By Kathleen Gilbert

SOUTH BEND, Indiana, April 21, 2009 ( – University of Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins heaped fuel on the fire yesterday by gushing that President Obama’s highly controversial platform at the school’s commencement would be a “tremendous event” for Notre Dame.

“We are very proud and honored to welcome the first African-American President of the United States in a few weeks as our commencement speaker,” said Fr. Jenkins at a town hall meeting celebrating 60 years of black student-athletes at Notre Dame, according to the South Bend Tribune.  Obama will also be receiving an honorary law degree from the school during the May 17 commencement exercises. 

The audience received Jenkins’ remarks with cheers.

“This is a tremendous event for us.  We’re tremendously proud,” said the Notre Dame president.  “President Obama clearly could have chosen any university in the country to give a commencement address, and they would have been just delighted to have him, but he’s coming to Notre Dame, and we’re exceptionally proud.”

So far over 325,000 petitioners and 42 U.S. bishops have publicly condemned the decision of the university to host and honor what many pro-life activists have labeled “the most pro-abortion president in history,” with some strongly calling for Jenkins to disinvite the president or to step down from his position. (To sign the petition:

Taking note of the furor from the pro-life Catholic community over the Obama honor, Jenkins said the invite has “touched a very sensitive nerve in the Catholic community, the issue of abortion and the issue of life, and that’s very important to us.”

“I think it’s unfortunate that the great event of President Obama coming to this campus has been a little clouded by that controversy,” said Jenkins, “but we believe what we believe, and we’re clear on that, but at the same time, we recognize this remarkable leader and this remarkable person who has accomplished so much.

“He will speak to our graduates in such a powerful way. He’s one of our great orators of our time, and we’re just so proud to have him.”

Jenkins continued: “To welcome the first African-American president will be … gratifying for all of us.

“President Obama represents a real watershed in the history of our country, I believe. We will welcome him in style, and be happy to have him here.”

To express your concern to Fr. Jenkins:

University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
46556, USA
phone: 574.631.5000
email form:

See related coverage:

“Fr. Jenkins Will Probably Lose His Job”: Nine More Bishops Make 42 against ND Scandal

Canon Lawyer: Notre Dame Prez Reasoning “Too Bizarre for Words”