Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The perfect "storm"? Hannah's "inspiration" creation

If you are going to be the center of attention, no matter what, don't try to blend in—shine. --Hannah Storm's motto from her new book, Notre Dame Inspirations
Notre Dame Inspirations - Hannah StormWhen Hannah Storm's publicist wrote me and asked if she could send me a copy of Ms. Storm's new book, Notre Dame Inspirations, I'll have to admit it was with a slight sense of trepidation I accepted. First, the book's sub-title, "The University's Most Successful Alumni Talk About Life, Spirituality, Football—and Everything Else Under the Dome," made me a bit uneasy, because Notre Dame's "Most Successful Alumni" doesn't always translate into "Staunchest Defenders of the Faith." Secondly Inspirations is edited by Sabrina Weill, former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine, as well as a key editor of Cosmo Girl and Redbook, all publications that don't exactly espouse the Catechism of the Catholic Church's world view. Still, I vaguely remember "Hannah from Savannah" Storen (her real last name) from my undergrad days, and it seemed wrong to turn the offer down—especially when you receive the book gratis!

Hannah StormFirst, the good news. Although it is a bit small (8"x8-1/4") for a coffee table book (except of course for the laptop set!) its photographs are marvelous. Both the stunning pictures of the campus religious monuments (the Dome, five times; Sacred Heart Church, twice; the Grotto and Jesus statue, only once) as well as nostalgic black and whites of Notre Dame's bygone days, help the Notre Dame spirit come alive. And the short easy-to-read stories by Notre Dame's top grads, while not exactly Champions of Faith quality, range from somewhat inspirational to nothing objectionable. Of course, therein lies the disappointment too.

For in playing it safe, Hannah's book fails in precisely the way Hannah (at least secularly) succeeds—it fails to shine. For while it tones down the dissident Catholicism of Phil Donahue (who apparently after getting inspired by a radical priest in one of his ND theology classes, sadly took off on his trend-setting trail as shock talk show host) it also de-emphasizes the seemingly deep faith of men like former Heisman trophy winner, Johnny Lujack. Certainly the weakness of this type of book lies in the fact it is done by sending out identical, generic questionnaires to its subjects, which tend to lead the pat similar sounding answers. Still if lack of time or funds dictates the book must be written that way, then I say a Catholic book must at least ask THE two Catholic questions as formulated by myself and Catholic broadcast journalist John Morales. John (who also borrowed the name of my book for his upcoming documentary on Catholic baseball players) and I, through trial and error, have learned to always ask Catholic interviewees some version of the following:
  • Describe your relationship/devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and
  • How have the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist, impacted your faith life?
As it is, these elements, the aspects of our faith that truly make Our Lady's university unique, are rarely touched upon in Inspirations. True, the book's four priest graduates talk faith, and the comments by past university president Reverend Edward Malloy, "Nothing has given me more pleasure in my years at Notre Dame than the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist in dorm chapels, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the Joyce Center and other campus settings ... for me as a Catholic Christian, the Eucharist is the center of things," and Father Ted Hesburgh's "Look, we got a university named after a woman who happens to be the greatest human person who ever lived. I look out my window (and see) the Lady on the Dome. I say 'Lady, it's your place and we're in deep trouble and you've got to get us out of it.' And she does," are most appreciated. But, of course, for priests, faith comments in such a context are politically correct. But of the book's other twenty-eight, only two actually (briefly) mention these elements at Notre Dame; Lujack, "I always made it a point, right after our evening meal, to go down to the Grotto and thank the good Lord and our marvelous Mary for me going to Notre Dame," and current head coach Charlie Weis, "I used to love going to Breen-Phillips for 11:00 Mass on Sunday night. It was a fun Mass ... the place was standing room only and I really enjoyed that ... it was one of my favorite times of the week." Not only could Hannah have gotten these guys (with a little effort) to elaborate on this, but one has to imagine that some of the others, with the right prompts would have also talked about their faith too. For example, the book mentions that famed reconstructive surgeon Dennis M. Nigro built a 12-ft. by 18-ft. replica of the Grotto for his family room. The book also says that this replica houses his Dr. Thomas A. Dooley Award— BUT FAILS TO INDICATE whether it is in any way connected to a devotion to the Mother of God!

But even more telling is Hannah's own Inspiration story. While she mentions that a priest (Fr. Poorman) at Notre Dame convinced Hannah she can make just as much of a difference in the world by being a Christian sportscaster as a missionary, she goes on to mention being a trail blazer for young women as a sportscaster, but nothing about being a role model for young Catholics. Also, she mentions how she "found a lot of comfort in the spiritual aspect of Notre Dame," but without elaborating, the reader is left to guess if this "spirituality" is that of Hesburgh or Donahue, or (to use the names of celebrities she has interviewed) the saintly Catholicism of Mother Teresa or the wacky Scientology of Tom Cruise, both of whom, like Hannah Storm, have changed their names, but for decidedly different reasons.

In the end, Notre Dame Inspirations is still a great Christmas gift, especially for the countless other rich politically-correct Fighting Irish alumni and fans that help finance the Notre Dame Nation. But for myself, a not-so-politically-correct (and therefore not quite so successful) alumnus, I am left believing that the extremely talented Ms. Storm is capable of much more.

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