hajj – an honorary title given to an individual who is engaging in pilgrimage. The honorific title “Hajj” stays with him, even after his return from pilgrimage until his death, quite often as a permanent title and part of his name with friends and public.
One weekend this coming September, I will embark on a pilgrimage to the one of the most important sites for American Roman Catholics. No … not St. Patrick’s Cathedral, not the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, not the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa … not the Vatican …
I will be attending my first football game in South Bend, Indiana at the University of Notre Dame!
No doubt in some yet-to-be-discovered scroll tucked in a Galilean sea cave resides an ancient admonishment for all Roman Catholic citizens of the United States to make The Pilgrimage of The Fighting Irish at least once in one’s lifetime! I’m sure of it. It must exist … for how else to explain this overpowering physical attraction to The Program???
This is a phenomena with which I grew up in Irish Catholic Philadelphia during the 1960-70s. It’s been a fascinating thing to witness, especially when few – if any – of those adults and children with whom I grew up actually attended Notre Dame! The dedication is real and pervasive to the point where many families and friends set aside at least one weekend each football season to make the annual pilgrimage.
Frankly, an Irish Catholic’s love for Notre Dame football is not all that difficult to decipher as a natural development of growing up in undeniably wholesome and homogenous settings, where The Church was a central and integral part in the lives of our Parents and Grandparents … and thus onto us. It’s a confluence of Sports and Religion unique in its roots, devotion and enduring strength.
Rockne, The Four Horsemen, and friends
It’s origins likely the outgrowth of the rise of collegiate football in the decades preceding the existence of the National Football League (NFL); and the result of The Fighting Irish’s success and broad appeal in the collective conscience of those proud Catholics. While “the greatest generation” – the generation of my father and uncles, Irishmen all – lived its formative years, Notre Dame football was a constant presence.
My father was born in 1919. The years of 1918-1930 were the Knute Rockne years. A twelve-year stretch consisting of FIVE undefeated seasons and SIX where no more than 2 losses were booked by The Fighting Irish! So it’s not hard to see how a generation was immersed in the success and glory of Notre Dame football, even in a time long before football polls, National Championships, and the dreaded BCS.
Unfortunately, the lack of clear-cut test for determining such pressing issues as football supremacy begot arguments that probably sent many an Irish-Americans into Saturday confessionals …
For some reason I was not bitten as severely by the ND football bug as so many were in my extended fraternal family. I like Notre Dame football; enjoy watching; and always pull for them when I catch their broadcasts. But the fanaticism never took complete root.
In my family, I have had uncles and cousins make the pilgrimage as once-in-a-lifetime excursions or as regular visits. I had at least one cousin buried in full Notre Dame regalia. So many funerals and a few weddings had references to The Fighting Irish.
It’s a guy thing … a Catholic thing … a family thing …
A family thing … Brother Pat and his two sons, Joseph and Andrew
Yet despite all that kelly green DNA, I never had the Irish-urge to see Notre Dame play locally or even think about taking the trip out to South Bend.
That changed a few weeks ago, when a close friend suggested we go out to God’s Country with mutual friends, who have made ND football an annual gig. I demurred at first … again not smitten with the ND bug. Then I found out my brother – a true ND football devotee – had decided to join the very same group from his home base on the West Coast.
Though I may not be a Notre Dame football disciple, I am certainly a huge fan of family, friends, fun, and good times.
What better reason could there be to embark on such an American hajj?!?