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The Judge Judy side of the ND scholarship

Gary Caruso | Thursday, November 30, 2006

The 1994 Viewpoint page with Reverend Robert F. Griffin’s column, “Letters to a Lonely God,” fell from a shelf when I searched for my passport this week. It was the third time in November that Griffin had intruded into my life, but the words on that page were the most final of thoughts. He had written that, at the age of 69, he finally bought his first bed without the assistance of others.

He wrote, “If I am lucky, it’s the bed I will die on. The luck would be in not dying on a mattress soiled in sin at some cheap one-night stand hotel; or in a nursing home where I would be taking my turn, playing follow the leader with all those other terminal cases who have popped off to eternity from the same launching pad … A hospital bed must be a very lonely place to die.”

Father “Griff” has drifted in and out of my life for nearly 35 years, even after his death in 1999 when I joined others to promote a scholarship at Notre Dame in his name. But he recently invaded my life in a most unwelcome manner when the Notre Dame Ticket Office wrote me this month to say that our football ticket purchasing privileges were suspended for two years as a result of profiting from the resale of tickets.

I had listed tickets on eBay in an effort to help raise $100,000 to fund the scholarship at its minimum level. Fortunately, the ticket office held to the fair but tough standards that Judge Judy uses for her court. It also helped that I could forward to the ticket office a communication from the Development Office acknowledging my earmark for the scholarship. While I could not escape a Judge Judy experience, I learned that future attempts to sell football tickets require collaboration with the athletic department.

Griffin is one of the “Angels of Notre Dame,” those many unique individuals who throughout the years touch students of every generation and heal their souls. Each of these “Angels” deserves memorializing, and the process is easier than enduring a half-hour before Judge Judy.

The Development Office manages scholarships, established at the donor’s behest for the minimum $100,000 level and will list the benefactor’s name on the campus Scholarships and Fellowships Recognition Wall. Initially, contributions are pooled with the Notre Dame Endowment (earning more than 14.5% each year) and the interest is reinvested until the fund reaches a $25,000 minimum. At that time, financial aid is distributed to qualifying students. However, once fully funded, the scholarship is officially named.

Our goal is to raise an average of $15,000 per year (10 donors giving $1,500 each per year for 7 years), which will reach the $100,000 level by 2014. My thought is that 200 of Griff’s closest friends should contribute $500 each next year to fast track the task. I urge anyone who admires someone within the Notre Dame community to consider creating a scholarship of their own.

Championing such a terrific memorial for any of our “Angels” is a worthy and noble gesture that keeps their spirits alive on campus. Griffin served as a Chaplain for the Glee Club and in the Campus Ministry. He founded Darby’s Place in the basement of LaFortune Center where he served as a counselor and friend to countless students after midnight.

His many Observer columns were compiled in his book, “In the Kingdom of the Lonely God,” where he demonstrates a remarkable talent with the English language. Griffin could soothe suffering, counsel heartache, share joy and console peace even in absolute silence during the early morning hours that nudged sunrise, his alarm clock for sleep. Those in need of solace always found comfort through him.

I am personally appreciative of Griff’s love and selfless life, almost to the same point of loyalty shown from his many cocker spaniels named “Darby.” While I do not know how many souls he may have healed, he is an Archangel in my mind because he taught me to appreciate and understand life. Griffin almost never corresponded with others, yet I received a letter from him the summer after my graduation. It seems only fitting that as a holder of such a rare item I promote his legacy with a scholarship.

His 1994 Observer column predates Griffin’s death by five years, but concludes with a foreboding of his life’s end. He asks for four angels – one to watch, one to pray and two to bear his soul away. He concludes with, “May flights of angels sing me to my rest, though not soon.”

May he and all Notre Dame Angels who have implanted bits of wisdom into our souls never be forgotten … and guide us through the Judge Judy moments each of us inevitably encounters throughout our lives.

Gary Caruso, Notre Dame ’73, is a political strategist who served as a legislative and public affairs director in President Clinton’s administration. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at

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