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Notre Dame Balances Faith, Football

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At the heart of Notre Dame's legendary football program is a careworn balancing act. The team is unapologetically Catholic. Before every game, the Fighting Irish participate in a Mass overseen by one of the team's two appointed Catholic priests, a tradition dating back to the 1920s. At the end of that ceremony, each player receives a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint—a different saint every game for four years. Also during the pregame Mass, players can kiss a reliquary containing two splinters that Notre Dame believes came from the cross of Jesus.

Yet Notre Dame is so nonpromotional that players of other faiths feel welcome on the team, never receiving so much as an invitation to convert, let alone pressure to do so. As a result, many feel comfortable...

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