Stories

My Fr. Lange Story, by Tom Kelly

TOM KELLY ‘67

I had the privilege of knowing Fr. Lange from the fall of ‘63 until his death. When I arrived at Farley Hall I met Kent Durso. Upon learning that I was a lifter, he told me about Fr. Lange’s gym. I had been lifting for about two years at that time and, even though I played no high school football, had planned to try out for the freshman team as a slow 180-lb. fullback. This plan was changed to inter-hall football after I met Kevin Hardy, George Goedeke, Alan Page and another recruit whom Durso and I called (not to his face): “Big Hod.”

Fr. Lange welcomed me to the gym after I paid my $5 dues and signed the registration book. My goal was to “press my weight,” for which Fr. Lange awarded a medal engraved with the details. I was able to do that in the fall, but Father encouraged me to keep going so I ended up pressing 205 at 190 body weight later in the year. I believe I then had my name entered on the gym wall chart after people like Jack Snow who I think had pressed 240 at 210 bwt. Later I pressed 150-15 reps and 170-10 reps for cash prizes. Ultimately I was able to press 230 and jerk 235 at 190 bwt. Father awarded me a leather varsity letter jacket as a senior. All this for $20 for four years dues. This experience became a lifelong habit of physical fitness. I trained hard and pressed my weight off a rack 40 years after that freshman year. I still lift three times per week and have found that by maintaining some muscle mass and moderately controlling my caloric intake, I don’t get fat, the muscle keeps my metabolism up. So if any of you have quit lifting and need to lose weight, get back to it.

In the spring of ‘65 Paul Costa (reputed to be the toughest man in the school) and another big football player were taking a very leisurely workout, probably in preparation for the Pro draft. Costa mentioned to his buddy that he really enjoyed a cigarette after his workouts. Another sophomore, obviously hoping to ingratiate himself with a campus hero, piped up: “A cigarette really tastes good after you get laid.” Costa slowly turned toward the brown-noser interrupting his conversation, looked him up and down, and sneered: “How would you know?” The offender grabbed his gear and beat a hasty retreat with the guffaws ringing in his ears.

In the spring of ‘67 I met George Kunz at the gym. He was a rawboned 6′5″ freshman who had never lifted. I was honored that he asked me to give him some pointers, which I was happy to do. George starred at ND and played in the NFL many years.

My dad attended ND in the late ‘30s for two years before quitting to become a flight instructor, flying B-24s as a test pilot for Ford during World War II. I grew up listening to the games with him on the radio in the ‘50s and even saw Paul Hornung play in ‘56. Dad remembered Fr. Lange and we went to the infirmary to see him after a game in the fall of ‘69. He was in good spirits and I was touched that he remembered me, even though I was one of hundreds of students passing through his portals. Working out and meeting him and the friends I made through the gym were the highlights of my ND experience. He reminded me of my grandfather, a no B.S., tough man of few words with a selfless generosity and a real role model who I have tried to emulate. When Kent Durso told me about this website I mentioned that Fr. Lange was the only priest I knew at ND as I stayed away from mass and religion for those and many years after. I have been fortunate to have met another priest of Fr. Lange’s character and have returned to the Church, maybe a little late, but hey, even though it’s the start (I hope) of the fourth quarter, the Irish win those once in awhile. I hope to see you all at the reunion next spring.