Pregame Mass at Notre Dame's Basilica? Marcus Freeman is resurrecting the tradition

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s Ian Book greets fans during the player walk on campus before the Oct. 5, 2019 game against Bowling Green at Notre Dame Stadium. First-year Irish football coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday that he plans to resurrect a former Irish football tradition of having team Mass at the Basilica on gamedays.

SOUTH BEND — What made such an impression on Marcus Freeman as an Ohio high school football recruit visiting Notre Dame two decades ago will officially return this fall.

At the request of the new Irish football coach, pregame Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart will again be part of the team’s game-day ritual on home Saturdays. Freeman hinted strongly at his preference five weeks ago during a talk at the Mendoza College of Business, but Saturday he made it official.  

“What I remembered from my recruiting trip is watching the players walk out of the Basilica on the way to the stadium,” Freeman said after spring practice No. 8. “I was a little bit caught by surprise when we didn’t do it last year when I got here (from Cincinnati).” 

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With the 2017 season, former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly selected a variety of campus residence halls and special locations for Friday Mass before home games. According to a University press release, "Masses over the years had been held at a number of sites," including the Basilica. 

Sometime after replacing Kelly in December, Freeman broached the subject during conversations with several longtime campus stalwarts, including former quarterback Ron Powlus, now an associate director of athletics and football administrator. 

“Hey, would we ever be able to have Mass on game days and walk from Mass to the stadium?” Freeman recalled asking Powlus. 

Powlus told him that decision was up to the Irish football coach. 

“I said, ‘OK, let’s change it,’ “ said Freeman, who starred as an Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08. “We’re going to do that now. Kind of like it used to be.”

Instead of busing from the team hotel to the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on home game days, Notre Dame will head straight to the Basilica. The Victory Walk to Notre Dame Stadium will commence after what will be an optional Mass for the entire team — coaches, players and ostensibly support staff. 

Head coach Marcus Freeman and associate athletic director of football Ron Powlus listen to Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden speak during the media availability Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

“I guess I didn’t know I was going to be the head coach,” Freeman said, “but it’s pretty cool as the head coach” to bring that back. 

During his Mendoza talk on leadership on Feb. 25, Freeman was asked to name his favorite Notre Dame traditions. Despite arriving from Cincinnati only 13 months earlier, Freeman immediately cited trips to the Basilica and “coming out that ‘God, Country, Notre Dame’ door.” 

He noted being “a little bit disappointed” upon his arrival that the Irish football team no longer celebrated Mass at the Basilica. He referenced a scene from the 1993 film “Rudy” and said he hoped to bring back that tradition. 

And now he has.

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.