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  • The Fighting ____________

    by SEE

    We were fortunate enough to get a priest from St. Rita, the all-male Roman Catholic school on the South side near where my father grew up and went to school. As he listened to family members talk about “the tough SOB” my father prided himself on being when he was alive, the priest smiled and laughed and shook his head. After we said our goodbyes, the father was kind enough to talk to the family.

    He told us that our description of our father sounded much like Father Dan, a priest who became principle of St. Rita “back in the day”. He told  stories of what a tough SOB Dan was, a man who was paralyzed in an automobile accident. My mother’s eyes lit up as Dan was, as far as we can tell, one of my father’s few close friends growing up as they both went to St. Rita elementary. To find such a connection at a cemetery hundreds of miles and decades away from where we all live now was meaningful.

    He empathized and smiled and laughed as he’d known the odd combination of sting and love that comes with being tutored by a man who defined himself as tough. In those days, he told us, there was no choice.

    Indeed, my father reveled in stories of playing basketball at the “Y” surrounded by supporting columns (“perfect for body checks on perimeter”,) he loved showing off his football scars and talking about playing ball in the streets. Whether it was all or part lore, it helped him define who he was just as Notre Dame defined him. Though he was proud of his Kellogg degree attained at night school, it was Notre Dame,  though he never went there, that drove him to success.

    As much as Notre Dame’s lore was partly built by subway alums across the country, subway alums were built by Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish might as well been the Fighting Italians, Germans, Pols and Irish, for they all seemed to be fighting through life and clinging to a vision of hope that the Dome represented. Besides he used to say, only half joking, that with a name like Wally you had to fight.

    To guys like my father, faith, excellence, toughness and ND went hand in hand. Later, when the family moved east, and we’d drive to visit the family in Chicago, we’d always drive by the dome and stop. When it came to Saturday’s, football wasn’t optional, but football also wasn’t always the point. Never a game would go by that my father wouldn’t remind me that he would guarantee college funding if I got into Notre Dame. It was a great disappointment to him that he never got to spend that money at ND. But he would always pepper games with stories and lessons that, at least in his mind, Notre Dame stood for and at the core of those principals was that you had to fight for excellence.

    Indeed, you could hit that man with a bat and he wouldn’t back down. Not just because he was tough, but because he believed, he had a conviction, that you never gave in and he held on to that idea of fighting through life like a PitBull locked down on a thrown branch.

    My father in an odd way saw himself as a little Rockne. Despite “40 years never missing a day of work as an engineer”, he prided himself on the championships he used to win coaching Little-League baseball and Pop-Warner football. Hell the man even won the Pinewood derby twice. We’d like to claim credit, but we know the truth. We played tougher than every other team, hustled every play and outworked them because he made us.

    Pardon my bringing a personal story to you and I don’t expect any sympathy for a man who lived to his age, but it’s safe to say NDNation would not exist at all as is does if not for old Wally.  And I don’t think old Wally would have been as successful without Notre Dame. When people used to wonder why I worked on “that damn website” all the time (back before Kabong came on and helped automate the site I used to hard code everything which almost got me fired several times), I’d just smile.

    And it was worth every minute.

    My father’s tough view on life eventually led to my mother divorcing him, a searing red mark of shame on a Roman Catholic from the South side of Chicago. His response was to get tough on himself to the point where he didn’t like life very much. Taking him to Notre Dame games and talking Notre Dame was really the only enduring connection we had.

    He fought a little too hard against life, but he fought to the end because it defined him and, in many ways, his generation. It’s been over five years since they gave him a week to live and a year since they gave him days. In the end, he went down fighting as the man he saw himself to be, the Fighting ____________ who dreamed of Golden Domes, Chicago streets and trying, imperfectly, to give his family a better life.

    In that way, we are, as a family, indebted to and imbued by Notre Dame.

    11 Responses to “The Fighting ____________”

    1. Tim McCracken (SUBWAYALUM69) says:

      Thank you for sharing and your work with NDNATION

    2. Larry Ward says:

      You should be very proud of your Dad.

      Many of us have similar stories except for the illness.

      I hope our kids remember us the same way that you remember your Dad.

      I must say it brought a tear to my eye near the end.

    3. ND_Backer4Ever says:


      What a wonderful story. This is what makes Notre Dame and all who love her unique. It is not just about football or the school or even the storied tradition. It’s about faith, character, the journey through life itself. Thanks for sharing.


    4. Mark P - ND '79 says:

      Your story reminded me of the bus station scene from “Rudy”, when Ned Beatty tells Rudy that “…Notre Dame is not for us. It’s for smart kids. It’s for rich kids….” I also was a child of lesser means that grew up on the South side of Chicago. Notre Dame was Mt. Olympus for a shy Irish kid that dreamed of somehow making it to South Bend to rub shoulders with the “gods” of my youth. I couldn’t afford it after my parents separated my senior year of HS, but I went anyway. My mom kept pushing me to follow my dream, and it now defines my adult life.

      As she slips away now from a debilitating stroke, I prefer to remember the scrapping woman who did her best for all her kids, and helped one carry the pride and honor of Notre Dame every day on this Earth. Parents are like that.

    5. Wisconsin Fighter says:

      I’ve never written in before…..I’m just one of the thousands of leaches that come on board to get my NDNATION fix. But today I’ve arrived home from my own father’s funeral….there should be a name for these guys that are “subway alumni” but grew up on farms nowhere near subways. My never missed a day or nighttime stormy “trouble call” in 40 years of being a lineman climbing telephone poles. I watched the last Blue/Gold game with him. He faded this last Saturday. A Fighting Czech.
      The point was made at the funeral and it applies to all of us…..we need to keep the fight and the faithfulness, the tenderness and the strength, alive. Some years we barely had money for shoes. My Dad never attended a class at Notre Dame but saw a son graduate from West Point, and I, the 9th, got through Notre Dame somehow. But everyone, whether attending Notre Dame or not, can use her as a beacon. We can all fighter together for these great values whether we attended or not. That’s the great thing about Notre Dame. Her values are free and open to all. Thank you SEE

    6. Loomis says:

      Thank you for all you do.

    7. Sean Naughten, ND'61 says:

      Great stories of life of genuine middle class Catholics…the foundation of our church in the US…my father and mother came from Ireland in the ’20’s…my father had been a member of the IRA with DeValera and Collins…met my mother in NYC..they raised 4 children…my brother graduated from Le Moyne (S.J.) in Syracuse and my 2 sisters graduated from Marymount in NYC…all on a Dugan Bakers delivery truck salary….no food stamps…no federal assistance

    8. bandfather says:

      Thank You for this SEE. It is great that you maintained a connection with your dad throughout his life. The fact that is was ND makes it all the sweeter. What a wonderful beacon the Golden Dome can be for all of us. I hope that every time you see that impossibly bright reflection of the sun coming from it, that you are gently reminded of your father and of the moments you shared with him.

    9. Geoffrey '73 says:

      I live overseas. I haven’t been back for 20 years, but I am returning for reunion.

    10. Wisconsin Fighter says:

      Hey everyone,
      The best term that I could come up with for “subway alumni” who grew up on farms was “silo alumni” but that might be too specific to dairy farming. 🙂 Anyways, we all know the point: they are everywhere and all of us, all of us, are one big happy fighting family. Claw for that extra yard. Go Irish!

    11. If you like the stories about “subways” get to the campus early and walk around and met them,they are there every game!You can spot a first time attendee and show him around and listen to his stories.I try to make it a great day for them and make sure they dont miss any of the game day fun.Walk the family down to the grotto and watch the reaction they show you.I love ND and love to be with people who love ND on game day.It is very special to me!
      “GO IRISH”