If you’ve ever tuned into the end of an NBC broadcast of a Notre Dame football game, like most of America you’re at least vaguely familiar with “Notre Dame, Our Mother,” the alma mater of the University of Notre Dame. The song is dually addressed to Notre Dame the school and Notre Dame the Blessed Virgin Mary, “Notre Dame” translating literally from French as “Our Lady” and referring to the Mother of Jesus.
Everybody altogether now, clasp hands, sway to the music, and follow the bouncing shamrock:
Notre Dame, our Mother
Tender, strong and true
Proudly in the heavens
Gleams thy gold and blue
Glory’s mantle cloaks thee
Golden is thy fame
And our hearts forever
Praise thee Notre Dame
And our hearts forever
Love thee Notre Dame!
What you might not know is that Notre Dame’s significance in the realm of motherhood goes far beyond just a sappy anthem. And as Mother’s Day fast approaches, I think it’s time to set the record straight.
Frank Earl Hering was a quarterback for the University of Chicago in 1893 and 1894. Hering then matriculated to Bucknell University, where he both coached and played under an assumed name. By 1896, Hering had landed the Notre Dame coaching job, where he was also team captain, taught English, took law classes, and was paid in cuts of beef from the Holy Cross Brothers’ campus farm. Needless to say, college football’s eligibility requirements at the turn of the century were a bit more, umm, indeterminate.
Hering is credited with forging some of Notre Dame’s earliest regional rivalries, coaxing the likes of Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Michigan State on to the schedule for the very first time. He retired after the 1896 season with a 12-6-1 record, played a few years professionally, worked as a magazine editor, and later in life published a volume of poetry. As far as Notre Dame legends go, Hering is a footnote at best.
The ignorance of Hering’s legacy, however, is not limited to just the Notre Dame faithful.
According to the history books, on May 12, 1907, two years after her mother’s death, Anna Jarvis held a memorial to her mother and thereafter embarked upon a campaign to make “Mother’s Day” a recognized holiday. She succeeded in making the holiday nationally recognized in 1914, and the International Mother’s Day Shrine was established in her childhood home of Grafton, West Virginia to commemorate her accomplishment.
There’s only problem with the story of Ms. Jarvis: It’s not entirely true.
On February 7, 1904, six years after he resigned as Notre Dame head coach and more than two years before Anna Jarvis ever spoke of Mother’s Day, Frank E. Hering addressed the national convention of the Fraternal Order of Eagles at the English Opera House in Indianapolis. Hering’s speech, “Our Mothers and Their Importance in Our Lives,” is regarded as the first-ever public address on behalf of making Mother’s Day a national holiday. Hering would give public speeches on the topic for the entire decade leading up to the holiday’s national recognition.
Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz are the gods of Notre Dame football. But if you’re a florist or candy maker, you might want to think about hanging a picture of Coach Frank E. Hering, the Father of Mother’s Day, in your storefront.
McSweeney is the UHND handle of Brian Sweany, author of EXOTIC MUSIC OF THE BELLY DANCER, a “Breakfast Club meets Fight Club” debut novel available now in print, ebook and audio at various online retailers and in select bookstores.