Phoenix diocesan attorney Mike Haran says he’s close to filing suit for a hostile work environment. "I’ve got four people on my floor who are Notre Dame graduates," the Ohio State University alumnus chuckles.
The Rev. Timothy Davern, a Tempe priest, feels Haran’s pain. In fact, he’s causing some of it. "The poor guy is delusional," Davern explains. "What can you say?" Monday’s Fiesta Bowl means that many of the Valley’s clergy have gotten their Irish up.
Many local priests have studied at Notre Dame, and the school has long enjoyed a close affiliation with the divine.
"I suppose it’s because it’s the most well-known Catholic university in the country," Davern says. "It’s a school that has kept to its roots: Chapels in the dorms, grottoes on campus. There’s a strong Catholic presence all the way through Notre Dame."
That deeply religious tradition also comes with a highly competitive fan base.
You have to be some kind of rabid booster to be taunting co-workers — when you’re a priest.
"I cannot get down the hallway without someone whistling the ‘The Notre Dame Fight Song,’ " Haran complains.
Davern, who works down the hall, greets the whistling accusation with diabolical laughter. "It’s all in good fun," he says. "The competition is intense down here. And it’s the job of us, as Notre Dame graduates, to make (Haran’s) life as miserable as possible."
But do deep theological roots and long athletic traditions mean that God favors Notre Dame at game time? The question makes many of the Fighting Irish clergy pause, as they struggle to separate loyalty and conscience.
"Well, theologically, I’m supposed to say that God is neutral," Davern says. "I’m sure God hears the prayers of (Ohio State) Buckeye fans, as well. And if people want to root for Ohio State, well . . . that’s between them and their consciences."
So God is neutral? "Yes," Davern says. "But please say I said that grudgingly."
The Rev. Chuck Witschorik, an associate pastor at St. John Vianney in Goodyear, is a Notre Dame alumnus — as is his pastor, and their resident seminarian.
"We’re all very excited about the game, and the parishioners have all been very supportive," he says.
"The way I think about it, God doesn’t root for any team in particular," Witschorik says. "God wants all athletes, and all of us, to reach our fullest potential. God roots for the individual; for each person to do his best. If that adds up to a Notre Dame victory, so much the better."
So God cares . . . He just scores it differently?
"Yes," Witschorik says. "God himself is not for either team."
Another painful pause.
"But I am not God," he adds. "So I’m rooting for Notre Dame."