Scholars and practitioners gather to discuss option for the poor at Center for Social Concerns conference

By: JP Shortall

March 18, 2019

The University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns will hold its biennial Catholic social tradition conference on March 21–23 at McKenna Hall. This year’s conference, “Option for the Poor: Engaging the Social Tradition,” will bring together 68 international scholars and practitioners of Catholic social tradition to examine various social challenges related to poverty.

The option for the poor and vulnerable has long been central to Catholic social tradition, holding that societies ought to be measured by the standard of how their most vulnerable members are faring and that all members of society have a special obligation to the poor and vulnerable.

“Fr. Ted Hesburgh wrote in 1979 that ‘we teach human dignity best by serving it where it is most likely to be disregarded, in the poor and abandoned,’” said Rev. Kevin Sandberg, C.S.C., Leo and Arlene Hawk Director of the Center for Social Concerns. “The Center’s pedagogy depends on that kind of insight, and this year’s conference promises to extend and develop it in new and fruitful directions.”

Past Catholic social tradition conferences have focused on important writings within the documentary tradition: Populorum Progressio in 2017, Gaudium et Spes in 2015, Pacem in Terris in 2013, and Rerum Novarum in 2011. By focusing on the option for the poor, this year’s conference will explore a principle central to many of the major writings in the documentary tradition as well as the Gospel.

“This series of biennial conferences first began in 2011 as a way to assemble scholars and practitioners who wanted to address social issues through the social teachings of the Church,” said Bill Purcell, senior associate director of Catholic social tradition and practice at the Center for Social Concerns and conference organizer. “The first one drew 30 presenters and 125 participants; this year we have 68 presenters and more than 350 participants.”

The conference will feature keynote addresses by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, S.D.B, Archdiocese of Sangon, Myanmar; Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez, O.P., John Cardinal O’Hara Professor of Theology emeritus, University of Notre Dame; Lisa Sowle Cahill, Ph.D., J. Donald Monan Professor of Theology, Boston College; Charles Clarke, Ph.D., professor of economics, St. John’s University; and Daniel Graff, Ph.D., director of the Higgins Labor Program of the Center for Social Concerns, and professor of the practice, Department of History, University of Notre Dame.

The conference is cosponsored by the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with Religion; Catholic Social Tradition Minor; Center for the Study of Religion and Society; Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing; Cushwa Center for American Catholicism; Department of Theology; Higgins Labor Program; Institute for Latino Studies; Keough School of Global Affairs; Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights; Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies; Poverty Studies Interdisciplinary Minor; The Law School's Program on Church, State, & Society; Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College; Catholic Charities USA; Catholic Mobilizing Network; National Center for the Laity.

Contact: JP Shortall, director of communications and advancement, (574) 631-3209,

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