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Fr. Joseph Carey reflects on past roles, women’s lacrosse chaplaincy

| Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Fr. Joseph H. Carey has served the Congregation of Holy Cross and Notre Dame in various roles for over 40 years. From working with the University Career Center, the financial aid department, Campus Ministry, the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), teaching Moreau First Year Experience courses and serving as rector of Dillon Hall and priest-in-residence of female dorms the last 15 years.

However, there is another layer to Carey’s time in South Bend. A lifetime fan whose father attended the University, Carey grew up listening to radio broadcasts of the Irish football team. He graduated in 1962 before joining the Congregation of Holy Cross, was ordained in 1969 and returned to the University in 1977. From there, he was closer to the action on the gridiron than he had ever been before.

“There used to be a rotating person for the chaplain for the football team years ago,” Carey said. “So I went with the football team. There would always be a Rector, who … would go for an away game. And so I did that several times. And then I also … did basketball on a rotating basis.”

Carey has interacted with numerous iconic figures in Irish sports history, including former men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps and the great teams he had.

“Going with Digger Phelps to basketball games, I can remember going to UCLA and when John Wooden was the coach, and that was pretty exciting to go into Pauley Pavilion and be there,” Carey said. “We had teams that were really, really great. He had, there were guys that made it to the NBA. We should have won the national championship a few times in the early days of Digger.”

He also mentions legendary Notre Dame football coaches and players, including a particularly famous story from Sept. 24, 1977, about a third-string Irish quarterback who became a Hall of Fame player.

“I was at the Purdue game, I don’t remember [what year] but Joe Montana was third-string quarterback that year,” he said. “… So we were down at Purdue for a game, and the starting quarterback got hurt. And then they put in the second-string guy, and he got hurt. And so then they had to put in Joe Montana.”

Montana came in with the Irish down 24-14 in the fourth quarter, and proceeded to complete 9-14 passes for 154 yards and a touchdown. The “Monongahela Minuteman” led a 17-0 scoring run that won Notre Dame the game before claiming the national championship later that season.

“He was about a sophomore then, and that’s when he came of age, you know,” Carey said of Montana. “I mean, he was terrific and … you know, we were down at halftime and he pulled out that game. So that was pretty darn exciting.”

Carey served as chaplain of the football team that game, but that isn’t the end of his experiences. His cache of narratives includes scrambling to find 100 hosts for the team mass before playing on the road at Georgia Tech.

“We always had mass Saturday morning before the game,” Carey said. “… So I get into the hotel, it’s Friday night, and I look in the mass kit, and they had forgotten to put hosts from the Basilica. So I had to go to a church and say, ‘I’m a priest from Notre Dame, and can I borrow 100 hosts for the Notre Dame football team for our mass?’ So that’s how we had hosts for that mass.”

Some of Carey’s most interesting stories from his time at Notre Dame pertain to a game about a decade later.

“I was there for the ‘88 Notre Dame-Miami game that was about the movie ‘Catholics vs. Convicts,’” he said. “That was the greatest football game I ever saw.”

Carey was rector of Dillon Hall at the time and knew several of the football players on Notre Dame’s 1988 championship team. He recalls a story of Irish quarterback Tony Rice, a former Dillon resident, who couldn’t participate in football activities his freshman season due to Proposition 48 rules.

“Here was this kid, and he couldn’t even go to practice,” Carey said. “So he would get guys in the hall, he’d be out in the south quad throwing passes to people and everyone, people walking by, [ask], ‘why isn’t that kid on the team?’”

When 1988 rolled around, the Irish were trying to reassert themselves as a national power, and the team in their way was the Miami Hurricanes. At the same time, a Notre Dame student by the name of Pat Walsh was making money by selling T-shirts on Notre Dame’s campus.

Walsh was the focus of the ESPN 30 for 30 recounting the events surrounding the game between the Irish and the Hurricanes. He provided friend and former Notre Dame basketball captain Joe Fredrick with T-shirts brandishing “Catholics vs. Convicts,” a slogan Frederick’s brother came up with after seeing Miami football players arrested that offseason.

Walsh also sold his own shirts on the day of the game, and ended up involving Carey in the plot.

“[Pat Walsh] lived in Dillon and a bunch of his salesmen worked in Dillon,” Carey said. “… He was afraid of getting robbed because he lived off-campus his senior year. So … he called me up and he [asked] would I hold the money over the weekend because he was afraid of getting robbed.

“The amount of it was at least $14,000 in cash. A lot of tens and twenties.”

Carey said his stories could go on and on. He’s since taken a step back from sports like football and basketball, and recommended Fr. Pete McCormick for the full-time role of men’s basketball chaplain.

“He says it was the greatest phone call of his life,” Carey said of McCormick accepting the position.

Recently though, Carey was introduced to a whole new sport: women’s lacrosse.

“Actually, it happened in Ireland,” he said. “I was, about two years ago, there was a Notre Dame program called ‘Inside Track’ where we went to Ireland for a 10-day immersion into Ireland. And there were eight of the women lacrosse players on the trip. I got to know them all, and then they wanted me to become their chaplain.”

He served his inaugural year as chaplain of the team last season before the season was cut short because of COVID-19.

“They make a big deal out of the fact that I was the only undefeated chaplain in America,” Carey said, “because they were 7-0 when the season ended and No. 2 in the country.”

Carey says he got a crash course in the sport soon after joining the team.

“I didn’t know much about women’s lacrosse until I started going to practices and learned a great deal about it,” he said. “It’s a really great sport. It’s fast and … it’s sort of like basketball in a sense, in that it’s based on speed and the defense is man-to-man or so on.”

He’s also managed to build a strong relationship with the team thanks to some activities off the field.

“I go to practice, I go to their games,” he said. “We go to Rocco’s for pizza during the season. That’s how it helped me to get to know them all. We went in small groups, and that was a big part of it. And we do mass usually the day before a game. It’s really important to them, and they bring a lot of energy and excitement to everything.”

Photo courtesy of Samantha Lynch
Fr. Joseph Carey (center) poses with the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team during a team dinner at Rocco’s Restaurant in South Bend. Carey has served one year as chaplain of the squad, during which the team went undefeated before their season’s cancellation, earning him the nickname “the only undefeated chaplain in America.”

Carey’s ties to lacrosse run even deeper, as his great-nephew, three-star Inside lacrosse recruit Jack Conroy, is a part of the Notre Dame’s men’s team’s 2020 recruiting class.

“My love of sports is particularly Notre Dame, anything Notre Dame plays,” he said. “I don’t go to many soccer games, but I’m going to try to this year because I like to support them. I like hockey, I like men’s basketball, women’s basketball. I started going years ago when women’s basketball just began at Notre Dame, the big joke was that the players knew the names of all the fans, there were so few people there.”

Carey is especially enthused for the women’s lacrosse team and what they can do with everything they’ve built and bring back.

“[Head coach] Chris Halfpenny has created a culture of the women’s lacrosse team which is about both the development of them as players and students,” Carey said. “… [Junior midfielder] Andie Aldave was first-team All-American this past year, and just is an amazing, amazing player. And then there’s [junior] Bridget Deehan, the goalie. She made All-American last year. And just a solid nucleus of players who are really dedicated.”

Carey also commented on how much anticipation the team has for next season.

“They know how many days it is — the day that Notre Dame’s season came to an end, they were on the way to play North Carolina, who was No. 1, and coming back Bridget [Deehan] counted the days until Memorial Day 2021 when we’ll be playing for the national championship,” he said. “And that was before they knew the other people were going to be able to come back [with another year of eligibility], so they have such great experience and good players. So it’s amazing.”

As for right now, Carey is residing in Corby Hall with fellow Holy Cross priests. He has cherished his time as the priest-in-residence of Ryan Hall, where he took part in a Tuesday night tradition of baking cookies and serving ice cream after dorm masses.

He still enjoys sharing stories of Notre Dame coaches and players. He says Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz are his favorite football coaches, although he was sure Holtz would win more than one championship in South Bend. He also remembers coach Gerry Faust fondly for the person he was, even if he didn’t have much success on the gridiron.

But Carey’s mind is still on his current team and what they can do this semester given the opportunity.

“I really love that team and try to do as much as I can for them and encouraging them and learning about their sport and knowing what’s happening and all the intricacies of it,” he said. “I never thought I would learn a new sport like that … We have great players and it’s going to be a great year.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is the former sports editor of The Observer. When he's not working toward his four majors (physics and film, television & theatre) and three minors (journalism, ethics & democracy), you can probably find him hopelessly trying to save his beloved Zahm House from being wiped out. He plans to attend law school at a TBD location after graduation.

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