We are in a fight.
There’s a powerful moment in the first book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, when Frodo meets Aragorn (at this point known as Strider) for the first time. This is after Frodo puts the One Ring on for the first time, vanishes, and draws the attention of the Ringwraiths. Strider grabs Frodo and takes him into closed quarters.
Strider asks Frodo, “Are you frightened?”
Frodo responds, “Yes.”
Strider continues, “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”
Up until this point in the story, Frodo doesn’t quite understand the magnitude of the Ring or the danger involved in carrying it. While he definitely senses his task to take the Ring to Rivendell is important, this is the first moment that his journey changes. His quest takes on new urgency, his travels become more treacherous. Carrying the Ring will be a battle.
We are in a fight.
Up until the early 1900s, Notre Dame’s athletic teams were known as the Catholics, Rovers or Ramblers.
The origin behind Notre Dame’s current nickname, the Fighting Irish, is debatable. Some claim that it came from irate opposing fans, others that it was part of a player’s halftime pep talk, while a few credit a newspaper reporter with coining the title.
Regardless of the exact origin, the association between being Catholic and Irish was laden with negative stereotypes, bigotry and oppression. Fr. Charles Carey, a Holy Cross priest, eloquently spoke about the history of our University’s mascot in a religious bulletin on the eve of St. Patrick’s day in 1953, writing:
“Fighting Irish! It’s more than a name; more than a people. It is the Faith! In narrow, little New England, it began as a slur -- a term of opprobrium. But we took it up and made of it a badge of honor -- a symbol of fidelity and courage to everyone who suffers from discrimination; to everyone who has an uphill fight for the elemental decencies, and the basic Christian principles woven into the texture of our nation. Preserving this tradition, and this meaning of Irish at Notre Dame does honor to everyone of us.”
Fr. Carey, C.S.C. continues,
“Tomorrow you can take this one lesson from the Irish: they were never so poor in all their wanderings and sufferings that they bartered their Faith for the comforts of this life. They had little to take with them wherever they went; but the Faith was always the most precious of their paltry possessions. Their spirit has made it easier for you to practice your Faith here in America today. May the Fighting Irish always be with us!”
Even our University’s current mascot, the Leprechaun, was modeled after racist cartoons that depicted Irish and Catholics as apes.
Like the Holy Cross of Jesus, the nickname of Our Lady’s University and the iteration of its mascot are transformed symbols of pride, unity and hope. What were intended to be messages of inferiority and oppression now at the University of Notre Dame stand for an unwavering spirit - a fight - to make God known, loved and served.
Our University gained respect and national notoriety through the athletic efforts of the Four Horsemen, Knute Rockne and Moose Krause, but also academically through the work of Frs. Zahm and Newland, and the legendary progress achieved by the late former President of the University, Fr. Ted Hesburgh. Infused with the spirit of Fr. Edward Sorin, the University of Notre Dame truly is a force for good in our world today.
We are the Fighting Irish and we are in a fight.
As Catholic educators, those holy men and women that came before us and built the foundation for Catholic education in our world faced bitter hatred, violence, unjust laws and oppression all aimed at removing Catholic schools from our country. The pioneers in Catholic education in America had to fight to preserve our faith and maintain the existence of Catholic schools. Catholic immigrants in America wanted to ensure that the education offered by common or public schools upheld Church teaching and when it didn’t bishops, priests, religious sisters and parents fought for the right to establish schools that would pass on the Catholic faith to their children.
As such, Bishops mandated that all Churches have Catholic schools and that all Catholic families send their children there. The Church vehemently encouraged heroic support from parents and parishioners as schools were built, curriculum was designed, and the tenets of Catholic education were developed.
Some battles have lingered into our current times almost two centuries later. Others were fought for and won, allowing us to enjoy some rights and freedoms as Catholic educators that our forerunners did not.
Make no mistake: our ancestors in Catholic education were in a fight and this fight continues today.
May we, the Fighting Irish, embody the zeal of our University’s founder and may this spirit - this fight - enliven our hearts and elevate our minds for the work set out before us.
We are fighting to make God known, loved and served.
We are fighting to educate children and young people through the inspiration of our Catholic faith.
We are fighting to get our students to and through college.
We are fighting to get our students into heaven.
We are fighting to change the world.
We are the Fighting Irish.
We are the Fighting Irish.