Notre Dame law professor emeritus Charles Rice dies at 83

CHICAGO (CNS) — Charles E. Rice, professor emeritus of law at the University of Notre Dame Law School died Feb. 25 at the University of Chicago Medical Center following an illness. He was 83.

A member of the Notre Dame law faculty since 1969, Rice specialized in constitutional law and jurisprudence.

Charles E. Rice, professor emeritus of law at the University of Notre Dame Law School, died Feb. 25 at age 83. A member of the Notre Dame law faculty since 1969, Rice specialized in constitutional law and jurisprudence. He is pictured in a 2008 photo. (CNS photo/Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame)
Charles E. Rice, professor emeritus of law at the University of Notre Dame Law School, died Feb. 25 at age 83. A member of the Notre Dame law faculty since 1969, Rice specialized in constitutional law and jurisprudence. He is pictured in a 2008 photo. (CNS photo/Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame)

His funeral Mass was celebrated March 2 at St. Joseph Church in Mishawaka, Indiana, where he and his wife, Mary, moved in 1969.

“Professor Charles Rice epitomized all that is best about Notre Dame,” said his friend and colleague Holy Cross Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor of history. “His contribution as a teacher and scholar in the Law School influenced at least two generations of students to become lawyers who saw their work as a vocation and not just a career.

“His profound commitment to the pro-life cause and to the truths of natural law, which were so evident in his writings, and in his speaking and television appearances, gave him an influence far beyond the Notre Dame campus,” the priest said in a statement.

A 1953 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, Rice earned his law degree from Boston College in 1956 and his master of laws and doctor of juridical science degrees from New York University in 1959 and 1962, respectively.

He served in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

After private practice in New York City, he taught at C.W. Post College, New York University and Fordham University before joining the Notre Dame law faculty.

A popular and colorful teacher and a staunch pro-life advocate, on campus and nationwide, Rice co-wrote numerous legal briefs involving right-to-life and right-to-die issues.

He also was the author of numerous articles as well as 13 books, including “Freedom of Association,” “The Supreme Court and Public Prayer,” “The Vanishing Right to Live,” “Authority and Rebellion,” “No Exception: A Pro-Life Imperative” and, most recently, “Contraception and Persecution.” He held six honorary doctorates.

“Charles Rice was a great man and an extraordinary Catholic,” said Timothy O’Donnell, president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Rise was an adviser to the college’s board.

“Throughout his life, he was a staunch defender of the Catholic Church, which he loved, and a faithful servant of Jesus Christ in every facet of his life, from the raising of his family to the teaching of law at the University of Notre Dame,” he said in a statement.

O’Donnell called Rice “a great friend” whose “passing is a great loss for all of the church, the nation, and us. It truly is an end of an era.”

Notre Dame in a news release about his death said that throughout his years at the university, Rice was a prominent coach, referee and faculty adviser of the annual Bengal Bouts men’s boxing tournament, a fundraising event for the Holy Cross Missions in Bangladesh.

Born Aug. 7, 1931, in the New York City borough of Manhattan, Rice was the youngest of four siblings. His father, Laurence, was active in Irish-American and Catholic organizations in New York City, and these causes remained at the heart of Professor Rice’s beliefs and work throughout his life,” according to an obituary in the South Bend Tribune and posted on www.legacy.com.

“Throughout his life, he was a staunch defender of the Catholic Church, which he loved, and a faithful servant of Jesus Christ in every facet of his life, from the raising of his family to the teaching of law at the University of Notre Dame.”

“A New Yorker at heart, he retained his dry sense of humor and never wavered in his allegiance to his favorite cocktail, a Manhattan on the rocks,” the paper said. “But he also loved Indiana where he and his wife Mary moved in 1969, and often spoke of himself as a regular guy from Mishawaka.”

He served for eight years as vice chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. From 1981 to 1993, Rice was a member of the Education Appeal Board of the U.S. Department of Education. He was a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and to various congressional committees on constitutional issues. He also was an editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence.

Rice’s deep devotion to Christ and Mary — “Notre Dame” — was the source of his commitment to the university “and his passion that Notre Dame stay true to its Catholic identity,” the Tribune obituary said.

In 2006, he joined a chorus of critics opposed to Notre Dame allowing performances on campus of “The Vagina Monologues,” a play that explicitly discusses women’s sexuality, and he argued that the decision showed that “political correctness is the operative official religion at Notre Dame.”

Rice, who spoke often about threats to religious liberty, “loved his Catholic faith and deemed his classes teaching the faith to high schoolers or talks at parishes all over the country as important as any Supreme Court brief that he ever wrote,” it said.

“Family was always a priority for him; his many books were often written on the backs of envelopes while sitting in the bleachers at his children’s swim meets, hockey games or track meets,” it said.

He was among speakers at the 2000 launch of a national student pro-life movement.

He told the students: “The law is settled on the life issues. Don’t kid yourself that reversing Roe vs. Wade will end abortion. Even the four justices opposed to Roe think abortion’s up to the state legislature.”

Rice instead proposed changing the culture. “Our country is at the dying end of the Enlightenment, which was the effort to build a state that did not acknowledge God. It’s time to realize we are not going to change this by law, and just concentrate on speaking the truth.”

In 2009, he was among dozens of people, including 80 bishops, who objected to Notre Dame’s decision to invite President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address that year and receive an honorary law degree. They said Obama’s support of legal abortion and embryonic stem-cell research made him an inappropriate choice.

Rice is survived by his wife, Mary, 10 children and 41 grandchildren.