Don't know how many saw the obituary of a gentleman that passed away recently. It was of Edmund Anton Stephan who was a prominent lawyer in the Chicago area who died January 16 at Evanston Hospital at the age of 86. What is significant is that this is the man who basically began the process that de-Catholicized that once noble Catholic institution known as Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana. As a lay Notre Dame alumnus and trustee back in 1967 he drew up and framed the legal structure whereby a mostly lay board took over governing the University. It was a drastic change from the previous administration of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, the religious order of priests who had founded the university in 1842. Though there are still some Holy Cross priests still teaching today, the majority of faculty and administrators are secular. The governing board remains totally lay run. Back in 1967 Stephan was elected chairman of the board of the trustees where he served through 1982 when he was forced to retire because of the mandatory 70-age limit. Yet he remained "chairman emeritus" until his death last week. Though Notre Dame's highly visible president Father Theodore Hesburgh praised this man highly, do not forget that this transition signaled the end of Catholic universities in our country as we used to know them when a solid Roman Catholic foundation was vital and not an elective. Hesburgh, in eulogizing this man said, "The important thing to remember when we moved to lay control, is that it affected not just Notre Dame, but ultimately almost every Catholic university and Catholic hospital in the country." That's right, like a domino effect every Catholic university. save for a select few, followed suit, abandoning the principles of Catholicism in favor of a "more open curriculum." The results over the past thirty years have spoken for themselves: catastrophic. By shifting the responsibility to the lay sector, the seeds of vocations have dwindled to but a few blooms in a growing field of weeds sprouting heresies and secularism. By turning it over to the lay sector, it paved the way for such notorious theologians as Fr. Richard McBrien to take hold under the golden dome. Hesburgh claimed the move from religious control to lay control was necessary because Vatican II dictated it. Sorry folks, he's wrong. He sites the Council called for people outside the clergy to be given positions "commensurate with their talents, their experience, their specialized knowledge and their dedication." In that he is correct, but his interpretation is what is in error for Vatican II never intended for the laity to "take over" which they did at Notre Dame and countless other Catholic institutions throughout the United States. The laity was always meant to use these God-given talents to compliment and support religious institutions and their projects, and through this valuable and specialized assistance, help Holy Mother Church as well as contribute to nourishing more vocations The Vatican II Council Fathers intended for the laity to be more involved because of their talents - a way they could participate in evangelization and tithe with their talents and time as well as treasures. In no way did the Second Vatican Council "dictate" that the laity take over.
Though many will mourn this man and we join them in regards to his soul and pray for him, we do not mourn this man for what he accomplished but rather we mourn what he wrought - a further watering down of the faith by diluting and, in some cases, eliminating a strict Catholic curriculum that had served Notre Dame so well for well over a century. This same strict Catholic curriculum thrives today at such loyal institutions as Franciscan University at Steubenville, Christendom College, and even diocesan universities like the University of Dallas to name a few. There are lay people involved with all of these, but they are there in support, not dictating change because the Council did not "dictate" this. Rather the Council "dictated" that the faith be deepened in all universities and institutions throughout the world. It's too bad Fr. Hesburgh and Mr. Stephan and countless others missed the point. The damage done has been considerable, but it is not irreversible if we wake up to the fact that, after thirty years the results are in: this experiment is not working. There is a huge mural of Christ flanking the facade of the campus library overlooking Notre Dame's hallowed football stadium and often referred to as "Touchdown Jesus." He has not been celebrating much over these last three decades. More often than not instead of signaling victory, He has had to issue penalty flags to the Notre Dame administration and other administrations who have wandered from the roots of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. Call it "illegal procedure!" It's time we get the right signal callers and coaches into the game - dedicated religious committed to the Church - so that we can make up lost yardage and fully restore faith in our faith through education at all levels!