White House Expects Obama to Wear Traditional Notre Dame Robe That Bears Prayer to Virgin Mary
April 28, 2009 - 5:09 AMPresident Barack Obama is expected to wear the traditional doctoral robe featuring the cross and prayer of the Virgin Mary when he speaks at the University of Notre Dame next month, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNSNews.com on Monday.
Gibbs spoke on the same day that a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican declined to accept an award from the Catholic university because of the invitation extended to Obama.
Obama’s upcoming commencement speech at Notre Dame has sparked protest among many Catholics because of the president’s support for abortion rights.
“I honestly don’t know what the dress code is for that day. I can assume that the president would wear what one traditionally wears at that commencement,” Gibbs told CNSNews.com during Monday’s White House press briefing.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown told CNSNews.com earlier this month that the university expects Obama to wear the robe.
The question was posed after the monogram “IHS,” which symbolizes the name of Jesus, was covered up when Obama spoke at Georgetown University, a Jesuit university. Georgetown officials said the “IHS” was covered at the request of the White House. (See earlier story)
On Monday, Mary Ann Glendon, a pro-life Harvard University professor and the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican under the Bush administration, declined to accept the Laetare Medal, an annual award given by Notre Dame to a layperson for outstanding service to the Roman Catholic Church.
In a letter to the Rev. John I. Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, Glendon wrote, “I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree.”
Glendon, who would have given a brief acceptance speech upon receiving the Laetare Medal, said that such a platform was not the “right vehicle” to bring up the “very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision” to honor Obama.
In her letter, Glendon described the president as “an uncompromising opponent of the church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.” (See letter)
Glendon, noting that other Catholic schools also are choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, said she was “concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.”
“It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.”
Notre Dame reportedly extended an invitation to the pro-life Glendon as a way of balancing Obama’s controversial appearance at commencement ceremonies.
Gibbs said he has “not seen any reason she (Glendon) might have given” to refuse the award at Notre Dame.
“The president looks forward greatly to delivering the commencement address at Notre Dame,” Gibbs told CNSNews.com. “Obviously any commencement is a special occasion for students and their families. I think Notre Dame has a strong record of healthy exchange of differing viewpoints. The president is glad and fortunate to have supporters of all faiths and looks forward to delivering the commencement.”
More than 330,000 have now signed the Cardinal Newman Society's petition asking Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to Obama.
The Notre Dame doctoral robe that Obama will likely wear at the speech bears two images of the school’s coat of arms, one on both the right and left chest areas.
The coat of arms and its symbolic meaning are described in “The Spirit of Notre Dame: Its History, Legends and Lore” by Dorothy V. Corson, a publication that is posted on Notre Dame’s official website.
The publication includes a detailed illustration of the coat of arms and an explanation from the February 1931 issue of The Notre Dame Alumnus magazine.
The emblem features a cross and a book with a prayer inscribed in it, a star in the upper left-hand corner and two wavy lines at the bottom.