In the wake of the violent protests at the University of Virginia, Father John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, used the opening Mass of the academic year as an occasion to condemn the rising tide of racism in America.

“Racism, anti-Semitism and hatreds of any kind are malignancies of the heart,” said Jenkins. “If we allow these cancers to spread, they will destroy our community, our nation and ourselves.”

In his homily, Jenkins argued that the university’s Catholic mission could offer a particular contribution as the nation continues to address this crisis.

“At this Catholic university, we add to them other values, such as a commitment to the dignity of each person, a willingness to take responsibility for the common good and a special concern for those who are most vulnerable,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins’ remarks are not the first time a president of Notre Dame has used his position as a national platform to denounce racism.

Father Theodore Hesburgh, who served as President of the university for 35 years, was a prominent civil rights activist who famously worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1964, Hesburgh was awarded the Medal of Freedom for his civil rights activism, the highest civilian award in the United States. When President Barrack Obama spoke at Notre Dame’s 2009 commencement, he acknowledged Hesburgh’s particular contributions in this space.

At the Saturday Mass, Jenkins acknowledged that the excitement of a new semester has been overshadowed by national turmoil following the deadly events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“We have seen on another college campus, the University of Virginia, open advocacy of neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic, white supremacist, racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic chants,” said Jenkins.

“Yet we do not effectively counter them by hating the haters or doing violence to the violent,” he continued.

“We counter them most by providing an example of a university community where we pursue truth openly, speak freely and, at times, disagree passionately but show respect for those with whom we disagree and care for the community we share. We counter them by giving witness to a different set of values.”