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Bengal Bouts essential

Charles Rice | Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Let me tell you about a serious piece of business we do every year at Notre Dame. It’s the Bengal Bouts. How can that be serious? Because every year since 1931, the Bouts have given to the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh donations averaging in the past decade over $50,000 a year. The annual per capita income of the 141 million people in Bangladesh is $1,470. Among the ultra-poor tribal people (1% of the population) served by the Holy Cross priests, brothers and seminarians (126 of whom are Bangladeshi) and the 60 Holy Cross sisters, a family of four could eat for two weeks on what we would casually pay for a pizza. The Bengal Bouts literally provide a lifeline to the poor.

Bangladesh is 88.3 percent Muslim and 10.5 percent Hindu. Catholics are fewer than 300,000. Holy Cross conducts over 200 primary schools and 12 secondary schools, all serving the very poor. Fr. Tom Smith, C.S.C., recently returned from Bangladesh, described the ministry as “evangelization, health care, education and hostels.” The hostel – a bamboo and thatched-roof room with a dirt floor and platforms for sleep and study – provides children from remote villages their only chance for education. If we grumble about having to walk from North Quad to South Quad, it might help for us to think about the 14-year-old boy who told Smith that he walked three days through the jungle to reach the hostel in a Chittagong Hill parish near the border with Myanmar (formerly Burma). The education, the boy said, was his “only hope.” Smith visited a pastor in another jungle parish where four teenage girls were lying on a hostel platform “burning up with malarial fever.” When Smith asked the pastor why he had too few mosquito nets in the hostel, the pastor replied, “We do give nets, but at the first opportunity they take them home for their infant brothers and sisters. They consider themselves able to survive the malaria but they worry about their weaker siblings in the village. They care for the little ones first.”

The Tripura tribe, incidentally, “is embracing Christianity, whole villages at a time, with 600-700 Easter baptisms in each parish each year.” In one village in Kalipur, 86 were baptized this last Christmas.

So the Bouts have a purpose. The program, under the sponsorship of Rich O’Leary and Dave Brown of RecSports, is run by the student officers, president Andrew McGill, and captains Stu Stypula, Stephen Hansen, Mike Hennig, Dan Ward, Chris Calderone, Hunter Land, Lawrence Sullivan and Jesse Brawer. The officers run every aspect of the training but they agree that it would all come to a grinding halt without the student managers, Erika Meyer, Meghan O’Farrell and Melanie Rodarte. Working with Jimmy Rogers of RecSports, the managers maintain impeccable financial, medical, sparring and other records.

The volunteer coaches, Chicago lawyer Terry Johnson, Columbus developer Tom Suddes and University pilot Pat Farrell, are former Bengal champs. The training, under Suddes, builds character. Among the assistant coaches are Sweet C. Robinson of the Buchanan Police Department and former boxers Ryan Rans, Chip Farrell and Judge Roland Chamblee. The Church gets into the act through the chaplains, Fr. Bill Seetch, C.S.C., who is in Rome this term, and Father Brian Daley, S.J., who also coaches, and the timer, Msgr. John Hagerty of Erie, Pa.

If you want to know why this program has not had a serious injury in 76 years, give credit to Dr. James Moriarty, the University chief of medicine, and the Emergency Medical Technicians, led by Terri Engel, who attend every sparring session along with two of the Notre Dame Fire Department paramedics, Jordan Lacy, Baker Jones, Gordon Martinczak, Wayne Bishop and Damien Cruz. Safety is the controlling concern of the medical staff as well as of long-time trainer Jack Zimmerman.

The Bengal Bouts will be held in five sessions, all in the Joyce Center: Feb. 21, 22, 26 and 28, all at 6:30 p.m. and the finals on Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m. The “season ticket,” at $10, is good for all sessions.

St. Joseph Parish in Srimangal is 60 miles long with 70 villages. To finish a hostel to house and educate 50 girls, grades 3-5, from those tribal villages, they need a well, latrines, wiring, fixtures, equipment and furnishings. The cost: $2,800. In Fatima Rani parish in Bandarban, an area infested with malaria and also typhoid and jaundice, they need $1,500 to cover medical care for one year. King of Peace parish in Thanci, the most rural and remote parish in Bangladesh, needs to build a medical dispensary. The parishioners will do the labor but they need $1,500 for materials. The list could go on. These may be trifling amounts to us. But not to them. Those people need the Bengal Bouts. Be there.

Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. He can be reached at (574) 633-4415 or at rice.1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.