Notre Dame-OU Football: The Sooners, the Irish and one critical Mass

Eight hours before the 1957 Notre Dame team shocked Oklahoma and the world, the Irish celebrated Mass in Chickasha with an altar boy who knew he was witnessing something special. Guess who he'll be rooting for Saturday?
by Jenni Carlson Published: October 25, 2012

Prior to those milestones, Catholics often felt like second-class citizens. It was much like Oklahomans after the Dust Bowl.

And much like Oklahomans who found a point of pride in Sooner football, Catholics found solace in Fighting Irish football.

“Notre Dame ... was kind of a surrogate champion,” Ross said.

That was the backdrop against which Notre Dame came to Oklahoma in 1957.

More specifically, it came to Chickasha.

The team stayed at the Chickasha Hotel. To this day, Ross isn't sure why Notre Dame chose to stay there. It wasn't all that big. It's wasn't all that fancy. It wasn't even all that close to Norman. But it was owned by a Catholic.

Also, people often said it was the westernmost hotel in Oklahoma that would allow blacks until you got to Amarillo.

Notre Dame had its first black player in the early 50s.

News that Notre Dame was coming to town got Ross to thinking, and he went to the priest at Holy Name.

“I heard the team is staying in Chickasha,” Ross told him.

“I heard that, too,” the Father said.

“The team'll probably have Mass in the church?”

“Probably.”

“You need a server?”

So it was that Ross was in the church that November Saturday in 1957. There wasn't a huge crowd. Just the folks who were normally there for Mass every Saturday morning. And the Notre Dame football team.

The team chaplain said Mass, which was still done in Latin in those days. Afterward, he gave Ross a religious medal as a token of gratitude.

Then as reverently as they arrived, the Fighting Irish were gone, on their way to beat the Sooners and stage one of the biggest upsets in college football history.

Ross still remembers that Mass even though he has celebrated Mass thousands of times since then. He is now Father Joe Ross, the pastor at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Lawton. He earned his master's at Notre Dame, studied for his doctorate there, then spent time at parishes all over Oklahoma, including two stints at St. Thomas More University Parish in Norman right across the street from the OU campus.

So, he's a Catholic priest who once served communion to the Notre Dame football team, who has a degree from Notre Dame but is an Oklahoman who once ministered to the OU campus.

Who exactly does that mean he's cheering for Saturday?

“It is tricky,” he said.

His eyes danced.

“I'm looking forward a good game.”

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. You can also like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.

by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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