The Notre Dame community responded with characteristic generosity to the earthquake disaster in Haiti. Every year at this time, however, we remind ourselves of another nation, comparable in some respects to Haiti, in which Notre Dame is involved. That is Bangladesh, roughly the size of Wisconsin with a population about half that of the United States. In Bangladesh, 57.45 infants die out of every 1,000 live births; in Haiti, 62.33; in the United States, 6.3. The per capita income in 2008, in U.S. dollars, in Bangladesh was $1,500; in Haiti, $1,300; in the United States, $47,000. Cyclones and other natural disasters are frequent and severe in Bangladesh including, in September 1998, the most severe flooding in modern world history. It destroyed 300,000 houses, killed over 1,000 people and made 30 million homeless. Two-thirds of the country was underwater.
Since 1853, Holy Cross missionaries have labored in Bangladesh. Today they include 140 priests and 63 brothers. All but 19 are Bangladeshi. More than 70 Holy Cross sisters also serve there. Bangladesh is 89.7 percent Islam, 9.2 percent Hindu, 0.7 percent Buddhist, and 0.3 percent Christian. Because conversion from Islam, the state religion, is illegal, the missionaries work among tribal groups who had never embraced Hinduism, Buddhism or Islam and are predominantly Catholic. The missionaries serve the spiritual needs of all the Christian faithful and the dire material needs — especially educational — of all Bangladeshis.
The “tribal groups,” said Fr. Frank Quinlivan, Class of 1966, the Holy Cross provincial of Bangladesh, “are often neglected, isolated and marginalized. Holy Cross is in eight tribal parishes in four dioceses. Those children who pass Class 5 come to the parish center for high school. There are no high schools in the villages. The parish provides a hostel, one for the boys and one for the girls. Only in this way can they attend school. The children are able to eat regularly and to get medical care they cannot get in the villages. Parents, however, can almost never afford the hostel costs, a little over $20 a month. Finding the money to educate these children is a constant concern in all our parishes: Education is essential for the very survival of these tribal groups.”
Since 1931, Bengal Bouts has become the largest single contributor to those missions. The boxers themselves run the program, under the supervision of Boxing Club Administrator Vince Voss and the director, Terry Johnson, a Chicago attorney and former Bengals champ. Seniors Patrick Burns and Chris Cugliari are co-presidents of the Boxing Club. The senior captains are Will Burroughs, Michael Sayles, Tim Thayer, John Maier and Nic Ponzio. The junior captains are Bobby Powers, Dominic Golab and John Tchoula. The captains organize and run the practices, a major job since, for the second year in a row, more than 300 boxers are in the program. That number will decline as the boxers experience the creatively onerous workouts imposed by Tom Suddes, a Columbus developer and former Bengals champ who donates several weeks each year to the program. This can be unnerving because Tom does the workouts himself, a potentially embarrassing motivator for the much younger boxers. Tom and Notre Dame pilot Pat Farrell are the head coaches. The assistant coaches include Sweet C. Robinson of the Buchanan Police Department and former boxers Pat Ryan, Pete Ryan, Kevin Smith, Thad Naquin, Ryan Rans, Chip Farrell and Superior Court Judge Roland Chamblee, who also exercises judicial restraint as a corner-man at the Bouts. Holy Mother Church and the Jesuits are involved through Fr. Brian Daley who coaches and, like Tom Suddes, works out with the boxers.
Dr. Jim Moriarty runs the medical and safety program which has avoided serious injury for the entire 80 years since the Bouts were first organized by Dominic J. “Nappy” Napolitano. Emergency Medical Technical Terri Engel attends every session and maintains the sparring and medical records. The two practice rings are closely monitored by Notre Dame Fire Department EMTs, including Steve Serbalik, Lee Anne Feher, Nadeem Haque, Sean Bradley, Zinaida Peterson, Olivia Mahon, Brian Bush and Frannie Rudolph, and by Bonnie Chow, Bert Williams and Serene Cuenco who work for Rec Sports as “professional rescuers” (no kidding; their shirts say so). They are all very effective.
The real operators, The Indispensables, without whom the entire Boxing Club would implode, are the managers, Ashley Mensch, Katherine Johnston, Kelly Garvey, Catherine Cooney and Meghan Rolfs. They cheerfully handle, with impressive efficiency and ease, an endless array of financial, administrative and other details.
Over the past two years the boxers themselves have raised the program to a new level. Several boxers raised travel money to go to Bangladesh where, with the help of Notre Dame film professor and former Bengals boxer William Donaruma, Class of 1989, and cinematographer John Klein, Class of 2006, they made a full-length film, “Strong Bodies Fight,” detailing the realities and needs of the mission. “Our goal,” said Mark Weber, last year’s president and producer of the film, “is to transform the connection [with Bangladesh] from sending them an annual check to an actual relationship. It went from an abstract mission to something we could see and touch.” Tom Suddes oversaw the project and raised the needed money to finance it by simply writing a letter to Bengals alumni who, as Tom put it, “want to give back for what the Bengal Bouts did for them.” The Center for Social Concerns is developing a summer service program for Boxing Club members to go to Bangladesh and work in the missions. The Autumn 2008 edition of Notre Dame Magazine carried a feature article on the film. To view a trailer and learn more about the film, see www.strongbodiesfight.org
Bengal Bouts will be held in four sessions this year: preliminaries on Feb. 13 at 1 p.m.; quarterfinals on Feb. 16 at 6 p.m.; semifinals on Feb. 23 at 7 p.m.; and finals on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m. The first three sessions will be in the Joyce Center Field House and the finals in the Purcell Pavillion. The all-session general admission pass is $15.
Last year Bengal Bouts contributed $50,000 to the missions in Bangladesh. Compared to the federal budget, that may seem like chump change. But among the “ultra poor” served by the Holy Cross missionaries in Bangladesh, the $10.49 you casually spend for a Papa John’s large pizza would feed a family of four for three weeks. Those people need the Bengal Bouts. And they need our support.
Professor Emeritus Rice is on the law school faculty and is an assistant coach of the Boxing Club. He may be reached at 574-633-4415 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.