Today I watched my first Notre Dame football game as the parent of a student. After all, I’m “part of the Notre Dame family now,” (as we were reminded MANY times during last weekend’s orientation events).
(Fortunately, the Notre Dame game was at 3:30 and the University of Tennessee game didn’t start until 6:00. My next door neighbor, a Notre Dame alumna, couldn’t understand why there would be any conflict for me if they aired at the same time! But I digress.)
I’ve grown up hearing about Notre Dame, which was always presented as the pinnacle for a Catholic student, and at one point I assumed I would go there. Then I read the Barron’s Guide which stated that there was nothing to do there in the dead of winter but stay on campus and drink beer. [edit: I am told this is accurate.] That probably sounds attractive to many high school students, but I was turned off and did not even apply.
Of course, now I’ve seen the place, and realize that as big and wonderful as the campus is, whether there is anything to do in South Bend is immaterial. I don’t have any regrets because I loved Georgetown, but I am very excited for Teddy and the adventures he is going to have.
The mystique surrounding Notre Dame is unbelievable. I don’t think there is anywhere I could have announced that Teddy had chosen that would have incited a more enthusiastic response. I had not realized myself until visiting the place just how attending a Catholic high school inculcates you with a familiarity with and reverence for the place. Teddy played high school football for the Knoxville Catholic Irish (and just last weekend, KCHS played the Chattanooga Notre Dame High School’s Irish!). The Notre Dame leprechaun was painted in the middle of the old Catholic High’s floor. Teddy wore gold and blue for most of his football career. We played the Notre Dame fight song at games when I was in high school. All the sports memorabilia that I saw at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center at the Purcell Pavilion looked eerily familiar. I told Teddy that all his high school sporting attire and t-shirts are going to fit right in (a good thing, too, since that’s most of his wardrobe).
Notre Dame sets out to cultivate that mystique and to build loyalty from the moment you arrive with your kid. Once we were allowed on campus and directed to the back entrance to Teddy’s hall (St. Edward’s, the oldest one, built in 1882), we were met by an enthusiastic bunch of identically-dressed, cheering young men who surrounded our car, washed our windshield, and whisked Teddy and all his belongings upstairs in two minutes or less.
As the weekend went on, we were fed every meal (for free!) in the campus dining halls (one of which features a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in and a mural of the Last Supper on the wall), offered the opportunity to watch Rudy (we were too tired), given ample time to walk around campus to absorb the iconic atmosphere, and welcomed officially via orientation events that went on until Sunday afternoon.
Saturday morning we were invited to meet with the rector and the rest of the residence hall staff in the hall chapel. Yes, EVERY hall has its own chapel and daily Mass at 10 p.m. I’m told that it’s really something to walk around campus on Sunday evenings and hearing the singing coming out of each hall. I’m not sure what I had envisioned when I pictured a hall chapel, but it wasn’t this.
We were welcomed, we were instructed, we were reassured about the safety and welfare of our sons. Later in the afternoon we attended a welcome at the Purcell Center for the freshman and then a special session for parents while students were meeting their first year advisers. That was the first time we heard “You are part of the Notre Dame family now” but it wasn’t the last. We heard from the President of the University, the Dean of First Year Studies, and others, before adjourning to explore the many course offerings in the different academic buildings–making John and me wish we could go back to school and major in more subjects!
We had plenty of time for exploration while Teddy was busy setting up his room and doing his own thing. We spent hours in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We walked around one of the two lakes. We visited the grotto. Teddy was only with us part of the time but he was doing his own exploring and said that his feet hurt. Seriously, how even an in-shape young person can handle all the walking necessary in that enormous place (no cars, y’all!) is beyond me.
On our last morning we went to the Purcell Pavilion again for a Mass celebrated by the President of the University. (Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, by the way, was very much in evidence throughout the entire weekend.) Mass was followed by a box lunch in our seats, during which Teddy joined us so that we could experience the last event together.
This was “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” and there was no doubt that it had been carefully orchestrated to make us feel part of that “Notre Dame family” and to send us off on a high note. It featured words of welcome from the Mayor of South Bend, the athletic director, the football coach, and the women’s basketball coach, followed by musical performances from the all-male Glee Club, a mixed ensemble, and the Notre Dame Band. Notre Dame has a lot of traditional songs apparently, and we heard them all. We sang the Alma Mater, and the whole thing culminated with “the moment we’d all been waiting for” (seriously, they said that, and by then it was pretty much true): the Notre Dame Fight Song.
I had never visited Notre Dame before and did not know what to expect, but to say I was impressed by the program and the place is to understate my reaction. I am very excited for Teddy, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.