On Wednesday night, February 25th, my beloved Torts professor and mentor, Charles E. Rice passed away. Since finding out that evening, I have been thinking about and praying for him and his family nonstop. It occurred to me that most of my strong Notre Dame memories involve this amazing man. I thought I’d share them with you.
Meeting Professor Rice
When I was first admitted to the University of Notre Dame Law School, my brother-in-law, Joe, told me that I had to get into Charlie Rice’s class, whatever I did. I’d never heard of Professor Rice, but I trusted Joe, who told me that Professor Rice was a good Catholic who lived his faith. He was very involved in pro-life activities, so I was excited to meet him. I am eternally grateful to God that I was blessed to be admitted to Professor Rice’s Torts class.
I’ll be honest with you–law school was scary. I didn’t belong there. I hated almost every minute. But when I first got there, I was eager and excited. As I walked into the large, auditorium-style classroom for Professor Rice’s class, I sat pretty close to the front because I’m a dork and I like to sit in the front. When Professor Rice finally walked in–tall and imposing, his white hair cut into a short Marine cut–I didn’t know what to expect, but I can say with confidence that I and my classmates certainly did not expect what came next. Professor Rice was no nonsense, and started off our first class with a vehement lecture about what he would and would not allow in his class. We were to be there on time. We had to stand when called upon. I forget the rest. He must’ve scared me that much.
He then started a rant about how he would not allow Legalines–or anything of their ilk–in his classroom. (Legalines are like Cliffs Notes for law school.) Just then, the unluckiest guy in the world slinks in, late and carrying a STACK of Legalines. Professor Rice pounced. He grabbed the books one by one and threw them out of the classroom, then he grabbed the guy by the scruff of the neck and the seat of his pants and threw him out of the classroom!
The whole class was frozen in fear.
I forget how long Professor Rice let us sweat, but it couldn’t have been that long–he was not without mercy. The disgraced student bounded in with a huge smile on his face and Professor Rice introduced him as a third year student in on what I later found out was his favorite yearly prank. The classroom let out one long exhalation.
I followed Professor Rice to his office afterward and students left and right asked him how “it” went. He had a huge smile on his face and it was clear that everyone loved him. After that day, I did, too.
Serving God in a Toll Booth
When I first got to law school, I wanted to be a prosecutor. I had a strong sense of right and wrong and I wanted to be the person who righted the world’s wrongs: a typically idealistic first-year law student mentality. I lost that idealism quickly, and once I became the president of the Law School’s Right to Life Club as a first year–which made me even more unpopular than I already was–I couldn’t justify the prosecutor’s role in sending people to their deaths. Eventually, I felt lost and had no idea what I wanted to do. I played around with the idea of becoming a lay consecrated member of Regnum Christi (nope). I considered representing the deaf, and even spent a summer at Gallaudet, the college for the deaf in DC. Nothing stuck.
I remember crying in Professor Rice’s office one day–something I did way too often. He was always there for me, and he never made me feel like I was wasting his time (I was). He never rushed me, and was always matter of fact and honest.
This day, I complained about not knowing what to do with my life, but I wanted to serve God. What he said next, I have never forgotten, and I have quoted to others many times:
“Diana, you could serve God working in a toll booth.”
It changed the way I thought about life and work forever.
The Debate I’ll Never Forget
The St Athanasius Society was a debate society at the law school that organized debates among the students on hot topics. I have no idea how I got involved because I hate debating, but even as a first year, someone identified me as a Catholic loyal to the Magisterium. As a result, whenever they featured debates on issues of Catholic practice, someone inevitably came to me and begged: “Diana, you have to debate to side of the Church! No one else wants to!”*
How could I say no to defending the Church that I loved? Even if I was the lousiest debater in the history of Notre Dame Law School (I was), I was determined to do my best.
One debate–about whether the Catholic Church should allow women to be ordained as priests–is forever etched on my heart. This is what I remember:
The debate was organized so that the first speaker would have a certain amount of time to present her position. Then, she could be interrupted with questions. The second speaker would go up and do her thing. Then there would be rebuttals. Back and forth. The room was full of students with a few professors, including Professor Rice.
I went up and started my spiel. I remember not being given much time to state my position before I was inundated with questions and interruptions. I sat down frustrated. The debater arguing that the Church should allow women to be priests was a fellow first year law student who was raised in a family of lawyers. She was naturally better than I was at everything law school related. But it seemed to me that she was allowed to speak her position practically without interruption! It was clear that the entire room was against me and my position.
At one point when I was up during a rebuttal, one of our professors, a Catholic, asked me if I had heard about how Pope John Paul II had ordained a slew of women and married priests behind the Iron Curtain, but that when the wall fell, he had revoked their status as priests to protect his name. The room gasped. I had not heard of that, I said, but I asked him for his sources. He responded, with a smile, that he would be happy to provide them to me after the debate. Afterward, this professor came up to me and said, “I didn’t know that Catholics like you existed anymore.”
When I finally got his “sources”, I was livid. The articles told of a priest, not Pope John Paul II, who had ordained women and married priests. I ran into Professor Rice’s office and showed him how this professor had not only told a lie about the Pope, using it to support his position against the Church, but he did it in front of an entire classroom of students seeking the truth. He used his status as a revered professor to slander the Pope.
Professor Rice listened to me patiently and then said to me softly, “Diana, we have to pray for him.”
Every now and then, that debate pops in my mind, and I get angry all over again. Then I hear Professor Rice’s voice, and I say a prayer for that professor and for myself, that I might be able to forgive him.
Now, I’ll be praying for Professor Rice.
I don’t say this lightly, and I can’t presume to say that I know the status of his soul on the day that he died, but I have a hard time believing that Professor Rice will be spending much time in Purgatory.
No one defended the Church like he did.
No one defended life like he did.
No one defended Our Lady the way he did.
I am sure that she welcomed him with her arms outstretched, in thanksgiving for his lifelong defense of the Church, of our faith, of life, and of her name.
I am blessed to have known him, and give thanks for his witness and life. And I’m sure he won’t mind if I keep bugging him in his office in the sky…
* I should clarify that I know many good Catholics who loved their faith at ND Law, and I’m sure they argued many of the debates that never made it into my memory. This is just what they told me… LOL.