The Corner


Notre Dame Will Cover Christopher Columbus Murals after Complaints

A Christopher Columbus statue stands in Madrid, Spain, March 7, 2016. (Paul Hanna/Reuters)

Father John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, announced on Sunday that he has decided to cover a series of murals of Christopher Columbus displayed in Main Building, the central administrative building on campus.

“In recent years I have heard from students, alumni, faculty, staff, representatives of the Native American community, and others on this complex topic,” Fr. Jenkins said in an email to the Notre Dame community, a copy of which was obtained by National Review. “I have decided, after consultation with the University’s Board of Fellows, on a course that will preserve the murals, but will not display them regularly in their current location.”

As he usually does when faced with a situation in which he hopes to appease everyone, Fr. Jenkins has settled on a course of action that will please exactly no one.

The twelve murals were painted by Luigi Gregori in the 1880s specifically for display in Notre Dame’s Main Building, depicting the life and explorations of Columbus. The images had deep resonance at the time for American Catholics, most of whom were immigrants, who faced intense anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic prejudice. Columbus represented for them the essential contributions of immigrants and of Catholics to U.S. history, while Notre Dame represented the possibility of eventually gaining the nation’s respect.

But in light of shifting modern attitudes toward Columbus and colonization, the Notre Dame administration has faced criticism for allowing the murals to remain on display. In the fall of 2017, a group of progressive students and faculty demanded that the murals be taken down, and some asked the university to rename its celebration of Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day.”

With this decision, voices eager to erase history instead of remembering and learning from it have won out.

The rest of Father Jenkins’s email provides little useful insight, instead offering a series of bland equivocations. He notes, for instance, that the murals’ location “is not well suited for a thoughtful consideration” and says that high-resolution images instead will be displayed elsewhere. But that location remains unknown, pending the university’s establishment of a committee “to decide on the place to display the images of the murals and the appropriate communication around the display.” A truly egalitarian solution.

The murals themselves, meanwhile, will “be covered by woven material consistent with the décor of the space, though it will be possible to display the murals on occasion.” Those potential occasions remain, of course, unenumerated; perhaps another committee will be formed to help identify them. Here’s more from Fr. Jenkins’s intensely confusing rationale:

The murals present us with several narratives not easily reconciled, and the tensions among them are especially perplexing for us because of Notre Dame’s distinctive history and Catholic mission. At the time they were painted, the murals were not intended to slight indigenous peoples, but to encourage another marginalized group. In the second half of the 19th century, Notre Dame’s Catholic population, largely immigrants or from families of recent immigrants, encountered significant anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant attitudes in American public life. At the same time, Columbus was hailed by Americans generally as an intrepid explorer, the “first American” and the “discoverer of the New World.” Gregori’s murals focused on the popular image of Columbus as an American hero, who was also an immigrant and a devout Catholic. The message to the Notre Dame community was that they too, though largely immigrants and Catholics, could be fully and proudly American.

. . .

Our goal in making this change is to respect both Gregori’s murals, understood in their historical context, and the reality and experience of Native Americans in the aftermath of Columbus’s arrival. We wish to preserve artistic works originally intended to celebrate immigrant Catholics who were marginalized at the time in society, but do so in a way that avoids unintentionally marginalizing others. The course described above, we believe, honors the University’s heritage, of which we are justly proud, and better respects the heritage of native peoples, who have known great adversity since the arrival of Europeans.

While Fr. Jenkins’s decision very well might stem from his inclination toward charity rather than his eagerness to capitulate, it is disappointing to see Notre Dame go the way of so many other institutions of higher education, effacing its history and holding past figures to modern standards, regardless of context, for the sake of pacifying insatiable social-justice activists.

Most Popular


Angela Rye Knows You’re Racist

The political philosopher Michael Oakeshott said that the “rationalist” is hopelessly lost in ideology, captivated by the world of self-contained coherence he has woven from strands of human experience. He concocts a narrative about narratives, a story about stories, and adheres to the “large outline which ... Read More

What the Viral Border-Patrol Video Leaves Out

In an attempt to justify Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s absurd comparison of American detention facilities to Holocaust-era concentration camps, many figures within the media have shared a viral video clip of a legal hearing in which a Department of Justice attorney debates a panel of judges as to what constitutes ... Read More
Film & TV

Murder Mystery: An Old Comedy Genre Gets Polished Up

I  like Adam Sandler, and yet you may share the sense of trepidation I get when I see that another of his movies is out. He made some very funny manboy comedies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy) followed by some not-so-funny manboy comedies, and when he went dark, in Reign over Me and Funny People, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Making Sense of the Iran Chaos

One would prefer that correct decisions be made according to careful, deliberate plan. But a correct decision made impulsively, through a troubling process, is still nonetheless correct, and so it is with Donald Trump’s decision to refrain from military action against Iran. The proposed strike would represent a ... Read More