Christian Baird climbed on top of the flat roof of Tantur to watch the sunrise and to think about many things. The early morning darkness was just lifting in the Holy Land.
“They have these loudspeakers on top of all their mosques, and they chant in Arabic,” he says. “And how they call to prayer is very beautiful.”
Baird, at the time a Notre Dame MBA student, was dressed against the chill in black fleece and a black hat. He watched Palestinian boys sneak through a hole in the wall between Bethlehem and the main road on which Tantur sits. The hole was made by an Israeli bulldozer.
“These kids looked up and saw a black figure at the top and they stopped cold,” Baird says, referring to his dark appearance.
“I waved at them and I yelled one of the only Arabic words that I know, ‘Salaam,’ like ‘hello’ or ‘peace be with you,’” he says. “And they all said in their high-pitched, young-boy voices, ‘hello.’ And they walked on.”
In the middle of a war-torn area, Baird stood on neutral, Vatican land.
Baird and three of his fellow MBA students traveled to the Holy Land in Spring 2005 as part of a team tasked with creating a new marketing and operations strategy for the Tantur Institute. Tantur, nestled on 33 acres of rolling olive groves, is a beautiful center that hugs the hills and is surrounded by fountains and rose gardens. With a library containing 70,000 volumes, Tantur is an ideal ecumenical study destination dedicated to peace.
Pope Paul VI had dinner one evening with former Notre Dame President Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C. in the late 1960s and said the Church would place the land in Notre Dame’s keeping, the two men deciding that an ecumenical center would be developed. Located within moments of Israeli, Palestinian and Christian communities, Tantur is a haven for dialogue and understanding.
The MBA students along with Management Professor Viva Bartkus analyzed Tantur’s course offerings, financial structure, operations and maintenance, and marketing efforts and wrote a detailed strategy recommending facility updates and program additions.
Bartkus said that Tantur’s location, faith reputation, and relationships with leading academic institutions, economists, politicians, and thought leaders in the region are its greatest assets.
“On the highest hill between Jerusalem and Bethlehem is our beloved Tantur Institute,” Bartkus says. “It has a commanding view for miles and miles and miles. You can see the Judean Desert, you can see the Judean Mountains, you can see Bethlehem, you can see Jerusalem.”
The institute has 50 private and double living quarters and ten family apartments as well as a professionally staffed kitchen, dining area and lecture halls.
April Cadiente, an MBA student, got up each morning and jogged in the Tantur gardens before beginning the day’s activities.
“I hate running in the rain,” she says of one day’s downpour, “but here I feel like I’m getting baptized. It’s a very inspirational place.”
Cadiente, Baird, and MBA students Sebastian Burgman and Jason Johnson, all of whom graduated in May 2005, visited Jewish and Arab townspeople and walked the centuries-old streets of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee.