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The Spiritual Father of Notre Dame

Note: This is the first profile in a series of 90 stories highlighting individuals who have shaped Notre Dame and/or live the College’s mission of personal, professional and global responsibility.

By Christian Taske ’07

For many Notre Dame students, alumni and employees, he is the spiritual father of the College. He hears their confessions, visits them when they are sick, marries them, and baptizes their children. He has been at NDC for half a century and has celebrated daily and weekend liturgies in Christ the King Chapel for the past two decades.

Father Edward Mehok belongs to Notre Dame College much like the iconic tower of its English Tudor Gothic-style Administration Building. In fact, he joined the College the same year the building’s west wing was completed – in 1961.

It’s hard to imagine the College without Father Mehok and his thoughtful and eloquent, yet down-to-earth homilies, which draw from his Ph.D. in English Literature.

Yes, Father Mehok is a scholar of religion and literature. His passion for the written word becomes evident when you enter his six-by-six-foot cubicle on the second floor of the Administration Building, just one flight of stairs below Christ the King Chapel. In his office, countless books line his shelves and are stacked on his desk. They are just a small sample, he says. There are hundreds more in his home on Lawnway Road, down the street from the College.

When you take him down memory lane, Father Mehok, 79, will tell you about growing up in Akron and attending St. Vincent High School. He will tell you that he thought in grade school he wanted to become a priest; that he wasn’t so sure anymore after high school; that he briefly enrolled at Akron University; and that some of his friends in the seminary talked him into the priesthood.

“Just like that,” he says. “I decided that’s what I wanted to do and never looked back.”

His decision to pursue studies in medieval and renaissance literature, on the other hand, was one that was made for him. After he was ordained in 1957 and served at St. Catherine’s Parish for three years, the diocese sent Father Mehok to Catholic University in Washington D.C. to pursue a master’s in English literature. He had never thought about studying literature before, and he didn’t even have a bachelor’s degree when he was accepted into the master’s program.

“It was a surprise to me when they told me that’s what I was going to do,” Father Mehok says. “But it was perfect because I realized how much I loved literature.”

He loved it so much that upon graduation he decided to pursue his Ph.D. at Case Western Reserve University part-time, while teaching and working as an administrator at Borromeo Seminary College. It took him 10 years to complete his doctorate. During that time he also became co-pastor with two other priests at St. Felicitas Parish (now St. John of the Cross) in Euclid, where he has been ever since. It was the first team ministry in the diocese.

In the fall of 1961, Father Mehok joined Notre Dame College to celebrate the school liturgy every Friday.

“At that time, all students went to Mass on Friday,” he says. “They were exciting liturgies. The students planned the Masses and I had a lot of fun because they very often would throw curveballs at me. The last minute they would throw in something that I wasn’t completely prepared for and they were delighted when I addressed it.”

But the 60s were also a rough time when the liberal movement in the U.S. clashed with the conservative values of the Catholic Church. Then came the Second Vatican Council and with it some unrest within the Church.

“The Vatican Council opened up a lot of doors and windows,” Father Mehok says. “The problem that you find with change is that the pendulum goes swinging back and forth, and sometimes very wildly crashing into the windows and walls. A lot of people got hurt by some of it. It was a painful time but a growing experience.”

Father Mehok, who got involved in retreats and other spiritual events at the College soon after he arrived, often acted as a mediator.

“It was like trying to walk down the middle with extreme conservatives and extreme liberals shouting at each other,” he says.

Even though Father Mehok had taught at Borromeo for 30 years, he didn’t join the Notre Dame College faculty until 1990, when he also became the College’s fulltime chaplain. He loved to teach both English and theology.

“I believed I had something very valuable to share as a prof and a priest, whether in literature or theology or the combination of both in Scripture,” he says. “It was a blessing to have done my graduate work in English Lit for that reason.”

Father Mehok taught at Notre Dame for 16 years, even after he officially retired in 2002. Today, he is content with his role as the College’s chaplain and professor emeritus. Between preparing for Mass and administering the sacraments for members of the College community and at his parish, he is busy enough.

In all his years at Notre Dame, Father Mehok has missed just a couple of Masses. (He can remember one, on Sept. 11, 2001, when he fell sick and spent the previous night in the hospital talking to an Iraqi doctor about theology and then watched the attacks in New York City in the morning from his hospital bed.)

Notre Dame College and Christ the King Chapel are Father Mehok’s home, and it takes emergencies to keep him away from Mass. All in all, he has spent 50 years at the College, 40 years at St. Felicitas/St. John of the Cross Parish, and 30 years at Borromeo Seminary College.

“I practice the Benedictine virtue of stability,” Father Mehok says with a laugh.

Christian Taske ’07 is the director of print & digital communications at Notre Dame.