Hall traditions great and small

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

At 5 minutes to 7 on a frigid Thursday evening in February, the Stepan Center dome is throbbing with high-energy pop songs, the noise overpowering students’ chatter as they jockey to get closer to center stage.

Outside, you can feel the building’s pulse about 100 yards from the front door. Up ahead, a short line of pea coats and parkas is swiftly disappearing inside. No one moves faster than a young man in a pale green T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, a red Solo cup tucked into the netting of his backpack. Safely inside and beginning to thaw, he passes his ticket to a sweaty student usher wearing sunglasses, a dark suit and sneakers.

Siegfried Hall’s Day of Man is done. Time now for opening night of the Keenan Revue.

It takes a lot to cultivate a lasting residence hall tradition at Notre Dame. Thirty-nine years of uproarious double-entendres and equal-opportunity irreverence will build the hype for next year’s Revue. Nine years of contempt for frostbite and respiratory infections — all to collect money in those red cups for South Bend’s Center for the Homeless — will snowball into the next Day of Man.

Some traditions endure and become regular fixtures of campus life. Badin’s relatively new Polar Bear Plunge is beginning to assume an anticipated place on the student calendar, but after 28 years, who can imagine spring at Notre Dame without the Fisher Regatta? What would Dillon be without the Pep Rally, or Alumni without its Wake? These events have outlived their founders, catching fire among new classes of women and men who have embraced and adapted them, even if they didn’t witness that first imaginative spark.

Badin Polar Plunge, photo by Barbara Johnston

Countless other customs had their moment and either changed or faded away. Anyone remember the Zahmbulance? What about Howard’s Mardi Gras ball or the Carroll Haunted House? Sorin’s Monk Hoops at Moreau Seminary goes on without Monk, begetting Stanford’s Griff Hoops along the way. Bun runs, by fiat, are reportedly a thing of the past. They all meant something in their day, and live on in the memories that will forever connect Domers to campus.

Every year new ideas debut. As of this writing, Lyons was preparing its first Winter Olympics. Pasquerilla East, taking its cue from late night TV host Jimmy Fallon, was organizing its inaugural Lip Sync Battle. The longer they stick around, traditions like these — overlaying the common culture of Masses and gamedays, fundraising and service — distinguish Knott from Keough, Walsh from Welsh Family, Pangborn from PW.

Notre Dame’s residence halls fall along a spectrum of creativity and obsession with ritual. Denizens of at least one hall that will remain nameless describe a culture with an almost systemic reaction to fun — maybe a modest signature event and a general discouragement of other distractions from serious study and healthy living that has itself become a tradition. Other halls, like Alumni and Farley, are so steeped in traditions that their residents seem incapable of making a late-night taco run without turning it into a thing.

The modern era of dorm traditions arrived with coeducation and the stay-hall system that together transformed campus life in the early 1970s. While the turbulence of new construction and hall switches hastened the closure of Holy Cross Hall and cut many dorm rites short, it also tilled the soil enough for different traditions and unique identities to germinate. What has followed might be described as a period of creative fertility akin to the linguistic explosion in Elizabethan England — full of jollity with dashes of naughty excess tempered by the occasional authoritarian reaction.

A lyrical overstatement? Sure. But here at the magazine we take the variety and the students’ appetite for both the new and the old as signs of a flourishing culture. There’s no way to capture it all, surely not in a few pages, but with the help of this year’s hall presidents we’ve tried our best.


Forget about Aquinas, Dante and Michelangelo. Coffee and donuts after the solemn communal prayer known as Sunday Mass is one of the truly great Catholic contributions to world culture. But surely no parish has perfected the art of food and fellowship quite like Notre Dame.

Dillon Hall’s Milkshake Mass, est. 1997, began as a “social alternative” to the early jump on the weekend that the 20 or so regulars emerging from Dillon’s 10 p.m. Thursday service tended to seek off campus. The new rector, Father Paul Doyle, CSC, ’65, ’75M.Div.,envisioned students sticking around to chat about spiritual topics with him and the presider, Father Mike Baxter, CSC, ’83M.Div., then a popular theology professor. Just in case Baxter wasn’t enough of a draw, the milkshakes would seal the deal.

So Doyle dropped about $600 on a pair of commercial drink mixers and bought Bonnie Doon ice cream week after week — “every flavor they offered” from peach and vanilla to Blue Moon, “but inevitably Crummy Cookie emerged as the most popular.”

And it worked. Students stuck around. Then their friends started to come. Dillon eventually burned through four of those mixers. Today, Doyle says, the hall’s Thursday Masses and their celebrant, Father Joe Corpora, CSC, ’76, ’83M.Div., draw as many as 200 students to St. Patrick’s Chapel, which seats 165. A prodigiously efficient heavy-duty blender churns out more than 250 of the 16-ounce milkshakes each week — Mackinac Island Fudge is the reigning favorite — using 27 gallons of ice cream and 12 gallons of milk.

“People don’t come to the Milkshake Mass for the milkshakes,” Father Doyle insists. So true. The conversation continues. And Dillon men deliver the extras to their sisters in Walsh Hall.

Over time the idea has spread, begetting the Milkshake Mass a number of worthy cousins. Most of these Masses begin at 10 p.m., but there are exceptions. Some are weekly, others less frequent. Campus Ministry keeps an active calendar on its website; motivated students know how to find what they’re looking for.

“Sundae” Mass — Cavanaugh and Breen-Phillips serve sundaes on Sundays. Missed out or want seconds? O’Neill’s got you covered on Monday night.

Muffins Howard Hall, Mondays — Chocolate chip, blueberry and pumpkin are favorites, but the “glazed donut” and “s’more” muffins prove popular change-ups to routine.

Crepes Cavanaugh Hall, Mondays — When it comes to hospitality, the Chaos just can’t seem to get enough. Junior Tesia Janicki provides this delicacy “out of the goodness of her heart,” says hall president Nicole McAlee.

Pizza Fisher Hall, Mondays or Tuesdays — Whenever Father Tim Scully, CSC, ’76 is around, the ’za is served.

Chili Sorin Hall, Wednesdays — Father Bob Loughery, CSC, ’78, ’88M.Div., Sorin’s rector, serves up bowls of his homemade chili. Bowls, my friends.

Root Beer Floats Keough Hall, Wednesdays — A&W and vanilla ice cream in plastic cups. Simple and delicious.

Cookies Lyons Hall, Wednesdays — Rector Sarah Heiman bakes before Mass and serves her treats — usually chocolate chip — in Lyons’ Lair. Pajamas and slippers encouraged.

Smoothies Keenan Hall, Wednesdays — Tropical fruit, berry mix or strawberry-banana: The Milkshake Mass’ healthier cousin?

Monkey Bread Lewis Hall, Wednesdays — What is monkey bread if not a humongous, sweet, buttery, cinnamon-sprinkled donut for all to share?

Waffles Ryan Hall, Wednesdays — Dress it up with Nutella, whipped cream, fruit, syrup, whatever.

Pancakes Badin Hall, Thursdays — Pumpkin spice in the fall, peppermint bark before Christmas, and M&Ms, chocolate chips or green (Badin’s color) throughout the year.

Nachos Stanford Hall, Thursdays — Chips, cheese, jalapeños — and sometimes salsa — it’s hard to beat nachos as a late-night snack, but then it’s up against the granddaddy, the Milkshake Mass.

Other Mass-related traditions: “Go to Mass at all 29 dorm chapels” appears on some students’ pre-graduation bucket lists. The Howard Chapel Crawl could help them check it off in a single Lent, challenging students to make it to as many Masses on the official Crawl calendar as they can. . . . Besides the “food” Masses, Campus Ministry lists a number of other “fellowship” Masses: Knott and McGlinn serve “snacks” after Mass; Zahm hosts a “Militant Mass . . . directed at men of faith”; and PE holds a “Candlelight Mass” each Wednesday. . . . Several men’s halls punctuate the end of the closing song by slamming their hymnals. Carroll Vermin claim to slam their hymnals loudest. . . .

Princess Room, photo by Barbara Johnston

Some chapels support other activities, literally. Or so we’re told. The roof over Farley Hall’s Chapel of St. John the Evangelist provides an ideal deck on balmy spring days, and the room that overlooks it is called Pebble Beach. Carroll 202 has no nickname, but sometimes its residents think the adjacent chapel roof might make a great place to set up a TV and watch football on Sunday afternoons. Students say they would never actually do these things, of course, but it sure is tempting. . . .

“I like to think that it started out of the guilt of eating Taco Bell so often that they started preferring their ‘meat,’” sophomore Jay Dawahare says. “It” is GrottoBell, and its basic components were in place before it got that name: After Alumni’s Sunday night Mass, a group of as many as 20 Dawgs and friends walk to the Grotto, light a candle and pray, then head over to the Taco Bell in the LaFortune basement “where usually one student is generous enough to buy [a] taco 12-pack.” Taco Bell meets “all the requirements,” Dawahare explains, “fast, cheap, open late, delicious, cheap. . . . Also I’m pretty sure that 37 percent of Joe [Etling] and Ryan [Hart]’s body weight at any time is made of Taco Bell, and as they were the creators, they chose.” . . .

Hospitality is the heart of many, if not most, ND hall traditions. Take Betty’s Chair, a recliner near the front door of Breen-Phillips Hall named for the dorm’s former security guard. The Babes leave food there for each other and their guests every day: cookies baked in the dorm, extra pizza from an event. “We set up a hot chocolate station there during our Christmas ‘Holibabe’ Week,” says junior Lindsay Dougherty, BP’s president. “Lots of different reasons for food, but always the same reaction: nom nom nom nom.” . . .

At Alumni, Pups become Dawgs at a special ceremony following Freshmen Orientation. At Badin, Tadpoles become Bullfrogs. Frosh-O even has a different name, Frog-O, and the depth to which the mascot’s theme dives in this hall is remarkable. It’s slippers, hats and pillows, the inflatable glowing frog that appears each year at Christmastime. An elegant, mahogany bullfrog on Badin’s central staircase, hand-carved by former resident Ana Zavala ’12, greets all visitors. Photos of residents kissing the frog are ubiquitous, especially among candidates for hall offices during election season. The hall’s larger lounge is called the Pond, the smaller one the Puddle. But lately, residents ready for some highbrow fun seem to have found it in Tea Time, a Sunday afternoon custom that a resident brought home from her London semester in 2010. Sometimes professors will come to share their interest and hobbies. At others the ladies may take a turn about the campus for a movie or a play. . . .

Traditions like Phoxy Props in Pangborn build community. Phoxes acknowledge a nice turn by tucking a handwritten note into the Props box. Three get read aloud at the weekly hall council and the women mentioned get a prize — usually something sweet. Ryan Hall’s spin on the idea, Kind Kats, features 10 residents each week. Their hallmates fill Ryan’s treasure box with notes of kindness about them. . . .

Football traditions: We could devote a whole issue to what happens on gamedays, but here’s a peek: Carroll Hall buys out local stocks of “Platinum Blonde” hair dye and residents set to work on freshman scalps before the first home football game. The name of this tradition — Vermin Go Gold — sums up the intent, and residents have no trouble finding each other in the dining hall, but hall president Jackson Jhin says Carroll’s dark-haired residents wind up with “a shade of orange/maroon.” . . . Cavanaugh residents muster in the hall basement two hours before pep rallies, load up on Pixy Stix, dance to loud music and adorn their purple and green hall spiritwear in a chaos of glitter, paint, streamers, bandanas, balloons — you name it. Someone dons a muscly purple costume called the Naughtie Suit and the women sprint, chanting and waving flags, to the pep rally venue. Cavanaugh has won the last three Spirit Champion titles. . . . Knott has its orange hats and Siegfried its horned helmets, but each year Lyons Lions wear little black dresses and the lion ears they made as freshmen to the Dillon Hall Pep Rally. . . . On the morning of the first home game, Breen-Phillips’ “big sisters” pound on the doors of their first-year mentees and march them outside in their pajamas in time to make a tunnel for the marching band. They take a group picture in front of Zahm’s massive “Here Come the Irish” banner and shuffle over to North Dining Hall for their annual Bathrobe Breakfast. . . . Meanwhile, the men of St. Edward’s have enjoyed their first “floating” of the season. Regardless of the month or the weather, they leave the hall in beach gear and line up around the library reflecting pool, charging into the water with pool toys just as the band arrives. The game, says hall president Mike Murphy, is whether they can steal reactions from friends in the band, who are supposed to remain stone-faced. . . .

Tuesdays at Ryan end with late-night baking in the apartment of Father Joe Carey, CSC, ’62, Ryan’s priest-in-residence. The “wedding priest,” a former Dillon Hall rector, Career Center adviser and interim director of Campus Ministry, dispenses wisdom on successful relationships in exchange for learning a new slang word from Ryan residents. Recent additions to Carey’s vocabulary include the greeting “’sup” (with head nod) and “homies” to refer to his Ryan friends. But hall president Meredith Fraser says Twitter “blew up” when Carey tweeted “God is bae” after learning it is an acronym meaning “before anything else.” The post received 84 retweets and 87 favorites. Oh, the baking? Word is the goods are often shipped out to teachers in the Alliance for Catholic Education program, for which Carey serves as chaplain. . . .

Manor Knockdowns, wrestling matches held in the middle of an empty Morrissey lounge, are no more. Officially. . . .

Birthday lakings, a much-anticipated custom among students who lived nearest the lakes, don’t happen as often as they used to, either. New fences around the Saint Joseph’s Lake dock seem to have put the, uh, damper on that. . . .

Keough’s signature event, the Chariot Race, calls to mind another common hall pastime: absurd contests of speed. The famous progenitor of these is the Fisher Regatta, wherein would-be mariners make boats out of anything you wouldn’t expect to float and “race” them across Saint Mary’s Lake while spectators eat grilled meats and laugh at them from shore. Another example is Morrissey’s mattress race, a highlight of Manor Madness Week, in which teams from each section hoist mattresses above their heads and race from the South Quad flagpole to the steps of the Rock. The winner wins bragging rights and, naturally, pizza. . . .

Hall spirit weeks follow a basic pattern: roommate bonding, section contests, hall decoration, some kind of group meal and likely one near-sleepless night punctuated by a formal. For Queen Week — usually the first week in February — each section of Pasquerilla West selects a “princess” to lead it. At the formal, the princess of the winning section is crowned queen of PW. . . .

Lest we think them all sweetness and light, Pangborn views its “phlag phootball” success as a long-term big deal. The dorm’s B-team made the women’s interhall semifinals this year and its A-team took the whole thing home. Says hall president Anna Busse of all this “Phoxy Violence”: It’s social, it’s good exercise, and it makes the Pang proud. . . .

We’re not saying it’s smart, or safe. We’re not even saying it happens. But the men of Keough Hall claim a pastime called Ghost Ride the Whip, an homage to a 2008 documentary of that name about street dancing alongside empty, moving cars in San Francisco. Keough’s version crams as many Kangaroos as can fit inside the hall’s elevator. They unscrew the lights and “proceed to ram into each other while yelling as loud as possible,” according to one resident’s description. In a more go-ahead-and-try-this-at-home custom, The Marilyn, residents compete in a miniature golf tournament for which each hall section creates a unique hole and viewing gallery. Elite golfers recruit caddies to carry their clubs. The competition’s name is an homage to Marilyn M. Keough, for whom the hall is named. . . .

The Christmas spirit is so strong that it’s a wonder anything else (like studying for exams?) gets done in December. The quantity of outdoor decorations ebbs and flows from one year to the next — perennial standouts include McGlinn’s Shamrock wreath and the crèche projected on Duncan’s façade. But Santa visits, reindeer games and Christmas caroling, movies and music are everywhere. So are decorating contests: cookies, doors, hall sections, trees — even coffee mugs. Cavanaugh puts on a pageant with South Bend children. Pasquerilla East hosts Silent Night, Silent Auction to benefit various charities. Howard Halliday concludes with the donation of decorated trees to Christmas celebrations around the South Bend area. Nowadays, the Ducks begin their festivities early with a Thanksgiving dinner to which each section contributes a course. . . .

Ten o’clock on Thursday nights at Duncan Hall is Man Hour, a discussion of all things masculine over fries, pizza, wings . . . you get the idea. On the docket for Spring 2015 were Men and Confidence; Men and Cooking; Men and (the proper use of) Alcohol; Men and Friendships; and, yep, How to Befriend Girls.

A year of things to see or do


Drip’N’Dodge — Welcome back! Paint-dipped dodgeballs. Everybody in lab goggles. White Field. (Knott, PE, PW, Siegfried)
Chariot Race — Chariots. Costumes. Competition. Pizza. Music. McGlinn Fields. Go. (Keough)
Rave for the Brave — DJs and glowsticks on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project. (Stanford)


Totter for Water — Round-the-clock rides on a giant seesaw to fund wells in Africa. (Howard)
Oktoberfest — Caramel apples, root beer kegs, homemade pretzels on North Quad. (BP)
Mara Fox 5K — … or, take the Fun Walk to celebrate the former Lion. (Lyons)


Cavanaugh Open — Pingpong throwdown in the JACC.
Project Pumpkin Pie — Perfect and share your pie-making skills with the Center for the Homeless. (Pangborn)


Carroll Christmas — Caroling, ugly sweaters and the lighting of a 40-foot tree.
Griffin Giving Week — Stanford men wassail their way through women’s dorms for charity.


Casino Night — Monte Carlo + Texas Hold’em = $ for a local Catholic school. (McGlinn)


Polar Bear Plunge — Let’s see. How can we make ourselves more miserable in February? Oh, I know! (Badin)
Meal Auction — Bid on a date with Brian Kelly, or a dinner cooked by a favorite prof. (BP)
Day of Man — C’mon, a coupla bucks. Make their suffering worthwhile. (Siegfried)
Keenan Revue — Miss it, regret it. (Keenan)

Riley Winter Olympics — Broomball and ice races at Compton for Riley Children’s Hospital. Who needs Pyeongchang? (Lyons and O’Neill)
Holy Half-Mile — Swing by South Quad to watch this day-before sendup of the Holy Half-Marathon. (Keough)
Zahm Independence Day – Zahmbies re-enact the Revolution with water balloons on North Quad to mark the day it became Zahm House.


Medallion Hunt — Find the 3-inch ‘M’ medallion using clues in The Observer, win $250. (Morrissey)
Wheelchair Basketball — The next level in ND hoops. (Ryan)
Lip Sync Battle — Five celebrities, five audition-tested students. Carey Auditorium. (PE)
Carroll Coachella — Outdoor music festival to kick off An Tostal.
Duncan Classic — Winner takes a Highlander green blazer home from ND’s nine-hole course.
Can You Take the Heat? — Simple: Wing-eating contest! Fieldhouse Mall! (PE)
Pie Your President — The revenge of the governed. For catharsis, nothing beats a cream pie to the face. (Walsh)
Fisher Regatta—Boats, free burgers, Fishermen sporting Regatta ’hawks.
Muddy Sunday — Volleyball and other sloppy pastimes at White Field. A glorious, filthy thrill before finals. (Keenan)