Notre Dame’s ‘Mormon Moment’
In an earlier post about the moral and physical perils of football, especially big-time, big money teams like Notre Dame’s once and future king of the hill, many commenters understandably grew defensive about any observations that might call into question the purity and nobility of the greatest witness to the faith in American Catholicism today: the Fighting Irish. (Sorry, Saint Dorothy Day.)
One of the proofs offered for the moral efficacy of Notre Dame football was the indisputably powerful witness of linebacker Manti Te’o, whose play on the field has made him a Heisman contender and whose comportment off the field has made him an example of the way this Catholic university football program can “mold boys into impressive, spiritual, other-centered men.”
Wonder of wonders, it turns out that Te’o is a practicing Mormon who brought his class act to South Bend despite serious reservations about attending Notre Dame. CNN’s Eric Marrapodi has the story:
Te’o gave voice to that struggle in his announcement in 2009 that he’d attend the Indiana college, which was broadcast live on ESPN. “I’ve prayed hard about it and my family has thought hard and long about it,” he said.
Graduating from Punahou High School in Hawaii, Te’o had his choice of the best football programs in the country. His Mormon faith was a serious factor in the decision-making process, said his former high school coach, Kale Ane.
“A lot of that weighed on him,” Ane, who coached Te’o for three years, told CNN. “The final weight was getting his message out on a broader scale. A Mormon at a Catholic school was a good way to say, ‘You can keep your faith no matter where you go.’ ”
The University of Notre Dame’s undergraduates are 83% Catholic, according to the admissions department.
“It hasn’t been an issue,” said Notre Dame Athletics spokesman John Heisler, speaking of Te’o's membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “I think there was more an issue when he was being recruited to him having access to his religion in South Bend and here on campus.”
“The emphasis here is that this is a place of faith and it really doesn’t matter what your faith is,” Heisler told CNN, noting that he himself is not Catholic. “Faith is really important to people here. Whether you’re a Catholic or a Mormon, it’s a place of great faith.”
Not only that, but the current No. 1 team in the nation is less than half Catholic, and has three other Mormon players. (And of course Notre Dame’s faculty can also boast David Campbell, the top-notch political scientist of religion, and an LDS member.)
So if Notre Dame wins a national championship, can Catholics really claim bragging rights?