Notre Dame celebrates 170th by keeping community in mind

South Bend Tribune

Imagine, for a moment, what South Bend would have been like without the University of Notre Dame.

That may be an impossible task. One might just as well think of San Francisco without the bay, or Indianapolis without racecars.

For a very long time, Notre Dame, its people, its values and its traditions have simply been part of what makes South Bend what it is.

And yet, something is different now.

Yes, the university was always a part of the identity of this region, but to non-Domers it sometimes felt distant, aloof — a good neighbor, perhaps, but one, as Robert Frost might have said, with good fences.

Now, Notre Dame is beginning to feel like part of the family.

The very fact that its recent $275-per-plate dinner at the Center for History was sold out, in a city still fallen on hard times, attests to the hope at hand.

The theme of the 170-year-anniversary celebration this year is “Vision, Leadership, Engagement.”

Indeed, the vision of the Rev. Edward Sorin and so many who followed him is what allowed a great university to thrive and grow on a tree-lined northern Indiana lake shore.

And the leadership, as personified by Notre Dame’s three living presidents, has made the university a force for moral action and academic excellence nationally and around the world.

It is the engagement, though — particularly engagement with this community — that distinguishes this celebration.

Notre Dame students have traditionally done good works during their time here, and certainly its faculty, staff and local graduates have been active in public life.

Rarely, though, has South Bend faced a more uncertain future than it has the past few years. Those who have wrestled with its problems and hoped for some sort of deus ex machina solution — a big new company, a shiny new factory, help from Indianapolis or Washington — may not have considered that a powerful partner was closer at hand.

Many on campus and off have come to realize that that potential partner was here all along. Notre Dame has reached out to South Bend in many new ways. Its partnership on nanotechnology development offers the hope of new kinds of companies and new kinds of jobs here.

Its efforts to help develop the northeast neighborhood offer a model for turning decaying houses and streets into garden spots.

Eddy Street Commons showed that it is possible for new commercial areas to thrive here.

Notre Dame clearly recognizes that its mission and its fate are inextricably intertwined with its community. That makes this week’s celebration about the future as much as the past.

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