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What It Means To Be Irish

As I sat in the kitchen of the doctor’s home at 7:30 in the morning, I was struck by the thought that the doctor and I had nothing in common.  The doctor and I got along just fine during our meeting at his home, but aside from our work together on a medical malpractice lawsuit, we could not have been more different.

The doctor in his mid-sixties was a friendly, engaging cardiologist from Tampa and his palatial, lakeside home had artwork and other remnants of his Jewish heritage in every room.  Sitting across from the doctor was a Catholic lawyer who knew little about the Jewish religion, other than a limited knowledge of Hebrew scripture.  The doctor did not share my passion for sports, nor did I share his interest in Jewish art and cultural artifacts.  From anyone’s point of view, the lawyer and doctor were two strangers whose lives had just happened to cross paths.

                                                                        A Shocking Revelation

As I sat at the kitchen counter eating a bowl of cereal, the doctor asked, just to make conversation, where I went to law school.  I glanced in the direction of the doctor and casually mentioned, “Notre Dame”.  A few seconds passed with no response from the doctor and I eventually looked up to be met by an incredulous expression on his face.  The doctor’s eyebrows pointed up, his mouth was wide open and for the moment or two, he seemed incapable of speech.  It was as though the doctor had just spotted Big-Foot standing behind me.

The doctor eventually explained that his only daughter—a New York City corporate lawyer—had also graduated from Notre Dame Law School. Okay, I thought, this was a surprise coming from a Jewish cardiologist, but not exactly earth-shattering…until the doctor explained.

                                                                    A Very Unique College Student

The doctor’s daughter had been first in her class at the University of Virginia and had her pick of any of the elite Ivy League law schools.  Notre Dame Law School wasn’t on her radar.  But the doctor’s daughter wasn’t your typical scholar—she couldn’t speak or hear.

The doctor’s daughter faced subtle forms of discrimination in college. As a deaf student, the doctor’s daughter had to read lips to understand classroom lectures and on occasion, male professors refused to shave the facial hair covering their lips. Just being able to understand the lectures of male professors with a beard or mustache was a challenge. The doctor’s daughter accepted her professors’ indifference to her deafness by striving harder in her studies.

By the fall of her senior year, the doctor’s daughter ranked first in her class and her future was bright.  The doctor’s daughter had been accepted into top Ivy League law schools and she had her pick of any of the Top 5 law schools. Then a TV morning show changed everything.

                                                        How a TV Morning Show Changed Everything

During an early morning of her senior year, the doctor’s daughter happened to turn on the TV to a morning show about a story of the valedictorian at Notre Dame.  But this story had a special twist, Notre Dame’s valedictorian was not your typical college student—he was blind.

The TV program featured stories of the challenges facing the valedictorian and the special accommodations made at Notre Dame by the administration, professors and classmates to help him overcome the enormous obstacles facing a blind student.  And the results were amazing—he finished first in his class and for perhaps the first time ever, a blind student was accepted to medical school.

When the TV story was over, the doctor’s daughter knew where she would go to law school.  If Notre Dame was willing to make these over-the-top accommodations for a disabled undergrad, it was the perfect place for her.  A difficult decision was made easy.

                                                                An Unlikely Subway Alumnus

Following her daughter’s admission to Notre Dame Law School, the doctor began visiting the campus and taking in the traditions that are unique to the Fighting Irish. The doctor began going to Notre Dame for football weekends and after immersing himself in the culture and traditions, he became a raving member of Notre Dame’s subway alumni.

The doctor sang the alma mater on flights to South Bend for football games and I could hardly get him to stop talking about his love of the university. As it turns out, the doctor’s collection of Notre Dame paraphernalia was almost as impressive as his collection of Jewish art and cultural remnants.  Someone who you would least expect to be associated with Notre Dame turned out to be one of her biggest fans.

                                                                 What It Means To Be Irish

Being Irish is not about a degree and it’s not about spending 4 years on campus.  Being Irish means a love for Notre Dame—a love that you hesitate to share with anyone outside of the Notre Dame family. Your heart beats faster when you meet another ND fan—alum or not—and in the right company, you don’t hesitate to share your special feelings for our lady’s university.

Perhaps more than anything else, it is Notre Dame’s unique ability to capture the heart and soul of just about anyone—regardless of faith or religion—and transform them into members of the Notre Dame family.  And every once in a while, you run into a member of the Notre Dame family when it is least expected…like a business meeting over breakfast with a Jewish cardiologist.

                                                         A Special Christmas Dream Come True

Just days before Christmas, I got a call on my way home from work from my 19-year old nephew, Peter Ryan.  Peter gave me the news that everyone in our family had been praying for—he was accepted to Notre Dame!  Peter will be the fourth generation of my family to call Notre Dame home and I can’t think of anything that would make my father, James H. Fisher (class of ’56) or grandfather, Henry Fisher (class of ’34) prouder.

In the 1993 movie “Rudy”, the best friend of Rudy Ruettiger tells him to pursue his dream to play football at Notre Dame by encouraging him, “Having dreams is what makes life tolerable.

Dreams are what make life worth living.  Thank you, Notre Dame, for making another dream come true.

John H. Fisher (’88, ’91 Law)



photo credit: DR. JOAN GIBERT QUERALTÓ via photopin (license)

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