Campus Life

James McShane, from the 1928 Dome

James McShane, from the 1928 Dome.


Campus Life will feature a chapter from a very enjoyable book, Reflections In The Dome, edited by James S. O'Rourke IV. Reflections is a book of twenty-four chapters of memories by members of the Notre Dame family from the 1920s through the eighties. If you're interested in reading further, the book is available through this link:

Chapter 13: The Song and Dance Man by James L. McShane, S.J.  

James L. McShane, S.J., was born in July 1907, in Salem, Wisconsin, and attended the Jesuit High School in Campion, Prarie du Chien, Wisconsin. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Notre Dame in 1928, and subsequently pursued graduate study at the University of Illinois, Saint Louis University, and the Harvard Law School. Father McShane entered the Jesuit novitiate in September 1939, and was ordained a priest in 1941. During the past 45 years, Father McShane has worked in parishes, including 18 years in the back country of Honduras. He has specialized for a number of years in religious communication via broadcasting and the mass media. He is now retired, having served until recently as director of religious education and pastor at Mount Carmel Parish in Pueblo, Colorado.

Before my graduation day in 1928, I lived in Badin Hall and was considered the resident "Song and Dance Man." After graduation, I moved to a suburb of Boston and took up campaigning for Al Smith. I remember one rally in particular. A gentleman who attended was, in the immortal words of Jack Lavelle, "lubricated to an amiable state of incandescence."

I could interest him, it seemed, only by doing one thing: a dance step called "a buck and a wing." I heard him mutter, "Our Lady runs that school in South Bend, and she taught you that?"

When I was in school, there were so many distractions whirling through my head that it is a wonder Our Lady taught me anything. My professors certainly had a hard time trying to do it. One religion class began at a deadly hour-one in the afternoon. We callow youths assembled in an ancient hall on well-worn benches to study Apologetics, and it seemed to be needlessly dull. One morning, I strolled in, dolled-up in my tux and best formal outfit. To my complete disgust, neither the good professor -nor anyone else- took umbrage, surprise, or even notice. The story, however, did not end there. During the 30 years that I went to school -from 1913 to 1943- I took a good many courses. Which was the only one I flunked? That, of course, was Religion.

I suppose there is a great deal of freedom on that campus now, but there wasn't then. When some culprit like myself returned to the campus at 2:00 a.m., he would try to get into Brownson Hall for the balance of the night. He had to use some name other than his own, though. And this made for a colorful list of guests. I noted on the roster ahead of me: Al Capone, Julius Caesar, Queen Marie, and Sanity Clause.

Which individual on campus had the most influence on me? Certainly the Rector of my hall, Father James Gallagan, was one but there was another whom I had met before Father Jim. After a year at the University of Illinois I moved up to South Bend, too late to get a room on campus, and was sent to the Prefect of Downtowners. It was Father Vince Mooney whom I met, and I told him I needed a room and would like to be where I could get to Communion each day. He had an old jalopy at hand and a driver to take me out scouting for a place to live. That was treatment to which I certainly was unaccustomed and it put me in a fine mood to live off-campus before I was moved into Badin and later, Sorin.

Father Gallagan liked to keep our social life within reasonable limits. I remember coming back to campus one night, and the young lady at my side was driving her father's car. We bumped a pole near campus and there was considerable "arranging" to do. I was an hour late signing into Badin. This seemed to be deep trouble and early next morning, I asked our Rector if there would be a board meeting to hear my case. He used his formal growl to say, "I'll let you know." He never brought it up again; to my dying day I'll bless him for that.

He loved to put on an appearance of severity. If he wanted to inquire about late traffic in or out of the hall, he would growl down the corridor: "Toussaint, there's a fire escape outside your room. Anybody put a stop-and-go light on it?"

He was said to excuse any latecomer who was absolutely brand-new and heretofore unheard of. A fellow named Carey had been confined to campus for something, but signed out anyway on a night when snow began to fall. At seven the next morning Father Jim grabbed him: "You came in at one a.m.?" Not flustered, but all in earnest, Mr. Carey gave him the classic, "We went out for a sleigh ride, but we ran out of snow!" "Pushed the sleds all the way home," he said, "over dry pavements."

No doubt we felt that such trials and laughter bound us close together. Our football team had a tackle who was huge by the standards of those days -Joe Boland. He was headed for All-America honors until about the second game. As the game against Minnesota began, his career ended. The huge bone in his leg was smashed; the sound carried all throughout, the stadium. He was in terrible pain on the stretcher, but rose up on his elbows. He threw a hand and a yell to the team: "Go ahead, lads. Give 'em hell." There was a magnificent roar from the crowd. Perhaps Joe put into schoolboy language the old thought: "There is no sacrifice we will not make." Perhaps he gave that feeling to everyone in the stadium, as he did to me. I suppose each of us felt that we shared his excitement, and each one of us somehow had a feeling of solidarity with the others.

There was a morning not long after on which a noise like the Resurrection Day woke us two hours before dawn. The student body scrambled out of bed and walked the mile or two to the railroad tracks. We were there at six to welcome home the team that had lost to the Army. And on another night that same season, the same crowd squeezed into the old Gym. A priest named Father Farley was standing just six feet ahead of me; his white hair topped a powerful body-built like a barrel. That pep rally fired us up to play Southern Cal the next day. At the climax of the tension, Rockne spoke of the "courage that we honor."

He spoke of a bruising, battering game we played against Indiana, and how one man kept driving himself to make 28 tackles. And, though the score was against us, that lad named Farley kept fighting on. We eventually lost the game. Now I'm sure there was a drop of crystalline Irish dew on the cheek of Father John "Pop" Farley as the scene came back to him. As he stepped outside the nearest door -just for a split-second- we all went through the experience with him.

One of them -one of my fellow students- convinced me that social life should be all-engrossing. His words of wisdom may have had a lot to do with guiding my career. His name was McHugh and he was a senior at the time. He and I walked down the long, grey steps which flowed out of Badin Hall, and I confided to him that I might even think of marrying while still a student. On the bottom step, Mac said: "I told that to my roommate once." I cannot tell you how serious he was as he ended his words with a tense, whispered phrase: "Don't get married. Whatever you do, don't get married now." What I remember, of course, is that McHugh cared deeply about his companion -that I should live a long, happy life. It seems to me that a school does communicate a sense of values and that it is done mostly from one student to another.

There were, of course, many influences. They come back like a kaleidoscope now, like Frank Kelly in speech courses, Charley Phillips in Dante, the philosophy teachers, and Rockne. The faces pass in review. Among the outstanding men of my day, one was head and shoulders above the others. I can see him: tall, slim, balding -at his typewriter- a cigarette on one side of his mouth, spiritual father to every student. He became Cardinal John F. O'Hara, but to us he was just Father John.

I would punch his buzzer once for Communion, twice for confession, usually for both. In my confessions, he worked hard to keep me on the straight and narrow -or at least out of jail. There were many aspects to his character, but I have no idea now which was most influential. As he prays for me today, he may even get me back on campus to make up that course in Apologetics which I once had found too dull, but which might turn out to be handy after all.

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