had only academic discussion. But Simon would say, "Let's visit. No more French tonight; talk English, so all can understand. McMahon and Gurian like discussion. I like study and teaching. I don't like discussion."

Simon came to Notre Dame largely by accident. Early in 1938 President O'Hara said: "Get busy! Start offering doctor's degrees in philosophy." A committee named the conditions under which this could be done, the chief one being to land an Aristotelian-Thomist of stature. After Aimé Forest said he would not leave France, Dr. Gurian said, "Simon", and it happened that one of Simon's volumes on affective knowledge was in the library, the other in Dr. McMahon's possession; I read the two that night: and Simon, scholar and magnificent teacher, offered $3,500 salary, came -- the greatest benefaction Notre Dame has ever had in philosophy. He remained ten years, and after eleven years at Chicago University he was dying in his South Bend home, but came, as he had promised, to give the Maritain Center a lecture on Maritain's development as a Christian philosopher; for this he had to be carried onto the stage where, propped up, he lectured with vigor.

When we met at Gurian's, and this, too, was often, it was serious business, always to discuss set topics, the wrangling on a high academic level; jokes were subordinated to argument. The Gurians often had intellectual house guests; as Simon said, "A Gurian is indispensable in a Catholic university. If a Catholic intellectual comes within a hundred miles, Gurian smells him and brings him to the house." We had set-to's with Barbara Ward, just then working to get us into the war; with the political thinker, Hannah Arendt; with Monsignor Koenig, master of the papal documents on peace and war; and the Chicago University and atom-bomb physicist Leo Szilard, a man innocent on social and political questions. Of all the men I ever met, Gurian was most completely the intellectual; he made no comment on the weather except in relation to war; cars, football and movies were social phenomena.

Toward the end of the war, Gurian assembled an inter-departmental group to convene every two weeks at his house to discuss "the principles of a just and lasting peace." The interesting fact was that Gurian did not believe with Kant or Mortimer Adler that perpetual peace will ever be achieved on earth; he was too faithful a Hobbist to give up the notion that war like weather will always be with us.

As a young man Gurian had been a bold and liberal intellectual outspoken against dictatorships. A man exiled like himself and teaching philosophy in an Indiana college said he had known him in Berlin where all were astounded at Gurian's erudition and his boldness. By the time we knew him, the boldness was gone. This Russian-born man, educated in Germany, had, because of defending freedom, became a persona non grata in Russia and Germany and had fled to Switzerland where he helped edit an underground journal. At twenty-eight, he wrote the best philosophical and historical work that has appeared on Bolshevism.

I met the big puffing, almost black man in an academic queue; I said, "Gurian? Author of Bolshevism, Theory and Practice?" He was pleased and from that moment we were friends. Father Miltner had this lonely scholar, his family still on the Continent, over to Corby Hall for a drink. He had already run through the political and sociological literature in the Library and while crossing the Atlantic by boat had got a good grasp of the American novel.

This man, so learned, so fully a believer in learning and universities and disbelieving in lasting peace, assembled people to discuss lasting peace. He put into my hands a copy of Emory Reeves' Preface to Peace, an insignificant sheaf of a book, and asked me to review it for the next session. It was strange that Gurian who saw at a glance what was in a book missed the point of Reeves' volume. Gurian was first and last dead set against a UN, world court or world state; he held for nations more or less banded together against other hostile nations -- Hobbes' position, and Hobbes was his political philosopher. Reeves used Hobbes against Hobbes. The Hobbes theory is that once men were only warring individuals, but to escape annihilation they formed the state to control all. Just so, said Reeves, with nation states perpetually at war, the only salvation is to form a super-state to end all wars.

Suspecting that I had made this up and imposed it on Preface to Peace Gurian proceeded as comfortably as he could with the discussion, then stopped: "Let me see the passage," and he took off his glasses to read it. In those happy sessions on peace, Gurian's aim was to swing all to the anti one-world or world-state side. One night he labored to win Simon over, set a trap to catch him and then said, "Simon, what do you say?" Simon always sat in a kind of sidling position; the most honest man in the world, he rolled whitish eyes under whitish eyebrows and said, "I have nothing to say." Gurian kept all overawed by his erudition, his quick and well-gauged guesses, and going round and round now seeking support he came back to Simon who dittoed: "I have nothing to say." But the big man had an ace in the hole, he built up an argument based on Aristotle's and Thomas's principle that of its nature the State is autarchic and self-sufficient. Suddenly he shot: "Simon, what do you say?"

Simon's reply ruined everything: "The situation is desperate and we must apply a desperate remedy." With Simon at least tentatively gone one-world, his outright statement, so much like him, practically closed our discussions on the principles of a just and lasting peace.

After the war, Gilson returned to lecture at Notre Dame, and friction developed between him and Dr. Gurian. (Why? Here the experts must be allowed to disagree.) Harsh words reverberated from continent to continent. Gurian fled to Europe and kept showering us with published articles and letters. Meantime, he had promised a chapter for a work I was attempting to do on Catholic higher education, and a few pages in large longhand did make it across the ocean. They needed not only re-writing, but research, and to inquiries as to what I was doing that summer I could reply: "Writing an article by Waldemar Gurian." The article, called "Catholic Universities in a Secular Society," pleased the returned co-author; it appeared in American Benedictine Review (March, 1968).

My own tiny spat with Gurian regarded reconstruction after the war. Like many people, and naturally many Jews, he wanted Germany lethally punished, and I for one could not go along with Bernard Baruch's plan for dismembering and pastoralizing that nation. Gurian who always was far ahead of everyone else on political news, pretended that Baruch had nothing to do with the plan. As he was coming down the Library steps, I was going up, a daily trek for each of us, and he seemed horrified that anyone should suggest that Baruch had spoken, though by that hour the New York Times (June 1, 1945) had said so, and under "American Notes" the London Economist had carried some lines (June 9, 1945), the gist of which was that Baruch's plan was bad economics, bad politics and bad morals: "Mr. Baruch's plan is immoral, uneconomic and unworkable." Baruch dissociated his name from his plan, and Secretary Henry Morgenthau carried the propaganda for it. With others at Notre Dame I opposed it, and just when Morgenthau spoke in Milwaukee for it, I spoke there as chairman that year of the American Catholic Philosophical Society, my topic being "St. Thomas's Defense of Man." I used the occasion to flail the "hard peace" plan.

Gurian was furious over my "anti" remarks and said at lunch in a public dining hall that he would never again attend my seances. Each of us had seconds in his corner. Our petty quarrel was merely unpleasant, though the problem we faced was a serious world problem. On my side were Cordell Hull, Secretary of State, who almost lost his earthly life struggling and losing on the issue, and Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War, who said that this battle, finally lost, was the fiercest he ever had in his many years of public life. The suffering Gurian soon sent me an interesting qualified apology in his immense longhand. Here are remarks in my published statement on the "hard peace":

But the new famines now in Europe are in some measure an act of ourselves, new gods, new wise men from the East and the West who for our own good purposes, and our own imperialistic and vindictive purposes, have decided on dispossession down to the skin, unpaid forced labor, deportations by the millions -- pray that their flight be not in winter! -- and disease, famine, starvation and death by the millions. Naturally, given that the war has occurred, famine, disease and death are inevitable; but it is another thing to increase or prolong the tragic conditions.

For that anti-human and anti-democratic result we are partly responsible, we who have power and confessedly are intelligent believers in democracy, ready to die like flies to defend man and his freedoms. . . Evidently, democracy, supposing plain belief in man, still has a hard time trying to be born, and to keep alive. Dr. Zigler of the Friends' Service Committee, most likely a fair witness, says that in some European regions no child born in 1945 is now living, and it is estimated that in certain areas no child under two -- a bimatu et infra, people say in the Mass tomorrow -- will survive this winter. We need not turn to Vitoria's treatise (De Jure Belli, 1532), though we might, to say that those conditions, if they could have been or can be prevented, are the responsibility, now, of the victorious believers in man.

In short, on the love-principle we could hope for, but on the wolf-and-hate principle we could never hope for, a Christian democratic society, or even a good-pagan society.

A lighter sort of social hobnobbing was at the house of a local alumnus, always ready with dry-Irish humor. As a student he came home late one night to find his landlady standing as if frozen in the parlor. "Good heavens, Marie, what's wrong?"

"There's thieves in the house, I'm afraid to go upstairs or down." Then seeing him grab up the phone: "What are you doing?"

"Calling Scotland Yard."

The firstborn at this man's house was named after the father and grandfather and for a time was called "Little Three." One evening my friend and I sat in his car watching boys play and the snow fall in the car's light. "Do you think Little Three is among those boys?" "No," ever so quietly. "I think Margy has Little Three filed away." One evening when Notre Dame was playing in Madison Square Garden, our man buzzed the local newspaper: "Can you tell me how the Irish hardwood quintet fared in Gotham tonight?" He had to repeat the question, and, referred to the sports department, he just as solemnly repeated it, and then had to translate: "Jack, this is Ed. I merely want to know who won tonight." His tone said that life is prosaic for simple-minded people. For years the group wrestled with the question, "Who is Father Ward?" While it was easy to name people he was not, it was tentatively agreed that he might be Casey Stengel or Harry Truman. As I had got to publishing some verse, I did lines which concluded:

Here I am, Lord. But where is here? If with space science I could say where here is Would I know the who of me or anybody? Could I not be someone else instead?

It has been my joy and profit to have been one with professors and their families. Hundreds of times we met at off-the-record academic, social, academic-social, and religious events. Was my action political huckstering? Not at all. My ambition, if I had any, was for friendship and for the University. The visits were a pleasure, rarely if ever was there any reason to feel as if punished. Happily, a nice phrase was often and sincerely used by our administrators who spoke of "the Notre Dame family," a wide community, students, alumni, priests and professors and all who daily work or pray with us.

For good or ill, I took to the laymen's interests and work and needs, but did baby-sitting only for a niece who lived in Vetville. The wife of an alumnus paid me a compliment by calling me a "layman's priest." "But," she continued, "on social questions has the administration never taken exception? You know they are opposite to what you believe."

As students had been my joy and my life, so the faculty progressively claimed that honor. I attended faculty weddings, christenings, jubilees, funerals; and groups of faculty people have come to Masses as celebrated by me and them. I attended two christenings of a professor's son, the second the concurrent christening of him and the father and mother. Why wouldn't priests be happy to go whenever friends and co-laborers had occasion to celebrate?

I went out of my way to be with the people. Because I ought to, because I wanted to, because going complimented and flattered, sometimes because they wanted me, sometimes because neighbors had need; and also because I needed them. Is not the basic need of people a booster shot for the ego? Once I found myself as if alone at what might seem an odd place for a priest-professor to be I felt as if elated and exalted, but then thought: "Though others dodge this event, I belong here." God forgive me for times I have been too lazy to celebrate or commiserate with the people He has given us. In a photo snapped at a party in honor of a professor's book of poems I look awkward among my friends, a cup in one hand, the other hand and arm as if twisted and paralyzed; but dead or alive, I wanted to be there. It would not do to say "their faculty, our faculty." Whatever work God has given us at Notre Dame from Father Sorin's and the 1842 days, He has given all of us. God and circumstances and many happy accidents gave me these people, not some other, as my people.

I am honored also by men and women laundry workers who for years have stopped by at my Mass and their Mass. I'd like to be escorted into heaven by a fleet of brethren from my Iowa home parish and of Corby Hall men, and our cooks and laundry and other local workers, and professors and their families.

Almost all at Notre Dame find it boring when a priest or professor is out to advertise himself, announces his journeys, his books and articles, wants to be featured in the city press and students' weekly, and affects an accent. The poor fellow! Won't some one please say that he is high and mighty? I am one with those who don't ask support from a "Ph.D." or C.S.C.," the latter like a barb-wire entanglement, or wish to hoist myself up by saying I am from a university.

My best priest friend was Father Leo L. Ward, yet I never was as close to him, nor he to me, as each of us was to his proper family. Between me and the boys and girls of our country community and country school there has always been a mutual understanding not easily duplicated, especially in the instance of boys whose birthdays I know as surely as my own. We are wonderfully at home together although few of those dear friends ever went away to school or travelled to Oxford, Rome, Athens or Jerusalem.

For all my friendships, I am pretty much a lone wolf and a sort of clam. Few come and sit down to visit me. In our theological seminary, two of my best friends, "Bish" and "Sweets," were as if in collusion to draw me out and "get at" me, but could scarcely knock a spark out of me. I was too proud and independent. A priest justly known for frankness once said: "Ward, you are damned close-lipped." Take me as I am, locked into my narrow self, living fifty years at a school which for two or three generations was insular and then had its coming out party due to a football coach, and myself a member of a people and a church that in the whole English-speaking world was branded -- well, where else would I be except tucked away in a corner? Totalled up, I am an anonymous digit, a half-monk, a half-layman, a half-scholar, a half-farmer, a half-author whom the bosses have tolerated, but with whom they have never known what to do; an over-all misfit. As some other freak has said, I don't know how to equate me.

One day a book salesman knocked on my door, an ordinary occurrence in a college. But this man really wanted to see me. A much loved colleague used to say, "Sidney Gair does not come here to sell books, he comes to see Father Ward." Gair sometimes had other and better purposes. I discovered him one evening looking at a lovely sunset. He said, "I wonder if boys ever see those colors." Wanting to confirm his ultra conservativeness Gair thought a priest-professor-philosopher, earth's slowest-moving animal, must be of that "stripe." On the other hand, good men such as John C. Cort, John Cogley and James O'Gara have been so undiscriminating as to put me to be on their liberal side of the fence.

Copyright ©2000 by the Indiana Province of the Priests of Holy Cross. All rights reserved.

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