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James Martin, S.J.April 28, 2009

An Open Letter to John Jenkins

John Jenkins, CSC
President, Notre Dame University
Notre Dame, Indiana

Dear Father Jenkins,

Now that Mary Ann Glendon has announced that she would not accept Notre Dame’s prestigious Laetare Medal, because she was “dismayed” by the university’s awarding of an honorary degree to President Obama, the search is undoubtedly on for another recipient.  Let me suggest one candidate you may have otherwise overlooked: me.

Now, I know many more notable and famous and accomplished and, well, deserving names may spring to mind. Names that would probably draw more of a crowd, names of people with a lifetime of service behind them, or names that would probably pose fewer problems in terms of Catholic orthodoxy.  Say, Pope Benedict XVI.  (Though draping a medal on top of his papal pectoral cross seems a little like overkill.) Or, say, Susan Boyle, that awesome YouTube singer, who is not only super-Catholic but would be a huge hit when she belted out the Notre Dame fight song. Or Mother Teresa, who everybody likes, though being dead might be a strike against her if a speech is expected.

Anyway, I think there are plenty of good reasons to offer me the now in-play Laetare Award.  Let me list just a few.  

1)  I don’t have one.
As it turns out, I've only received a few real “awards,” like one from Plymouth-Whitemarsh Senior High School, and a Christopher Award, which is really nice, and just last week an award with the longest name yet: “The Loyola Institute of Spirituality’s Hearts on Fire Writer’s Award in Spirituality,” and, let me tell you, that’s a lot of words to fit on a chunk of crystal: it must weigh five pounds.  I could kill someone with that award.  (But I won't of course: I'm pro-life.)  But the last time I checked I didn’t have a Laetare Award.  I’ll bet it’s nice, too.  Is it a real medal?  With a ribbon?  Cool.  I could wear it over my vestments at Mass.  In fact, I would be so happy to have that sitting on my shelf that…

2.)  I would accept it.
I mean, if someone’s going to give me an award the very least I can do is accept it, whether or not I agree with what they’re doing or not doing. It's just common courtesy.  Refusing is like not accepting a birthday present from a friend because you don’t like his wife or something. Anyway, I’d be really happy to accept it. And I wouldn’t cause you the least bit of controversy because…

3.)  I’m Catholic.
I mean, really Catholic.  For example, I believe one God, the Father Almighty, and all that...like a lot of people you might be considering, but I also, unlike many of them, know all the words to the Salve Regina. In Latin. And if you give me the award I would sing them. (Or if you prefer, I would not sing them.)  Your board of trustees might ask for more than that so how about this: I’ve been to Lourdes four times.  I pray every day.  And I know three versions of the Act of Contrition. (Very helpful on an airplane during turbulence, by the way.) What’s more, and here’s a good reason, p.r-wise, I would be nice to all the people who gave me the award, and would be friendly and polite to President Obama (like you would be to anyone at a party you were invited to) and like any good guest…

4.)  I wouldn’t criticize you for being insufficiently Catholic.
Look, I've never worked at a Catholic university. So I don’t know what it must be like to maintain your Catholic identity in a secular culture while trying to maintain the highest standards of academic excellence, nor can I imagine how hard it must be to follow what the Vatican wants, what the bishops want, the parents want, the students want, the benefactors want, and the trustees want. That’s a tall order. So I wouldn’t criticize something that I've never tried to do. But when I came to collect my award…

5.) I’d give a speech.
Now, I might not have time to write an actual “new” speech, since your commencement is coming up fast and I'm pretty swamped these days with work, but I’m sure I could tell a few jokes that would have everyone forgetting all about the whole Obama-Glendon controversy in a jiffy. And, just to sweeten the pot and win over your trustees in these parlous economic times, I wouldn’t even ask for a stipend, in fact, and I'll bet not many other awardees do this…

6.) I’d pay my own way.
That’s right! I figure if you’re going to go to the trouble of giving me a prestigious award I would scrape together what little money I have, and buy a cheap ticket to South Bend. (Did I mention I take a vow of poverty? That’s pretty Catholic, too.) Does JetBlue go there? It doesn't matter--buying my own ticket would be no trouble because…

7.) I’ve never been to South Bend!
Ever! Can you believe it? Never seen Touchdown Jesus or The Dome or that famous Lourdes Grotto you have. (Did I mention that I've been to the real one four times?) My never having visited South Bend might surprise you because of the most important reason of all, which I hope clinches my upcoming Laetare Award, which is that…

8.) I’ve seen “Rudy” ten times .......

James Martin, S.J.
P.S. I'm Irish.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
14 years 1 month ago
One problem with reason #6. There are no "cheap flights" to South Bend from anywhere.
14 years 1 month ago
Dear Father Martin, Thank you for your kind offer. As you can probably imagine, there are not many prominent Catholics who are willing to take the medal off of our hands this year, and almost none who are, as you say, "really Catholic". Your credentials are certainly impressive; in fact, you were one of two finalists for the honor. I regret to inform you that you lost the tie-breaker to another blogger. Perez Hilton has seen "Rudy" eleven times. Yours in Christ (or not, whatever you prefer), John Jenkins, CSC
14 years 1 month ago
Ah, this was really great! Thanks for making me smile. I'm so tired of all the Norte Dame news. Though, now that you listed all your qualifications, you might have just put yourself out of contention. If you don't get that award, surely there is one more suited for you. I must think about this and let you know someday. ;)
14 years 1 month ago
Many thanks for the comic relief, Jim. You have my vote of course, which is worth nothing in the scheme of things, but you neglect to mention one outstanding qualification: chaplain of the Colbert Report. That offers enormous street cred, as the kids say. The graduates would love it. Now, you might have competition from Douglas Kmiec, but hey, the opposition is not going to lay down for that idea either. So, unless the beleaguered Jenkins decides to lay off the Laetare for a year of cooling down, go for it. Besides, I bet no other candidate has a special website at Loyola Press http://www.loyolapress.com/martin/JamesMartin-SJ.html. Strategic marketing by a third party is allowed, right?
14 years 1 month ago
Father James: I will save you the hotel costs, you can stay at my house when you visit South Bend, you will have a up close and personal view of Catholic family life once you experience my three sons for a day or two. Maybe you can even hang the medal on our mantle for safe keeping while you sleep. The door is always open, I will even give you a tour of the campus. John
14 years 1 month ago
Wow ... I think you are on the way to ND.. Most of these medal and degree honorees always put the paper/metal in the basement or a drawer.. you promise to give it a rightous display..Fox News reported Obama is NOT going to hang his paper in the Oval office.. so there
14 years 1 month ago
Fr. Martin makes an excellent case for himself, however, I believe his Reason #7 contradicts his Reason #3. Never been to South Bend and he still considers himself Catholic ?!?!?!? Puh-leez! He is risking a CDF investigation by this admission!
14 years 1 month ago
Fr. Jim, Very good, very funny. Swift would smile too! Just when I thought America was becoming a little stodgy, you write this little satiric gem! Now when I have only limited time to read (which is most of the time), I'll pick America instead of NCR. Thanks. Ed.
14 years 1 month ago
Father, although I like your modest proposal, may I suggest: http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/documents/NDWitnessForLife-Final.pdf
14 years 1 month ago
Thanks, Father Martin - this was one of the best things I've read in weeks...not only funny, but gently thought-provoking. God bless you!
14 years 1 month ago
Dear Anne, Most of this was tongue-in-cheek of course, but I was serious about (among other things) the notion that if someone gives you an award, it's only good manners to accept! Peace, Jim
14 years 1 month ago
Very funny! But one question, would you have accepted it? Curious minds want to know!
14 years 1 month ago
Thank you Father Martin!! You made me smile! I posted a link on Facebook. Thank God for The Society of Jesus! Ed Thompson,Sr, You missed the whole point of the blog...
14 years ago
"Most of this was tongue-in-cheek of course, but I was serious about (among other things) the notion that if someone gives you an award, it's only good manners to accept!" Because the greatest commandment is "have good manners!"?

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