Letters to the editor

Author: Readers

Editor’s note: The letters that appeared in the winter 2011-12 print issue are marked with double asterisks (**).

More Emil T.

**Brendan O’Shaughnessy’s article on Emil T. Hofman (“The Excellently Extraordinary, Iconic Emil T.”) was outstanding. It truly captured the heart and soul of Professor Hofman. He has touched a countless number of lives inside and outside the classroom and has been such a profound role model for so many Notre Dame students. He IS Notre Dame.

Here’s a picture of my well-used Emil T. textbook from 1970. Some things I just cannot discard.

Tom Heck, M.D., ’74
Santa Barbara, California

**I entered Notre Dame in 1971 as a frightened premed student. Dr. Hofman’s chemistry class was overwhelming and the infamous quizzes difficult. By midterm I received a pink slip in chemistry. My freshman adviser recommended an immediate change of major. He sent me out with a form that had to be approved by three teachers to make the switch. The first two signed it without so much as a second look.

The last was Dr. Hofman. I slid that form under his nose after class. He looked at me and handed the paper back. He then asked to meet me in his office at 2 p.m. That 10-second interaction would forever change the course of my life.
Later that day Dr. Hofman spent time asking about my life story, and he concluded by refusing to sign the change-of-major form. More importantly, he went on to meet with me every Thursday afternoon for tutoring sessions before Friday quizzes. The result was an A for each semester and a medical degree seven years later.

After 32 years of practicing medicine, I have logged more than 250,000 patient visits. The positive effect I have had on any of their lives would never have been possible without the precious time Dr. Hofman provided me in 1971. He is a very special man.

Bryan Barrett, M.D., ’75
Oakland, California

**As I read the article on Emil Hofman, I was on two planes of thought — the impact he made on so many students over the years and the impact he made on me and my career in mechanical engineering. I remember just scraping by that first semester of freshman year and dreading Thursday nights and Friday mornings. While other students around me appeared to be doing well, I had this general miasma and wondered how I was going to survive, let alone get through the next three-and-a-half years. I was faced with a very cold choice: Do I sink or do I swim?

I finally woke up to the fact that his was “the new game” and time to get with the program.

Emil T.’s chemistry class was a great exercise in discipline and determination. I’m happy to say I got an A- second semester, and the icing on the cake was Dr. Hofman coming up to me and saying, “Well done.”

Eugene Yang ’78
Plainfield, Illinois

**I was one of the 5 percent. Yes, in a sea of over-achievement at Notre Dame, some of us just couldn’t cut the mustard in Dr. Hofman’s Chemistry 115. My F in chemistry precipitated a quirky and memorable visit to Dr. Hofman’s office in Brownson Hall in January 1975.

My journey there began when, as a child, I wanted to be an astronaut. I soon determined that a ride into space necessitated my becoming a test pilot. And so began my soon-to-become-train-wreck first semester in aerospace engineering. My dorm mates didn’t seem to mind the academic load, but I (carrying 20 credit hours and NROTC training) fell behind immediately and soon received a zero on one of Emil’s deadly Friday quizzes. No amount of pre-quiz tutoring could change the fact that I simply could not understand chemistry.

When my first-semester report card arrived in Minnesota, I was stunned to see my GPA at 1.812, driven by my first ever F (in chemistry, of course). Back on campus, I am summoned to Dr. Hofman’s office to discuss my second-semester options. My dream of space exploration is fading fast as I explain my plan to become a test pilot. But I see the wheels turning in his mind — Emil already knows I don’t have to be an aerospace engineer to become a pilot in the Navy. So he leans across the desk and says, “Bob, I don’t think you should be an aerospace engineer.” Emboldened, I reply, “I think you’re right, Emil,” — I can’t believe I just called him “Emil” — “what have you got for me?”

“Bob,” he says, “you look like a” — long pause as he strokes his chin — “like a business major to me.”

Emil was right. I ran into him a few years ago at his bench on campus after Mass and recounted the story, bringing him up to date, explaining that I had spent 20 years as a pilot with the Navy and Navy Reserve, then was a commercial airplane pilot for another 27.

Bob Kruse ’78
Saint Paul, Minnesota

**Your beautiful article on Emil T. brought a smile to my heart. Emil and I go back more than 50 years. I was a student in the Notre Dame Teacher Training Institute, which he directed and through which I received my M.S. in chemistry in 1964. Emil taught the first course in the program and it was one of the best chemistry courses I ever had.

Years passed and we kept in touch. After Emil became dean of the Freshman Year of Studies, he offered me a position as an academic adviser. I looked on the offer as a gift from heaven. I joined a wonderful team of dedicated people under Emil’s care-filled direction. I spent 16 years there, helping students find what made them come alive and helping myself do the same. Tough but unwavering love was all part of it.

Now that I am retired and living close by, I visit campus often and see Emil at his bench office. At 90, Emil is an inspiration to me to never give up on service to others at any age, even if it’s only one small act of kindness each day.

Elaine Tracy ’64M.S.
South Bend, Indiana

Your article on Emil T was a classic. For those who wish to thank him, you can find him sitting on a bench opposite the press box entrance to the stadium near DeBartolo Hall before each game. Meeting with him before each game has become one of my favorite pre-game traditions. He is delighted to to talk to all visitors and is genuinely interested in what each of us has done.

Jim Fackelman
Via email

God has kept this wonderful man on earth a long time to continue His work.

James B Ball Jr, M.D., ’76
Via email

Professor Hofman was the University representative for the first UND event sponsored by the Gettysburg Alumni Club, and he presided over the Corby Field Mass on the battlefield, July 1, 2006. It was here that the remarkable historical connection between Notre Dame and the Battle of Gettysburg was established. The expression “Fighting Irish” is not a reference to football or to drunkenness or debauchery. Rather, the Fighting Irish established their roots in the historical context of the Irish Brigade — consisting of the 63rd, the 69th and the 88th New York infantry — who fought with extraordinary valor on the battlefields of the American Civil War. Their deeds were field-tested and forged with the last full measure of their devotion to the principles of freedom and liberty at Gettysburg. Here, on July 2, 1863, Father William Corby offered general absolution to the Irish Brigade, and the bloodline between Gettysburg and Notre Dame was defined for the ages. At the end of this day, 198 of the men whom Father Corby had blessed had been killed. Their uniforms of the Irish Brigade had become their funeral vestures.

During his remarks to those assembled for the UND gathering in 2006, Professor Hofman reminded us of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. In July of 1963 the Corby Field Mass was offered by Father Ted Hesburgh, and General Dwight David Eisenhower was in attendance. Now our community is preparing for the 150th anniversary of this famous battle, which will be commemorated on July 1, 2 and 3 of 2013. We would be honored to have a return visit from Emil T. Hofman for this historical event. Notre Dame, Gettysburg, the Irish Brigade, Father Corby and Professor Hofman — it is a truly rich and wonderful fabric that has been woven over the last 150 years. Emil T., you are welcome here at all times.

Thomas A. Ritter ’74
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Great article on Emil. As a member of the 5 percent that flunked his class (had to be more than 5 percent!) I have frequently mentioned my thanks to Emil – I would have been an AWFUL doctor.

Chris Fahey ’76
Via email

Kudos to Brendan O’Shaughnessy for the article about Dean Hofman. Emil T has left an indelible mark on the school and his article (although it ignored Double Emil’s) was a fabulous description and tribute to the man.

Seldom do I read anything other than class notes — sorry. I am so glad that my wife, who normally reads even less than I, saw this article, read it and recommended that I do the same.

Bill Borders
Via email

Greetings: Please pass this note along to Brendan O’Shaughnessy, who wrote the great story about Dr. Hofman. Surely I am one of many congratulating him on this outstanding profile. Emil really does embody everything that makes Notre Dame such a wonderful place. This is the single best story I’ve ever read in the magazine.

Jack Ryan ’83
McComb, Mississippi

Thanks for the excellent feature about Dr. Hofman. While I did not have him for a teacher, I have talked with him several times in recent years, most recently in September. What a thrill it was to visit with a true ND legend on his God quad bench for an hour or so. His stories are fascinating and his devotion and contributions to Notre Dame and humanity in general are lasting. It is a privilege to know this gentleman of whom Our Lady is proud indeed.

Bob Burns ’59
St. Petersburg, Florida

Brendan O’Shaughnessy’s essay on Emil T. Hofman, my all-time favorite Notre Dame professor, was the best article I ever read in Notre Dame Magazine. As a Ch.E. major, my first contact with Emil Hofman was in freshman chemistry lab in the fall of 1951. This was a four-hour lab for which we wrote a weekly lab report and received one credit. One of the highlights of that first semester in Emil’s chem lab was listening to Bobby Thompson hit a homer that won the NL Pennant for the Giants over the Dodgers. I’m sure that Professor’s Hofman’s positive influence on future chemists and chemical engineers was great and lasting. Emil Hofman is at the top on my list of Notre Dame teachers who I will always remember for his discipline and skills in molding my life and career. I retired earlier this year as a Corrosion Consultant and want to thank Emil for all of his help and support. If there is a Notre Dame icon, his name is Emil T. Hofman.

Robert E. (Bob) Moore, PE, ’55
Wallingford, Pennsylvania

Great article on Emil Hofman. Reminded me of two unforgettable instructors from the late 1940’s. Father Butler in U. S. History who ensured we’d finished our reading assignment by dividing the classroom into columns and presenting each column with 3-5 questions to answer in a blue book. The other was Professor Cronin in English. He asked hard questions in class and graded our scribbles even harder. As I recall, the highest grade he ever awarded a sophomore in our class was 92. But we learned.

John L. Wagner ’52
Via email

Thanks and praise for your recent feature on Dean Emeritus Emil T. Hofman. I had the privilege of delivering the Emil T. Hofman Lecture in 2002, and I agree with Dr. Ken McAfee that this was one of my greatest personal and professional honors.

Dean Hofman offered a challenging, state-of-the-art chemistry course and held his students to high standards. His failure rate of only 5 percent was low because:

a. He was a highly effective teacher.
b. He knew his entering students’ high school records, and pre-tested many of them.
c. He offered a lot of help to struggling students.
d. All of the above.

Many classmates who later went into chemical engineering or graduate programs in basic science have claimed that his course was their most helpful undergraduate course in preparation for their later work. I still have my second semester notebook, and marvel that so much information could pass between teacher and student in so short a time.

Dean Hofman’s prayers before each class and frequent attendance at daily Mass in the crypt of Sacred Heart were outward signs of the loyalty, piety and faith he also expressed in his stewardship as Dean of Freshmen Studies, his kindness to individual students, and his later humanitarian visits to Haiti at considerable personal risk.

Dr. Hofman is a living reminder of an “old” Notre Dame, which will slowly pass from narrative into legend as its faculty and alumni age and diminish. When he began his term as Dean of Freshmen, controversies over the priorities of departmental specialization and those of a broader general education were not new then, and continue even now. The goal of a broad humanistic education integrating the life of the mind with the life of the spirit, maturation of character, and moral growth has been a cherished ideal of many Catholic universities, but not exclusive to them ( cf. the University of Chicago, St. John’s College in Maryland, and Columbia, among others ).
Despite the increasing demands of academic specialization and technical learning, I still think it’s a good idea. After 50 years of studying science and doing medical research, I still reach for my undergraduate copies of Chaucer, Dostoyevsky, de Tocqueville and St. Augustine with pleasure and satisfaction.

The “old” Notre Dame had room for notable teachers and mentors such as Frank O’ Malley, Dean Hofman and several distinguished European refugee scholars who probably couldn’t get a university teaching job now. The evolution of a newer and bigger University from an older and smaller one should not obscure the influence of these extraordinary men on the education of a whole generation of now-senior alumni.

Ad multos annos, Dr. Hofman!

William J. Cashore, MD, ’62
Professor of Pediatrics
Brown University

A long overdue apology to ND women

**The article on Emil T. Hofman brought back some fond memories for me, particularly those dreaded Friday morning quizzes. But it wasn’t the story’s primary focus that moved me to write this letter, but rather the memories of Julie Silliman’78. I was particularly impacted by her memory of “the humiliation of entering the dining hall to tables full of men holding placards rating each woman’s appearance.”

While I wasn’t one of those holding the placards, I did join many others encouraging what clearly was inappropriate and juvenile behavior. Years later I, too, remember what we did to the female members of that first co-ed class and am embarrassed by what I did and what I didn’t do at the time. I can’t imagine that any of us who have had daughters or nieces attend Notre Dame over the years would have wanted them to endure the same treatment these brave women had to endure.

I’d like to extend my sincere apologies to Julie Silliman and all of her fellow female classmates who were likewise impacted by this inappropriate behavior and would like to thank all of them for the important contribution they made in bringing a vibrant and healthy co-educational environment to Notre Dame.\

Brian O’Herlihy ’76
Wayland, Massachusetts

War wounded

In “Dealing with the Dead” Major Andrew DeKever ’95 explains that combat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and military suicidality could readily be assuaged by simply acknowledging, valuing and supporting the living, those “ordinary” people who must cope with the extraordinary brutality of war. Yet therein lies the paradox: Coping with war entails psychological defenses (denial, compartmentalization, dissociation) that are inherently isolating.

Reconnecting with comrades, families and friends entails lowering such defenses and sharing one’s profound pain with those who can handle it. Major DeKever had the courage to write an article that demands our courage to read. As members of his Notre Dame family and spiritual community, let’s share prayers of love, honor and thanksgiving for him and his Mortuary Affairs team.

Paul Turner ’75
Stamford, Connecticut


Jason Kelly’s piece offers important insight on the medical and interpersonal implications of severe blunt force trauma; mostly from football. There is a solution lacking in this and all other articles on this tragic subject. The equipment provided to the players are not protection . . . they are weaponry. The helmets and shoulder pads should be made of the same material as the lining of helmet. This would diffuse the force of collisions. It would also lead to changes in behavior by the players. Do you ever see rugby players “leading with their head” in making a tackle? Ask yourself an important question. What if a Saturday game was played with no equipment except cleats? Would you see a change in the behavior of the players? Conversely, how many people would be in the stands watching such a game? Perhaps we have to more appropriately address the issue. Violent collisions fill football stadiums.

James A Kieffer
Via email

Mr Borges

I was really happy to notice that in the last issue of Notre Dame magazine you have included an article titled “Mr. Borges” that remind us about the visit to ND of Jorge Luis Borges — probably the MOST influential writer of XX century. However, I was quite disappointed to read the scene when the author of the article (Brian Doyle) narrates his encounter with the Argentine author. Mr. Doyle writes his dialogue with Borges: “Mr. Borges, I said hey, Mr. Borges, how’s it going? Very well, he said, in crisp English, a plus, for I did not speak Argentine” (ND Magazine, page 13). As you may know, Mr. Borges, as well as most of the inhabitants of Latin America speak Spanish, not Argentine (there is not such a thing as a language named “Argentine” as there is not such a thing as a language named “American”). It is sad to notice this mistake in an article that looks to celebrate the most important writers of the Spanish language after Miguel de Cervantes!
—who also wrote in Spanish, not in “Spaniard”.

Juan Vitulli
Assistant Professor of Iberian & Latin American Literatures and Culture
University of Notre Dame

Hyland memories

I was delighted to see the piece on Lieutenant Colonel Neil Hyland in the Autumn magazine. I had the honor of commanding alongside Neil at Fort Lewis, Washington, under the 1st Personnel Group. His first words to me were “Hey, nice ring!” (referring to my class ring). An ND tribute to him is long overdue.

Please note that Neil was not a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps; he was, rather, a proud and prominent member of the Adjutant General Corps.

Today, I live within walking distance of Neil’s bench and reflecting pool at the Pentagon Memorial. It is a lovely tribute to a fine officer and I encourage any of his friends and classmates in the DC area to visit. Don’t miss the tribute to Neil in the books displayed outside the Pentagon Memorial Chapel.

Lynn Hamilton O’Connell ’84
Arlington, Virginia

Thank you for the piece on Neil Hyland. I knew Neil when we were both officers at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in the early ’80s. He was looking for a wife or, as he put it, eyes wide and full of drama, “on a wife hunt.”

When I learned that he was dead, my first thought was, “Did he ever find her?” I was sorry to see in the directory that he had not.

Elizabeth Spinelli Balmert ’82
Via email

Revisionist history

Patrick Dunne, in his piece “What Fools These Mortals Be” stated that the “heroes of Goliad, the Alamo and San Jacinto . . . gave their lives in defense of slavery.” This is revisionist history of the worst kind. Saying that the Texas Revolution was to defend slavery is like saying today’s war on terror is to keep abortion legal: while it is true that the dictator Santa Anna outlawed slavery, just as it is true that most abortion is outlawed by Islamic law, that was NOT their primary motivation, and it is just flat-out wrong to make such an inference.

Bill Shults ’1978
Via email

Dangerous fantasy

In reading the essay by Randall B. Smith (“Kiljoy is here”), I find it is not the surface story of frustration with graffiti that touches me. It is an underlying attitude I find common in Catholic parishes in which I have participated; this being that parish life and art are meant to be unambiguous and without controversy; well, like Eden. In this essay I believe this environment is expressed as cleanly painted walls. No, I don’t think it is OK for graffiti to be splayed all over our communities, but I feel the sting of repression in what has sheepishly been called a personal fantasy. I do think that the author’s personal fantasy of the implosion of the artist is the expression of the “haves” or of the “in-crowd,” of the “saved” toward the “have-nots,” the “outcasts” or the “damned.”

I am reminded of a discussion in a bible study group concerning the final judgment. We asked each other would we find it joyous to be in heaven knowing or seeing(?) others are doomed in hell? If this were to be the fulfillment of our salvation it was small comfort indeed.

To the question concerning his fantasy “Is that wrong?”I say yes. I find the author’s fantasy not simply trivial. I find it dangerous. To the extent that anything is seen as pure (clean walls) we can easily become too violent in seeking to defend or preserve it. As my husband once stated so succinctly in a 5th grade religious education class on the sacrament of reconciliation, what makes Christians different is that we are a forgiving people. Christ modeled a life embracing the fallen world. He asked us to take up our crosses and follow him through suffering and sacrifice. To ignore His example is to render Him superfluous. As the author’s fantasy builds, I can imagine the cathartic relief he feels at making his fantasy concrete in words. I could accept that the purpose of this essay is to send this fantasy and all the underlying fears it expresses into the desert on the proverbial scapegoat, if this essay were shown to me by a friend who wanted me to play the role of the goat. However, Notre Dame Magazine is no scapegoat. It is dangerous to cast a choice for sanctuary as a justification for destruction of another, even if it is “just a fantasy.”

In closing I will quote from “Editorial Statement: The Painter of LiteTM” by Gregory Wolfe, Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion Number 34, from which I have drawn some ideas used above: “in seeking to escape ambiguity and the consequences of the Fall, it denies the heart of love, which is compassion. Unless compassion means the act of suffering with the other in their otherness, it becomes meaningless.”

Catherine Fitzpatrick SMC ’78
Via email

As a former school counselor, I felt sad as I read Dr. Smith’s article, “Kiljoy is here.”
I would like to start by saying that I realize graffiti is illegal and can be linked to troublesome behavior. I would also like to acknowledge that frustration often occurs when prevention strategies appear to be ineffective.

He concludes his article by saying, “That’s when our poor, bewildered graffiti artist’s head explodes. So that’s my fantasy. Is that wrong?”

My answer to his question is, “Yes, that is wrong.”

When I see graffiti my thoughts turn to the troubled and perhaps very talented youth who never had a chance to channel their gifts in a positive manner. The young man or woman who did not have a mentor or someone to point out their gifts. I would like to suggest that the next time Dr. Smith sees graffiti he would fantasize a mentoring program or an after-school program that identifies a young artist, rather than fantasizing that the youth’s head explodes. And erhaps dream of what that support might look like and how these protective factors could help a young person share their gifts to make our world a better place.

Mary Dolan
Via email

Still more mortgage woes

It is with great interest that I read the letters to the editor commenting on Ed Cohen’s summer issue article “The Mortgage that Ate My Life.”

I live in Orlando, Florida, one of the hardest areas hit by the housing downturn. Right now, my house is down 50% from when I bought it in 2006 and the prices are still falling with no end in sight. When I bought my house, I qualified traditionally with a normal loan to value ratio, sufficient income and with an independent appraisal at the sales price.

Perhaps, I should have been a little more observant, but my career is in IT, not real-estate or global finance. I trusted the process while still understanding that housing prices fluctuate to some degree. However, I knew nothing of mortgage back derivatives, tranches, incompetent rating agencies, a government forcing banks to issue risky mortgages in the name of political correctness, or the SEC’s laissez-faire enforcement.

I played by all the rules, and I still got burned big-time by a corrupt system.

To say that I should have known that there would have been a risk this great is ludicrous. It is not me that broke the trust in this contract. It is the entire financial industry and the government that supported them.

Their actions have caused this terrible downturn. As a result, any moral contract is null and void as they entered into it fraudulently.

Therefore, I feel no moral responsibility to repay them the same way they feel no moral compulsion to help me out. I cannot wait it out, because I will not live long enough to see my lost equity again.

I too will go the short-sale route and feel none the worse for it.

Jim Clarke ’74
Lake Mary, Florida

About Declan Sullivan

Declan Sullivan’s death was not an accident (“Declan Sullivan: No Ordinary Life,” Winter 2010). Webster says an accident is something unforeseen; October 27, 2010, was not a normal weather day in South Bend. Winds were howling and the weather in the afternoon deteriorated.

An outdoor practice was called by Coach Kelly, and common sense should have set off immediate defense alarms to ensure the safety of Declan, a 20-year-old videographer who was allowed to go up to the maximum 40 ft. high on a scissors lift in wind gusts of 40 to 60 mph to film a football practice. At 4:54 p.m. his lift blew over and Declan fell to his death.

Later, to make matters even worse, Notre Dame, an elite educational institution, failed miserably in detailing and explaining accountability and responsibility for the tragedy. Although, Declan tweeted before going up on the lift “Gust of wind up to 60 mph today — guess I have lived long enough.” Also, “Holy [expletive] this is terrifying.”

Notre Dame investigation (smoke screen) and lawyered up statements are unimaginable and an insult to our intelligence. (Especially the Sullivan’s.)

They conclude that “No one acted in disregard for safety,” which is mind-boggling and unbelievable. Everybody involved in the tragedy acted with disregard for safety, unintentionally or not.

Responsibility ultimately rests with Head Coach Brian Kelly. Also with Jack Swarbrick, athlete director, whose spin and description of the weather that day “conditions as normal and walk to practice as unremarkable journey.”

Notre Dame has an international reputation for turning out leaders who have the courage to make hard and difficult decisions based on truth and honesty and take the responsibility if necessary after doing the right thing.

Father Jenkins, CSC, has forgotten these principles and grossly underestimates students, faculty, alumni and friend’s ability to accept bad news. They can accept it if it is the truth. Declan, his family and friends deserve the truth, and dismissal or penalties should be administered to those at fault.

Dan Irwin ’58
Buffalo, New York