Notre Dame Way Back When

Author: Jerome Ledvina '38

When I returned home after my 10 hours of work at my summer job in a cheese warehouse in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, I was overjoyed to read a letter from Notre Dame informing me that I had been accepted as a transfer student and was awarded a $200 working scholarship. Without that scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to go to Notre Dame. I was delighted when I could register as a junior student at Notre Dame in September 1936.

The registration was well organized, and in a short time I was in my living quarters in Badin Hall, met my roommate and was off to dinner. Today a $200 scholarship doesn’t look like much, but in 1936 it represented a fourth of a year’s expenses—$800 would cover tuition, meals, lodging, athletic fees, laundry and even haircuts. This of course was toward the end of the country’s worst depression. An assortment of jobs were available to those of us with working scholarships: mail carriers (the best job); waiters in the dining room; an assistant to a professor (for grading papers); or library workers. Services were considered to be worth about 35 cents an hour, which is what I was able to earn at my summer job. I was assigned to do clerical work in the library. At Notre Dame we were always reminded that the University’s emphasis was on building character and educating students. Consequently there was emphasis on discipline, the fostering of the Catholic faith and education—but not necessarily in that order. (I might add, parenthetically, that Catholicism was never imposed on non-Catholics.) We students were all encouraged to attend morning Mass and receive Holy Communion in our residence chapels. Those of us who chose to sleep late had a version of a convenience store, where a priest on duty in the Alumni Hall chapel would respond to a button in the back of the chapel. One buzz for confession, two buzzes for Holy Communion, and we were promptly served—and then went to late breakfast in the cafeteria nearby. One of my most pleasant memories of our devotion to our Lady of Notre Dame was the daily visit to the Grotto after the evening meal in the month of May. Prior to the ceremony, a few athletic show-offs would try to drive a golf ball across the lake. When the priest appeared, all present participated in the ceremony, reciting the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, some other prayers, and then having Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament before returning to the library or our rooms for evening study or amusement somewhere in campus. There was always something to do. Of course our indoctrination would not have been complete without a showing of the Spirit of Notre Dame movie in the campus theater. I must admit to being somewhat amused by an article in Notre Dame Magazine some years ago that described the friction between the administration and the student body over a ruling against students (including co-eds) having beer-keg parties on the foyer of some residence halls! In my day, that would have been unheard of. When a student arrived with his own car, he was required to turn in the keys to the Prefect of Discipline. If the car was needed on weekends, and the student had a pass, he could have the keys. He had to turn them in again upon check-in. Beer (or any alcohol) was not allowed on campus. If students of legal age wanted to have a beer or two, they had to do it in one of two designated bars, one in the Oliver Hotel in South Bend. In the latter part of the weekend evenings, students in a bar might expect a visit from the prefect of discipline, Father Boland, and his layman assistant, Mr. McAuliffe. They would randomly select a student and ask him to start talking. If his speech was even slightly slurred, he was required to leave and could expect to be grounded for a period of a couple weeks to a month or so. Father Boland was an Enforcer! (He was also a very good professor.) Shortly after my arrival, I looked at the notices on the bulletin board outside the main building office and noted with horror the following warning: “Any student found East of Williams St. and South of Wayne will be immediately suspended!” That was area known in South Bend as what used to be called a Red Light District. This notice made me nervous, as I had to go to that area to catch the train for Chicago and my home in Manitowoc. During my senior year when I was lived in Walsh Hall, Father Marr was the rector. Evidently one evening someone had lady guests visiting his room. For all we know, they might have been “sisters” visiting after a football game. Father Marr addressed us one night in the chapel: “I would like to remind you gentlemen that Walsh Hall is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she is the only one welcome here. If I see a lady above the first floor, I shall extend her the courtesy of asking her whether she is the Blessed Virgin, and if she says she is not, I shall ask her to leave.” That was Father Marr—gentle, courteous and witty. A later story, probably apocryphal, went that Father Marr actually encountered a lady on the third floor of Walsh Hall and asked her whether she was the Blessed Virgin. She is alleged to have responded, “Yes, Father, I am a virgin. I have been all day.” In fall 1936. TIME magazine ran a partly critical, partly praising and partly cynical feature article about Notre Dame’s emphasis on superiority in sports, and how the school was “attempting” to raise academic standards. Included in the article was a description of our beautiful campus and our football history. TIME also published a picture of our University president, Father O’Hara, in a bathing suit by the pool. The caption below it read: “OUR LADY’S” Man. And there was a picture of the Father Corby sculpture, his right hand raised in benediction. The caption read “Fair Catch Corby.” It was some time before TIME became available at the campus newsstand. There was little to complain about at Notre Dame. Dining room fare was good, served family style and plentiful. Class work was pretty demanding, but that was to be expected. Toward the end of each semester, in the more difficult classes, research was done on a number of questions that might be asked in the finals (based on information from former students in the class). The results were circulated among the students. I recall attending a philosophy class on a Monday in December. A lot of students were missing. Dr. O’Grady asked, “Where are these men?” Someone told him that they were football players on their the way back from Southern California. Dr, O’Grady appeared stunned. “These guys are football players? Incredible.” He was, needless to say, not a football fan. Extracurricular activities were plentiful. I was particularly interested in golf, as I achieved respectability as club champion at my local club in Manitowoc. However, when I tried out for the golf team and turned in qualifying scores I became an also ran. A few “scratch” golfers (who averaged par or better), and others outdid me. The members of the golf squad did not get scholarships, but could play free on the course, use practice balls at will and were given lessons every week by a golf pro, Al Watrous, who was flown in weekly from Detroit during the golf season. I enjoyed my free rounds of golf. I also remember an occasion when I happened to see the tearful greenskeeper at work when he had to tear out the greens at holes #9 and #18, and shorten each by almost 50 yards, so the athletic building could be built where it now stands. Art lovers could spend a lot of time enjoying the pictures in the art gallery above the library. My favorite picture showed four well-fed monks enjoying the sampling of a keg in the wine cellar of the monastery. I wonder whether it is still there. My favorite activity was playing in the Notre Dame band, under Director Joe Casasanta, who had composed march music for Notre Dame. I played the E flat clarinet, which was half an octave above the rest of the clarinet section, and sat next to the piccolo player, right under the microphone near the 40-yard line. We thought we looked pretty neat in our white caps and navy blue uniforms. We felt pretty proud until we saw the Ohio State band at halftime in 1936—180 pieces of brass doing complicated maneuvers at 180 paces per minute. (Our band was only 104 pieces total and marched to a brisk 120 paces per minute.) Because of a limited budget, we were not able to travel to many games away from home, but we always went to the Army game in New York, the Northwestern game in Chicago, and we did travel to Minneapolis for the ND-Minnesota game. This was a memorable game, which we won 7-6, as our All-American End Chuck Sweeney blocked the extra point try. I well remember our band’s trip to New York for the Army game. It was supposed to be cold. On the train we could bring only one small bag of necessities. Many of us wore long johns, expecting a frigid New York. The trip was miserable. It was Friday the 13th, and the train hit a car at a crossroad. We were saddened to learn of the accident and the death of the car’s occupants. We were also suffering from our decision to wear long underwear, when we found the weather in the 50s in New York. I was fortunate, as a philosophy major, to have received such excellent instruction in my major subject. In my senior year, I competed for a complete fellowship, paid for by the Knights of Columbus, for board, room, and tuition at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., good for one year but renewable through the Ph.D. program. I was delighted to be selected for one of the 12 vacancies in nationwide competition that year, and I am grateful to the head of the philosophy department, Father Brennan, for the excellent philosophy courses offered and taught by my dedicated professors at Notre Dame. I am very thankful to Notre Dame and proud to be an alumnus.