Latin America and Notre Dame’s Future

Memorandum Of Understanding Signing

Last spring, at a ceremony held in University’s Main Building, Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., and Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Tlalnepantla, Mexico, president of the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) signed a “memorandum of understanding” pledging to cooperate in a range of initiatives in academics, social development, peace-building, and institutional administration.

“In the Catholic Church, international community and cooperation are crucially important,” said Father Jenkins as he greeted and introduced Archbishop Aguiar. “What binds us together is deeper than culture and language, and this agreement will help Notre Dame bond more closely with the cultures, communities, and institutions of Latin America.”

Father Jenkins was expressing an aspiration with deep roots in the University’s history. Rev. John Augustus Zahm, C.S.C., a 19th-century graduate and one of Notre Dame’s most renowned scholars and administrators, once accompanied his friend Theodore Roosevelt on an arduous South American expedition in 1913. The former president later wrote admiringly of the Notre Dame priest as an ambassador to the southern continent, “whose sympathy with, and appreciation of, the people whom we met—earned a thoughtful and unwearied kindness which admirably fitted him, while on his journey, to interpret our nation to those among whom he traveled and now admirably fitted him to interpret them in return to us.”

In his remarks at the signing ceremony, Father Jenkins particularly thanked Notre Dame Trustee José Enrique Fernández and Monsignor Carlos Quintana, a 1981 Notre Dame alumnus, for beginning the conversation between Notre Dame and CELAM, which includes 22 bishops conferences in Latin America. He also noted that over the past 10 years, the University has seen an increase in undergraduates and graduate students from South America, and that more than 230 students from Latin America and the Caribbean now attend Notre Dame.

Archbishop Aguiar expressed gratitude to Notre Dame for “helping us to unify and strengthen the communities and organizations of the Church,” and said that such individual initiatives as this agreement were “like small streams of water which join other small streams until they become mighty torrents. Such torrents and currents give life to the whole ocean.”

The agreement included the establishment of a committee of Notre Dame faculty and administrators and CELAM leaders to explore opportunities for collaboration and partnership on research initiatives, student and faculty exchanges, pastoral problems and opportunities, and development of best practices in administration. One of the committee members representing Notre Dame, Peter Casarella, an associate professor of theology who is currently conducting research at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, said that the agreement “allows us to partner with CELAM’s episcopal conferences with the hope of building up a single, unified ecclesial identity in America.

“Notre Dame’s strengths in promoting human rights, democracy, and integral human development can hopefully provide new synergies for CELAM’s work in these areas, and in my area, formation, I also see great opportunities for collaboration.

“I see this new development as a wonderful chance for Notre Dame to broaden the international and intercultural dimensions of its academic work while also deepening its long-standing commitment to Catholic mission.”

In March 2016, Father Jenkins led a University delegation on a week-long trip to Chile, Argentina, and Brazil to further strengthen relationships and grow Notre Dame’s presence in academic, Church, and government sectors there. Their visit began in Chile, and included audiences with Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, archbishop of Santiago and chancellor of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, and with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. In Buenos Aires and São Paulo, the delegation met with university, Church, and corporate officials, and Father Jenkins addressed civic and academic leaders.

“As a global university, Notre Dame must be engaged around the world to develop and expand research opportunities for faculty and students and to build relationships with civic organizations and the Church,” Father Jenkins said. “Latin America is vitally important to our future.”

Archbishop Aguiar expressed gratitude to Notre Dame for “helping us to unify and strengthen the communities and organizations of the Church,” and said that such individual initiatives as this agreement were “like small streams of water which join other small streams until they become mighty torrents. Such torrents and currents give life to the whole ocean.”