Oct. 1, 2013
By Renee Peggs
The leprechaun has become a virtual symbol of the spirit of Notre Dame that reaches out and touches the hearts of millions of people throughout the world.
Speaking to several dozen friends, family, and Fighting Irish faithful, Fr. Leo Banas, C.S.C., proclaimed this axiomatic blessing on the latest addition to our University's legendary sculpture collection: a leprechaun sculpture in the Purcell Pavilion.
Its significance is manifold, which comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with the sculptures on campus. What may be surprising is that originally it was unclear whether this sculpture would even be allowed on campus. What?! Indeed, the committee had expressed a growing concern over the proliferation of sculptures of a non-religious variety. Senior deputy athletics director Missy Conboy confided that "we had to keep three or four national championship coaches locked up in the stadium for several years until we were able to convince the statue committee that going 12-0 in football is the next closest thing to an actual miracle!"
The luck of the Irish prevailed: it so happens that the statue committee has authority only over outdoor sculptures. Thus a dream became reality, as renowned sculptor Gerry McKenna gave life to the vision of one family whose hearts forever praise and love Notre Dame.
Tim and Beth Merck, along with their children Jon ('09) and Katherine ('12), have long demonstrated a commitment to preserving stories and dreams and passion in their operation of Old World Christmas, one of the leading distributors of the world's most extensive collections of mouth-blown Christmas ornaments, glass figurines, vintage night lights and nostalgic greeting cards. Jon and Katherine fulfilled a dream for their grandmother by attending and graduating from Notre Dame. Their family's donation of the leprechaun sculpture is simply another branch on the tree of their family creativity and generosity.
The statue is located in Gate 10 of the Purcell Pavilion, the very gate through which the Leprechaun Legion enters the arena to cheer on the basketball and volleyball teams. Conboy reminded us that all Notre Dame traditions - such as touching the PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION TODAY sign and cheering Sgt. Tim McCarthy's safety announcements during the third quarter - began as something very small before they grew to legendary status, and suggested that this statue would likely be attached someday to a particular act of reverence or superstition: "and Jack (Swarbrick) has asked to be the very first one to kiss it."
Athletics director Jack Swarbrick connected his story to that of the Merck family by revealing that his Irish grandparents also dreamed of having a child or grandchild attend ND, and professing his pride in being the first in his family to achieve that dream. Swarbrick expertly spun legend and lore worthy of the great Irish tales as he spoke about the essence of Notre Dame: "generations past felt strongly about the value of this place for their families. The statues and artwork on campus - your experience, what you encounter, what you see - ensure that we extend the story about Notre Dame" for generations to come.
Following Banas' blessing, Swarbrick presented Tim and Beth, Jon, and Katherine with their own miniature versions of the leprechaun sculpture. Members of the Glee Club then serenaded the gathered assembly with the Alma Mater. The fervent emotion that never fails was heightened as Tim had shared that this mainstay of Notre Dame tradition had been the final song at Beth's mother's funeral.
"We hope and trust," declared Tim in his remarks, "that this beautiful leprechaun will remind everyone of the fighting spirit of Notre Dame that started back when Father Sorin founded the school, and we hope that it will live on."
-- ND --