To Father Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame

Please, Ask of Yourself What You Ask of Others

To Father Jenkins,

On Saturday evening, I saw a photo of you sitting amongst a small crowd of people. You were not wearing a mask.

An NBC video still-frame of a crowd closely seated on a ceremonial lawn.

I saw another photo of you without a mask. You were shaking hands with another person that was also not wearing a mask.

Father Jenkins, maskless and amongst a crowd, shaking hands with another maskless middle-aged white person.  The other person's back faces the camera, only the side of their face can be seen.

I saw this as a disregard of the instructions that end each of your emails:

Please remember to do the following:

  1. Wear your mask.
  2. Practice physical distancing.
  3. Wash your hands regularly.
  4. Complete your daily health check.
  5. Show up when selected for surveillance testing.

As an employee of Notre Dame, I am livid. I look at your latest round of thanks, and a sense of cynicism fills me.

Thanks to the efforts of so many of you, both in adhering to health protocols and assisting in our COVID-19 response efforts, the number of positive cases remains at a manageable level. I’m deeply grateful to you and proud of what we have been able to accomplish together. … I know the year has asked a lot of each of you, and you have responded so well. I am proud of what we have accomplished, but we cannot let our guard down. Let’s each of us recommit to doing our part to keep this community healthy and remain together here on campus.

This year has asked much of us as have the leaders of Notre Dame. It leaves a bitter taste to see a leader of Notre Dame disregard an ask that they make of others.

Notre Dame provides a form for reporting observed non-compliance. In the messaging from various levels, we are asked to hold each other accountable.

This is not the first time you’ve failed to wear a mask and to social distance. You issued an apology then, and recommitted to do your best.

While all of the scientific evidence indicates that the risk of transmission is far lower outdoors than indoors, I want to remind you (and myself!) that we should stay at least six feet apart. I recognize that it’s not easy, particularly when we are reuniting with such great friends. I am sorry for my poor example, and I am recommitting to do my best. I am confident you will too.

I accept that we all falter and fail as we strive to each do our best.

On such a visible stage, I expected more from a leader. I expect more of someone that once apologized and committed to doing better after failing to wear a mask; Of someone who writes a thank you for the efforts of adhering to health protocols; And of someone responsible for campus guidelines and policies around non-compliance.

Sincerely a concerned, frustrated, and disappointed employee of the University of Notre Dame.



I have since learned that Professor G. Marcus Cole, Dean of the Notre Dame Law School was the person sitting to the right of Father Jenkins. Professor Cole wore his mask. And sent him the following thank you email:

It seems like a small thing, but I want to thank you for wearing a mask during the ceremony at the White House. It is uplifting to see demonstrable leadership in modeling the health protocols of the university.


The Notre Dame Observer, a student publication, ran an editorial and reported on a petition from the students calling for Father Jenkins to resign.

I know many of you have read about the White House ceremony I recently attended. I write to express my regret for certain choices I made that day and for failing to lead as I should have.…

I regret my error of judgment in not wearing a mask.

, A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.

In messages sent over the last few weeks, Father Jenkins apologized for the inconvenience of changing the Spring 2021 schedule. Yet Father Jenkins offered no apology in the September 28, 2020 message.

I expect more from a leader. To state specifically what action they regret. And given the violation of their own litany of health protocols, to offer an apology.


On , I received an email announcing that Father Jenkins had contracted Covid.

During self-quarantine this week, University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, learned that a colleague with whom he has been in regular contact tested positive for COVID-19. Fr Jenkins was tested and found to be positive for COVID-19 too.


Father Jenkins released a video issuing an apology. I receive and acknowledge his apology. I now reflect on my expectations.

I have sought to disentangle my disdain Father Jenkins's behavior from the entire Rose Garden Event, and the brazen and naked power grab by the Replubican (GOP) party in ramming through a nomination.

Setting the nomination aside (for the moment), I am reflecting on Father Jenkins's latest statement and apology. I accept the apology and expect Father Jenkins to be a model in health protocols.

I’m also reflecting on the role of forgiveness and accountability. I know I falter, but rarely on a national stage, nor as a leader of an institution that has issued such clear and direct reminders. I see this as a time for forgiveness, reconciliation, and accountability.

As I see it Father Jenkins must receive forgiveness. President Jenkins may warrant censure or a vote of no confidence, but that is not for me to decide. However, those two realities must be held in tension.

I appreciate the timeline of the apology. I do not expect any person to live their lives on a 24-hour news cycle. Instead, I hope to see others take the time and space to reflect on their actions and form their apology. We all deserve that time and space. Which is not to conflate that with the person's position. The Office of the President of Notre Dame may well have required a more rapid response. The Office of the President of Notre Dame operates within the 24-hour news cycle.

I must add, Father Jenkin's has not said "I'm sorry," instead he chose "I apologize."


Other football schools are having their problems with coronavirus outbreaks, lots of them, but Notre Dame appears to be the only one taking the gate receipts and then blaming spectators for the same uncontrolled passions of their unmasked leaders, while making pale after-the-fact confessions and gestures at discipline.

Notre Dame has always sought to position itself as a unique and visible leader of college football, a maker of manners. Notre Dame’s president had a powerful opportunity to send a national message about this pandemic and personal responsibility. Instead he sent the opposite. No wonder everyone ignored his rules.

As a leader, when you draw down power make sure it isn’t targeted at a transgression you yourself committed; The optics are poor.