University of Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Wikimedia Commons

Living Campus Life to the Fullest

Professor Paolo Carozza, an internationally respected law scholar, teaches at one of America’s most prestigious Catholic universities. His work has generated a movement of students and colleagues that introduces a newness to the whole college.
Alberto Savorana

Paolo Carozza is Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. A Harvard cum laude graduate, his scholarship ranges from international to comparative law, from human rights to the juridical systems of Europe and Latin America. He also teaches at Milan’s Catholic University in the Economics and International Relations graduate program, and in 2004 was a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at the University of Milan. In 2005, he was elected member of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the General Assembly of the Organization of American Nations, and this year serves as the Commission’s first Vice-President.

Paolo, what does it mean to teach at one of the most important Catholic universities in America?
I and many others on the faculty here had the possibility to teach elsewhere, in some of the best known universities in the country. We came to Notre Dame, and stay at Notre Dame, not just because it is Catholic, but because of its ideal to be the best possible research university, and the certainty that the strongly Catholic character of the university is not separate from that ideal, but in fact is at its heart. To work here means to have the freedom to live a more intensely whole life: to ask questions in my research that are not artificially constrained by the conventions of a completely secularized academy; to relate to and discuss with students in class and outside of it in ways that embrace all the experience of life; to be part of a community where the prayer and longing of our Liturgy and the prayer and longing of our studies are united.

From the cultural point of view, does Notre Dame differ from the American university system in general?
Many of the ways that the university is organized and administered, classes are taught, and research is pursued are the same as in the highest level research universities in the United States. But there are at least two ways that it is a different kind of place from other universities. First, it is a place that has never accepted the thesis that modernization is inseparable from secularization. So, in a world of higher education that has largely abandoned the question of religion as a mere social phenomenon (at best), and that is tone-deaf to the religious sense, we assert without embarrassment, in classrooms, conferences, and laboratories, that the religious dimension of man is an inseparable part of what it means to inquire into the nature of all of reality. Secondly, that project is closely integrated with the life of students; they not only live in the campus halls at rates higher than any other American university, but their communal life embraces everything–their studies, their faith, their friendships. One of the greatest signs of these differences is the intensity of the deep sense of belonging that is generated and that sustains this community–one can see it in the former students who return here with their children and grandchildren and who support its financial needs, in the sporting events that bring students together with people from all over the country, and in the fidelity of our faculty. One can see the difference in the simple gesture of the girl who, after studying in the library with her friends until three o’clock in the morning or after jogging around the lakes on campus, takes the time to stop at the “Grotto” (a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes) to light a candle.

What has the encounter with Communion and Liberation brought to your work?
Quite simply, my encounter and education in the Movement has made it possible for me to live the ideal of the university, and of my life, more truthfully and more intensely. It has not added anything onto my research or my teaching or my family life, but instead indicated the way to live them with a greater gratitude and wonder at the beauty of what is given, and so an increased desire to enter into them with all of my being, to offer them to the Father.

What is original about the Movement for the American mentality? What elements of this mentality does the Movement valorize, and how does the Movement’s thought differ from it?
There is so much to say here but I will mention just three things. First, while in America it is true that religion is present and pervasive in the life of the people, most often it is another layer placed over, on top of life, or parallel to it. And so the overwhelming experience of my students and colleagues is to struggle with fragmentation and division in their lives, between the recognized ideal of their lives and their daily experience of work, study, play, friendship, etc. The charism of Father Giussani educates us to take seriously the Word made flesh, to the point that the division is broken down. Second, in America we do not learn well to be attentive to beauty, and to let it awaken in us the openness to reality–the mass commercialization of entertainment serves to deaden the senses. But instead, one of the most consistent things that I hear from students who come to be with us at the university is that they were first attracted by our obvious passion for beauty, especially in art and music. Third, even though Americans are very accustomed to what we could call “civic association”–they form countless clubs and organizations and are involved in a host of them together–it is not usually familiar to Americans to affirm the communal dimensions of life as not just an activity but as a method of entering into all of life or as the ground in which the seeds of our judgments, perceptions, decisions, and actions grow and bear fruit.

What does your relationship with your students mean for you?
Here, a little personal testimony might help make it more clear. Some time ago, for a period of several years, my wife and I were suffering a lot because we wanted to have more children but every time she became pregnant, she later miscarried. No doctors were able to explain why this kept happening. So I asked a dear friend, “Why? What does it mean, what is being asked of us, that we have this great desire and yet its fulfillment seems to be denied to us again and again?” He answered, “Perhaps you are being called to be a father in a different, greater way.” It was a prophecy of how I had to regard not just my children but my students, too–as a father who loves their destiny and desires more than anything else to help them walk in freedom and certainty toward it. So whether we are singing songs together in my home or analyzing a court decision in class, I am with them out of the yearning to realize our vocations, both theirs and mine.

Can you tell us something about the involvement with your colleagues?
Recently, when facing a difficult and controversial moment in the life of the university–a great debate over the future direction of the community–a colleague and I together concluded that it did not make sense to address the problem merely as an abstract project. The answer had to grow out of a real communion among the members of the faculty. So we invited a few other faculty members whom we know to get together regularly, not with any predefined aim except to share a friendship. We eat and drink, read and discuss things that we find provocative, debate the significant problems facing the university and our society, share our scholarly work with one another, and so on. Now we have grown to be a group with colleagues from law, philosophy, theology, engineering, history, architecture, and political science. This is the university, concretely and in human dimensions.

If you were to describe the Movement at Notre Dame in only a few sentences, what would you say?
It is the bearer, in the flesh, of the realization of the promise that the ideal of the university represents. We tell new students constantly that our companionship is not to take them out of the university community but precisely to help them live it more fully, becoming the presence within it that gives it life and makes it capable of becoming truly the sign that the expectations of our hearts are answered, here and now.

In the morning, you recite Lauds with the little group of CLU students, and in the afternoon you fly to Washington for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. What unites such different activities for you?
Both of them are nothing more than the begging for unity and wholeness. Through the awareness of my limits and my recognition of the One who saves my humanity from nothingness, Morning Prayer with my students is the reconstruction each day of what is authentically human, of human dignity, of the “I” that every victim of a human rights abuse longs for. I can’t offer them any help or answer in their suffering that isn’t a lie, if I don’t pray Lauds with my students every day.