By now, we have greeted everyone with the famous words “How was your summer?” and have told everyone how ours was in response to the same question. We are delighted, even exhilarated, to be back on campus and to be with our friends again. We are happy to be back on what has now become “our turf.” As we begin a new academic year under the Dome, each of us is filled with many thoughts, and with many hopes for what we want this year to be for us.
One of the grace-filled realities of our faith is that the blood of martyrs never drips. It flows. And from it, new strength always enables a rejuvenated and revitalized Church to become stronger and to grow.
Sometime during the night of May 8-9, 1994, while many at Notre Dame were still grappling with final exams, five young Rwandan Holy Cross Brothers, men in their twenties, were murdered. They were still in their preparatory years of training before they would become zealous Holy Cross religious serving their people in Africa.
Their blood flowed. The history of our faith tells us that from their blood, Christian roots in their country, which in recent years were not sufficient to overcome historical tribal animosity, will strengthen the faith and hope they shared with us.
Holy Cross has five new martyrs. May Brothers Eulade Gasasira, C.S.C., Leonard Karemangino, C.S.C., Venant Kayitana, C.S.C., Jean-Baptiste Mundeli, C.S.C., and Janvier Murenzi, C.S.C., rest in peace. From their blood, their lives and their witness, may the Church become more deeply rooted in Africa and may the Gospel of Jesus Christ become a worthy way of life for many.
In the midst of these days of suffering and loss, there was cause for great happiness. Eleven other Rwandan Holy Cross Brothers, who were missing since May, finally made their way safely to Uganda, arriving there three weeks ago. They are currently living with American, Kenyan, and Ugandan Holy Cross priests and brothers in Fort Portal. And just ten days ago, the first Tutsi Holy Cross seminarian pronounced final vows and was ordained a deacon. He was fairly certain none of his family members would be with him for this moment of commitment to be obeyed throughout a lifetime.
The Rwandan Holy Cross Brothers were not the first martyrs in Africa. The first martyr was Notre Dame alumnus Vince McCauley, C.S.C. He set foot on African soil for the first time when he was 52, when he was appointed bishop of Fort Portal, Uganda. Over the subsequent 20 years, he became a legendary figure in East Africa because of his accomplishments, and especially his holiness.
Twenty-five years earlier, doctors in Washington, D.C. and at the Mayo Clinic had told him that he had less than six months to live. He was a young, recently ordained Holy Cross missioner who had only been able to spend six months in Bangladesh, a land where he was prepared to live and work all the years of his life.
But instead of preparing for death, the young priest from Omaha traveled to Lourdes, France. There, at the Grotto of Our Lady, he did not ask to be cured. He simply promised Mary that he would continue to work every day for the spread of the Gospel for as long as he might live. The Grotto, of course, meant a lot to him, for it was after the Grotto of Lourdes that our own is fashioned. And as a student at Notre Dame, he had visited the Grotto often.
He lived more than 40 years beyond his six-month expectancy, and in the course of those years, he became a modern saint for Africa. His diocese grew so rapidly that three additional dioceses were cut off from the one where he was originally appointed bishop. He resigned as diocesan bishop, so that his auxiliary might become one of the first African bishops in post-colonial Africa.
But Bishop McCauley didn’t retire. Instead, he founded an institute for higher theological studies in Nairobi, Kenya, in order to prepare young African priests for an apostolic life that would include a rigorous theological and reflective component. He founded the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences of East Africa, to bring together the one hundred mostly African bishops of the region to work together for the good of all their peoples. And, above all, he loved and served the poor of Africa. He treated kindly and with generosity thousands of refugees from the Idi Amin regime. And he never failed to see the face of Christ in every person he met and dealt with.
Bishop Vince McCauley, C.S.C., was one of the founders of the Holy Cross missions in Africa, and he became an inspiration for future generations of Holy Cross men and women. When he died in 1985, all those who knew him even slightly, knew in their hearts that a true saint had joined his Lord in heaven; welcomed in a special way, surely, by Mary, who knew he had more than kept up his end of the bargain he made forty years earlier.
When Holy Cross priests entered his simple quarters in Nairobi, Kenya, after his death to gather his personal effects, they found only a few changes of clothing, two cassocks and a few inconsequential papers. He took the Lord Jesus at his word, and kept only two tunics for his fifty-year sojourn following Christ.
The Cancer that led to his original six-month prognosis did not go away. He underwent more than forty operations to keep it under control, until at last it killed him. Now he serves as a model of loving Gospel service, regardless of the cost, for generations of Holy Cross religious in East Africa and elsewhere, and for thousands of Africans.
As a new academic year begins, you are happy to be here, among your friends.
You are happy to be in a place where you, too, can pursue and deepen your own desire for a more significant and life-giving relationship with Jesus and with our community of believers.
There will be many opportunities for you to do so, whether in late night sessions with friends, at the Basilica or Grotto, at residence hall Masses, during N.D.E., retreats, or in countless other ways.
However, you want to allow this deepening of your spiritual side to happen, pursue it. Pursue it relentlessly.
That is the way it has always been here. It was that way for Vince McCauley when he was a Notre Dame undergraduate. And, please God, it is the way it will be for you and for generations of Notre Dame men and women to come.