Monogram Club honors Father Riehle

Author: Noah Amstadter '02


If this keeps up, Father James L. Riehle, CSC, ’49 is going to get a reputation for being gullible.

Which would be a step up from his previous reputation: cheap-shot artist.

At the end of April, the athletic department surprised its 76-year-old chaplain with an honorary brunch in the Monogram Room. During the meal it was announced that the intramural field behind Stepan Center had been renamed Riehle Playing Field in his honor.

A little over a month later, the Monogram Club held its summer reunion. As executive director of the club, which is made up of alumni letter winners, Riehle helps the board of directors pick the winner of the Moose Krause Member of the Year Award. He did so again this year, a few weeks in advance of the reunion banquet. He even purchased the trophy and had the winner’s name — Dr. Bill Hurd ’69, an ophthalmologist in Memphis — engraved on it. But on the night of the awards banquet the honoree was nowhere to be seen.

As Riehle squirmed nervously, President Malloy stepped to the microphone and announced the winner’s name: Riehle. The priest had been bamboozled again. (Hurd was in on the conspiracy; he’ll be getting the award next year.)

Riehle, pronounced “really,” has been the athletic department’s chaplain for 26 years, the Monogram Club’s executive director for 21 years, and the presiding priest at every one of the football team’s Saturday morning pre-game Masses since 1976.

He appears in the movie Rudy blessing the team in the locker room, just as he did when the real Dan Ruettiger ‘76 practiced with the Irish in the mid-’70s. In a recent adidas TV spot, he’s the priest strolling across the South Quad with Joe Montana recalling Notre Dame games past, who then inquires as to what Montana has been doing since he left Notre Dame.

Riehle’s other campus roles include service as a rector in Sorin Hall and, for 12 years, in Pangborn Hall. He was Notre Dame’s dean of students from 1967 to 1973, when student protests were at their peak and President Hesburgh established his famous 15-minute rule. Students acting disruptively were given 15 minutes to desist or face expulsion.

In 1969 Riehle issued that warning to a group of more than 100 students protesting at the Main Building. They didn’t approve of the CIA and the manufacturer of napalm being on campus to recruit employees. He ended up expelling five students and suspending five others. Nine of the 10 returned to earn their degrees.

Known to have a short fuse, the priest acquired the nickname of Father Cheap Shot playing on a faculty hockey team in the early 1970s. He once body-checked Ara Parseghian.

In the pregame football Masses, which are closed to outsiders, Riehle tries to take into account the fact that many players are not Catholic. At the first Mass of the season he describes in detail the function of the ceremony within Catholicism and the meaning of the various robes he will don. He then takes questions.

One spring day at a Bookstore Basketball game in the early 1990s he ran into Raghib “Rocket” Ismail ‘94, the star wide receiver and kick returner. Ismail told him he couldn’t wait for the season to begin.

Why’s that? Riehle asked.

“Just to go to your Mass.”

“He was a Muslim,” Riehle recalls. “Those kinds of things give you courage.”


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