Father Jenkins expresses gratitude for Pope Benedict’s leadership

by Dennis Brown

Pope Benedict XVI greets Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. Pope Benedict XVI greets Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, expressed his deep gratitude for the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, who announced today (Feb. 11) his intention to step down from the papacy at the end of the month.

“As surprising as today’s announcement is, it is apparent that Pope Benedict has made a decision that is motivated by his deep love for the Church,” Father Jenkins said. “He has been a dedicated pastor to Catholics worldwide for the past eight years – and even before as a cardinal, bishop and priest. As a former university professor, he is a serious intellectual with an understanding of education and appreciation for the life of the mind, and that has been important to all of us in Catholic higher education. As the College of Cardinals considers a successor to Pope Benedict, I pray God will guide their deliberations.”

Father Jenkins exchanged greetings with the pope on Feb. 1, 2006, following a general audience in the Vatican’s Paul VI Auditorium. The pope shook hands with Father Jenkins and called Notre Dame “a great Catholic university.” The University president thanked the pope and said, “Keep us in your prayers.”

Nearly 50 Notre Dame Trustees, officers and their spouses attended the papal audience.

Father Jenkins attended an address by Benedict on April 17, 2008, to more than 300 Catholic education leaders at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

“It was a warm and gracious address that emphasized the value of Catholic education,” Father Jenkins said at the time. “It was a very positive experience. There was an expression of gratitude and appreciation for everyone in the room involved in Catholic education. He spoke of education as being central to the life of the Church, and, of course, that is what Notre Dame is all about. It was a great affirmation of our central mission."

Notre Dame’s relationship with Pope Benedict goes back to the 1960s when the University’s former president, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., offered a faculty position to then Father Joseph Ratzinger, a German theologian.

“I was searching around the world for an up-and-coming theologian,” Father Hesburgh said in an interview with the South Bend Tribune soon after Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope. He wrote a letter of invitation to the young cleric, inviting him to join the faculty for a year or permanently.

“He wrote back, ‘I’d love to come, but I don’t think my English is good enough yet,’ ” Father Hesburgh said.

John Cavadini presents Pope Benedict XVI with a festschrift from the University of Notre DameJohn Cavadini presents Pope Benedict XVI with a festschrift from the University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame’s most recent interaction with the Holy Father came in December when John Cavadini, professor of theology and McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life (ICL), presented him with a book titled “Explorations in the Theology of Benedict XVI.” Edited by Cavadini and published by the University of Notre Dame Press, the book grew from a conference sponsored by the ICL last March to mark the pope’s 85th birthday. It explores and reflects on some 60 years of Joseph Ratzinger’s theological scholarship and teaching, from his writings as a professor of theology through his papal encyclical letters.