by Mike Coffey
In the middle of a joyous Christmas (and Notre Dame football) season, I got sad news yesterday. An email from a fellow Cavanaugh Hall alumnus told me that Fr. Matt “Mooch” Miceli, our long-time rector and happy curmudgeon, had died peacefully at the age of 89.
Like Notre Dame football, Mooch tended to be a polarizing figure. The women of Notre Dame, particularly the ones who hadn’t been warned not to enroll in his Theology classes, were not fans. Not that they’re wrong in their belief, mind you, because when it came to his CH charges, Fr. Miceli didn’t exactly trumpet their virtues either. Just about every freshman class from 1963 to 1989 probably heard the “Wine, Women and Weed” speech to start their Notre Dame career, with Mooch recommending we stay away from all three. None of us listened, but that didn’t stop him from trying.
Mooch definitely had his quirks outside of WW&W. Just about everyone who lived in Cavanaugh (or perhaps even North Quad) in 1989 remembers him using a student’s sound system to exhort the men of Cavanaugh to “vote for Bush”. I doubt he ever found the bowling ball that would roll down the hallways after lights-out back in the day. He certainly never busted my dad for flooding the hall chapel with the fire hose (accidentally, of course). My roommate and I remember a homily about “polar bears at the equator” that cracks us up even today.
I lived across the hall from Mooch both my freshman and sophomore year — what can I say, getting a room with its own shower required some logistical sacrifices — and down the hall my junior year, so we definitely were not strangers for those three years. I won’t claim his judgment was always sound … after all, he tried to talk me into applying for an RA position, which would have been a spectacular failure had it come to pass. But on the flip side, those who knew him well would describe a caring man who took his physical and spiritual oversight of the Cavemen very seriously. He married more than his share of Cavanaugh alums, and had quite a few “Matthews” (and one “Matthea”) named in his honor. While those who didn’t have day-to-day experiences with him might wonder at it, a lot of those who did would defend him to the last as a positive influence on their Notre Dame experience.
While I’m going to miss Fr. Miceli, his death (selfishly) makes me even happier that Notre Dame has found its way back to championship football. Mooch joins an ever-growing list of tethers to my time under the Dome no longer available to me. Fr. George died in 2005, and Jim Phillips followed him four years later. Cavanaugh is now a women’s dorm and, other than the possibility my daughter may live there someday, any wandering of the halls by me no doubt will be deemed creepy.
As the campus grows larger, reminders of my tenure grow smaller, and that’s a difficult thing for an alumnus who values his Notre Dame experience as I do. So I’m glad to have a championship football season to hold on to as other reminders fade. At least they’re still doing one thing the same way they did when I was there.
Godspeed, Mooch. Root us on against the Tide from the best seat in the house.