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The Golden Ring

The Gospel reading of the day reminded me of a column i had written as a college senior for our campus newspaper, The Observer, as part of what was called the “Inside Column” – a chance for the editorial staff to say whatever they wanted. It is interesting to read something i wrote over a decade ago and see how my style has changed… and where it has not.

It has also come up on occasion here in Rome, since so many people have commented on my Notre Dame ring. The class ring is not a common practice over here, and several of my classmates have admitted wondering if i was a bishop incognito when they first saw it! I have been promising a rediscovery of this article for some time:

We take pride in no symbol of our status as Notre Dame students and alumni than our class rings. No other school in the country has alumni as fanatic about proving their school pride so blatantly as our fellow Domers, and rightly so, for ours is a tradition of unparalleled family and excellence. But, as with all symbols, its meaning is polyvalent and there is much more to my class ring than simply showing off my bachelor of arts.

First, it is a sign that, at some point in my life, I had around $600* to shell out on a piece of jewelry. For myself; not as a gift or as a donation to someone who needed the money for food or clothing, but for a pretty piece of gold to sit on my finger.

It is a sign that I have literally bought into the very disease that I railed against when I first saw it permeating the ostensibly Catholic character of this institution. It is a malign corruption of life known as materialism, the cure for which is harder to find than “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”

There are times when I feel the weight of my ring on my right hand and am forced to think of the chains that Marley wears in his visit to Ebeneezer Scrooge. It seems I have forged the first link in my own chains of eternal bondage, and I fear it is larger than most. Worse, I find no comfort in the idea that comes from a fundamental reading of Matthew 25:29 that reads: “For to one who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” It is an idea that seems to be incorporated into the mission statement of both financial aid and development offices.

Although I have only had my ring since July, I have already noticed several dings and imperfections. At first I was overwhelmed with what people would think when they saw how ugly my ring had become. I worried that I had not been able to keep it aesthetically perfect. Then I realized that its condition was a perfect allegory of Notre Dame itself.

When you’re here long enough to learn to care for the place and the people here, you pay attention to everything and you begin to see the dings and imperfections. For people of a good heart and a righteous soul, it is easy to become obsessed with these, discouraged that they exist and cynical that anyone could see beauty in something so horribly flawed.

But then you realize that despite a discoloration here or a small dent there, the whole of the ring is still gold, and to anyone who meets you and doesn’t inspect it with an overcritical eye, it may as well be unblemished.

Much the same can be said of the Notre Dame experience. Despite what corruption or frustrations you may find, in time (though usually not until after you graduate), you will learn to see again the gold of the whole and not just the damage of one small area.

Finally, it is a symbol of the office of Notre Dame Alumnus (or Alumna), which carries a unique power and responsibility. It is a sign of our education and our commitment to service. It is a sign that we can accomplish great things against formidable odds. It is a sign that will allow us unhindered passage into positions at any number of corporations, firms and grad schools. It is above all a reminder that “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more!” (Luke 12.48)

*That was in 1999. Inflation and rising gold costs have nearly doubled the cost for today’s students and alumni.

Original publication:

ND Class Ring website:


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