Earlier this month, on Sunday, December 7, 2014, Notre Dame University Bangladesh held its first classes. It was an historic day for the Catholic Church in this predominantly Muslim country as Notre Dame University, which was founded by the Congregation of Holy Cross, is the first Catholic university in Bangladesh.
A total of 290 students have been admitted to Notre Dame University. Those students attended an orientation program on December 4 both to prepare for their classes and to celebrate this historic occasion.
The Most Rev. Paulinus Costa, DD, the Retired Archbishop of Dhaka, was present as the chief guest at the orientation. In his remarks to the students and the other invited guests, which included many Holy Cross religious, Archbishop Costa said, “This University will teach you truth and wisdom. You should learn it to be committed in your professional and personal life.”
In the opening ceremony, Fr. Benjamin Costa, C.S.C., who is the acting Vice Chancellor of Notre Dame University, also spoke. He thanked the government for its assistance in making the university a reality, including granting a large financial discount in the process of establishing the private university.
“We are deeply grateful to the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and His Excellency Dr. A K Azad Chowdhury, the State Minister and Chairman of the University Grants Commission, for this great favor. On behalf of the University and the Congregation of Holy Cross, and on my own behalf, I convey our deep gratitude to them. We envision Notre Dame University Bangladesh developing in the same line as Notre Dame College, Dhaka, which has served the people of Bangladesh in a unique way for sixty four years,” he said.
Fr. Costa added that the Congregation, and more specifically the Sacred Heart of Jesus Province (Dhaka, Bangladesh), is committed both to imparting value-based quality education and to inspiring in its students true patriotism and love for the people and the country, according to the Bengalis’ long-cherished tradition and cultural heritage.
The new university takes its motto from the Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross: “The competence to see and the courage to act.”
Thirty one teachers have been appointed to serve on the university’s faculty. Initially, Notre Dame University will offer programs in business administration, English, economics, law and philosophy, and there are plans to add more subjects over time as the enrollment and university grow.
Even though less than 0.3 percent of the country’s population is Catholic, the Congregation of Holy Cross is known throughout the country for its excellence in education. Notre Dame College in Dhaka, which was founded by the Congregation in 1949, is one of the country’s premier colleges, annually receiving over 15,000 applications for only 2,500 slots. Eighty five percent of the student body is Muslim, yet the College as part of its mission has always made special provisions for the education of Christians and other minorities.
Due to that excellent reputation, as far back as 1962 the Bangladesh government had offered the Congregation the possibility of starting a four-year university. It was a dream that the Congregation shared, but resources and events within Bangladesh would see that dream deferred for decades.
In recent years, the Catholic bishops in Bangladesh had been more strongly urging the Congregation to found a four-year university. Enthusiasm for the proposed Notre Dame University grew quickly in many sectors of society, and so the Congregation decided to go forward with a formal proposal.
“We have a long experience in the education sector, and we think that it is time to run a university; therefore, we established it,” said Fr. Anol Terence D’Costa, C.S.C., who is the Deputy Registrar of Notre Dame University.
In order to make that proposal, a Group of Electors (consisting solely of Holy Cross priests) and a Board of Trustees (including Christian and Muslim lay people in addition to Holy Cross religious and a diocesan bishop) were established. They submitted the necessary application, which when completed was over six inches thick, to the University Grants Commission.
Notre Dame University received word of its official approbation from the government back on April 29, 2013. While that news was received by the Congregation and many others with great joy, there was still much work to be done to prepare for classes. Several hurdles and challenges also remained before receiving the written permission from the University Grants Commission to actually start classes. That long-awaited permission in writing finally came in the first days of December 2014, leading to the joyous first day of classes on December 7.
At present, Notre Dame University is holding its classes in a temporary, two-story facility. Plans exist for a 19-story building that will serve as the university’s campus. The building will be built on land that has been donated by Notre Dame College.