The more things change, the more they remain the same in one important way at Notre Dame. Tradition is – and has always been – the cornerstone of the student experience. From the places they go to the ways they play, pray, eat and study together, generations of Domers have forged bonds through a host of rituals and observances that have stood the test of time.
With some 80 percent of students living on-campus, many of Notre Dame’s longest standing and most popular traditions center around life in the University’s residence halls.
“It’s a fact that Notre Dame is a place where students go not just to learn how to think, but to learn how to live,” says Patrick McCormick, student body president. “And I think this starts through building community in the residence halls.”
Each of the 29 residence halls offers students not only a tight-knit community and social circle, but also the opportunity to participate in numerous long-standing traditions. Every hall has a mascot and nickname, a color scheme, a favorite charity and a signature event, ranging from concerts to game shows, casino nights and auctions.
In Fisher Hall, it’s the Fisher Regatta, a one-on-one boat racing tournament held each April on St. Mary’s Lake that is open to all dorms, with most halls entering at least one home-made watercraft. Usually drawing more than 1,000 participants with boats resembling anything from a pirate ship to a basketball court, the Regatta is the culmination of countless hours of hard work and dedication.
“What’s more is that this event involves participation from just about every other dorm on campus, male or female, allowing for the greater community of Notre Dame to get together for a day of leisure and excitement a few weeks before they are slammed with finals,” says Christopher Cali, president of Fisher Hall. “We all work hard to provide participants and spectators with quality cookout food, music, and safety on the lake. Just a few of the many reasons that YOU GOTTA REGATTA!”
The signature event in Dillon Hall is the first pep rally of the football season, a tradition that has spanned more than four decades. Complete with skits (that have been known on occasion to affectionately poke fun at other dorms) and appearances by the team and other celebrity guests, the Dillon Hall Pep Rally always packs the quad and gets students pumped up for that opening game.
“Dozens of Dillonites each year get together and put a lot of time and effort into planning this pep rally. This process fosters new friendships and a sense of teamwork and collaboration within the dorm that last beyond the pep rally itself.”
“Residence hall events create a unique camaraderie that will last a lifetime.”
Whether they cater to the masses, or are more intimate affairs, all signature events are cherished by the residents of the individual halls. In addition to an annual bobsled race, the women of Farley Hall also host Pop Farley Week every January, in memory of Rev. John “Pop” Farley, founder of the hall. For the past 19 years, the event has featured skits, hall decorations and a dance.
“Hall events add to the Notre Dame experience by giving each dorm its own story,” says Courtney Currier of Farley Hall. “The memories made at Pop Farley and other hall signature events are what compose the Notre Dame experience by creating lasting friendships based on the virtues and values upheld by our residence halls.”
You can’t talk about residence hall traditions without mentioning the famous inter-hall dances known as SYRs (officially “Set Up Your Roommate,” with some known variations on the acronym), which provide opportunities to mix and mingle, socialize and cut loose a bit.
“The memories that students recall from dorm life center around the friendships they form at dorm events, from Frosh-O to SYRs to retreat experiences,” Currier adds. “Whether hall events are athletic, academic, service or multicultural, they constitute the dorm experience by creating a unique camaraderie that will last a lifetime.”
In addition to the residence hall traditions, many clubs and organizations observe their own. One of the most solemn is that of the campus Reserve Officers' Training Corps. To honor Veteran’s Day, Notre Dame’s Army, Navy and Air Force ROTC units hold a silent 24-hour vigil at the Clarke Memorial Fountain. Area veterans and community members are invited to attend.
Some of the most popular student traditions, not too surprisingly, are centered around food.
It’s easy to see why the Coleman-Morse Center (or “Co-Mo”) is a popular study spot. Two words: Free food. With a popcorn machine and soda fountain, the location almost always draws a crowd. Not quite free – but close – night owls can grab an infamous “quarter dog” in the LaFortune Student Center after midnight.
To add flair to campus dining, North and South Dining Halls offer themed meals throughout the academic year including Halloween and Valentine’s Day desserts, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Cinco de Mayo dinners, and Lenten and Easter buffets. Also a big favorite – candlelight dinners after home football games in the dining hall complete with white tablecloths and yes, plenty of candles.
Deeply rooted in its Catholicity, Notre Dame also is home to an abundance of spiritual traditions. There are 47 chapels on campus, including one in every residence hall, each with its own personality when it comes to expressions of faith.
The Men of Morrissey celebrate the name day of Fr. Andrew Morrissey with a solemn Mass honoring St. Andrew the Apostle each Nov. 30. Keenan Hall’s men join residents of a women’s hall once a month for a joint liturgy followed by an ice-cream social on Keenan Kommons. Lewis Hall celebrates Lucenarium, or “Lewis Luce,” which is evening prayer in the Holy Cross tradition, on Monday nights.
One of the more unique and popular hall faith traditions is the Thursday Dillon Hall Milkshake Mass. The special liturgy is the brainchild of veteran Dillon rector Rev. Paul Doyle, C.S.C., who conceived of it as a means of stemming the increasing tide of students going off campus for fun on Thursday nights. After a 10 p.m. Mass, Dillon residents gather in the hallway outside the hall’s chapel for milkshakes prepared by Father Doyle. From a modest beginning of 15 attendees, the Milkshake Mass now routinely draws 80 Dillon residents for a faith and fellowship experience
While many campus traditions are serious in nature, others are downright playful.
Jump right in, the water isn’t fine for the annual Polar Bear Plunge. Sponsored by Badin and Dillon Halls, some 250 beachgoers pay five dollars for the “privilege” of running into the freezing waters of St. Joseph’s Lake each February. This annual tradition would defy logic if not for the fact that it benefits charities. Equally chilly is the annual North Quad vs. South Quad snowball fight, which lures otherwise reluctant students out into the cold. At midnight after the first major snowfall, they storm campus for the showdown. If you find yourself walking home from a late night of studying on that particular night, be careful not to get caught in the crossfire.
Wrapping up each academic year, An Tostal is a week-long festival celebrating the final full week of classes. Started in 1967, its name is derived from the spring festivals held in Ireland during the 1950s. An Tostal features games, prizes, music, and food, and events have included pig chases, concerts, picnics, pie-throwing, kissing marathons, tug-o-war, mattress races, and chariot races. Photos courtesy of Notre Dame Archives.
For more historical traditions, photos and stories, see the Notre Dame Archives blog.
Pass by the Main Building with its famed Golden Dome and you’re bound to see dozens of students, faculty, administrators and visitors bustling in and out of its majestic doors.
But one thing you won’t see is any undergraduate student climbing the front stairs to the building’s main entrance – that’s because of a tradition that requires all students to wait until graduation before they’re allowed to make the climb.
“Tradition is everything that is Notre Dame. From football traditions to the attitude of service, students are inundated with tradition, making it as common as faith and learning. Being a Domer is tradition.”
The tradition of the steps being off limits until commencement originates in 19th-century porch etiquette and smoking rituals. Only after successful completion of a degree program was a student deemed equal enough to ascend the steps and to smoke on the porch with his professors.
Though “porch etiquette” may seem archaic by today’s standards, students don’t seem to mind the minor inconvenience.
For students who love science, the annual ”Geek Week” is a series of unapologetically nerdy science and math related events, bringing students together for ‘geeky’ activities including a Mr. Engineering competition, Beauty and the Geek dance, Dissection Night, chemistry and laser demonstrations, and Sudoku challenges.
Mr. Engineering 2010 Ben Mall (left) proudly displays his trophy. To win over the crowd, Mall performed a rap complete with break-dancing.
Notre Dame students are known not only for their academic prowess, but also for their focus on service – and they’ve developed a knack for combining the two with fun – and mud.
“Muddy Sunday,” an annual volleyball tournament sponsored by Keenan Hall, offers the opportunity for all students to get in touch with their inner toddler and slide, slop and play volleyball in the mud. All proceeds are donated to the Notre Dame chapter of Habitat for Humanity.
For those students whose definition of “fun” means hours of brutal training and the possibility of being pummeled by fellow students in a boxing ring is the Bengal Bouts.
Legendary football coach Knute Rockne first organized boxing at Notre Dame in 1920, yet Bengal Bouts’ true identity wasn’t established until 1931, when a service focus was added: raising funds for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh. In 2010, the program raised a record-breaking $100,000 propelling the Bouts past the million dollar mark for all-time contributions.
Not all service traditions require being hosed down or hit. Each year, the Center for Social Concerns, (CSC), the World Hunger Coalition and the residence halls join forces for the annual drive for the local Food Bank, taking a direct approach to helping feed the hungry in the community. Notre Dame students also have a long history of hitting the road to make a difference in cities and rural areas across the country for service outings such as the popular Social Concerns Seminar in Appalachia. Since 1981, an ever-increasing number of Domers have traveled to the impoverished region to explore religious, social, political and environmental issues and to lend their assistance through work on home repair, clothing distribution, food bank and health care projects.
It’s no surprise, the student experience includes a bevy of time-honored and beloved traditions tied to athletics. The “Legion,” or more formally, the “Leprechaun Legion,” is the title of the student section at basketball games, where students stand throughout the entire game and distract opponents shooting free throws by jangling keys. Some athletic traditions are less well known, such as the swimming and diving team attending volleyball games in Speedos and urging the Lady Irish on to victory.
However, it is natural at a place where one often hears the phrase, “Other teams play college football; Notre Dame is college football,” that football traditions are the most colorful and enduring.
The football teams’ gold helmets are one of the most colorful and famous traditions on campus. Student managers gather every Monday evening preceding a game to strip and buff the players’ helmets after they took a beating the prior Saturday. Each of the 100 helmets gets a basic coat of gold paint, followed by a coat that contains actual particles of gold collected from the 2007 re-gilding of the golden dome atop Main Building.
Game day itself features a number of traditions that are ritually and lovingly observed before the opening kickoff. The Band of the Fighting Irish performs its “Concert on the Steps” at Bond Hall prior to the game, offering a preview of its halftime show. A Drummers Circle follows before the band departs from the Main Building, leading fans to the stadium.
The pre-game team walk to the stadium draws thousands of fans. The tradition has evolved as players now board a bus following Mass at the Basilica for a trip through the tailgate lots south of the stadium on the way to the “Gug,” or Guglielmino Athletics Complex, for last minute meetings. The team then walks from the Gug to the Hesburgh Library before walking south to enter the stadium.
The student section has a variety of well-loved traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next. Students remain standing throughout the game, celebrating touchdowns with airborne pushups. They transition from full-throated roar to a hush at the end of the third quarter, when they hear “May I Have Your Attention Please,” followed by another pun-laden safety announcement and punch line delivered by the legendary retired Indiana State Police Sergeant Tim McCarthy. And they honor the current Irish head coach at the start of the fourth quarter as the band plays the 1812 Overture.
Regardless of the final score of the game, students consider it a badge of honor to remain to the end, when they honor their classmates on the field, and the players on the field honor their fellow students in the stands, by joining in signing the Alma Mater.
And if the Fighting Irish are victorious, students flock to Clarke Memorial Fountain, also known as Stonehenge, on North Quad to take a celebratory dash through the water, no matter the temperature.
One of the most meaningful and visible displays of Notre Dame tradition comes when students and alumni lock arms and sway, shoulder-to-shoulder, as the alma mater, “Notre Dame, Our Mother,” plays. In these brief moments, history comes alive and it’s not about the dorm dances, late-night study groups or pep rallies. It all comes down to the lyrics of a song written by a 1923 alumnus, words that capture the true significance of Our Lady’s University to so many: “And our hearts forever… Love thee, Notre Dame.”