Deaths in the family

Donald R. Keough, the former Coca-Cola executive and Notre Dame Board of Trustees chairman whose name is synonymous with the University’s ties to Ireland and whose magnanimity alongside Marilyn Keough, his wife of 65 years, transformed campus in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, died February 24 in Atlanta. He was 88.

Keough established Coke’s foothold in Ireland as an ascending company executive during the 1970s. The business move was personally satisfying — the location of one bottling plant in Wexford reconnected Keough with the county his great-grandfather had fled during the potato famine — but it carried greater impact. Irish leaders credit Coca-Cola with attracting the investment of other American companies. Keough, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has said, became “one of Ireland’s greatest friends.”

He would soon become one of Notre Dame’s. Beginning with his appointment as a trustee in 1978, Keough’s leadership proved indispensable at the end of the Hesburgh era. Elected chairman in 1986, he would preside over the selection of Father Edward Malloy, CSC, ’63 as Notre Dame’s first new president in 35 years. An honorary doctorate and a Laetare Medal bookended his term as chairman from 1986 to 1991. Marilyn Keough received an honorary doctorate in 1998.

The son of an Iowa farmer whose fortunes collapsed in the Depression, Keough joined the Navy in his teens, then studied philosophy at Creighton on the G.I. Bill. After a brief stint as a television host, where his gregarious nature began to shine, he took a job at an Omaha wholesale grocer that through a series of mergers landed him with Coca-Cola in 1964.

He once offered this description of his career: “I jumped into a little creek, which became a river, which turned into a gulf, which grew into an ocean. All I ever did was swim.” But for Irish America magazine, Keough’s fortunes were “the story of Irish America in microcosm.”

The Keoughs’ decision to convert a portion of their wealth into improvements at Notre Dame made the family’s name ubiquitous on campus. They began with Ireland, making the inaugural gift that in 20 years would propel Notre Dame’s Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies into place as “the premier teaching and research program of its kind in the world.”

Students flocked to its courses in Irish language and culture. Keough maintained a helpful hand in the program’s affairs, including working with the Irish government on its planned centennial of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Through gifts totaling $50 million, the Keough name would appear on a men’s residence hall; two endowed chairs in Irish Studies; three library collections; the Keough-Hesburgh professorships in economics, music and bioelectrical engineering, awarded to faculty committed to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission; and the new Keough School of Global Affairs.

The family’s philanthropy also underwrote halls named for two of the presidents Keough served — Malloy Hall, home of the philosophy and theology departments, and the forthcoming Jenkins Hall, which will house several of the international institutes of the Keough school.

Humbled by that gift and Keough’s faithful leadership, Father John Jenkins, CSC, ’76, ’78M.A. said of Keough, “He has been a dear friend and cherished mentor whom I will miss terribly.”

The quotable Catholic

Father Richard McBrien, 78, the longtime member and former chair of Notre Dame’s theology department who died on January 25, was famous enough to get a New York Times obituary, something few Catholic theologians can expect except when they achieve a bit of notoriety. He was, of course, a public intellectual, often seen on television both because he held some daring opinions and, better yet, because he was extremely well-spoken and existentially incapable of waffling about issues about which he felt strongly. And strong opinions he had.

Any quick Google search can provide a list of his best-selling books — he wrote 25 of them — and a resume of his nearly 50 years of column writing in the Catholic press. Nor does it take intensive research to uncover his more contentious stands: He was in favor of a married priesthood and open to the priesthood for women; he dissented from standard Catholic teaching on birth control; and his contempt for many bishops in this country was barely held in check as more evidence piled up about episcopal cover-ups in the wake of the burgeoning clerical sexual abuse scandal in the Church.

Another side of Dick McBrien, the more private one less reported, deserves mention. We were friends and colleagues for a quarter of a century at Notre Dame. In fact, he recruited me to the faculty of the theology department in 1988. If we can use those clichéd categories, it is fair to say that I was much further to the right than he was on matters theological, but that did not dissuade him from offering me a job. I served as his director of the undergraduate program in theology and succeeded him as chair of the department while consulting with him closely as he edited the Encyclopedia of Catholicism and his Lives of the Saints.

Dick did not have a speculative bone in his body; he was in no sense a philosophical theologian. He was a pastoral theologian whose laser-like intellectual focus was on the nature, character and dynamism of the Church. He wanted people to know its glory and its foibles, because he knew that the Church as a visible reality was only going to be perfect at the end of time but for now it was wheat and weeds.

It is hard for me to think of a colleague who worked harder. He was in his office every day of the work week, taking his lunch at his desk, and when he was writing or editing a book, he was in on the weekends. His classes were meticulously organized according to a syllabus that stated precisely what was to be covered each day. Like all of us, he taught undergraduate and graduate students. Once a month I would receive the next four columns that were to appear in the newspapers, only modified if there was breaking news. That same organizational skill went into his administration of the department. He was always prepared. When a vexatious issue was to be voted on, he would predict to us program directors who would speak and how the vote would come out. Rarely was he wrong. Within the University he was esteemed enough to be elected president of the faculty senate.

Because Dick was a natural writer, he had a love for and a keen sense of words. I still treasure the bons mots he offered humorously in conversation: He called academic deans “spear carriers in the opera”; described a loquacious professor who rarely got to the point as “having a mind like an adolescent’s bedroom”; and likened a brilliant professor whose sartorial gifts were minimal to an “unmade bed.” I still value what I called the McBrien Principle when we looked over job applicants or potential doctoral candidates: “Smart people are a dime a dozen; smart people who are sane people are the ones we want to get.”

Although the late Dominican theologian Yves Congar, himself not without fierce critics and hierarchical suspicions, was Dick’s beau ideal of what and how a theologian ought to be and act, I think the person he most revered was Father Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, with whom he regularly dined in places around town. Father Ted recruited Dick to Notre Dame, giving him the precise task of maintaining the Catholic character of the theology department. Dick always described the department as “Catholic with an ecumenical outreach,” but the key word was Catholic. It is a supreme irony that Hesburgh charged him to keep the department Catholic when McBrien’s critics claimed, unfairly, he did the opposite.

At Dick’s death the press made much of his public persona, but it was the Dick McBrien at his office day in and day out, working away, that has made the deepest impression upon me as a fellow toiler in the groves of academe. Father Hesburgh got it quite right in his preface to Father McBrien’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism: “Scholarship is a lonely task, but good scholarship in a work of high quality and great need is a gift beyond all calculation.” It was that lifetime of scholarship that made McBrien, in the words of the Gospel, a “good and faithful servant.” May Eternal Light shine upon him.

By Lawrence S. Cunningham, the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology emeritus.

Charles E. Rice, the outspoken natural law expert and boxing enthusiast who described the 1967 Land O’Lakes statement redefining the relationship between Catholic universities and the American hierarchy as a “suicide pact,” died February 25 in Chicago. The professor emeritus of law was 83.

A man of irrepressible energy and unwavering principles, the Manhattan native and retired U.S. Marine joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 1969 with three books and seven years as vice-chairman of the New York State Conservative Party to his name.

Notre Dame became his home and teaching the law his evident calling. “Simply put, he loved teaching,” wrote Nell Jessup Newton, the Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law. His students loved him back for his ready wit and high expectations. Several told Newton they wouldn’t dare come to Rice’s classes in constitutional law or jurisprudence unprepared, knowing that he would ask a question, bark a name and expect that student’s immediate, clear answer.

They would remember him also for his kindness and genuine interest in their lives, even after graduation, and his effectiveness and appeal never waned. Rice won the school’s distinguished teaching award three times. He continued teaching Morality and the Law through the fall 2014 semester, grading papers from his hospital bed.

Described in these pages at the time of his formal retirement in 2001 as “one of the campus’ most forceful and articulate voices of conservatism and Catholic orthodoxy,” Rice was a loyal if frequent critic of the Notre Dame administration throughout his tenure. In books, articles and talks on campus and around the country, he traced his concerns about the trajectory of the University’s Catholic identity to the Land O’Lakes document’s progressive formulation of academic freedom and the creation of the school’s lay board of trustees.

He was a leader of pro-life activities and frequently wrote scholarly articles and legal briefs on abortion, euthanasia, contraception and natural law — along with 10 other books. His regular contributions to The Observer became his primary link to undergraduates; his biweekly column, “Right or Wrong,” was published until 2010.

To one especially tough segment of the student body, he was simply coach. Rice’s long formal association with the ND Boxing Club as a trainer, faculty adviser and volunteer referee lasted well into his 70s.

J. Kerry Thomas was a big catch when he came to Notre Dame’s Radiation Laboratory in 1970, a young but already notable figure in radiation chemistry. He would repeatedly boost the University’s annual research funding numbers by securing large grants from the likes of Texaco, IBM and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Born in Wales, the athletic and good-humored Thomas obtained his doctorate from the University of Manchester at age 23 and soon left Britain for a position at Argonne National Laboratories near Chicago. At Notre Dame, Thomas would train 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows and receive an endowed chair when such things were extremely rare, becoming the Julius A. Nieuwland Professor of Science at a 1984 ceremony similarly elevating faculty legends such as Fred Crosson ’56Ph.D., Father Ernan McMullin and Maureen Hallinan ’68M.S. Thomas died in January. He was 80.

As an undergraduate he was just Gene Gorski, a shy but talented Chicago kid whose rendition of “O Holy Night” as a Glee Club baritone drew a standing ovation, and who cut a “tall, compelling figure of dashing brilliance” as the lead in Cyrano de Bergerac. He studied finance, philosophy and music theory at Notre Dame before his ordination in Rome in 1960, then moved on to Paris where he perfected his French while earning a doctorate in sacred theology. Beginning at age 40, Father Eugene Gorski, CSC, ’53, assumed his most memorable roles on the Notre Dame stage, serving both as a “fiercely loyal” rector of Howard and St. Ed’s Halls, and as a “brilliant” instructor of theology whose enthusiasm for Zen meditation and the material in World Religions and other courses deepened his students’ understanding of Catholicism. “He was a good man,” one former student wrote after Gorski’s death in January at age 82. “I will miss him.”

Before he taught hundreds of college freshmen how to survive in deep water, Dennis Stark ’47, ’49M.S., had made a profound impact around the swimming pools of South Bend. A former U.S. Marine who served in World War II, he started his career at the city’s YMCA and soon emerged as a leader in local youth sports programs, with a devotion to creating opportunities for developmentally disabled athletes. In 1958, he became Notre Dame’s first men’s swimming and diving coach, and he would lead the women’s team for its first four seasons, too, training six All-Americans before his retirement from both programs in 1985. Swimmers fondly recall Stark treating them to ice cream during road trips and encouraging them to volunteer at South Bend’s Logan Center. In 50 years, he missed only one of the early-season meets now named in his honor, and for good reason — he attended his daughter Jan’s wedding instead. Among his greatest legacies to the Notre Dame family are the hundreds of alumni who failed their initial swim test and may thank Stark and his colleagues in the defunct physical education department for helping them conquer the water in their mandatory swimming class. Stark died in December at age 91.

Right up to the last days of his extraordinary 98 years, Dr. Leslie Bodnar was setting the record straight on one of the legends of Notre Dame football. It was, in fact, noodle (not chicken) soup that the team doctor used to treat quarterback Joe Montana’s hypothermia during halftime of the 1979 Cotton Bowl. This simple remedy and its role in the Irish comeback win was by no means the only measure of Bodnar’s contributions at Notre Dame. The former U.S. Army doctor brought wartime trauma management experience to his orthopedic career at ND from 1949 to 1985. A founding member of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, he grew his private practice into South Bend Orthopaedics, which today provides five team physicians for Irish athletes. His primary focus was the football team, where he served under seven head coaches from Leahy to Faust, but Bodnar was also a ringside fixture at the Bengal Bouts and treated many of the joint injuries of nonvarsity student athletes. Humble and funny, Bodnar always credited the physicians, trainers and nurses who made the work manageable. Most of all he loved the athletes. “They helped you get them well,” he wrote in Sports Medicine, Notre Dame, published months before his death in December. “They made you look good.”

For decades before his retirement in 2014, Robert E. Rodes Jr. stood among the most distinguished scholars on the Notre Dame Law School faculty. Rodes arrived as an assistant professor and corporation law specialist in 1956. He would become a leading legal historian, ethicist and theorist, whose scholarship ranged from a three-volume study of church-state relations in medieval England to the interweaving of Anglo-American jurisprudence and Catholic liberation theology. He paid close attention to campus events and national affairs, often commenting in student publications and convivial faculty gatherings on the war in Vietnam, abortion, economic justice and sexual morality, all from a reverently Catholic point of view. By all accounts a sharp-witted and tough-minded New Yorker, the Paul J. Schierl/Fort Howard Corporation Professor of Legal Ethics emeritus, who died in November at age 87, is remembered as a generous mentor and fount of encouragement for students and junior faculty alike.

Compiled by John Nagy ’00M.A. and Madeline Gore ’15.