Notre Dame honors local alumnus Pat Burns with special memorabilia

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2001

Notre Dame football helmets are treated with the sanctity and care only the devout can muster.

The helmets are painted before every game with special gold paint representing the golden dome which sits atop the school’s Main Building.

Each helmet is special and accounted for. That’s why Pat Burns treasures his so much.

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For Christmas this year, the 1933 graduate from Notre Dame was given the helmet as a gift from his grandson, Lance Spence, and the university that has played an integral role in his life.

Sitting in his home, surrounded by Fighting Irish paraphernalia, Burns looked mildly surprised when asked why he was a Notre Dame fan.

&uot;Why, I went there,&uot; he said with the loyalty commonly found among the Irish faithful.

His loyalty is obvious from the pictures of Notre Dame landmarks on his walls, the subscriptions he still keeps to South Bend publications and the annual trips he made to the school until recent health problems began keeping him in Natchez.

Burns’ devotion to Notre Dame is what caused Spence to write the university with what he thought was a typical request.

&uot;I was sure they got requests like this all the time,&uot; Spence said, &uot;but I did some research on Grandpa and sent the letter anyway.&uot;

Addressed to the university’s president, athletic director and alumni association director, Spence’s letter told his grandfather’s life story – his graduation from Notre Dame, his marriage to Edith May Profilet and his service in World War II.

Spence wrote of Burns’ devotion to God and how he instilled his beliefs in his seven children and 17 grandchildren.

&uot;I know my grandfather may not necessarily qualify as a distinguished alumni by the university’s standards,&uot; he wrote. &uot;However, in my eyes, as well as the eyes of our entire family, he is a distinguished gentleman.&uot;

Spence asked the university for a helmet, possibly signed by a player or coach, to give his grandfather for Christmas. He didn’t expect a response.

In five days, Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White called Spence. A week later, a package arrived at Spence’s Wichita, Kan., home.

A golden helmet, scuffed from a recent game, was accompanied by a letter from James J. Phillips, Notre Dame’s associate director of athletics.

&uot;The reason Notre Dame has become such a special place is because individuals like Patrick Parnell Burns leave Notre Dame with a desire and determination to serve God and their fellow man, and become leaders by example throughout the world,&uot; Phillips wrote. &uot;Please know how grateful we are to have a gentleman like your grandfather as part of the Notre Dame family.&uot;

Those letters, along with a similar letter from Notre Dame president Rev. Edward A. Mallory, are now framed in Burns’ home. His helmet rests on a stand on his TV, where he still watches every televised Notre Dame football game.

&uot;Of course not everybody wore them went I went there,&uot; Burns said, setting the helmet down with a solid &uot;thunk&uot; on a table. &uot;Most did, but they were leather things with no padding. Not like this.&uot;

Burns said he was surprised when his grandson presented him with the piece de resistance of his Notre Dame collection.

&uot;I was reading the letter, so I couldn’t really see his face,&uot; Spence said. &uot;But my family said they had never seen him get that emotional. His face told the whole story.&uot;

Spence won’t take credit for the present.

&uot;It was gift from the entire family,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re a close-knit, moral, dedicated family, and I credit (Burns) for that. He’s the cog in a big family.&uot;

And Notre Dame has always been a part of that family, Spence said.

&uot;The time he spent up there, the experiences he had,&uot; he said. &uot;Those were enough for anyone. Even for an entire family.&uot;