Catholic Universities Go to the Movies

By Pacatte, Rose | National Catholic Reporter, April 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

Catholic Universities Go to the Movies


Pacatte, Rose, National Catholic Reporter


"Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him. More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere."

--Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (1961)

If we are to believe Binx Bolling, the existentially alienated protagonist of The Moviegoer, that one is "certified" as really existing if one's neighborhood is in a film, Catholic colleges and universities should feel very alive and quite "somewhere."

It is hard to say from Internet research the first U.S. Catholic university or college to appear in a Hollywood film. It seems it was Indiana's University of Notre Dame in 1940 for "Knute Rockne, All American," which made Ronald Reagan a star.

Notre Dame is an American popular culture icon as much as it is a Catholic institute of higher learning. Its icon status, however, may be due more to sports than to the subtle, steady and strong influence of its graduates over its 170-year history. Forty-seven former students have been inducted into the Football Hall of Fame, and 62 into the College Football Hall of Fame. But other alumni include two Nobel Laureates; scientists; professors; researchers; television personalities Phil Donahue and Regis Philbin; journalists Anne Thompson and Kenneth L. Woodward; politicians and ambassadors; former presidents of El Salvador and Panama; members of the U.S. Congress; and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

Notre Dame, which was founded by the Congregation of the Holy Cross, is very strict about filming on campus and so far every major production filmed there is about the university. It's largely a question of image, explained Fr. Wilfred Raymond, president of the Congregation of the Holy Cross and national director of Family Theater Productions in Hollywood. He said that many among the Holy Cross community chafe at the idea of Notre Dame as a "football factory."

The second football film shot at Notre Dame was "Rudy," released in 1993. The American Film Institute ranked it No. 54 in its list of most inspiring films of all time. And this year, for the third time in Notre Dame's history, a sports biography will be filmed on campus: "Two Miles from Home." It is the story of swimmer Haley Scott De Maria, who was seriously injured in a bus accident in 1992 while returning from a swim meet. Told she might never walk again, she swam to victory in a 50-yard heat 22 months later.

Notre Dame is often referred to in popular film and television, in some cases to good effect. In 2008, "Sunday" an episode of ABC's comedy "Desperate Housewives," Lynette (Felicity Huffman) tries to convince her lazy Catholic husband Tom (Doug Savant) that the family needs to go to church. When Tom resists, Lynette says, "Wearing a Notre Dame sweatshirt while you mow the grass does not make you a Catholic."

Some fictional "alumni" include President Josiah "Jed" Bartlett (Martin Sheen) of "The West Wing" television series (1999-2006), and John Smith (Brad Pitt), a professional hitman in the 2005 film "Mr. and Mrs. Smith."

Georgetown University in Washington has several films and TV shows to its credit, the most famous being the 1973 classic "The Exorcist." Others are "The Girl Next Door," "St. Elmo's Fire," "Syriana," "Enemy of the State," "Atlantis," The Lost Empire," "National Treasure," "Save the Last Dance," "Election," "The Sopranos," "The West Wing," "Alias," "24" and "The Closer. …

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