The weathered words GOD, COUNTRY, NOTRE DAME are inscribed above a doorway of that school's 99-year-old Sacred Heart Church. They are words that bring to mind faded newsreels of America's young, marching unflinchingly off to war. But change is in the air even at Notre Dame, its handiwork evident from the northern shore of St. Joseph's Lake, which somebody recently discovered is polluted, to the southernmost reaches of the 18-hole Notre Dame golf course, where women were allowed to play this year for the first time. God and country? Nearly a seventh of last June's Notre Dame graduates answered the call to arms by claiming to be conscientious objectors.
If some Fighting Irish are unwilling to fight, a good number of others are anything but Irish. Drawn from every imaginable background, the sons of Notre Dame still walk the shaved campus beneath the familiar statue of the Virgin Mary high atop the Golden Dome, the landmark that crowns the old main building. The Dome dazzles as always, thanks to a $50,000 regilding job in 1961 as well as to the good graces of several black students, who met secretly not long ago to determine whether to sneak to the top and paint it black. They decided against it, which should dispel the myth, one of many that persist about the place, that Notre Dame men are reluctant to think for themselves. As one conspirator put it, "We were afraid of falling off the Dome and breaking our necks."
Another myth has it that this most famous of the nation's Catholic universities, this seat of higher learning with the quaintly official name of the University of Notre Dame du Lac, is some sort of football factory. Yet it is at least symbolic that Notre Dame's old football practice field, ground hallowed by an almost inexhaustible supply of Bertellis, Lujacks and Hornungs, has been given over for seven years now to one of the world's largest university libraries, a 14-story tower that rises from the northern Indiana plain in lofty assertion of the school's latter-day claim to academic respectability.
Once known as the "Catholic West Point," an image that suggested esprit, obedience and (at the time) football prowess, Notre Dame has more recently chosen to think of itself as nothing less than the "Catholic Harvard." Football? If Notre Dame's farflung followers continue to clamor for victory it is probably out of deepest habit, nothing more. And if their heroes go to great lengths not to disappoint, as demonstrated most recently by the 9-1 record run up by this year's Cotton Bowl-bound team, perhaps it is only because Notre Dame happens to be, beneath those world-beating ways, a most obliging sort of place.
Under the proper coaxing, even the most rabid of Notre Dame's campus partisans will allow that football is incidental, that their university's greatest battle is being waged not in any jammed stadium on an autumn Saturday, not even against Texas on New Year's Day. The showdown that matters is acted out daily on campus, between the traditional and the modern, the secular and the Catholic, the far-out and the straight. One onlooker who hopes to see it all settled with minimum disruption—a 7-6 squeaker either way might suit him fine—is Frank O'Malley, class of '32, longtime English professor, no hidebound conservative yet a man who once protested the rumored razing of a campus building by arguing, in words that surely had the ring of Harvard, "There's blood in the bricks."
Today O'Malley contemplates a loss far deeper than a single building. "The unique thing about Notre Dame is what I like to call its terrible humanity," he says. "It's a humanity that acknowledges the existence of other people in all their frailty, it's a sense of being part of a community, of being in a place. But now I wonder if we're going to destroy that atmosphere. I wonder if we're going to wind up like any other institution."
Hungry for change but anxious to preserve its own identity, Notre Dame seems suspended at times between the turbulent present and the placid 1950s. Many of its students, like those elsewhere, boycotted classes last May to protest the events of Cambodia and Kent State, yet they did so only a few days after 1,000 of them, chanting "Here come the Irish," had marched off to St. Mary's College, the women's school a mile distant, for a panty raid. It is revealing, too, that marijuana is smoked more or less openly in Notre Dame's residence halls at the same time that campus police, patroling the quads outside, busily shoo students off (are you ready?) the grass. Leaf through an old student yearbook, and there is Notre Dame's now-defunct chapter of the militant Students for a Democratic Society happily posing, like so many Young Republicans, for a group photo. Or roam the campus and listen to the youths in boots and bell-bottoms play their guitars. Not angry protest songs, mind you, or even folk ballads. Listen again:
What though the odds be great or small,
Old Notre Dame will win over all....
Part of Notre Dame's split personality is derived from its unhurried, almost cloistered, atmosphere, one reminiscent of the French boarding schools that Father Edward Sorin, a priest in the French-based Congregation of the Holy Cross, had in mind when he trudged across the snow to found the university in 1842. Notre Dame's 6,400 undergraduates and 1,700 law and graduate students, an enrollment smaller than that of any Big Ten school, share their bountiful campus with squirrels, chipmunks and occasional deer that infiltrate from the nearby woods. So spread out are the yellow-brick Gothic buildings that it takes long strides to get between classes in time, which perhaps is one reason why few of the good Holy Cross fathers bother anymore to wear their ankle-length cassocks.
Yet Notre Dame is situated not in a wheat field somewhere, but along busy U.S. 31 on the northern outskirts of South Bend, a gray Midwestern industrial city. South Bend's 123,000 citizens, many of them clustered in working-class Polish and Hungarian neighborhoods, mow their lawns, rake their leaves, and, during winter's long siege, shovel snow and more snow from their driveways. South Bend knows crime and racial tension, and its trust in the best of all possible worlds was shaken by the closing in 1963 of the local Studebaker facility, once its biggest employer. But in its dealings with Notre Dame it is the most considerate of neighbors. Double feature at the Granada? A beer at Nickie's? South Bend stands ready to assist, but it takes care never to intrude.