Wednesday, September 15, 2021

#Gameday2021: Reflections on Sports and Spirituality at Notre Dame

I posted a photo of the Golden Dome on  the first day I returned to the University of Notre Dame and wrote "No Caption Necessary." In response to this iconic shot, I got likes and hearts, questions and the message "Welcome Home" from several friends. This is something I hear quite often when I return to campus and it never gets old. That message, those words—they warm my heart. 

Notre Dame is a home for me. Like any home, it's a place we yearn for. We return with anticipation and expectation. It's not easy to get to Notre Dame and often times, I arrive home exhausted but excited. Weary and yet hopeful. My time at home always sparks a mix of emotions. Things aren't the same--Why would they be? In many ways, life on campus is so much better. In many others ways, it's not. I think I am too. 

My return home however prompts memories--new and old—and gives me the opportunity to reflect and pray. And, as readers of this blog know, my time and ND offers me a chance to think more about Sports and Spirituality. Here are but a few thoughts that I gained from the past weekend.

Saturday, September 11, 2021 at 8:46 on the South Quad 
My former roommate and good friend Erin and I went to the flag pole in the middle of South Quad, the same space that students gathered after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 for Mass. The celebrant then was the leading celebrant of this timely prayer service, President Emeritus Edward "Monk" Malloy.

As written on the Notre Dame website,

At 3 in the afternoon an estimated 7,000 people gathered on the South Quad for a Mass concelebrated by 75 Holy Cross priests, including Father Malloy and Daniel Jenky, CSC, ’70, ’73M.Th., auxiliary bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. In contrast to the somber mood, it was a dazzling blue-sky day.

“On the altar today we will say prayers that Jesus will be present with us again,” Monk said to a mass of people that stretched from Alumni Hall nearly to Badin. “His words are emblazoned on the Sacred Heart statue not too far to my right: ‘Come to me all you who are afflicted with heavy burdens for I will be with you. My burden is easy and my comfort light.’ He is our source of comfort. He is the one who can give a perspective on the incomprehensible horror that we have experienced today."

Monk recalled how students were lost and clung to one another on that tragic day. They went to the South Quad because they did not know where else to go. When it was time to pray the Our Father, they didn't join hands—they locked arms. The sign of peace was shared by heartfelt and long lasting embraces. Father Malloy has mentioned that mass as one of the most memorable and meaningful events of his presidency (if not his priesthood) .

Twenty years later, we remember the members of the Notre Dame family who died on September 11.  The night before, I spent some time reading in Deaths in the Family: September 11 and Domers that Survived the World Trade Center attacks in Notre Dame Magazine. I carried the names of all to this prayer service.

The ND Club of New York offered a flag that once flew over Ground Zero. It was raised in silence and then lowered to half mast. Though I have seen many a flag fly at half mast, I'm not sure I have ever seen this ritual take place. I was amazed, humbled and inspired that a simple gesture could say so much. 

I am so grateful I was able to begin this tragic day in remembrance and in prayer. Thank you, Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Stadium
I posted another photo, this one from my seat in the North end zone. #Gameday Go Irish!

My friend and podcast partner Haley replied to it with a question many other people were asking. She wrote "Why isn't the stadium full?" As someone who comes from a city with the number one team in baseball and the best ballpark in MLB that has had very few sellouts all season, I have my own thoughts. Covid? 

The 20,000 empty seats, barely registered with me. Why? My seats was adjacent to the student section. I realized if I wasn't watching the game, I was watching them...and at times doing what they did. 

No, I did not stand the entire game. Nor did I volunteer to be hoisted or to hoist anyone else for push-ups after the Irish scored. But I did wear green as 97% of the student body did when they purchased THE SHIRT.  (97% is also the same percentage of students who are vaccinated). And, I lifted my hands to fist pump and clap in response to the marching band.

In my four years as an undergraduate, I attended every home game. While many people think of Touchdown Jesus, the Dome or the spire of Sacred Heart Basilica as the backdrop of Notre Dame Stadium, I realized this past weekend there is an audible backdrop, and it's timeless. 

This backdrop hasn't changed in the 25 years since I graduated. It's not just the whistle of the referee, or the clashing helmets. It's something other than the Notre Dame Victory March and the Alma Mater. I am talking about a score, a collection of ditties from the Band of the Fighting Irish. This rhythm comes from the drum line and the cheerleaders lead the way. This music and these cheers aren't something students think or talk about. I don't even know if each song has a name—but I know exactly what to do when the begin. And I love them! I always have. I will ask my friend Kristin, a former cheerleader more about this

This year, the band does not sit in the corner opposite the student section. Instead the are in front of their friends and roommates—their peers. I loved seeing the student body together and as one—especially as they join in those cheers.

Notre Dame Mass Hype Video
Yes, you read that right. Only at ND does a jumbotron feature an an advertisement, an invitation and a reminder for Mass. Check it out for yourself, but the celebrity priest, Father Pete McCormick is featured doing his work in much the same way the team and fans do theirs. Erin and I went on Sunday morning at the Basilica, but  I do love that all are welcome—easily and accessibly to a number of places on campus to remember "you are called, you are known and you are loved." Thanks be to God.

In Conclusion
My role as a Notre Dame Women Connect Regional Director brings me home for meetings in the Fall and in the Spring. It should be of no surprise that both dates are planned to include a football game (in the spring it's the Blue and Gold game...both of which are optional). These meetings are not for the weary. We meet and plan, discuss and debate ideas and input for better programming, meaningful experiences and new ways to live the mission of Notre Dame.
Even at home, there is work to be done. I am grateful for it.

As beautiful as Notre Dame is, was and will always be—it is home because of the people--the Notre Dame family.

Thank you all those who serve on ND Women Connect Board--you are colleagues and friends. To the NDAA for your tireless effort and leadership. We are a "Force for Good" because of your support and dedication. Special shout outs to the Sheehan family, Colleen Moore, Notre Dame Women's Golf coaches and players for the visit, the Kroha Clan, John Harris (one in a billion), the Rohr family (we connected!), Paul Kollman, CSC, Brian Levey (Sports in Ethics Prof and resident comedian), Don Smail (in spirit), the staff at Sacred Heart Parish Center and my dear, dear friend Erin who has joined me for the past 7? 8 years now?  Go Irish!

Photo Credits
Touchdown Jesus
All others--taken by me or Erin!