I finally visited Notre Dame this fall to attend a football game and see my grandson, a BC High graduate who is now a freshman at the storied university.
There are few times when one’s expectations are exceeded by the reality of a place but this was one of them. We flew to Chicago and drove the 90 miles down to South Bend with Connor’s parents to attend the Notre Dame-Navy game.
It was a beautiful November day when I first saw the golden dome as we approached the campus. Students and alumni are called “domers.” I was impressed by the school’s size and layout. It is spread over 1,250 flat acres of Indiana countryside and the 143 buildings are organized around numerous quads that provide a comfortable scale to what is a huge campus.
The golden dome of the administration building, the spectacular Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and the 14-story Hesburgh Library with its mural of Christ the Teacher, better known as “Touchdown Jesus,” are the most famous campus landmarks.
The rural setting has permitted the university to spread outward rather than upward. Most of the stone buildings are no more than four stories high. Stately trees, two lakes, and two golf courses contribute to the bucolic setting.
Most students live on campus and the family atmosphere is enhanced by the fact that they stay in the same dormitory for all four years. Each dorm has a separate identity with distinctive jerseys, social, and sports activities. Think of a fraternity without the nonsense.
The dorms are a blend of students from freshmen to seniors that come from all over the country, so over the years the residents develop a wide network of friends. This obviously strengthens the school’s reputation as a national university.
Notre Dame knows how to market itself. The bookstore, which is more like a high-end department store, was mobbed in the hours before the game. There were about 12 cashiers around a circular check-out counter and following each sale, the cashier would wave a pom-pom to let the next customer in line know she was available.
There were also a couple of temporary stores in tents near the football stadium to serve those who did not make it to the bookstore. “Welcome to Notre Dame” is the constant greeting you hear from university staff as you tour the campus.
Game Day at Notre Dame is an event to remember. They take tailgating to another level. There are a number of large parking lots and as far as you can see there are people tailgating, most with grills, chairs, and tables and others with more elaborate setups, including tents. Various student organizations also sell food around campus.
Although not the football powerhouse of yesteryear, the Irish mystique is reinforced by a combination of fact and legend from Knute Rockne, the Gipper, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and, of course, Rudy.
While Boston College, my school, has a beautiful campus and a proud tradition, it lacks the impact one experiences walking the hallowed grounds where Johnny Lujack, Angelo Bertelli, Paul Hornung, Alan Page, Joe Montana, Nick Buoniconti and Joe Theismann once lived and played.
Visiting the campus, I felt more Irish and Catholic than I have for some time. Connor made the right choice. He loves the place, but, then, what’s not to love.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.