Soft-Spoken Leader Notre Dame's Rev. Malloy doesn't seek the limelight

Author: Copyright 2000 Indianapolis Star

March 26, 2000
p. SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Sorin Hall on the University of Notre Dame campus is a three-story brick dormitory, home to 158 studious young men, many of whom who play loud music, drink beer on the weekends and look tired on Sunday morning.p. Room 141 in Sorin Hall is about the size of a prison cell and contains wooden desk, two uncomfortable chairs, hundreds of books and a red sofa bed, upon which the president of the University of Notre Dame sleeps.p. “He’s a pretty cool dude, kinda quiet, though,” said Sorin Hall resident Grable Muraida, a senior from Austin, Texas. “He broke up a loud party once.”p. Why would the president of one of the world’s most prestigious universities voluntarily live with a bunch of kids who proudly call themselves Otters? (“Otter” was the name of a party-boy ladies’ man in the John Belushi movie Animal House.)p. The Rev. Edward A. Malloy doesn’t like beer or loud music and certainly doesn’t chase women. He inhabits a quiet world of literature, theology and contemplative thought. An Otter he’s not, but he lives with them.p. “Well, I’ve lived here since 1979, and it’s my home,” said Malloy, who is 6-foot-3 and, if he stood in the middle of his room with arms outstretched, could nearly touch both walls.p. “When it gets noisy, I’ve got this,” he said, reaching over to a windowsill and flipping on a small, humming noise-absorption machine.p. He’s 59, and his nickname is “Monk.” In third grade, he called his friend Bunky Collie “Bunk.” Bunky nicknamed him Monk because the two names rhymed, or something like that.p. Until a year ago, Monk played weekly pickup basketball games with students. The games were called “Monk Hoops.” Tendonitis in his shoulder stopped the basketball.p. “I could no longer control my shot,” he said with a shrug, then checked his watch. “We got two minutes.” He didn’t want to be late for the midseason basketball game between Notre Dame and St. John’s University.p. In addition to surely being the only university president who lives in a dorm full of Otters, he must also be the lowest-paid. He presides over 7,900 students from 87 countries on a 1,250-acre campus, 700 faculty members, a $2 billion endowment, $500 million annual budget and 200 alumni clubs around the world. His salary is zero.p. He does receive a $500 monthly living expense and a university-owned Buick, which he drives about 1,700 miles a year, mostly to and from the airport.p. “I use the expense money for Christmas presents and taking students out to dinner,” he said. “I have no need for any more.”p. Otters are invited to stop by and visit when he places a hand-lettered “Welcome” sign on the door of Room 141. It would not be a good idea to knock if the sign isn’t up.p. He reads five newspapers a day and seven books at a time, usually history, theology or ethics. He rarely takes a vacation, except to visit his 92-year-old mother, Betty, several times a year in a Washington nursing home.p. “This university is at the core of my existence,” he said.p. He was asked if he would fire anyone over the recent episode involving a Notre Dame booster and her relationship with 12 football players. The NCAA placed the football team on probation; the embarrassing incident struck at the core of his existence.p. “I might fire someone,” he said, refusing to elaborate.p. A month later, he announced that Athletics Director Mike Wadsworth was resigning. The new director, Kevin White, will report directly to Malloy.p. Other than clothes, Malloy owns nothing: Catholic priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross take a vow of poverty. He eats in Corby Hall, the nearby priest dormitory, and says Mass daily, often in hotel rooms around the world. He travels 150,000 to 200,000 air miles a year on university business and teaches an English literature class on Sunday night to 18 spellbound students.p. A former varsity athlete, he loves basketball and attends every Notre Dame home game, although he never jumps up and down and rarely even claps, no matter how exciting the action.p. “If I showed emotion, people would look at me,” he said, rushing across the campus to the basketball game. “In the beginning, I showed emotion, and the fans and coaches looked at me.”p. That day, the unranked Irish pulled off an exciting upset of St. John’s. Malloy sat in the priest section next to the Rev. Stephen P. Newton, who leaped and shouted the entire game, along with 11,416 other screaming fans who packed the Joyce Center.p. The president leaned back in his seat with his arms crossed through most of the game. When he was really excited, he leaned forward and rested his chin on his right hand. He clapped politely a few times.p. “He showed a lot of emotion this time,” said a laughing Newton, who was hoarse from hollering.p. “I like to analyze the game,” Malloy said afterward. It was a cold day, and he pulled his hood tight around his face. The fans barely noticed him. A few said, “Hi, Father.” He nodded.p. The game was over. “You’re leaving now, right?” he asked the reporter. “The hotel’s that way.”p. Well, no.p. “Well, I have an appointment,” he said, rushing off in another direction.p. Prefers to listen, not speak
p. He rarely grants interviews and doesn’t like talking about himself, although he’s gracious and tolerant when cornered. He prefers listening to talking, which is admirable unless you’re trying to interview him.p. “He’s not very accessible. We requested two interviews last semester, but he was too busy,” said senior Colleen M. Gaughen, editorial page editor of The Observer, the student newspaper.p. So who is this guy, now into his 13th year as Notre Dame’s 16th president?p. He grew up in a devout Catholic family in Washington and was a hall monitor and altar boy in grade school. His dad, Edward, was a claims adjuster for the D.C. transit system. On Sunday nights, the family worked crossword puzzles together at the kitchen table. He has two sisters, Joanne and Mary. He attended Archbishop Carroll High School and played basketball with John Thompson, who would later become coach at Georgetown University.p. Obtained several degrees
He attended Notre Dame on a basketball scholarship and spent his career sitting at the end of the bench. The summer after his junior year, while working in Mexico with poor children, he had a “searing” mountaintop revelation.p. “I had an intuitive sense on that mountain that I wanted to become a priest,” he said during a series of interviews stretched over two days at various points on the campus. “I liked what priests did.”p. He graduated from Notre Dame in 1963 with a degree in English, earned two master’s degrees in ethics and theology, was ordained a priest in 1970 and received a doctorate from Vanderbilt University in 1975. He returned to Notre Dame to teach theology and ethics.p. He served in several university administrative posts and in 1987 was named president, succeeding the revered Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, an American legend and Notre Dame icon. Hesburgh is now president emeritus at Notre Dame. In July, he’ll receive the Congressional Gold Medal from President Clinton. He’ll be one of only 250 people in history to receive the country’s highest civilian award. Thomas Jefferson presented George Washington with the first Gold Medal.p. Asked if he ever felt nervous or intimidated about succeeding Hesburgh, Malloy said “no” firmly and without hesitation.p. “Following Father Hesburgh was never an obstacle. He only gave me two pieces of advice when I took over: He said to spend time with my mother and be my own person. The biggest thing he’s done for me is not to interfere or be a critic on the sideline.”p. Even though it was a Sunday, Hesburgh, known simply as Father Ted, was alone in his office on the 13th floor of the Theodore M. Hesburgh Library. He was trying to work a coffee maker.p. “Every time I try this, it goes on the floor,” he mumbled. “Do you know how to work these?”p. He’d just returned from Kosovo, Yugoslavia, where he inspected refugee camps as a member of a United Nations task force. He’s 82.p. “No place for a vacation, Kosovo,” he said, finally giving up on coffee. “It’s an indescribable mess. Some old guys retire and go to Florida, I go to Kosovo. Boy, was I tired after that trip.”p. “A good outside shot”
p. What about Father Malloy?p. “Oh, good fella. Bright guy. Hard to get to know. Not like me. Heck, he’s not as easy to know as I am. I’m an open book. Monk couldn’t quite make it on the basketball field, but he had a good outside shot. He got the vision to become a priest in Mexico on some mountain or something. We see each other in Corby Hall occasionally when we’re eating. We have a cordial relationship, and he calls me sometimes,” said Father Ted, warming up for an afternoon of storytelling.p. The basketball team was victorious on the “field.”p. “Oh, good,” he said casually. “Who did they play? When was that? Are they any good this year?”p. Back to Malloy.p. “I told Monk, ‘Visit your mother and forget Hesburgh.’ That’s the way it should be. I had 35 years, and that’s enough. I stay away from the administration. He’s doing a good job.”p. In the spring, Hesburgh’s going to Israel on another U.N. mission.p. “For a guy with no job, I’m pretty busy,” he said. “I’m going all the time. Went fishing last summer, didn’t catch much. Is Monk a fisherman?”p. No.p. “How’s his mother?”p. During Hesburgh’s extraordinary 35-year reign as president, he elevated Notre Dame from a below-average academic institution to one of the world’s great universities. A list of his accomplishments would fill this newspaper.p. Following him would certainly intimidate most people. Malloy repeatedly shrugged off comparisons or references to Hesburgh. Who cares? That was then, this is now. He’s him and I’m me. He did however, dedicate one of his books, Culture and Commitment, to Hesburgh, calling him a “mentor, colleague, fellow community member and friend. With thankfulness and high regard.”p. Committed to the city
Former South Bend Mayor and Indiana Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan, a 1968 Notre Dame graduate, lived in Sorin Hall for two years.p. “Monk has taken Father Hesburgh’s legacy to the next level and built on a strong foundation,” Kernan said. “Monk is a good friend, but he’s very deliberate and won’t say something until he’s thought about it.”p. When Kernan was mayor, Malloy spoke to every civic organization in South Bend and St. Joseph County and made it clear, Kernan said, that Notre Dame and its students were committed to the community.p. The result of that commitment is the nationally recognized South Bend Center for the Homeless, tutoring programs for children, tax preparation for poor people and countless other university-funded services.p. “He believes that with good fortune comes responsibility,” Kernan added.p. Malloy suffers when forced to endure a dinner or ceremony where he’s the center of attention. People look at him.p. “It’s embarrassing to be honored,” he said. “But that’s what you have to do. I try never to be seduced by the forces of life. If you ask me do I like fund raising, the answer is no.”p. Hesburgh has received more honorary degrees than anyone in the world. It was 141 at last count, with one more coming in April and two in May.p. “Father Hesburgh was the president,” said the Rev. Stephen Newton, the Sorin Hall rector who cheered and shouted while stoic Father Malloy sat still during the basketball game, hoping no one would notice him.p. "Monk sees himself more as the man who holds the office. It’s not a personality thing with him. He believes that who he is is irrelevant to the job. He won’t talk about himself because it’s irrelevant to him. The university is the relevant point.p. “I’ve known him since 1966, and he’s still an enigma. He’s a mystery, and I know him well. He has close acquaintances, but I don’t know about close friends. I don’t think he does anything that’s not work-related, except visit his mother.”p. During the Malloy presidency, minority enrollment has increased to 16 percent from 7 percent. The endowment has ballooned to $2 billion from $350 million. Incoming freshman SAT scores have risen to 1,337 out of 1,600 from 1,240, which means the students are smarter. The most recent U.S. News and World Report annual college ranking placed Notre Dame 19th among the 228 major research universities in the country.p. He’s written four books, in which he managed to say almost nothing about himself. He’s working on another about the famous people he’s met, including Presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Clinton, and Donald Trump.p. Did you like Trump?p. “Not particularly,” he said. “The others were pleasant, enjoyable people.” Different in the classroom
He changes when he teaches his Sunday night freshman literature class - becomes another person almost. He’s animated and relaxed, leans back in his chair, laughs, jokes and smiles through most of the class. The inscrutable presidential facade fades. He even talked about himself. And they looked at him. And he didn’t flinch.p. “When I was a kid, I’d go to the movies and see coming attractions, and my dream was to see all these movies together, one after another,” he told them.p. The 18 students were nominated for the class by their teachers. They must read a novel a week, write a two to three-page report and sit for 2 1/2 hours discussing it with the president.p. “Attendance is expected,” he warned them during the first class.p. “I’d be scared even if he was a regular teacher and not the president,” said Allie Swiecki of Philadelphia. “He can be intimidating, but, boy, is he a good teacher.”p. The class begins precisely at 7 p.m. with a prayer. It would be a mistake to wander in late, or worse yet, show up not having read the book. The teacher can recite huge chunks of the novels from memory.p. “Don’t hesitate to make a fool of yourself,” he tells them, laughing and leaning back in his chair with a big grin. “The hardest thing is to listen, as well as talk.”p. He fired questions around the room about the assigned book, Panther in the Basement by Israeli novelist Amos Oz.p. “Jesse, what is temptation all about? Why was the main character tempted?”p. “David, analyze that last line in the book about betrayal.”p. “Jenny, I want to ask you about the Arabs in the contested territory in the novel.”p. “Lindsay, what would you ask Amos Oz?”p. It was a compelling teaching performance.p. “Wow, I like teachers like that,” said Melissa Lu afterward. “He didn’t act like the president.”p. The teacher was pleased, smiling as he assembled his papers and books.p. “I love teaching,” he said. “And they are very bright kids.”p. Then he quickly appeared worried about being interviewed again.p. “I have an appointment in my office,” he said, hurrying away.p. The next day, cornered in his amazingly small fourth-floor office beneath Notre Dame’s fabled Golden Dome, he stood up to answer a few final questions, fidgeting, scratching his back against a big bookcase.p. You really hate this, don’t you? he was asked.p. “Hate what?”p. Being interviewed. Being looked at.p. “Oh, it’s OK.”p. He smiled but remained standing.p. “I have a plane to catch.”p. Bill Shaw writes about people and places along Indiana’s back roads and main streets.

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