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“Holy War” Pits Fighting Irish vs. Boston College at Fenway


BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 21: Jeff Smith #5 of the Boston College Eagles carries the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the third quarter at Fenway Park on November 21, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP

Justin Bell - published on 11/24/15 - updated on 06/07/17

Notre Dame beats BC in Shamrock Series game, but faith and fraternity bring both sides together

It’s been almost 50 years since Fenway Park was used for a football game. Those outside the Northeast might need a reminder: it’s the home of the Boston Red Sox.

But on Saturday it was the scene of a tense college football game between two Catholic rivals: the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame played the Eagles of Boston College

In this seventh installment of their “Shamrock Series,”  Boston saw traditions, allegiances, and Catholic/Irish-American identities come together. The Series is a multi-day event that includes service projects, a pep rally, a 5K race, Saturday morning Mass, and a fan festival—all before the Saturday evening game.

This year, Notre Dame had about 85 percent of the estimated 37,000 tickets at Fenway, yet Boston College’s campus is less than four miles away. The park was also rigged up with Notre Dame branding. Tickets to this so-called “Holy War” game were tight, and even media passes were hard to get. But here’s a sampling of the activities surrounding the match.
At the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Saturday morning, horn players from Notre Dame’s band led the congregation in Alma Mater Notre Dame.


During his homily, Father John I. Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, extolled the practice of contemplating a skull to remember one’s own mortality. After listing some accomplishments of Notre Dame, including the fourth ranked football team, drawing laughs, Father Jenkins said, “But I think what makes Notre Dame so special is that it is named after Our Lady.” He described Mary with “a true and generous heart, a heart faithful to God’s call, a heart that embraced suffering, but still loved.”


Madison, Lucy, Grace, Emma, and Fritz von Mering pose for a picture taken by their mother, Heather.  Their father, Fritz, helps get them propped up on the back of the pew.  Heather and Fritz met as freshman at Notre Dame and they live in Winchester, MA.  “Notre Dame is our heart and Boston is our home,” said Heather.  When the triplets were born at only 24 weeks, Heather recalled emotionally the strong support of the Notre Dame community that “filled us with hope and faith that we could make it through at that time period,” while the girls were in the hospital for six months.


If you know a college program that is better at marketing than Notre Dame, please tell me.  Open to the public including BC fans, the Shamrock Series Fan Fest, sported at least two leprechauns (one official and the other a fervent fan) the cheerleading squad, interviews with the coach and some players, a fur-clad man and friend, and the watchful gaze of Boston Fire fighters.


Outside Fenway on a crisp, clear Boston night with many Notre Dame supporters.


Though Notre Dame seemed to have rented out Fenway Park, the Prudential Building—rising above this view on Landsdowne Street—cast the maroon and gold of Boston College.


Inside the House of Blues, a Boston College game watch venue


Baldwin the Eagle, mascot of Boston College, hugs an affectionate supporter


No Boston College football player is better known than Doug Flutie, whose legendary “Hail Mary” pass in 1984 is replicated with a statue outside the Eagles Alumni Stadium on Boston College’s campus.  A particular touching moment came before Saturday’s game when a moment of silence was called to mark the passing of Flutie’s parents, Richard and Joan.  The two had died on the Wednesday before the game less than an hour apart, both of heart attacks.

“They say you can die of a broken heart and I believe it,” wrote Flutie on his Facebook page.  Flutie was one of the announcers for the NBC broadcast of ND/BC game on Saturday. Later during the broadcast, viewers were given a look back at Flutie’s Boston College career.


Though this shot was taken before the game, it shows that friendship transcends football allegiance.  I was happy to see fans getting along and mingling among each other. The game was close too, with Notre Dame winning 19-16, despite being heavily favored.  With so much in common: Catholic faith, Irish roots, love of football, a premium on academics and service to others, these two university communities have the ability and responsibility to lead like the saints.


All photos by Justin Bell, a freelance journalist who teaches in Boston public schools.  Follow him on Twitter @ajustbell

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