Not worshiping ash, but preserving fire

Let me tell you a story. A couple of months ago, I was at an establishment at the Duncan Student Center that definitely shall not be named, securing a late lunch of chicken nuggets and waffle fries one Tuesday afternoon. Unfortunately, one of said chicken nuggets was exceptionally crispy, so much so that it chipped one of my teeth! And thus I was required to schedule a dentist appointment to get that taken care of. Eventually, once all was said and done, in early November I was able to get in to have my teeth X-rayed, and the dentist arrived at the conclusion that the cavity that had formed would need a root canal. So a couple of weeks later, I returned for the dentist to prepare my tooth for the root canal process, only for the dentist to find that the situation was not as bad as she had anticipated. I would only need a crown to handle the problem with that tooth. She placed a temporary crown over my tooth, and by the time you’re reading this, that crown will have been replaced with a permanent one.

You might be thinking: “Devin, where’s the ‘Law’ and ‘the Lord’ in this story?” I propose to you, dear reader of this column, that my dentist’s process in fixing my tooth serves as an allegory for how we should treat our traditions, both in the Church and in our law. Since the Dobbs decision, much ink has been spilled criticizing the Court’s reliance on “history and tradition” in key cases from issues ranging from abortion to gun rights and everything in between, but I contend that most of this commentary is suspicious of tradition less on the principle that tradition as a general matter is suspect, but rather on the content of our nation’s traditions themselves. Thus, whether one supports the Court’s formulation of the “history and tradition” test or not, there is something to be gleaned from these critiques of being too quick to defer to traditions we haven’t examined for whether or not they hold up to the contemporary scrutiny that even those of us who tend instead to hold the idea of tradition in high regard can keep in mind.

I’ve been privileged to be a part of the Notre Dame Chorale this semester, and we had our two performances of Handel’s Messiah last Friday and Saturday at DPAC. Before the Friday concert, our esteemed director, Alex Blachly, imparted words of wisdom upon us as we took the stage, quoting Gustav Mahler (who may have himself been quoting St. Thomas More?) in saying that “tradition,” properly understood, “is not the worship of ashes but the preservation of fire.” But then how do we tell the difference between ash and fire in the traditions onto which many of us hold so dearly? Building upon the story of my recent dental work, I think there are three things we should take to heart in examining our traditions.

The first requires a bit of explanation. My mother encouraged me to be just a tad more scrupulous than normal about how the dental procedures for placing my permanent crown were unfolding. She explained that if I’m not careful to make sure on my end that the bite feels natural, it’ll be a similar feeling to when a grain of sand is stuck between your teeth – sure, it’s small, but in your mouth it feels quite big indeed. In other words, while it may be necessary to fill the hole in my tooth or even put on a crown to restore said tooth to its former form, if the dentist were to try to use that as an opportunity to reshape my bite, the results would be incredibly annoying. So too with our traditions: while sometimes our traditions require re-examination, especially with an eye to restoring something from which we have gone astray, we should be careful about how we go about it. Over-innovation may be as small as a grain of sand, but when all’s said and done, it could make the whole difference.

The second is this: my dentist did not simply jump to making me go through a root canal surgery. She was careful about how much of my tooth she drilled and filed away, and when all was said and done the root canal could be avoided in favor of just a crown. The point? Sometimes it doesn’t take reinventing the wheel to fix a problem, a fact that we only realize if we’re careful enough about how much of the old we get rid of at any given point in time.

Third and finally: the dentist gave me a temporary crown a couple weeks ago to get me through until they had the permanent crown available. That temporary crown was meant to ensure that my teeth didn’t move around in the time between my first and second appointments, and it succeeded in doing that job quite well. So it is, too, with how we handle traditions that need to change: sometimes it takes time to craft the new well, and we need something to fill the gap between the old and the new. In such situations, we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, because having something in place to get us by is just as important as having something better and more permanent down the road. So as we continue to think, individually, in the communities in which we find ourselves a part, and in our nation, about the traditions that shape us and how we can shape those traditions in turn, let’s let our amendments to those traditions not stick out like a grain of sand in our mouths. Let’s take care not to put our traditions through a root canal surgery when a crown would do just fine, and let’s make sure that when we go about changing things when that change is necessary, we think about what “temporary crown” we need to get from A to B.

Have a blessed rest of your Advent, and if you weren’t able to catch the Chorale’s performance of the Messiah, you can listen to our live-stream video on Facebook!

Devin Humphreys is a 3L at Notre Dame Law School. When he isn’t serving as the sacristan at the Law School Chapel or competing at a quiz bowl tournament, he’s sharing his thoughts on the legal developments of the day with anyone who will listen. For advice on law school, hot takes on Mass music and free scholarly publication ideas, reach out to Devin at

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


Ask The Observer: What happened to Quarter Dogs?

March 2020 marked the beginning of a two-month hiatus away from campus for Notre Dame students. It also marked the beginning of an indefinite, and potentially permanent, hiatus of a campus culinary staple: Quarter Dogs. 

Quarter Dogs were hot dogs sold for 25 cents after midnight in Huddle Mart housed in LaFortune Student Center. Students would file into the Huddle, load up a paper tray with as many buns as they wanted, grab the franks from a heated tray, apply their desired toppings, pay for the subsidized late-night meal with flex points and then loiter in the 69-year old student center while enjoying their meals.

“There was a culture about it,” Pasquerilla West resident assistant (RA) Jade Fung said.

Campus Dining director Luigi Alberganti said in an email it is unlikely that Quarter Dogs will return at a similar pricing model due to today’s “inflationary environment and increased labor costs.”

Stanford Hall assistant rector John Hale would make the short trek to LaFortune Student Center about three times a week as an undergraduate. Though the low price helped draw customers, Hale said the value lay outside the affordability.

“They were a huge part of my Notre Dame experience,” he said.

After a late night of studying, hanging out in LaFortune and eating quarter dogs was a great way to initiate “cross-campus dialogue,” Hale said. The student center is located near the center of campus and draws students from all parts of campus, he added.

“My kind of philosophical take on [quarter dogs] is that human beings need companionship, we need tradition,” Hale said. “I think that if you eliminate wholesome traditions, I think they will be replaced with less wholesome things. So I think quarter dogs are a super innocent, fun, good way to promote culture within the dorms.”

In Alumni Hall, resident Dawgs often avoid eating hot dogs.

“You don’t eat dogs in Alumni. You eat sausage. You eat brats,” rector Jay Verzosa said.

There was one dorm-sponsored exception to this rule: a Sunday night tradition called Grotto Dawgs. Each Sunday night after Mass, Alumni residents traveled to the Grotto to pray as a community and then hike over to LaFortune to feast on Quarter Dogs.

The tradition began in Sept. 2014 and lasted until the suspension of Quarter Dogs in 2020. 

Quarter Dogs never appealed to Nathaniel Burke, a senior RA in Alumni.

“I always say to people, whatever money they’re saving [by eating quarter dogs], they’re going to have to pay back in paying for colon cancer treatment or something like that,” Burke joked.

Though the processed meat involved doesn’t appeal to Burke, he said Alumni residents loved the tradition. 

“There’s a lot of attraction to it just because it’s kind of a hilarious idea,” he said. “I know there are dudes that enjoyed the concept and did eat them.”

Alberganti estimated about a thousand quarter dogs were sold each week. The dogs were subsidized in an attempt to keep students on campus.

During her freshman year, Fung initially found Quarter Dogs gross.

“In the beginning, I was like, ‘that sounds nasty,’” she said.

One day in the second semester, she tried a Quarter Dog at the urging of her friends and was surprised to find she enjoyed the experience.

Fung said the elimination of Quarter Dogs reflects a change in the campus culture following the pandemic.

“I think there’s a lot of things that happened before COVID that are just gone on campus and the culture of campus has just changed,” she said. “I feel like being on campus was definitely way more fun and engaging and random [before COVID].”

It’s unclear whether Quarter Dogs will ever return in any capacity, but if they do, Hale said it is crucial that they are called Quarter Dogs, regardless of the price. He said he would pay up to $2 a piece for a “Quarter Dog.”

“Even with inflation and everything, if they became 50 cent dogs I don’t care,” he said. “I just know, no matter what they cost, they should always be called Quarter Dogs.”

Contact Ryan Peters at


From the Archives: A history of the senior marshmallow toss

This past weekend, Notre Dame’s football game against Boston College featured an abundance of fluffy white objects flying through the air. A number of these objects were, of course, snowflakes; but following tradition, seniors also celebrated their final home football game by throwing marshmallows en masse.

This week, From the Archives looks at the history of the senior marshmallow toss. The origin of this tradition is, as evident in the heated debate on internet forums, still unclear. However, Observer reporting over the years captures the ubiquitous controversy surrounding the student deployment of projectiles — which, in the past, have included not just harmless marshmallows but treacherous toilet paper and harmful aquatic animals. Ultimately, the stories below reveal the extremes to which seniors will go to participate in the tossing of objects and commemorate (or perhaps lament) their final Notre Dame football game.

The obscure origins of the senior marshmallow tradition

Sept. 13, 1989 | Janice Archer | Nov. 16, 1989 | James Otteson | Nov. 19, 2007 | Joseph McMahon | ND Nation Discussion Board | Researched by Thomas Dobbs

This past weekend during the football contest between Notre Dame and Boston College, a careful spectator would have observed members of the senior class participating in a student tradition whose origins are wrapped in ambiguity: the senior marshmallow toss. 

Some claim the tradition began in the 1970s with students tossing rolls of toilet paper. Others point to its origin in the late 1980s when Notre Dame students threw marshmallows and oranges onto the field, in apparent anticipation of an expected Orange Bowl bid in 1989.

Mention of the “marshmallow wars,” however, first appeared in the Observer on Sept. 13, 1989. Referring to Notre Dame’s final home game of the 1988 season, Janice Archer wrote that at halftime “marshmallows flew in the rain as students hurled them at one another.”

According to Archer, the “sticky fun” of the marshmallow toss was coordinated by a newly-formed club named Irish Insanity. Erich Straub ‘90 founded the club in the prior year, citing his desire to create a “single pep club” that would match Notre Dame’s “unparalleled” student body.

Though the official origin of the marshmallow tradition is unclear, the earliest Observer reporting on the “marshmallow wars” came in 1989 in reference to the new Irish Insanity club (pictured above), which coordinated a halftime marshmallow toss at a 1988 football game against Penn State. Observer archives, Sept. 13, 1989.

Not all, however, shared an appreciation for the new marshmallow tradition. In a Letter to the Editor, James Otteson argued that students who were “fervently throwing marshmallows and cups at each other” demonstrated that “they were unable to act responsibly on their own.”

Otteson believed that the administration should have acted after Irish Insanity “coach[ed] the students before the game in preparation for the marshmallow wars.”

Despite some viewing the marshmallow toss as immature or wasteful, many seniors see the tradition as an innocent way to celebrate their last home football game as students. After a disappointing 2007 season where Notre Dame’s first and only home victory came on senior day, Nick Ransom ‘08 shared that he enjoyed the marshmallow tradition “even more so because nobody cared about the game that much.”

While current and future seniors certainly do not hope that the marshmallow wars will be the defining memory as a student cheering in Notre Dame Stadium, this year’s edition of the marshmallow tradition provided a sweet reward to a string of Notre Dame victories.

Not just marshmallows: A brief history of other objects thrown at Notre Dame football games

 Oct. 12, 1977 | Letter to Editor | Nov. 5, 1998 | Spencer Stefko | Nov. 2, 1998 | Michelle Krupa | May 14, 1999 | Tim Logan | Researched by Cade Czarnecki

While the current projectile of choice for Notre Dame seniors is the marshmallow, an assortment of other objects have historically been thrown around the student section.

As early as 1977, students were tossing toilet paper rolls as a means of entertainment and humor at Notre Dame football games and pep rallies. Students claimed they intended it in good fun, though some took offense when cheerleaders were hit at a pep rally.

In response to this violent act, the University made one of its first efforts to minimize the throwing of projectiles at football-related events by issuing a statement telling the students to stop.

To no one’s surprise, students did not always listen to administrative authority. One especially bold student, Robert Jacques, sarcastically wrote in a letter to the editor about the efficacy of University statements: “Of course, local retailers will be forbidden the right to sell papers to ND students.”

The toilet paper proved to be the least of the University’s concerns in the following decades, though. In 1998, sea life began to make its way into Notre Dame Stadium.

A student flaunts an octopus during a 1998 football game, indicating the extreme evolution of the senior marshmallow toss. Observer archives, Nov. 2, 1998.

Reports of squids, fish and frogs being thrown at football games became somewhat common in the late 1990s. Most agreed that the line had been crossed but perpetrators were hard to identify.

At the same time, ushers began cracking down on marshmallows being brought into games as students had begun stuffing the sugar blobs with coins and golf tees in order to add weight to their projectiles and achieve a further throw.

Marshmallow violators were often ejected, but the aquatic life hurlers were never identified. The debauchery reached its peak in 1998 when a frog hit a 10-year-old girl in the face and resulted in severe lacerations.

A student flings a frog during halftime of an October 1998 football game versus Baylor. The increased use of marine projectiles that season induced multiple injuries, with victims including a 10-year-old girl. Observer archives, April 14, 1999.

Chuck Hurley, assistant director of Notre Dame Security tried to put an end to such actions and simultaneously salvage the University’s reputation, saying, “This is really out of character for Notre Dame.”

Yet, Colleen Killina, a Saint Mary’s senior in 1998, put student attitudes about the projectile launching tradition best: “People are still going to do it no matter what [the punishment is].”

Killina’s prediction has proven quite astute in regard to the marshmallows, although it has been over two decades since marine life was thrown at a football game.

Marshmallows become cause for ejections 

Oct. 17, 2003 | Scott Brodfuehrer | Nov. 20, 2003  | Matthew Klobucher, Ryan Gagnet, Kevin Conley and John McCarthy | Nov. 21, 2005 | Maddie Hanna | Researched by Lilyann Gardner

The annual senior marshmallow toss has always been about fun and games for Notre Dame students, but stadium ushers and personnel have been tasked year after year with shutting down these antics. 

Ushers under the direction of Cappy Gagnon, coordinator of stadium personnel, ejected hundreds of students throughout the football seasons of the early 2000s as stadium personnel believed that students were stuffing the marshmallows with small items such as pennies and golf tees.

Notre Dame seniors throw marshmallows at the last football game of the 2005 season, a contest at which 43 students were ejected for participating in the traditional tossing. Observer archives, Nov. 21, 2005.

“Gagnon said that his ushers, in addition to Notre Dame Security/Police officers, would be looking for ‘ringleaders’ during half time — students who are throwing a large amount of marshmallows,” wrote Scott Brodfuehrer (‘04). “However, he would not rule out the possibility that a student who threw just one marshmallow could be ejected.” 

The University claimed that all of these ejections were a necessary measure to prevent potential injuries or damage to NBC’s camera equipment, but several students shared that it was ridiculous to have a handful of students take the fall for the many participants. 

“It is hard to imagine more harmless things to throw, and we find it hard to believe that many students have been harboring such injurious designs of their peers by hiding by concealing coins and rocks within,” wrote seniors Matthew Klobucher, Ryan Gagnet, Kevin Conley and John McCarthy.

The aforementioned students from Stanford and Keough Halls shared their frustration with Gagnon’s policies after two of their companions were kicked out the 2003 BYU game. The seniors stated that an usher had ensured that their friends would not be removed if they ceased throwing the marshmallows but that the same usher returned with his captain later and ejected them anyway. 

More marshmallow action from the 2005 Syracuse game. Observer archives, Nov. 21, 2005.

The two seniors, however, were not the only individuals betrayed by the ushers, as students have continued to be ejected over the years. The final game of the 2005 season against Syracuse resulted in 43 ejections due to marshmallow-related incidents according to an Observer report by Assistant News Editor Maddie Hanna (‘08).

The number of ejections has fluctuated over time, but it is apparent that these ejections, although bothersome, have done little to deter the marshmallow fight from occurring: marshmallows were once again tossed this past weekend during a snowy final game of the season.

Contact Spencer Kelly at

Thomas Dobbs at

Cade Czarnecki at

Lilyann Gardner at


Students, faculty react to updated ‘Victory March’ lyrics

As the football team gears up for their season opener against Ohio State on Saturday, fans will sing the “Notre Dame Victory March” as they root for the Irish. This year, however, the last two lines of the 114-year-old fight song will sound different.

The song’s concluding lines previously sang, “While her loyal sons are marching / Onward to victory.” In June, however, the University announced that the lyrics would be changed to, “While her loyal sons and daughters / march on to victory.”

Many students and faculty were pleased to see the song’s update. 

“It’s been a long time in coming,” English professor Romana Huk said in an email. “I think it’s a sign of [Notre Dame’s] ability to think forward, to be responsive to the need for change.”

First-year Dylan Devezin pointed out that even though the song is a valued tradition, traditions themselves are capable of change.

“Allowing women on campus was a big change in the normal Notre Dame tradition, so I believe other things surrounding that should change, as well,” he said.

Sophomore Emma Schoenauer said she understood the importance of tradition, but felt the updated lyrics were necessary. 

“I think a lot of things stay the same because they’re tradition,” she said. “But I think that because it did change, that was a positive thing.”

Maggie Borgos, a first-year master’s student studying English with a gender studies graduate minor, said allowing traditions to change is important. 

“Yes, we’re rooted in tradition, but we’re also really rooted in creating new traditions,” she said. “I think this change will be part of that.”

Junior Jack Wagner was excited that more Notre Dame students could now feel like they fit in. 

“I think it’s good that they’re being more inclusive with it so more people can relate,” Wagner said.

First-year Bella Dillhoff was also happy to see the lyrics change, but felt the University should have changed it to “children” to include non-binary individuals. 

“They should have added ‘daughters’ a long time ago, and now they could just change it to include everyone,” she said.

Much of the community saw the update as overdue.

“I thought that the change was a little delayed considering the Title IX Gender Equity Act was passed in 1972,” sophomore Brooke Collins said. 

To Collins, it was “disrespectful to the women athletes that have been fighting for the reputation of this university and upholding it for so long.”

Borgos said that the update is an important change following Title IX.

“I think, given that it has been like 50 years since Title IX was passed, this is amazing,” Borgos said. “It is a great way to celebrate where Notre Dame is going in terms of greater inclusivity and representation of all students on our campus, so I’m pretty excited about it.”

After the fight song stayed the same for so long, sophomore Jessica Vickery was skeptical that fans will be able to adjust to the change.

“It was unexpected and something that probably won’t stick just because everyone’s used to just saying ‘sons marching on,’” Vickery said.

Vickery also said that because fans sing the fight song in support of the all-male football team, the addition of “daughters” as a lyric isn’t necessary. 

“It’s us cheering on the football team, and it didn’t have to become a whole kind of political thing by adding women into it,” she said.

Sophomore Ava Nelligan was especially critical of Notre Dame for past transgressions regarding Title IX. 

“They are overhyping the decision that they’re making rather than taking actual steps to protect women on campus,” she said. “The performative step of adding two words to a song is not nearly enough to address Notre Dame’s failings.”

Liam Price

Contact Liam at