University hosts memorial services honoring Parseghian
Courtney Becker | Sunday, August 6, 2017
Legendary Notre Dame football coach Ara Parseghian was a “tremendous individual,” former football coach Lou Holtz said.
“A lot of people can be successful, but Ara was significant,” he said. “Significance is when you help other people be successful. Of course, that lasts many a lifetime.”
Holtz spoke Sunday at a ceremony honoring Parseghian, who died Wednesday at the age of 94, following a memorial Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
University President Fr. John Jenkins said in his homily that during his era as Notre Dame’s football coach, Parseghian, who led the program to a 95-17-4 record and national titles in 1966 and 1973, was “revered” by the student body.
“When it would rain during football games, a chant from the student section would go up: ‘Ara, stop the rain. Ara, stop the rain.’ His accomplishments as a coach were so remarkable that we attributed to him almost supernatural powers,” Jenkins said in the homily. “The confidence was well deserved.”
In his first season as head coach, Parseghian turned around a team that had finished with a 2-7 record the previous year, finishing the season at 9-1. Jenkins said this improvement was largely due to Parseghian’s mentorship of his players.
“To accomplish that feat, a coach needs — and Ara certainly had — a mastery of the complex technique and strategies of football,” he said. “That’s not enough. A coach needs the ability to lead and shape a group of young men to believe in themselves and to dedicate themselves to a common goal. … Ara Parseghian was much more than a football coach. He was, most of all, a teacher and leader of men. As such, he not only achieved success on the field — he changed lives.”
One of the lives Parseghian changed was that of Peter Schivarelli, a former football player and member of the class of ’71. Parseghian, who Schivarelli said “had a bigger influence on me than even my own father,” inspired his players with his work ethic.
“I quickly realized that no matter how hard we worked, Ara always outworked us,” Schivarelli said at the memorial ceremony. “We always felt that we were totally prepared for any situation. Ara always brought a special strength to the team — especially when he would say to us that, ‘We have no breaking point.’”
Parseghian also served as a mentor to other coaches at the University, former Notre Dame basketball coach Richard “Digger” Phelps said during the ceremony.
“I would say, as a young coach, the success I had as young as I was — that part of my life, it was Ara being my big brother and my mentor,” Phelps said. “He was incredible when it came to being who he was and how he was, especially in letting me learn and know and understand how to coach here at Notre Dame.”
After Parseghian left Notre Dame, he continued to serve others through his work with the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation, which he started in 1994 to fund research for a cure for Niemann-Pick Type C disease (NPC) after three of his grandchildren died from the illness. Despite painful losses in his life, Jenkins said, Parseghian refused to be broken.
“After his coaching career ended, Ara lost his daughter, Karan, to [multiple sclerosis],” Jenkins said during his homily. “And with his son, Michael, and his daughter-in-law, Cindy, he endured the pain of losing three young, beautiful grandchildren to Niemann-Pick Type C disease. Such losses crush many people. They did not crush Ara, Michael, Cindy, Katie and their family. … Again, the work of Ara and his family [has] helped change the lives of future generations of children, and of those who love them.”
It was this work, Jenkins said, that set Parseghian apart from other legendary football coaches in the University’s history.
“Ara Parseghian was a great coach because he won football games,” he said. “He was a great man because he changed the lives of those around him. Many here can attest to that. For that reason, we gather to give thanks for Ara’s life, and give thanks that — in some way — each of us were part of that life.”
The legacy Parseghian left as a coach and a man will live on, Holtz said.
“Ara Parseghian will live for many, many generations,” he said during the memorial ceremony. “Why? Because of the people he affected. He affected me, and the players that I affected were affected because of Ara Parseghian. I cannot say enough. Yes, we’re sad. I lost a friend, I lost a mentor, I lost a fellow coach and I lost a golfing partner. But ladies and gentlemen, I tend to focus on how fortunate and how blessed I was to be around such a positive influence in my life as Ara Parseghian.”
Parseghian’s nephew, Tom Parseghian, who delivered a eulogy following the Mass, said Ara felt just as blessed to have been a member of the Notre Dame family.
“Ara many times had spoken to how meaningful it was for him to be chosen to join the Notre Dame family,” he said. “He described the first time he drove down Notre Dame Avenue, and as the Golden Dome came into view, it sent a chill down his spine. In 1964, before being offered the job, [then-University President Fr. Theodore Hesburgh] asked him a question: ‘Ara, will you adhere to the standards of integrity we expect here at Notre Dame?’ He verbally answered that question that day, and he continued to answer that question for the next 53 years.”
In his opening remarks at the Mass, Jenkins said the memorial was particularly relevant because it fell on the anniversary of the death of one of Parseghian’s granddaughters, Marcia.
“[Today] we celebrate Ara’s life,” he said. “It’s also the anniversary of the death of Marcia — who was Ara’s granddaughter — today, and so we remember her. We remember her with hope. Because our hope is that Ara is now with [his] grandkids and [his] daughter, who preceded him in death, playing and laughing and smiling.”
Phelps closed his remarks during the ceremony by paying tribute to Parseghian’s relationship with his wife, Katie.
“There’s a lady on the Dome,” he said. “She’s the Blessed Mother. But Katie, she was the heart and soul by his side until he passed. May he rest in peace. Ara, we miss you.”