Notre Dame, BYU connected since the 1800s, president says

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — When the BYU and Notre Dame football teams compete in South bend, Indiana Saturday, it will bring together two unique schools that share a faith-based approach that makes them different from other schools.

Father John I. Jenkins has been president of Notre Dame since 2005. In a rare interview, he discussed running a faith-based school in a secular world.

"There is no great virtue in being just like everybody else," Rev. Jenkins said. "If you are different, and can embrace that, you can make a difference. If you fail to be different, who cares? Everybody can do that. I think the distinctiveness of BYU and Notre Dame are their strengths."

Rev. Jenkins said that he believes religion and education are about shaping people as human beings, so it's important that these schools hold their ground in maintaining faith-based education.

"If we can't call on the richness of our religious traditions to help inform how we (educate), to help young people form their consciousness, to grow as a people, education is poorer for it. Institutions like BYU and Notre Dame have a rich legacy that they should draw on in their education efforts," Rev. Jenkins said.

In a world where religion is part of so many issues — both positively and negatively — Rev. Jenkins believes that the power of religion can be a powerful, positive tool.

"If we were an institution that wanted to marginalize religion, put it on the side, we wouldn't be in a position to understand what's going on in the world and influence what's going on in the world," Rev. Jenkins said. "Religion is a powerful force, and I think BYU and Notre Dame have an advantage, not a disadvantage, in engaging that important morality of religious faith."

The relationship between BYU and Notre Dame actually began with Brigham Young and Father Edward Sorin, Notre Dame's founder and first president.

"Father Sorin in the 1870s sent out, at the request of a priest in Salt Lake City, some sisters to found a school and hospital," Rev. Jenkins said. "They founded Holy Cross hospital. They really flourished until 1971 when it became Salt Lake Regional Medical Center and still exists."

There is no great virtue in being just like everybody else.

–Father John I. Jenkins, president of Notre Dame

The original chapel the Nuns prayed in also still exists in Salt Lake City.

Many people may not realize that the connection between these schools goes so far back, and Rev. Jenkins said the relationship was positive from the beginning. In fact, Father Sorin and Brigham Young exchanged correspondence at the time.

"I know Brigham Young was very favorable to these women and the work they did," he said.

Rev. Jenkins joked that Father Sorin had the "Brigham Young look," so he was a "Utah pioneer" without ever being in the state.

"He's in the gang," Rev. Jenkins said. "So are the heroic sisters who trekked across the country to do it. They are in the gang too!"

Saturday the two schools will tackle each other, but Jenkins said they are "tackling together" when it comes to keeping faith relevant in higher education.

"I think Notre Dame has a prominent role. BYU has a prominent role. I think we can, with others, be a beacon for the possibility of bringing faith together with knowledge, bring ethical concerns together with expertise, bring hope to the world," Jenkins said. "The world badly needs hope. The recourse of religious faith can provide that hope."


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Dave McCann


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