This is how Notre Dame should be showing what Our Mother means:
For many members of the Notre Dame Class of 2009, the uproar surrounding the university’s decision to honor Barack Obama with this year’s commencement address, and to bestow on him a doctorate of laws, has provoked strong feelings about what the ensuing conflict will mean for their graduation.
I know how they feel. Ten years ago, my heart was filled with similar conflicts as we came closer to the day of my own Notre Dame commencement and my commissioning as an officer in the United States Army.
You see, I was three months pregnant.
That March, I had gone—alone—to a local woman’s clinic to take a test. The results were positive, and I was so numb I almost didn’t grasp what the nurse was getting at when she assured me I had “other options.” What did “other options” mean? And what kind of world is it that defines compassion as telling a young woman who has just learned she is carrying life inside her that she has the option to destroy it?
When I returned to campus, I ran to the Grotto. I was confused and full of conflicting emotions. But I knew this: No amount of shame or embarrassment would ever lead me to get rid of my baby. Of all women, Our Lady could surely feel pity for an unplanned pregnancy. I recalled her surrendered love to God’s invitation to become the home of the Incarnate Word. “Let it be done to me according to thy word,” she had said. In my hour of need, on my knees, I asked Mary for courage and strength. And she did not disappoint.
My boyfriend was a different story. He was also a Notre Dame senior. When I told him that he was to be a father, he tried to pressure me into having an abortion. Like so many women in similar circumstances, I found out the kind of man the father of my child was at precisely the moment I needed him most. “All that talk about abortion is just dining-room talk,” he said. “When it’s really you in the situation, it’s different. I will drive you to Chicago and pay for a good doctor.”
I tried telling him this was not an option. He said he was pro-choice. I responded by informing him that my choice was life. And I learned, as so many pregnant women have before and since, that life is the one choice that pro-choicers won’t support.
Still, I count myself lucky. I was raised by a mom and dad who marched for life—and who walked the walk when I needed them. However much I may not have wanted to embarrass them with my pregnancy, amid my troubles I always knew I had a priceless gift: a family that would welcome into their hearts the life that God had put in my womb.
I also had the advantage of a good and loving friend, Sara, who reminded me that her mom was a counselor at the Women’s Care Center in South Bend. It was this Women’s Care Center that provided me with the encouragement that everything was going to be all right. They educated me on my pregnancy, and they provided me with information on how to stay healthy.
So, without my boyfriend’s support, I graduated from Notre Dame on schedule with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies. I earned my ROTC commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. I returned to my parents’ home in Florida, having been granted a delay from active duty. I sought and received advice and loving counsel from Kimberly Home, a pregnancy resource center in my hometown. And I prepared to give birth to the human being who has given me the greatest and most unexpected joy in my life.
Because I was to be an unmarried mom (in the Army no less), I felt compelled at least to research adoption through Catholic Charities. A counselor at Kimberly Home guided me through the decision process and provided me with referrals. Kimberly Home connected me with other women of unplanned pregnancies who had gone through closed as well as open adoptions. It was helpful and caring.
After much prayer, I came to terms with the fact that this baby was a gift I had already chosen to accept. With the support of my family, I would make it work. Through the State of Florida Child Support Enforcement Agency, I obtained a court order for my daughter to receive child support from her father.
And then a miracle came: On All Saints Day 1999, I gave birth to baby Mary. Her name is no accident. This Mary was living inside me while I walked the campus of a university dedicated to a woman who is mother of us all, and it was Mary Our Mother who gave me courage when I was afraid of what would lie ahead. Mary teaches us always to be open to seeking the will of God in our lives, no matter what it is, and never to be afraid of God’s will. God’s will may contain suffering, but God’s will also brings peace and joy. When we place ourselves at God’s disposal, he will do great things for us.
Those great things included the precious moment when my father came to meet his granddaughter on that glorious day she was born. He took one look at Mary in my arms and said to me, “This is your gift for making the right decision.” At that moment, I realized my little girl and I would be forever blessed.
Notre Dame is a special place, but it is not immune to the realities of modern life. There are students who face unplanned pregnancies, and—most tragically—women who think their only option is abortion. Statistics show that one out of every five women who have an abortion is a college student; many of these women cite the fear that they will not be able to complete their education as a primary reason. On campuses all across this country, abortion is the status quo. We need to change that with an unambiguous stand for life, and Notre Dame needs to be in the lead.
There have been many things written about the honors to be extended to President Obama. I’d like to ask this of Fr. John Jenkins, the Notre Dame president: Who draws support from your decision to honor President Obama—the young, pregnant Notre Dame woman sitting in that graduating class who wants desperately to keep her baby, or the Notre Dame man who believes that the Catholic teaching on the intrinsic evil of abortion is just dining-room talk?
Lacy Dodd is a member of the Notre Dame Class of 1999 and a proud mother. She also serves on the board of Room at the Inn, a Charlotte-based nonprofit now working to build at Belmont Abbey America’s first campus-based maternal care facility for pregnant college students.