Campus Life this month features a
story entitled “The Day the Rock was Baptised” from the
March 29, 1957
By John McMahon
John McMahon is a junior
journalism major. The following is the story of Knute Rockne's
Baptism, written especially for this memorial to "the Rock."
He would follow the team into
the little Catholic Church across from Grand Central Station when
they went to
New York to play the Army. He
would see his boys get up early on the morning of a game, steal from
the hotel lobby and head for a church. His wife, who was converted
before their marriage, was understanding in her Catholic example
around their children. He was in constant contact with priests and
clean Catholic boys at Notre Dame. It is probably a combination of
all these that prompted Knute Rockne to become a Catholic.
It was 1925, the year after the
Four Horsemen and the Seven Mules. Boys named Christie Flanagan, Joe
Boland, Captain Clem Crowe and Arthur Boeringer perspired under his
tutoring. Rock was being instructed by Father Vince Mooney, a close
friend, and a priest at Notre Dame. Father Mooney tells how Rock was
quick and eager to learn. How on many occasions, the Norwegian would
stop him cold with questions on the Catholic Faith. He once asked
Father Vince, whom he called "Scotty," just what the story was on
the Modernists and Fundamentalists, two groups that had crept
silently into the Church causing some trouble during the twenties.
Father Vince was floored. Even he knew very little about it.
"I caught you off-sides,
Scotty. If I were refereeing the game," the Rock said, "I'd penalize
them both half the distance to the goal and then start the game
Father Mooney said Rock learned
his religion by knowing football. He had the Seven
Sacraments for a line and a backfield consisting of Faith, Hope,
Charity and the All-American quarterback Justice.
The Baptism was
set for November 20, the day before the Northwestern game.
Northwestern, an unusually powerful eleven that year, hoped to be
the first team ever to beat Notre Dame inside the confines of the
green-fenced Cartier Field.
No one knew
that Rockne was under instruction except his wife Bonnie and Father
Mooney. Somehow several of the players got the rumor and came to ask
Father Vince if they could be present for the ceremony. He relayed
their message to Bonnie and she approached Rock.
"So they want
to be at my Baptism," he said. "What do they think this is, a
three-ring circus? Tell them to go say their prayers."
On a bright
fall afternoon, Rock, Bonnie, Father Vince and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas
Hickey, neighbors of the Rocknes, who were to be Rock's sponsors,
entered the Log Chapel on the campus. The afternoon sun seemed to be
setting in the old building, illuminating it entirely.
began arranging the oils, cotton and the Baptismal font for the
ceremony. He asked Rock if he would light the single blessed candle
on the table before the font. Obediently the coach reached for the
matches and marched toward the table. He looked to the rustic altar
where several Benediction candelabrae stood guarding the tabernacle.
"How 'bout those, Scotty. Do you want me to light those?"
"If you were a
priest or a bishop," Father Vince answered, "we would light all the
candles in the church, but you're just an ordinary football coach."
'Rock turned and looked at the priest. "It looks to me, Scotty, like
you're pretty damn tight with the wax." Stooping before the solitary
candle, he ignited it with a satisfied grin.
before the font and the ceremony began. The sun drove through the
window, reflecting on his bald head. "OK, Scotty, go ahead. You
won't have to use much water."
baptism, Father Vince took Rock by the arm. "Why don't we step into
the sacristy where we'll have a little privacy, and I'll hear your
again. "Why don't you hear it out here? Everybody knows my business
Communion was to follow the next morning in St. Edward's Hall. At
that time, St. Ed's was a grade school and the chapel pews were
designed in miniature for boys up to the eighth grade. It was also
First Communion day for about 100 of Sister Aloysius's six to
ten-year-old boys. Knute Rockne, Jr., was a member of this group. He
did not know that his father had been baptized. Sister Aloysius
arranged the boys so that when they stepped out into the aisle to go
up to receive, Knute Sr. and Knute Jr. would be side by side.
As Father Vince
bowed low for the "Domine, non sum dignus ...," the choir began
singing "Oh Lord I Am Not Worthy." Rock stepped in beside his young
son, and slowly walked in procession to the Communion rail. A look
came over Junior's face. "Daddy, you go back," he said. "You can't
come up here. This is only for Catholics." But Rock marched solemnly
on. At the rail he knelt beside his son. "Daddy, go back," said
Junior again. "You're not a Catholic. Go back."
By this time,
Father Vince was near them with the ciborium. He leaned down to the
small boy. "I baptized your father yesterday afternoon," he
whispered. “Now he is going to receive his First Communion with you."
Admiration, surprise and pride swept over the boy's face. He turned
to his father smiling. "I'll offer my Communion for you, Daddy," he
was also a great one for Rockne. The team knew that he was now a
Catholic. Northwestern was playing as well as it had all season, and
at the end of the half, were leading 10-0. In the dressing room
between the halves, Rock's boys slumped to the floor to wait for an
eruption from their coach.
ladies," said Rock coming through the door. "So this is the Fighting
Irish I've heard so much about. Well, when you go out there in the
second half and get the beating you deserve, I won't share the
disgrace with you. I will no longer be your coach." Turning to his
assistant coach, Hunk Anderson, he said: "You take 'em, Hunk."
Rockne left the
dressing room and went up into the stands. He remained there for
eight minutes. But that was long enough for the Fighting Irish to
score two touchdowns. His boys won 13-10 on Cartier Field.
chuckled to himself. Anyway, he could never have lived out his
threat if Notre Dame had lost that day. After all it was only the
day before that he had become a real member of the team.