MONK MALLOY : Notre Dame's President-to-Be Is Respected for His Shooting Eye, Too

The Washington Post

Tall and gray-haired, he walks onto the basketball court with a little limp, a cough. Long, pale legs jut from his red shorts. He looks his 45 years among Notre Dame undergraduates ready to play full court.

But when the game begins, he suddenly seems younger. He's forward on his toes as he dribbles across midcourt, shoulders slightly hunched. He whips the ball ahead, takes a return pass and--yes--hits nothing but net.

"Good shot, Monk."

Monk Malloy always could shoot. He once was the most feared long-range shooter in Washington, D.C., and a backcourt ace of the Archbishop Carroll High School team that won 55 straight games in 1958-60 and was ranked No. 1 in America.

He was known as "the mayor of Turkey Thicket," because no one could get into the games on the playground without his approval. Once a mayor, he's about to become a president.

On July 1, the priest with a nickname as enduring as his outside jump shot will succeed Father Theodore M. Hesburgh as president of Notre Dame. He will move into the top job from his position as associate provost, the No. 2 academic officer at the university. The wonder of it: a Rockne-type legend with a Rushmore face giving way after 35 years to one of the boys of Sorin Hall? A gym rat?

Monk Malloy had to laugh. "The development people here, they had this big meeting. They said, 'Well, we just can't keep calling him Monk.' "

Rare as it is for students to know a priest and teacher so informally--not even his 78-year-old mother calls him by his given name, Edward, and nieces and nephews know him as Uncle Monk--it might be even more remarkable that undergraduates regularly can play pickup basketball with their university president, even block him off the boards with an elbow to the ribs if need be. President or not, he intends to keep his room in Sorin and maintain the ritual known as "Monk hoops" two nights a week, 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Knowing that he often shoots in these games from just across midcourt--"He never gave up the ball," recalled Carroll teammate John Thompson--defenders pick him up quickly and play him close. But he twists counterclockwise, rising just above the double-teaming and hits again from the top of the key. He makes five straight.

A few minutes later, the fifth and final game ends. Perspiring but not breathing hard, the priest collects the basketballs and stuffs them into a white duffel bag, which he throws over his shoulder. Then he snaps off the gymnasium lights.

Students follow him on a path through woods. The talk is of coming exams, the only other sound that of ducks on twin lakes. It's cold, the air heavy with mist. Fog and clouds roll past the lighted Golden Dome. Inside Sorin, it's warm, the light soft like a church.

"See you, Monk."

"Later, Monk."

The nickname came first, then the legend of Monk Malloy.

He wasn't called Monk because he wore a crew cut as a teen-ager, or because almost everyone knew he'd be a cleric. Rather, as a youngster in grade school, he called a neighborhood friend Bunk. Bunk came up with a name that rhymed with Bunk and was alliterative with Malloy. When Malloy went to Carroll, the nickname stuck.

At Carroll, something magical, if not mystical, happened. Five perfectly complementary basketball players were united to form probably the country's first modern-era schoolboy power:

--The 6-foot 9-inch, 260-pound Tom Hoover, as tough as a heavyweight prizefighter but personable, a ferocious rebounder and later a New York Knick.

"There was a guy from our neighborhood--the neighborhood bully," Malloy said. "He never bothered me much, but he challenged Hoover after a football game at D.C. Stadium, yelled at him, gave him an unpleasant sign. Tom still had on all his equipment. As a football player, Tom was kind of the William Perry of his day. With one punch, Tom decked him.

"One day, Tom had been interviewed, or something, and had on a suit coat and tie and was in the neighborhood around Turkey Thicket and saw me playing basketball and came over to say hello.

"All of a sudden, I see the bully coming up. 'You want to take me on now when you don't have any equipment on?' he says to Tom. Tom gives me his jacket and his tie and with five punches just completely mauls him. Finally, the kid gets up and shakes Tom's hand and says, 'You beat me fair and square,' and off he went.

"Wilt Chamberlain (a later acquaintance) was quoted as saying that Hoover was the toughest guy, physically, he ever played against."

Not long ago, Hoover, who still lives in New York and manages rock performers, was passing through Chicago and bought a newspaper in the airport. There it was: Monk, to Hoover a "beautiful guy" and "soul" of the Carroll team, was going to be Notre Dame president.

"Oh my God!" Hoover recalled exclaiming to a friend. "I went to school with him. I played basketball with him."

To which his colleague, James (D Train) Williams, replied, "Will that get you to heaven any quicker?"

--The 6-10 Thompson, the future Boston Celtic reserve and Georgetown coach who had a good shooting touch. "He had to go against Hoover all day in practices," Malloy said. "It would kill him. He was skinny when he came to Carroll.

"When he came, he was a very shy guy who wasn't used to living in an integrated society. He grew a lot in self-confidence during the time he was there."

Thompson remembered: "Monk's father was always around. I usually went to the games in his car--he always drove; we didn't have a team bus. It was Monk's father who helped me make the adjustment to an environment that was new to me."

Said Malloy: "He was driving us, I think to Villanova. In Delaware, we stopped at a place, and they refused to serve (all of) us--only the white players. I never forgot that. I was so offended--these were my friends."

Ed Malloy Sr. led them all out of the restaurant--and the father, a claims adjuster for the old D.C. Transit, continued to show the way. "He embraced the civil rights movement with real conviction," his son recalled. "He was involved in preparations for Martin Luther King's march on Washington. Hospitality kinds of things. He got me involved in it.

"He also got involved in the Knights of Columbus and wanted to make sure that it was being integrated in the city. One way he pushed integration was by joining the Knights of St. John, which at that time was a largely black group, and had some of the Knights of St. John join the Knights of Columbus.

"On the altar with me at his funeral Mass were two or three black priests, and two black lay deacons. The congregation was at least half black. I felt that was a tribute to him and his involvements."

--George Leftwich, a 6-foot playmaker and scorer, the most versatile of the five. "A great competitor who had the utter respect of all the people who knew him," Malloy said. A Silver Spring, Md., resident, Leftwich recently sold a rug-dyeing business and is returning to high school teaching.

Leftwich made the shot of his life his senior year--the year after Hoover and Malloy had graduated and been replaced for the second half of the streak by John Austin, who became a two-time college All-American, and Kenny Price.

Going for victory No. 51, against St. Catherine's of Racine, Wis., in a postseason tournament finale played in a packed Georgetown gym, Leftwich, wearing No. 51, sank a jump shot from the top of the key with four seconds remaining to erase a one-point deficit and win what some thought to be the most electrifying game with the biggest pressure shot they had seen.

"I have a picture of it," said Leftwich of the frozen image of himself high off the floor, releasing the ball over the outstretched arm of a defender. "Any time I get down, I look at it."

Leftwich paused and said, "Monk's the single most responsible person for my being a Catholic."

It was Malloy's senior year, Leftwich was a junior, when the religious conversion took place. The day Leftwich was baptized, Malloy's parents stood as his godparents.

As Leftwich sees it, his whole life has been affected by Monk Malloy. They are never far from each other's thoughts. "Don't get into a shooting contest with him," Leftwich said. "Even today."

--Walt Skinner, "his own person," according to Malloy. "He probably hung together with the other guys less than the four of us did with each other. He was a defensive specialist. He was particularly gifted at stealing the ball from people coming down on the fast-break layup. He stripped many a guy who thought he was going past him with ease. He got the least publicity of the five of us, but he probably liked it that way."

Malloy got a letter the other day from Skinner. "I've been overwhelmed by mail," he said. "I've got to hire three extra secretaries right now. I got a letter from a guy who guarded me in one of the Knights of Columbus tournaments who I never knew. He sent me the clipping. We killed this team. He said, 'I just wanted you to know I'm telling my children I guarded you in this game.' "

--Malloy. At 6-4, he was an unusually tall high school guard for the late '50s. Same as now, 175 pounds. Although he lacked speed, no team could double- or triple-team him because the other Carroll players posed enough problems. From the outside, Malloy would destroy teams packed in against Hoover and Thompson.

Malloy won a tournament game in Rhode Island in his junior year with a jump shot from deep in the right corner as time ran out. Bob Dwyer, then Carroll's coach, said: "He actually was behind the backboard when he went up. He had no business taking the shot, but the ball swished through."

Malloy had other interests, as well. He was Carroll's student body president, No. 5 academically in his class, a yearbook editor and newspaper columnist. The Augustinian fathers tried to recruit him. So did 50 colleges, for basketball. He was not ready to be a priest. "I absolutely knew I had to play basketball. It was in my blood."

He went to Notre Dame.

Said Dwyer: "Monk would write me letters, telling me to keep the team's spirits up, and what I had to do to keep the streak going. I got a kick out of it, him reminding me of my coaching duties."

At Notre Dame, Malloy's basketball career languished. At a time when freshmen could not play varsity ball, Notre Dame had no freshman team. He didn't like it. On the varsity, he never became more than a second-stringer. He wasn't quick enough.

"I had some blue moments," he said. "In retrospect, what happened to me--some of the things I came here for not working out--allowed me to develop other talents and maintain interests that otherwise I might have missed. I played enough to feel that, at least, I had some chance, and yet I never had the kind of success I had hoped for.

"It's like all the aspects of your life that turn out differently than you expect. Toward the end of my college career, going to practice was like going to the job. There was no thrill or excitement about it at all."

Ironically, Malloy today is a better-known player on campus than when he attended Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship. Each spring, he takes part in an annual rite known as "the Bookstore Tournament"--500 to 600 student teams playing single elimination. It's held outdoors, in any weather. If a player gets hurt, his team has to play on with four. Fouls aren't counted, which can create mayhem.

"It's just animal ball," Malloy said. "I've been to the final 16 twice. But you have to have two football players to get past that."

Last year, his team was called Four Sinners and a Monk. This spring it will be All the President's Men.

Freed of a bench-warmer's shackles after his senior year at Notre Dame, Malloy rediscovered the fun that basketball had been for him. Wherever he went, he played. It was his portable game.

He took it with him to Mexico and South America--following his junior year was the first of three summers he spent working with the poor, in remote fields, in city slums. That first summer he had what he calls "a mountaintop experience." It actually happened atop a mountain, in Mexico at a shrine called Christ the King.

"It wasn't visions or voices in the air," he said. "Just a moment of assurance about what I felt called to do."

Malloy shot baskets as a Holy Cross seminarian--in Minnesota and Notre Dame and even back at Turkey Thicket when he studied for two years in Washington. He got master's degrees in English and theology from Notre Dame and, once ordained, a doctorate in Christian ethics from Vanderbilt. His recent mail--"Nobody's asked me for football tickets yet"--includes a letter from the man at Vanderbilt who always let him onto the main court at lunchtime.

At Notre Dame, Malloy taught and rose high in the administration. He gained a reputation as an expert on the ethics of sexuality, war and peace, crime and punishment, and issues stemming from technological advances in the biomedical field.

He has written scores of articles and two books, "Homosexuality and the Christian Way of Life" and "The Ethics of Law Enforcement and Criminal Punishment." All the while, he found time for basketball.

"I'm sure he's at another level of intelligence that we don't even see," said Mike McCabe, a freshman from Glens Falls, N.Y., lacing up his basketball shoes to play Monk hoops.

"A person as intelligent as Monk you might think would be unapproachable," said Ken Dice, a senior resident assistant in Sorin Hall, named for the school's founder. "Would you ask Einstein to help you with a physics problem, or E.E. Cummings to diagram a sentence? Monk's not above it all--that's what makes him so special."

In Sorin Hall, where residents have included such legendary Irish heroes as Knute Rockne and George Gipp, Malloy keeps a homemade "Welcome" sign on his door. He'll see a student at almost any time; he stays up to 3 a.m. or later, sleeps until 9 or 9:30--a student's schedule.

"When you leave his room, you feel 100% better," said Sean Munster, a red-haired junior from Chicago. "He takes you into his heart."

To Leftwich, he is like a country priest, one who possesses little but a soaring love. He occupies two simple, book-filled rooms in the turret facing Sacred Heart Church and its bell tower.

When his selection as president by the university's board of trustees was announced, students hung a banner on Sorin: "Congrats, Monk." The student newspaper, The Observer, headlined: " 'Monk' Chosen."

He would be saying the 5 p.m. Mass. "Stick around," he said. "It's a big deal."

It was a Catholic holy day. The large church was almost full, the glee club in dark blue jackets singing from the loft, incense wafting, a host of priests assisting, tall Monk Malloy in a white chasuble, trimmed in blue, at the end of the entrance procession.

Notre Dame alumni, faculty, even "subway alumni" wonder: How can the mild-mannered Malloy succeed such a dynamo as Hesburgh when it comes to fund-raising?

Rich and famous have seen and heard the handsome Hesburgh and, charmed, turned over to the school literally millions. But Malloy, too, has a way, his own passion.

In his homily, the voice rose and echoed, his arms opening as he urged a search for "integrity and a sense of wholeness," a life of grace, of service. He set a mood: a man wept; a woman warmly embraced a student at the back of the church; outside, two young people exchanged high fives; a glee club member, who wore a green tie and with his hair short resembled a young Monk, walked out humming. They lingered, then scattered down wide walks and disappeared in the dark.

Later that night--but only after stopping by to give words of support to students writing letters for Amnesty International to government officials on behalf of "prisoners of conscience"--Malloy got ready for Monk hoops. With his glasses removed and the hood from his yellow Sorin sweat shirt pulled up covering his gray hair, he looked like the young Monk. "OK, ready, guys?"

The 15 set out on foot for one of their first nights together in the nearby Moreau Seminary gym since he had been appointed president. "The joke was," he said, walking along a path, "if I was named, we'd build a covered walkway over here. But I don't think that's going to happen."

They walked quickly because it was cold, and when they got inside and had turned on the lights, the priest reached into his duffel bag.

"Guess what?" he said. "New balls."

What better way to celebrate his presidency.

"New balls."

"Hey, Monk."

"Way to go, Monk."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World