A Journey of Faith in Scholarship, Teaching, and Service



David B. Burrell, C.S.C.
I woke up the other day to realize that I had been on the faculty at Notre Dame for thirty years. That was immediately followed by an appreciation of how rich those years have been. For this university is a community of fellow journeyers in faith, animated for more than thirty years by the conviction so consistently and elegantly articulated by one of our confreres, John Dunne: that faith is ever a journey. Pilgrimage is as venerable a theme in Christian literature as it is a pillar of Muslim practice.

Fortunately, and notably in the decades succeeding Vatican II, our Catholic perspectives were increasingly enlarged to embrace a world church. We could feel proud to be Catholic, and sought different ways of giving those global realities flesh on our campus and in our curriculum. It is here that our pattern of living in residence halls with students of so many nationalities has come to make a profound educational difference. It seems to have been part of Moreau's ethos, communicated and fostered by Edward Sorin, to assure that faculty members always occupy themselves with some direct pastoral work, alongside their teaching or other ministry at the university. As a result, we have tended to create ever smaller communities with students, where by sharing their living situations, informal mentoring can supplant formal instruction to complete an education in faith. And the pattern has enriched us as well, for it has given us invaluable pastoral experience.

To inject within that mix a sense of faith as a journey, and of faith as an invitation to embrace the world, has become our call as Holy Cross religious--sisters, brothers, and priests--in this place. Yet, that demands that we deliberately transcend the more centripetal pull of the Notre Dame itself, and challenge ourselves as well as our students to ever wider challenges of reason and of faith.

A French theologian, Jean Daniélou, proposed a paradigm shift for mission, which I had experienced in numerous ways in East Bengal: missionaries do not so much bring Christ to other lands and cultures as find him there. Bringing that perspective back again to Notre Dame was enhanced by a move I made to live at family student housing, where the 132 families (with 150 children) represented 27 nationalities. My home encompassed in microcosm a global reach, and I was able to learn a great deal about the world's religions and cultures in our efforts to bring the daily lives of student families in touch with one another, and so mine the riches that we knew were present in our modest University Village. In our interfaith and intercultural environment, we have learned how to discover how much we can gain from each other.

For me, working in person directly with students and with their families has underscored once again the wisdom of Moreau's insistence that we all carry out some directly ministerial work in the midst of our teaching and admnistering at the university. I always tell people that it is the "best thing I do," not because I do not enjoy teaching and scholarship, which I clearly do, but because in this simple yet rich environment of Notre Dame, much of what I study and teach about understanding other cultures takes flesh for all of us to appreciate.