Thursday, October 4, 2018

Notre Dame Football and the Nourishment of Alma Mater

For some reason, I have struggled to make sense of all that I felt, saw and remember from my 2018 Notre Dame football weekend. I think my comprehension was waning because upon completing the pilgrimage to South Bend, there's no sleep till Brooklyn...or in my case Midway. Maybe it's because I return to campus with high hopes and expectations, a few concerns and more. Will the Irish win? How can I meet up with this person? I wish I could see "x"...if only "y" were here. I hope the weather is good! And yet, I look at the pictures, each one capturing a memory and I realize no smile is forced. My enjoyment is not fake. It's not just any place for me. It's Notre Dame, my Alma Mater. This phrase is variously translated as "nourishing mother," suggesting that a school provides intellectual nourishment to its students. At Notre Dame, we know it gives that much more. So I thought I would let this blog posting serve as a reflection on the nourishment that the Golden Dome has offered—beyond all that I gained in the classroom, with my degree— both past and present.
The friendships that I have made in and through Notre Dame cannot be counted—there are too many. I say that because many of my friends were classmates, teammates, roommates and study buddies. Thanks to the "stay dorm" system, I developed friendships with women older and younger than me. My experience in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program yielded some of my most treasured friendships; these men and women were partners in ministry and companions in faith. My involvement in the local alumni chapters in both Washington DC and San Francisco put me in touch with men and women who became mentors, even colleagues, and more specifically friends. 

For the past four years, a Notre Dame home game has meant an opportunity for me to spend time with my good friend Erin. I wouldn't know this talented, wise, vibrant, committed, beautiful wife, mom and engineering major from the Class of '99 if it weren't for what ND offers after graduation. Through the San Francisco Bay Area alumni chapter, I posted an ad for a roommate. The luck of the Irish brought me someone who became so much more. We overlapped but one year at ND and yet we share many common values and our love of Notre Dame is just one of them. I am so grateful to her (and her husband) for the memories we have made and continue to make by returning to campus for one game each Fall (this year's edition featured her 8-year old daughter, Audrey in tow!). Erin and I are 4-0 when we return to Notre Dame stadium for Irish football. Maybe we should purchase season tickets?!
Notre Dame defeats Stanford 38-17. Standing after the win with
Steve, a good friend from SF Alumni Board, Erin, and Audrey
A Shared Journey
The word "classmate" is not a throwaway term to me. In the 20 plus years since I graduated from Notre Dame, I have come to understand the significance of what it means to refer to another as my classmate—a fellow member of the Class of '96. 
We were not only the class profiled in the book "Domers" by Kevin Coyne, but we were celebrated for having the highest number of female students in the school's history. We may have studied different disciplines and lived in varied dorms, but we were all there for the Game of the Century (ND defeated FSU). We heard the same music, we drank many of the same beers. Indeed, we shared the same journey in a specific moment in history—and those hours, weeks, months and days shaped us into the men and women we became upon graduation, until today.

Walking into the stadium, I passed another classmate. I have not seen him since graduation. I may not see him again—but we smiled at one another, genuinely happy to see the other and share the same walk we did from 1992 until May 1996.
Classmates, teammates, and family. Gotta love the Giants Irish Night hat & note the Ryder Cup jacket.
The Spirituality of Teammates
In the essay "For the Love of the Game," Richard Gaillardetz writes

Perhaps the only other human bond of communion that can match that between teammates is that among soldiers. Many athletes will speak years later of the powerful bonds created among team members who spent hours each day in training, honing their skills and learning how to work cooperatively with one another in a seamless, efficient unit. We must not underestimate the strength of this bond. 
Gaillardetz captures what I know to be true among fellow members of Notre Dame crew. I was rower for all four years in college. The fall was head season—think distance rowing— and the spring brought the sprints. I made many sacrifices to earn my seat on this team. What I gained, however, is something I am still discovering.

With kickoff approaching, I left a tailgate only to run into Alex and Tom— my classmates AND teammates. I traveled throughout the Midwest, east coast and southeastern United States with these men to compete on majestic, grand and difficult waterways. Though we had but a half hour together, we sat to eat with a certain familiarity that you know only with your teammates. 

Thinking back upon the friendships, the relationships among classmates and teammates, I have a deeper appreciation for "The Notre Dame family." It is a term the University references often, but it is not in vain. It's a remarkable place that makes classmate and teammates into something more. Returning to campus, I am always reminded of that simple truth.
Welcome to the Duggan family!
One very special component for me was welcoming a long time Notre Dame fan to campus for the first time. My friendship with John is rooted in many things—basketball, SI, a common sense of humor and our mutual love for Irish athletics. To hear his impressions, insights, and questions about ND live and as they unfolded was a treat. Though he sat at the 50-yard line, I felt like the lucky one as I was able to have a beer with his family—his dad and brother-in-law, amidst my family—the Notre Dame family.

Paul V. Kollman, C.S.C.
Look at the joy in that smile.
The Spirit of Notre Dame: 
For the past few years, I have joined my friend Paul Kollman, CSC for breakfast on game day. Though our meeting time is an ungodly hour on the West Coast, I am so grateful that someone as busy as Father Paul takes time to meet with me. I learn from him about the state of the University and the universal Church. He tells me about student life and how they express their faith. He ends every meeting by thanking me for visiting Notre Dame. His words leave me speechless. They are sincere and heartfelt and to hear them from a man—a priest, teacher and friend like him who is the best ambassador of Our Lady's' University that I know—makes my heart swell. This year, he thanked me for being a teacher in a Catholic school during these difficult times. My heart was both full and yet broken. I wish I had thanked him for serving the Church through this crisis, first. 

Children are supposed to leave their homes. Students ought to study, earn their degree and leave their alma mater. Notre Dame prepares its student body to put the Golden Dome in the review mirror and yet bring it to their corner of the world. Some folks, like Paul, ought to return to the motherland. They keep the spirit alive so that when we come back, we get renourished and go home with a mind that's a little more clear and a heart that's maybe a little too full.

Football is a significant reason that people of all ages from throughout the United States come to Notre Dame. When I take a bird's eye view of what happens on the gridiron, I find myself asking the question: Will this be here in 100 years from now? I don't know, but I think about it. For now, I can only express my gratitude that this game provides me an opportunity to be nourished every fall by my Notre Dame family.

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