Thoughts From Dr. Joe: The spirit of Notre Dame

Sister Bernadette was from Coffey's Cross Bridge, a small town in County Uibh Fhaili, Ireland. She once was a remarkable teacher, but because of age, in the 1950s she led the Friday rosary At Saint Frances of Rome. Sister Bernadette was my brother's first-grade teacher.

One cold morning in the fall of 1959, in her rich Irish brogue, Sister Bernadette beseeched, "Children, bow your heads; pray that God gives our beloved Notre Dame a victory over USC." The following day, Notre Dame beat USC, 16-6.

The Sisters of the Presentation were of Irish decent and deeply devoted to Mary, the Blessed Mother. Notre Dame, founded on a 524-acre land grant in 1846 by Father Edward Sorin, was dedicated to Our Lady as Universite de Notre Dame du Lac (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). The university became the personification of Catholicism and embodied our very essence. Our identity as Catholics and devotees to the Blessed Mother was actualized by our passion for Notre Dame football.

The spirit of Notre Dame dwells among her faithful followers. Perhaps this institutional spirit is defined as an indomitable feeling of invincibility, something divine, or metaphysical. It hovers over the beauty of the landscape, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on campus and the dome atop the basilica, but is felt strongest at the Grotto of our Lady.

This spirit evolved from the will and tenacity of the university's third president, Father William Corby, and a host of dedicated religious faculty members. Father Corby and many of his colleagues served as chaplains and soldiers with the Union Army's Irish Brigade during the Civil War. They possessed grit, tenacity and spirit as they ministered to the wounded and dead at the battle of Gettysburg.

In the 1870s, the university inherited their collective spirit as they forged from the Indiana wilderness an institution dedicated to morality, intellectuality and physicality. They became the bedrock of the Fighting Irish and its spirit began with them.

This ineffable essence transforms traditions into legends, becoming templates for human behavior. Through the passage of time, legend becomes venerable, holy and awe-inspiring.

The institution's founding fathers were the Fighting Irish. The evolution of this nickname has nothing to do with football. Instead, the Fighting Irish is reminiscent of the arduous uphill fight against the malaise of bigotry that early American immigrants faced upon arriving in America.

When the Irish Catholics came here, they were at the bottom of the social order. Many states had laws inhibiting their civil rights. The Irish Catholics fought against discrimination, struggling for recognition and for their place in the sun. This fight became a badge of honor, a symbol of fidelity and courage to everyone who suffered discrimination: Italian, Jews, Mexicans, Koreans, Blacks and Slovaks, for example. The name Fighting Irish brings honor to every one of us whose ancestors fought for social justice and those who currently do.

Father Charles Carey said, "Fighting Irish is more than a name, more than a people. It's a faith!" Somehow we are all woven together into the fabric of America embodied by this name.

I was elated to see Notre Dame prevail over USC. After the game, I thought of Sister Bernadette. She must have been smiling. My colors have always been blue and gold. They're the colors of "Ave Maria." Blue represents truth and intellect and gold is divine power and the splendor of enlightenment.

I have countless students and friends who are USC fans and they continue to remind me, "If he only had caught that pass." My reply is simple, "He didn't"!

If ifs and buts' were candy and nuts, everyday would be Christmas.

In life, we all lose. As a matter of fact, we lose a lot. But the magic is getting back up. My dear USC fans: You never lose a game, you just run out of time.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

Copyright © 2019, La Cañada Valley Sun
EDITION: California | U.S. & World