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Fr. Riehle dies at 83 after brief illness

Chris Hine | Thursday, October 30, 2008

Rev. James Riehle, C.S.C., chaplain to Notre Dame sports teams for nearly three decades and former dean of students died at Holy Cross House Wednesday. He was 83.

Riehle’s died following a brief illness, the University said.

“He was a man’s man. He was always interested in sports…” said University president emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, who gave Riehle his final blessings before he died. “He was a good friend because I sat next to him over at the dining hall at Holy Cross Hall and I knew a good deal about him. I saw him every day. We were good friends.”

Riehle, who enjoyed cigar smoking and playing golf, began his role as chaplain in 1966 and served his first football game in that capacity on Nov. 19 of that year – Notre Dame’s classic 10-10 tie with Michigan State, when the Irish were ranked No. 1 and the Spartans were No. 2.

Riehle, who graduated from Notre Dame in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, played the football team’s chaplain in the 1993 movie “Rudy,” and was featured in an Adidas football commercial with former Notre Dame and Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Montana in which he asked Montana: “What did you ever end up doing after you left college?”

But beyond his association with Notre Dame athletics, Riehle served in many offices at Notre Dame, including dean of students from 1967-73, during the student protests of the Vietnam War. At universities around the country, some student protests against the Vietnam War turned violent, but not at Notre Dame, where Hesburgh said students could protest as long as they did not disrupt classes or University business. Hesburgh said Riehle did a “very good job” enforcing this policy in a pragmatic way.

“About 250 of my fellow presidents were fired at that time, or died, or just left in frustration during that period,” Hesburgh said. “We had, like every university, a fairly rough time but we came through without any big disruption of class or the University. Fr. Riehle stood firm on the policy that I put out that it was OK to protest in any way one wanted, but you shouldn’t disrupt the life of the University.

“And they tried to shut down one of the University offices, and Fr. Riehle said, ‘Either you leave here or you’re gone.’ He applied the policy that I had laid down. The students went along so it was successful. I give him some credit for getting us through the revolution with a minimum of pain and strain.”

Hesburgh said Riehle was able to enforce the policy because he had a good rapport with the students and as a result, Notre Dame became a model for other schools dealing with the student revolution.

“He was very good with students,” Hesburgh said. “They say he was in the hot seat during all of the student revolution, but he met with them very often. The fact is we were one of the few universities that not only did not have serious disruptions, but we gave leadership to the others. And when we faced possible disruptions successfully, that was the end of the era. Things went quietly after that across the land.”

After leaving his post as dean of students, Riehle became the rector of Pangborn Hall in 1973 and served there until 1985. Riehle had previously been rector of Sorin Hall in 1966 and chaplain of Sorin Hall in 1964.

He was also chairman of the board of directors for the University Club from 1971-77 and director of energy conservation.

Riehle also served as the executive director of the Monogram Club from 1978 through 2002 and in 2001, Riehle received the 2001 Moose Krause Man of the Year Award from the club.

Riehle was named an honorary member of the Monogram Club, something Hesburgh said was very important to him.

The intramural fields near the Stepan Center were also named in his honor.

On Sunday, a visitation will begin at 3:30 at Moreau Seminary and a wake will be held at 7:30. A funeral mass will be held Monday at 3:30 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Jay Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.