"Big Four" Highlights


 

A Great Man in Public and Private

A daughter remembers her dad, Professor Charlie Rice

By Mary Rice Hasson

As the doors of the funeral home opened for my dad’s wake, the first visitor shuffled in. He was bent over, a thin man in worn clothes, prematurely aged by life’s troubles. Somewhere on the bumpy road to redemption, he’d met my parents and become a friend. On this day—begging a ride and braving the snow—he came to console my mom and pray for my dad, whose kindness and constant counsel to “trust God,” no matter what, buoyed the man through difficult days. It was fitting: this man from “the peripheries,” as Pope Francis would say, was the first to pay respects to my dad in death. Dad would have felt honored.

Author Mary Rice Hasson with her father.

Singularly unimpressed with status, power, or wealth, my dad, Professor Charlie Rice, treated everyone he met with kindness and respect. It was no surprise, then, that his wake and funeral drew an interesting mix: politicians, judges, lawyers, former students, and Notre Dame colleagues joined with local repairmen, shopkeepers, retirees, and daily Mass buddies from the parish.

In truth, Dad always had a heart for the underdog, and not just because he was a diehard Notre Dame football fan. By phone and email, he fielded requests for help from students, colleagues, pro-life volunteers, Catholic families, and friends of friends. We knew, but only after the fact, when those he helped shared their gratitude for jobs found, recommendations written, cases won, second-chances arranged, and prayers and mentoring freely given. He and my mom also inspired countless couples to trust God and welcome the gift of children, or more children. I’ve met parents who, upon discovering “Charlie” was my dad, would gesture gratefully towards one of their children and say, “She’s here because of your dad’s influence.” Or mom’s, or both.

Dad really was a great man.

Some of Professor Rice's 41 grandchildren.

He accomplished much professionally. An expert in constitutional law and the natural law, he wrote over a dozen books, countless articles, and many briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Education Appeal Board, testified before Congress and advised countless legislators, attorneys, and judges. Gifted intellectually, he earned an additional doctorate (J.S.D.) beyond law school and taught law for more than 40 years, at Fordham, Ave Maria, and Notre Dame. He received honorary degrees, awards, and accolades too numerous to list.

But no daughter calls her father “a great man” because of his curriculum vitae.

Dad’s greatness was in his goodness. His heart and soul belonged to God, first, and his family, second.

Faith, not ambition, fueled his work. He taught us to ask not “How can I succeed?” but rather, “What does God want me to do?” Many people knew Dad through his dedicated advocacy for the vulnerable—the unborn, disabled, and elderly. He gave thousands of speeches, talks, and interviews on the sacredness of human life, from conception to natural death. The size of his audience never mattered, because he wasn’t in it for the applause. He’d speak to any who would listen, urging them to pray and then do something to make things better.

Few people knew that, for years, Dad regularly prayed the rosary outside an abortion clinic—for the doctors as well as the vulnerable women inside; or that he assisted pregnant students, helping them stay in school; or that he spent hours talking with undergrads and law students who struggled with the Church’s moral teachings. He answered questions, explained, and encouraged them to seek clarity at the feet of the real Master, through prayer and the sacraments. Always the teacher, he cared deeply about those who engaged him, particularly about faith.

Dad had a quick wit and loved a good party. His funeral instructions, humorously titled “Exit Notes,” requested no eulogies, with the threat that he’d flip his coffin if anyone attempted even a disguised eulogy. (So far so good.) He made family life fun—it still is, in fact. His humor is alive in my siblings’ banter and our common impulse to find absurdity in ordinary moments.

At heart, though, Dad was a quiet guy, always reading. But God led him to be a public witness for the truth of the Church’s teachings. He took endless heat, even from fellow Catholics, for defending Church teachings on contraception. Back in the 70’s, he predicted that—by disconnecting sex from procreation through contraception—society would eventually embrace homosexual sex, same-sex “marriage,” polyamorous relationships, surrogacy, and artificial reproduction. I remember the snickers and scorn his comments provoked among many of my law school classmates. They dismissed his reasoning as wildly exaggerated, a fear-mongering attempt to justify the Church’s “backward” ban on contraception. It was, frankly, uncomfortable—for me anyway. But I was proud of his courage. He taught me that the prospect of ridicule is a small cost of speaking the truth—and the only audience I should worry about pleasing was an audience of one—God. Plus, I knew he was right. His final book, Contraception and Persecution, analyzes the challenges ahead in progressivism’s march towards intolerance. Dad’s humble embrace of the Church’s magisterial authority gave him a serenity born of faith. “Love God and follow the Church,” he’d say. “God’s in charge. Relax, we’re on the winning side.”

That gift of faith animated his life as a father, too. Dad knew God, loved him with every fiber of his being, and resolved to serve him in everything. It was that simple. Faith was his “pearl of great price,” the treasure that he (and mom) gave to their children and grandchildren—and others, too. Faith gave my parents a vision for our future, as souls called to eternal life. Our destiny shaped Dad’s fatherhood: he communicated the faith continually. On Saturdays, he quizzed us on catechism questions or, later, apologetics readings. Dinnertime conversations began with questions about faith, history, or current events. The quick-thinking child earned a quarter for answering correctly. For older children, he played devil’s advocate, posing objections to our arguments, asking, “How do you know?” “Are you sure?” He and mom strategically left Catholic newspapers, journals, and saint books anyplace our eyes might wander, especially the kitchen table and, yes, in the bathrooms.

Most importantly, however, Dad (and mom) taught by example. No matter how early we awoke, Dad was up earlier, praying and doing spiritual reading. The fabric of life included daily Mass, regular confession, and nightly family prayers—typically a Bible reading, daily saint, a decade of the rosary, and prayer intentions. The time was not always idyllic—family prayer with ten kids was often chaotic, interrupted, perfunctory, or all three—but the faith was real. A man of virtue and integrity, Dad expected nothing from us that he didn’t demand of himself. We knew his vision for our lives—to love and serve God. The rest was up to us.

Dad wasn’t perfect and neither were we. He was raising saints, but he knew we were anything but. We knew that when we messed up, Dad would be there both spiritually and practically, urging us back to prayer and the sacraments, just as he sought forgiveness and strength for himself, and reminding us that once we were right with God, we should just move on.

Quite simply, he loved us and we knew it.

Dad’s greatness, as a father and as a man, was in his embrace of the gift he received from his own parents—life in Christ—and in his extraordinary zeal to give it to others. He had a profound love for Jesus Christ, an unswerving belief in the Church’s authority, a deep thirst for the grace of the sacraments, and a sweet devotion to Mary, the Mother of God, Our Lady, Notre Dame. He loved his friends, colleagues, and us kids. And he loved his loved his wife, Mary, most especially.

Death’s not easy; neither is it final. Dad called it a “change of address.” Welcome home, Dad, and enjoy the rest. We’ll take it from here.

Charles E. Rice, Professor Emeritus at Notre Dame Law School, passed away on February 25, 2015. Mary Rice Hasson, the second of his ten children, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.