Sometimes it is worth the risk of reinforcing one stereotype to shatter another. It is, for example, a stereotype, now pretty faded, that American Catholics sit glued to their televisions (also radios), clutching rosaries (also beverages), cheering (also praying) for Notre Dame victories. Perhaps the Fighting Irish were once rivaled only by Al Smith as symbols of the Catholic struggle to arrive in the United States. That day is long past.
Ah, but the national championship, won on April 1, by Notre Dame’s women’s basketball team-that was different! If the university had historically provided an easily grasped image of Catholic leadership, that image, rooted in football, was unrelievedly male. The university admitted women years ago, but not without considerable resistance, of which traces here and there linger. Women’s teams have already won four of the university’s twenty-two national championships in various sports, the school’s last one in women’s soccer, in 1995. Now women have again brought the campus a national championship and in a major, televised sport.
Gender stereotypes were challenged in a variety of ways. There was the fact that the Notre Dame coach, Muffet McGraw, had once offered Connecticut’s Gene Auriemma a job as her assistant, or that the husband of Purdue coach Kristy Curry actually serves as one of her assistants. In a different context, the cheering sisters from Cor Jesu Academy in Saint Louis, where Notre Dame star point guard Niele Ivey studied and played, might have looked like something out of The Bells of Saint Mary’s. Here, their presence, even their modified habits, seemed to say, Don’t make assumptions.
The final game against Purdue, in a night for Hoosiers, was not as pretty as it might have been. But the narrow 68-66 victory only balanced Notre Dame’s incredible comeback from a 16-point deficit to a 90-75 victory in its semifinal match with last year’s champions, the University of Connecticut.
We understand there is a fierce fight within the Vatican between those arguing that, Catholic or not, the Notre Dame starters should be immediately ordained and those arguing that they should only be granted a mandatum.