2016-10_lt-notredamefootball

Future Vocation/My Life/Priesthood

How Being the Notre Dame Leprechaun Prepared Me for Priesthood

Twenty-three years ago, I wore green a lot. I also had a chinstrap beard, and I spent a lot of time roaming the sidelines of Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.

Fast-forward twenty-three years. Now I wear black a lot. I wear a clerical collar. And I spend a lot of time roaming the campus of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Twenty-three years ago, I was the Notre Dame Leprechaun. Now, I am a priest for the Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend. A lot has changed. And at the same time, a lot seems to remain the same.

It’s funny to think about it now, but in reality, being the Leprechaun actually did a lot to prepare me for the priesthood.

A mascot is a representative, a spokesperson, for a larger body: a university or college. A priest is a representative and spokesperson for Jesus Christ. Whether you’re the leprechaun or a priest, everyone knows who you are and what you stand for just by looking at you.

A mascot must have courage in hostile territory. I remember well being pelted with marshmallows (and other objects) when I walked past the student section at Michigan Stadium. A priest must likewise have courage in hostile territory. There have been a few times when I’ve been cursed at and mocked at pro-life marches and other venues. Whether you’re a leprechaun or a priest, you don’t get to hide when the heat is on against Christ and His Church.

Then there are other commonalities like having to speak in front of large groups of people and motivate them, being part of a team, being constantly available to those around you, getting requests to make appearances at events, speaking with the media, and so on.

But, the common thread between being the leprechaun and a priest I’m most grateful for is the abiding presence of Jesus Christ and Mary, His Mother.

When I was at Notre Dame, I was not a very devout Catholic. I went to Mass in my dorm, St. Edward’s Hall, every Sunday night and I made occasional visits to the Grotto to pray; but that was about it. In my four years of college, I never went to Confession once. Prayer was not really a part of my life. I don’t think I cracked open a Bible except for theology class.

However, I am thoroughly convinced that had I gone to a secular college, I would have left my Catholic faith.

I am convinced that Jesus and Mary were quietly walking beside me everyday throughout college, keeping vigil over me, occasionally speaking words of invitation, and patiently waiting for me to re-enter a relationship with them.

My dorm, St. Edward’s Hall, is located right next to the Administration Building, the famous “Golden Dome.” If I ever lost my bearings, all I had to do was look for the Dome. You could see it from practically any point on campus. All I had to do was look to Mary and she would guide me home.

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Every single classroom and meeting room on the Notre Dame campus has a crucifix hanging on the wall. I recognized it from day one. It left a profound impression on me. Jesus is always there, loving us into existence, even as we nail him to the Cross with our sins.

Living at St. Ed’s also provided me with a short, two-minute walk to the Grotto, a 1/6 scale replica of the grotto in Lourdes, France where Mary appeared to St. Bernadette. Even though my prayer life wasn’t consistent, it was occasional. I think the Grotto was the single thread which kept me hanging on to my Catholic faith.

And lastly, there is a spot on the campus I never visited as a student, but visit frequently now as a priest: the Log Chapel. I’ll occasionally celebrate Mass there for parishioners of mine who are now students at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s, and Holy Cross College. And I had the pleasure of delivering my first homily as a priest there, standing over the tomb of the first priest ordained in the United States: Fr. Stephen Badin.

I’m happy to say I’m not the same man I was in college. I pray regularly and go to confession regularly. Thank God, though for Notre Dame, “Our Lady,” and Jesus Christ her Son, who never gave up on me and changed my green into black.

Photo by MGoBlog, used through CC BY-NC 2.0 license, logo added.

About the Author

In my former life I was a radio disc jockey, a salesman, an actor, and a college mascot. Somehow, God used all these experiences to prepare me for priesthood. I’m truly relieved I can not just be called “Father” for the rest of my life and into eternity.