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  • Mooching Off Continuity

    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.

    28 Responses to “Mooching Off Continuity”

    1. Kevin Byrnes says:

      Didn’t know Jim Phillips, but I am picturing Miceli ambling up a hallway towards us (I had many friends in Cavanaugh) with a wicked, almost Mona-Lisa-like smile. (I also picture Fr. George grooving to some jazz in one of his XXL Hawaiian shirts).

    2. Not sure that Bush was running for anything in 1989, though perhaps Mooch may have been confused. Nice story, though.

    3. I lived across from Fr. Miceli (Room 139) my freshman year. What a trip! I checked in the dorm two days before everyone else so it was just Miceli and me in Cavanaugh. Before I went to bed (about 10 pm) after arriving at 9:00pm, I turned a radio on to listen to WLS–very low. Within 5 minutes there was a knock on my door–MM was telling me to shut the radio off–too much noise in the dorm and I was bothering a lot of people.

      We pulled the bowling ball stunt too and he never caught on. A ton of other stunts and stories that seemed to have taken place just a heartbeat ago.

      God bless you Fr. Miceli. May your soul rest in peace.

    4. I was one of those first women to “enjoy” Father Miceli – he became a personal friend and mentor – saying my wedding mass. When I approached him to help me with my book on coeducation, he was right there – setting up meetings with Father Hesburgh, Joyce, etc. I have all three on tape – telling the story in their different viewpoints. Yes, he was a curmudgeon but he was one of the most caring, dedicated priests that I have ever known. His passing leaves a tremendous void in my life — no longer will I be able to enjoy his homemade grappa!

    5. I did not live in Cavanaugh, but I had Fr. Micheli for class. I made him sad every day. I share a name (different spelling) with a Caveman who died of meningitis. Father got visibly sad when he called my name, and at the end of the semester, he spoke with me about it. It was a great conversation. The man cared for his students. RIP.

    6. Sad!!!!

      3rd Floor Rector, Farley Hall, Freshman, August 1957.

      Father Miceli – tough but a lot newer in the Rector game then and would always give us a break. But he patrolled the halls after lights out at 10PM, and made sure that we made our Mass obligations and signed in (3 times a week). He wasn’t impressed by us cavorting in the snow out the door facing the North Dining Hall, nor did he care for our ideas of the ‘appropriate’ jackets and ties that we had to wear to dinner. Once he found out that a student intended to sneak out after lights out to meet a lady friend – guess who with a shawl on his head, met the errant student instead?

      Rest in Peace, good man.

    7. I knew Fr. Miceli only by his reputation as rector of Stanford Hall. We Freshmen in Cavanaugh had Fr. Henry Geuss as rector in 1962-63 (and I recall well the firehose incident). Both priests had a similar philosophy of, shall I call it, “tough love”? Requiescat in pace, Pater.

    8. I remember Miceli from when he lived in Zahm on the 4th floor. Always banging on the elevator door when someone forgot to shut the gate. Or calling us a bunch of monkeys when we used his window to hoist up the Here Come The Irish banner…curmudgeonly sure, but always interested in how we we doing, genuinely caring about our well being, and always free for a conversation. God bless him. May he rest in peace.

    9. I was another four-year Cavanite (as we were known in those days), from 1978-82. How Fr. Miceli ever survived our class, with its share of pranksters, malcontents and deviously brilliant young men, I don’t know. But he did. He may have had a gruff exterior, but he was a softy inside. And no one was a better advocate for his “fellas” than Fr. Miceli was. He really cared about the men who lived in Cavanaugh. I think he kept more than one of my buddies from being booted off campus or from severe punishment from Student Affairs (as ResLife was known in my era). And I’m not sure if he was amused or perplexed that a by-the-books rector in Michael Molinelli’s “Molarity” cartoon was named “Fr. Machiavelli” in obvious tribute. I’ll never forget him.

    10. Our first born son is a junior in Siegfried Hall with Fr. John. I could not have hoped for a better mentor or companion or life inspiring leader than him. We struggle to make the ND finances (for him)pre-prof major with a goal of med school our son has had to work his tail off. He is borderline making any med school with his GPA…MCATS are next. I do not know if any of his other offering schools would have put him in a better position to make med school. He was a recruited athlete at D3 and D2 schools and a few D1 baseball programs.

      He was given the call to become part of NDs class of 2010 after being on the waitlist for a month. The call came in the dugout with his baseball team getting ready for the post season at a practice. It was a “Rudy” moment.

      He gave up baseball playing at a college level for ND. He saw many of his teamates going on to succesfull baseball stints at D2 and D3 schools.

      When given his freshman year placement at Siegfried with Fr. John he still was considered a walk on hopefull for the ND baseball team…the entire staff that evaluated him was let go and first year coach did not have any record of his baseball videos or prospect tryouts.

      Step in Fr. John and the Siegfried Ramblers. Chris made the interhall team as a freshman starter and they proceeded to win the baseball title en route to another Siegfried interhall championship for the 3rd year in a row. What a way for a student athlete to break in to the ND family. Priests rule at ND…your story makes my story all the more relevant….ND is so special because of the people who care. Media will never get that.

    11. Perry Aberli '69 says:

      Black Matt, as we called him, was my FY Rector. When he met with my parents he asked if they were planning on leaving me with any money for the year. He then took it and gave them a receipt. Every time I wanted some, I had to go to him and explain in detail why I needed it – wanting it was not an acceptable answer. He also had a map of South Bend on his wall with little red pins marking all of the bars and other places his charges had no place being. After we left the dorm – Cavanaugh was a frosh only dorm then, as was the North Quad, he would always make a point of stopping and talking to us when he saw us on campus. To me, he was – and is – a part of ND lore.

    12. mike reed '77 says:

      Though I am somewhat ashamed to admit it, almost everything I know about the Bible I learned from Fr. Miceli in his “Biblical Themes” class my sophomore year. I still remember his chubby fingers twirling his Mont Blanc pen — I promised myself I’d get one of those one day and I think of him every time I use it. I suspect he might not be permitted to teach theology these days at ND if he were still around, but more’s the pity if that’s true. God Bless you, Fr. Miceli and enjoy the next big game from on high.

    13. I was a freshmen in his dorm (Stanford) in 1960. There was a bullet hole in the 1st floor hallway wall that he allegedly caused by shooting a 22 at an unknown intruder.

      I spend the Christmas of 1960 at the dorm and he invited me to eat with him and even gave me a beer thus almost ruining his image. He was one of a kind, and will be missed but always remembered.

    14. mimi arima '98, '04 says:

      When Fr. Miceli lived in Zahm a group of us aways enjoyed daily Mass with Fr. Miceli. We’ll never forget his message about Mother Teresa (who was still alive at the time) and his message of “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.” He said that if you saw Mother Teresa walking down the street and didn’t know who she was, your reaction wouldn’t be “oh what a holy person!” but rather, “what a prune!” After Mass, we would all be chatting in the hallway procrastinating. Once he was done putting things away, he would come out of the chapel, see me and break into a Maurice de Chevalier song, “Mimi, you funny little good for nothing, Mimi, am I the guy~?” He may have had a gruff, politically incorrect exterior, but he was such a tender and loving priest who did so much to show young people the way to Christ.

    15. Tom Lucey '85 says:

      I was in Cavanaugh during the first four Faust years. Fr. Miceli was a rare character who made education at Notre Dame the experience that separates it from other institutions. I think that few people outside the Notre Dame family can truly relate to the community that our residential system creates, and Miceli was an example of why that distinction exists.

      I have appreciative memories of his kindness to me and involuntarily smile and shake my head when thinking of his sense of humor and his sermons. He was particularly proud of his Mother’s Day sermon. I remember his line about mother’s love: “Ahhh You could be a MONSTER!, and your mother would still love you.” was the line that stood out.

      He was a strong advocate for the Andy Sowder fund, named after the 1979 president of Cavanaugh who died of spinal meningitis while at ND. A very worthy cause.

      God’s Peace, Father

    16. I had Fr Miceli for “The Bible as Literature” class way back in 1979 or 80. Over 30 years later it is one of the few classes that I can recall specifically. His teaching in that class made a real impact on me and for that I thank Fr Miceli. I wish him God’s mercy and rest in eternal peace.

    17. Jeannine Eisenbacher '97 says:

      It’s so good to read all these stories of Fr. Miceli, and gain a broader perspective of him throughout the different decades of his life. I was in the mid 90’s when he was a resident at Zahm, and loved to attend his Mass. We loved all the little quirks, how he would race through so many parts of the Mass, yet his homily was always quite lengthy. Even during finals! And the best part was that he always laughed the hardest at his own jokes.
      One homily I will never forget happened during one such finals week. 10 PM Mass, the homily was already almost 30 minutes long, and we had really tired of all the jokes and were ready to head off to more studying. He couldn’t understand, and perhaps thought no one got the humor. For he started repeating them louder in case we missed them. “God is so powerful he could build skyscrapers with a crooked yardstick.” Pause. “A CROOKED YARDSTICK,” he yelled out at us. That got a hearty laugh. I have no idea what I was studying that night, no what I learned that semester, but I will always remember that.
      I am very grateful to the Lord that he brought Fr. Miceli into my life, and know that we are even closer now. I will pray for him, and I know he will be a powerful intercessor for me. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of his life, which touched so many thousands!

      • Matt Jankowski '92 says:

        Sorry to hear him go, but I am glad to hear he lived a long and fullfilling life. I do remember his affinity for wine – especially during his sermons on Sunday night masses in the dorm 😉 May you rest in peace with your favorite vintage! God bless.

    18. NDBonecrusher says:

      Mike thanks for the great article. Having been in the Band with you, not a week goes by that I don’t think of Jim Phillips throwing peanuts at us, or Fr. George throwing insults at us. Somebody previously mentioned him grooving in one of his size XXXXXL Hawaiian shirts, which honestly made me laugh out loud! These are some of the teachers who punctuated our ND experience. But I have to say Mike (hope this is not heresy), the first SYR with Cavanaugh as a female dorm was a DAMN good party. So, change can be both painful and wonderful. Thanks for the reflections, and I hope Fr. Miceli can shake us down some thunder next month!

    19. John Jordan '84 says:

      I will miss Fr Miceli. He is definitely a big part of my 4 years in Cavanaugh. Fr Miceli was a Icon on campus–at least in our minds and the mind of the author of the Morlarity comic in the Observer as Fr Machiavelli. I remember him using incense at every mass he did and vividly remember when he gave me the Wine, Woman and Weed speach up close and personal after I woke up one morning after a party with a note on my door that read “See me–Fr Miceli.” He was a good man and definitely cared about us Cavinites.

    20. I am a 1984 female graduate and had Fr. Miceli for a Theo class (Biblical Themes). I absolutely loved Fr. M, and shed tears when I read of his passing. To this day, I remember his ‘wisdom through suffering’ discussions, and think about them to this day when life is difficult. May you rest in peace Father.

    21. Great stories, all.

      In the spring of ’83 I took Fr. Miceli’s Biblical Themes course. I learned much despite his monotone delivery, which he punctuated with the occasional increase in volume and pitch for stressing some thing like…. “A-TOOOONE-ment.” On and on he would go and then a pause… and … “FREE WIIILLLLL…” and so on.

      One warm day in class I almost dozed off, with that monotone going steady for minutes and minutes on end, and then came a

      * * * W A K E U P M R. D O L A N ! ! ! * * *

      and after a half second pause, Father Miceli just picked up right where he left off, with that monotone. You can bet Dolan and I (and Tom Thayer, and Larry Williams) were WIDE awake from then on…

      Rest in peace, old professor.

    22. Bill Choquette says:

      I was a freshman in 1958 when we had a late night intruder in the room next to my double with Alan Delp. Someone woke up Marshall Matt ie Father Miceli and he got out his gun which apparently was registered. Marshall Matt came down the hall and saw the thief and told him to stop- he did not.
      I remember 2 shots and we could see where the bullets went into the ceiling at the end of the hall.
      Father M had his share of pranks pulled on him including a very hot bowling ball rolled into his door hard at 1:OO AM ect
      He was not a bad guy.
      Best to all and Merry Christmas and Go Irish!
      Bill Choquette ’62

    23. Bill Choquette says:

      I remember well in fall of 1958 when I was a freshman- Marshall Matt ie Father Miceli took 2 or 3 shots down the long Stamford corridor trying to nail a late night intruder in the room next to mine on the second floor.
      Father M has his share of pranks pulled on him such as a very hot bowling ball send into his door very late at night.
      He was not a bad guy- may he rest in peace
      Merry Christmas and Go Irish
      Bill Choquette ’62

    24. Perry Aberli is correct . I didn’t know he had any other name than ” Black Matt” .My brother graduated in the 80’s and he knew him as Black Matt . He was a great motivator and taught us about Notre Dame traditions — such as ” dawn patrol ” and other invigorating and stimulating exercises . He was known the sit right next to the telephone booth ( yes we had one phone per floor ) to make certain girlfriends did not get time allocated to parents .

      As to those pins on the map in his office . Half of those owners were friends of his and if there was a problem no Cavanaugh man could hide .

      You also did not want to see him if the guards had locked the doors and you were trying to gain access . Chapel duty would follow close behind .

      At the same time I will never forget the times he would just wonder into a room of freshman playing spades on a Friday night in February and entertain the whole section with stories of students past and accomplishments of Notre Dame men . We desperately need more ‘ Black Matts ” at Notre Dame today . He was a rock and was there to build men . God rest his soul and thank you Padre for the leadershp and memories !