History of the Program

Art depicting the crucifixtion

Mission Statement/Rationale

"The Catholic character at Notre Dame as an academic community depends upon the seriousness with which the religious dimensions of all human learning are recognized, given priority, and explored throughout the University.

The University embodies its deep concern for the religious and moral education of the students not only in the academic reflection brought to bear upon ethical and social issues but also in its encouragement of a manner of life consonant with a Christian community."

-- The Mission Statement of the University of Notre Dame

"It must be asked how many Christians really know and put into practice the principles of the church's social doctrine."

-- John Paul II, Tertio mellennio adveniente ("As the Third Millennium Draws Near")


In 1998, 803 students graduated from the College of Arts and Letters. 539 students received undergraduate degrees from the College of Business Administration. The Colleges of Science and Engineering and the School of Architecture graduated 335, 252, and 44 students, respectively. 152 students completed their ROTC training and are now officers in the military. 102 undergraduates went to law school. 146 proceeded to study medicine.

These students are following the pattern of previous graduates of Notre Dame, who have moved to advanced leadership positions in a broad spectrum of social spheres, including politics, law, business, education, the media, and the military. In the political sphere, these positions include or have included the National Security Advisor, the Secretary of the Interior, congressional leaders from Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, and Kentucky, the Governor of Puerto Rico, and the President of Panama. In the legal sphere, graduates have become, for instance, Judge of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, New Mexico, Attorney General of California, and judge on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Notre Dame graduates in the business world have become Chairs, Presidents and/or CEOs of numerous companies, including Texaco, Motorola, Bank of America Illinois, Haggar Company, Leo Burnette Advertising Agency, Mobil Corporation, Dean Witter, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The impact of the University's graduates on higher education in the United States is evident in the fact that they serve or have served as the presidents of universities other than Notre Dame. Graduates have also taken positions of leadership in the media, including executive producer of "Nightline," writer for The Tonight Show, Jim Lehrer Newshour political analyst, senior writer at Newsweek magazine, and nationally syndicated talkshow host. Finally, graduates in the military have risen as high as the rank of general in the Army and Secretary of the Air Force.

The questions which the University's Mission Statement brings to these graduates and to the University itself are these: For those graduates who are Catholic, are they entering into their professional lives as Catholics? And for those graduates who are not Catholic, are they entering into their professional lives influenced by a set of values consonant with those put forth by the University in which they spent their formative years? To put the matter in terms appropriate to a Catholic university, do our graduates understand and practice their professional and public life as a vocation?

Rosary beads and a crucifix

Ignorance of and relative silence on the Catholic social tradition is common among American Catholics. The American Catholic bishops echo the Pope's concern, quoted above, that Catholics do not know the church's social doctrine. In their document, "Sharing Catholic Social Teaching: Challenges and Directions," they point out that, "Catholic social teaching is a central and essential element of our faith." They go on to observe that, despite that central place, "our social heritage is unknown by many Catholics. Sadly, our social doctrine is not shared or taught in a consistent and comprehensive way in too many of our schools." This lack is critical precisely because the "sharing of our social tradition is a defining measure of Catholic education and formation." A study conducted by David O'Brien, the Loyola Professor of Catholic Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts confirms the insights of John Paul and the bishops. It found that even though "almost but not all schools reporting offer courses which deal with Catholic social teaching," Catholic social teaching, "most likely remains a well kept secret even on these campuses...There are few programs which offer students the chance to pursue questions of social justice in a systematic way."

In light of the fact that graduates of Notre Dame assume positions in society of great power and authority and that the University itself aims to offer a setting that shapes its students in ways consonant with the Mission Statement, a proposal for the Concentration in Catholic Social Tradition was put before the College Council and passed in December 1998. The program formally began in autumn 1999. The aim of the Minor is to provide a specific programmatic instance of the University's commitment to Catholic identity.

Catholicism offers a long-standing and profound tradition of thought and teaching that addresses, from a normative standpoint, the full range of social spheres. It does so through a constellation of concepts that, taken as a whole, give articulation to a coherent yet variegated vision of the good society. Such concepts include those of solidarity, the common good, the just wage, human rights, the free economy, subsidiarity, and the option for the poor. Sources for the tradition go back as far as the Bible and develop even in the early church fathers. Medieval writings on topics such as usury and the origins and proper exercise of kingship bring an unprecedented level of detail to Christian analysis of the just society. Pope Leo XIII inaugurates Catholicism's effort to bring its social tradition to bear on industrial society in his 1891 encyclical, Rerum Novarum (The Condition of Labor). Since then, popes have drawn upon Rerum Novarum and the social tradition to broaden and develop Leo's set of concerns in encyclicals often titled -- as with Pius XII's Quadragesimo Anno, Paul VI's Octogesima Adveniens, and John Paul II's 1991 Centesimus Annus -- in accordance with their relationship to the earlier document. In doing so, the popes and the Second Vatican Council have addressed issues ranging across all spheres of social life from the family to the state to the church. The U.S. bishops have made sophisticated application of these teachings to the specific circumstances of the United States.

The University's Mission Statement itself draws from core concepts of the Catholic social tradition when it says, "Together with these liberal capacities of mind, the University cultivates in all its students a humane sensitivity both to human accomplishment and to human misery....Such a sense of human solidarity and a developed concern for the common good reaches its fulfillment as learning becomes service to justice."

In offering a Minor in Catholic Social Tradition, Notre Dame poses its questions to its current undergraduates: For those of you who are Catholic, will you enter your professional lives as Catholics? And for those of you who are not Catholic, will you enter your professional lives influenced by a set of values consonant with those put forth by the University in which you have spent such formative years? Will you understand and practice your professional as well as personal life as a vocation?