Remembering Professor Charles Rice, the embodiment of Notre Dame

Remembering Professor Charles Rice, the embodiment of Notre Dame

Charles Rice, a law professor at Notre Dame, died Feb. 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of the University of Notre Dame.
Charles Rice, a law professor at Notre Dame, died Feb. 25, 2015. Photo courtesy of the University of Notre Dame.

.- Pro-life leader, Catholic commentator, and University of Notre Dame law professor Charles E. Rice was commemorated at a requiem Mass Monday, as his friends and admirers remembered his “countless” contributions.

“A devout Catholic, a Marine, a professor, and a coach, Professor Rice did it all, and always with an abounding sense of humor and purpose,” the Notre Dame Law School’s dean, Nell Jessup Newton, said in an announcement on the school’s website.

Newton invoked the motto inscribed above the doors of the Notre Dame campus’ Sacred Heart Basilica: “God, Country, Notre Dame.”

“Perhaps no man in recent memory has better embodied the motto inscribed over the door to the Sacred Heart Basilica than Professor Charles E. Rice,” he said.

Rice died Feb. 25 at the University of Chicago Medical Center following an illness. His funeral Mass was held at St. Joseph Parish in Mishawaka, Indiana March 2. He was 83 years old.

He was a prominent speaker, and author of 13 books on constitutional law, pro-life issues, and Catholic identity at the University of Notre Dame. He often appeared on EWTN and was the host of the 13-part series “The Good Code: The Natural Law.”

“His contributions to EWTN, the Church and our nation are countless,” Michael Warsaw, chairman of EWTN Global Catholic Network, said Feb. 25. “We will all certainly miss him greatly.”

Rice was born in Manhattan on Aug. 7, 1931. He received a bachelor’s degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., his law degree from Boston College Law School, and a master’s and doctoral degree in law from New York University.

He met his wife Mary at Boston College Law School. They had 10 children together and also adopted a son born in South Vietnam.

He practiced law in New York City and taught at New York University Law School and Fordham Law School before joining the law faculty at Notre Dame in 1969. He was state vice-chairman of New York state’s Conservative Party. He sat on the Education Appeal Board for the U.S. Department of Education and was a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and to congressional committees on constitutional issues. He was an editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence.

He served in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring as a Lt. Colonel.

His obituary in the South Bend Tribune stressed his love for the University of Notre Dame, noting his habit of giving his grandchildren buttons that repeatedly played the university’s Fight Song.

“His devotion to Jesus Christ and Our Lady – ‘Notre Dame’ – was the source of his commitment to the University and his passion that Notre Dame stay true to its Catholic identity,” his obituary continued. “He loved his Catholic faith and deemed his classes teaching the faith to high schoolers or talks at parishes all over the country as important as any Supreme Court brief that he ever wrote.”

He helped coach the Notre Dame boxing club for 30 years. He was a referee and advisory for the university’s annual Bengal Bouts boxing tournament, which raised funds for Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

He continued to teach university classes until December 2014.

Notre Dame history professor Father Wilson Miscamble, C.S.C., said Rice “epitomized all that is best about Notre Dame.”

“His profound commitment to the pro-life cause and to the truths of natural law, which were so evident in his writings, and in his speaking and television appearances, gave him an influence far beyond the Notre Dame campus.”

Rice was also involved in controversies on the university campus. He wrote regular columns for one of the campus newspapers, the Irish Rover.

His 2009 book “What Really Happened to Notre Dame?” argued that the university had wrongly taken a path of relativism and expediency. He traced some of its problems to the legacy of Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., Notre Dame’s deeply influential president from 1952-1987, who died just one day after Rice.

Rice objected to the Hesburgh-led “Land O’Lakes Declaration” of 1967 which sought to make Catholic higher education independent from the Catholic Church. He also noted Fr. Hesburgh’s role in allowing the Rockefeller and Ford foundations and other powerful advocates of population control to use Notre Dame as a base to cultivate opposition to Catholic teaching on birth control in the 1960s ahead of Bl. Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae vitae.

In his final book, “Contraception and Persecution,” published in 2014, Rice warned that the United States had abandoned its toleration for Catholicism.

“The persecution of the Catholic Church in the United States is already under way,” Rice said, observing an “inevitable” clash between the secular state and the Catholic Church on issues of family, the right to life, economic justice, and issues related to “gay marriage.”

He saw federal mandates reriquiring Catholic employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization as “a preliminary event in this accelerating persecution of the Church and of believing Catholics.”

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