Charles E. Rice, Rest In Peace


Edward White

March 11, 2015

9 min read




On February 25, 2015, Charles E. Rice, a friend of the American Center for Law & Justice, a leader in the pro-life movement, a law professor at the Notre Dame Law School for more than forty years, and my father-in-law, passed away.

He meant a great deal to many people and will be deeply missed. At his wake and funeral, hundreds of people showed up and many others sent their sympathies and flowers. Public and private tributes continue to pour in.

He lived a full and meaningful life, as summarized by his beautiful obituary, reprinted below and written by his children. I cannot do a better job than they did in giving you a description of his life.

Despite his many great achievements and attributes, I remember him most as a prayerful and humble man. His last days of life and the manner in which his wake and funeral were conducted, based on his instructions, illustrate these virtues that he possessed.

While he was hospitalized, his family members and friends came from various parts of the country to spend time with him, mainly in prayer, by his bedside. In his final hours, he was surrounded by his loving wife Mary, to whom he was happily married for fifty-eight years, and by seven of his ten children (the other children and several family members were connected through a speaker phone, having recently visited him). His one request, made weeks earlier, was that in his final moments his family pray one of his favorite Catholic prayers, the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, for him to receive mercy from God upon his death. Within moments of his family finishing that prayer, he passed away in peace.

For his wake and funeral, he left his family “exit notes,” as he humorously called them, providing written instructions on how the wake and funeral should be conducted. His family followed his wishes. No photographs, slideshows, or the like were permitted at his wake or funeral since he viewed those solemn events not as times for the celebration of a life lived, but as times for prayer. No eulogy was said at his wake or at his funeral Mass, and, in the humble way he wanted to be remembered, he was buried in a pine coffin. The celebration of his life, the photographs, the funny stories, et cetera were reserved for the reception that followed his funeral.

It is not often that one gets to know a person who is the “complete package”— a person of faith, achievement, and humility. My father-in-law was such a man. I was privileged to have known him, and it was with great sorrow that I had to say goodbye to him. He was a major influence on the lives of my wife, our children, and myself, as well as on the lives of countless others. May he rest in peace.

Charles Edward Rice, 83, died peacefully at 8:40 PM Wednesday, Feb. 25 at the University of Chicago Medical Center, following an illness.  

He was born August 7, 1931 in Manhattan, NY, 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.  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. 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. Known for his quick wit, he made it a daily practice to scan the obituary pages of the South Bend Tribune, “to make sure he was not in them.”  

Charlie loved Notre Dame and the Fight Song (often giving his grandkids pin-on buttons that played the Fight Song over and over).  His devotion to Jesus Christ and Our Lady--”Notre Dame”--was the source of his commitment to the University and his passion that Notre Dame  stay true to its Catholic identity. He 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.

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.  He passed this commitment to family on to his children, along with his strong faith, and this legacy shone brightly in the last-minute trips his grandchildren made to come from Texas, Atlanta, New York, Dayton and Pittsburgh to be by his bedside the past few days.

Dad was a prolific author who loved talk radio, and reading history, current events, and theology.  His great friend Bruce Fingerhut published many of his later books through South Bend’s Saint Augustine’s Press. When he wasn’t reading he enjoyed great food, often seen at Maury’s Pat’s Pub and West End Bakery, picking up doughnuts for his family after racing Fr. Fisher to the bakery after 7 a.m. Mass.  

He was a “class act” who tipped generously and respected every kind of work.  As a teenager he worked for his father’s construction company and spoke fondly of his hod-carrying days on the skyscrapers of the Big Apple. Despite his six honorary doctorates and many books and scholarly articles, he never forgot his roots as the son of a contractor and immigrant, and he raised his children to respect hard work as well, whether they were painting the farm fence or cleaning out the chicken coop on the family ranch.  He loved his surviving collies and cats, and was predeceased by a long line of rescued animals.

Professor Rice was an accomplished and brilliant scholar but was, first and foremost, a dedicated teacher.  It was not uncommon for his home phone to ring at all hours of the night with calls from students who had experienced a family crisis or just had a question about torts--and he would answer the phone no matter what the hour.  He loved teaching and remained in the classroom until December, and getting grades in on time for students took priority during his hospitalizations. He loved his students, receiving hundreds of Christmas cards every year from people who cherished his direction, friendship and kindness. 

But while humble, he was a man of extraordinary achievement. Prof. Rice received his B.A. degree from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., the J.D., from Boston College Law School and the LL.M. and J.S.D. from New York University. He is also the recipient of honorary doctoral degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville, Christendom College, Kenyon College, and other institutions of higher learning.  He practiced law in New York City and taught at New York University Law School and Fordham Law School before joining, in 1969, the faculty of law at Notre Dame. He served for eight years as State Vice-Chairman of the New York State Conservative Party.  From 1981 to 1993, Professor Rice was a member of the Education Appeal Board of the U.S. Department of Education. He has served as a consultant to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and to various Congressional committees on constitutional issues and was an editor of the American Journal of Jurisprudence.

He proudly served in the United States Marine Corps and was honored as an outstanding recruit by the Daughters of the American Revolution.  He served in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring as a Lt. Colonel, and taking special pride in seeing his three sons, several grandsons, and a granddaughter follow him into military service.  Dad’s Marine toughness lives on as well in the Notre Dame Boxing Club he helped coach for over thirty years, and he announced his intention to “be at the Bouts” this week in spirit.  

He was a renowned speaker and the author of 13 books. Among his books are Freedom of Association; The Supreme Court and Public Prayer; The Vanishing Right to Live; Authority and Rebellion; Beyond Abortion: The Theory and Practice of the Secular State; No Exception: A Pro-Life Imperative; Divided Ireland: A Cause for American Concern; 50 Questions on the Natural Law; and The Winning Side: Questions on Living the Culture of Life. His latest books are Where Did I Come From? Where Am I Going? How Do I Get There?, (2nd ed.) co-authored with his daughter, Dr. Theresa Farnan;  What Happened to Notre Dame?, and Right or Wrong?.  His final work, Contraception and Persecution, called by some his greatest work, was published in 2014.

His continuing 13-part series, The Good Code: The Natural Law is available from the Eternal Word Television Network.

Professor Rice leaves behind his beloved wife, Mary, whom he met at Boston College Law School and subsequently rescued from a life as a lawyer by marrying her.  Together they were blessed with ten children.  Since “there is always room for one more” in an Irish family, the Rice clan expanded to include another son sponsored from South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. He is survived by these children and their spouses, John Rice (wife Nancy, children Patrick, Michael, Catherine, Stephen, Matthew, Theresa and Mary), Mary Hasson (husband Seamus, children Michael and Kris, Mary Kate and Richard, James, Brigid, Peter, John Paul and Patrick), Anne Rice (children Rory, Liadan, and Brendan), Joseph Rice (wife Monika, daughter Miriam), Charlie Rice (wife Rachel, children Joseph, Anneliese and Charles), Jeanne White (husband Edward, children Catherine, Thomas, Daniel, Margaret and George), Theresa Farnan (husband Michael, children Michael, Mary Rose, Jeanne, Joseph, Elizabeth, Sarah, Kathleen, James, Paul and Annie), Kathleen Rice (daughter Maggie), Ellen Rice, Patricia Doran (husband Chad, children James, Claire, Catherine and Julia), and Mung (John) Van Le (wife Lan, son Andrew).  His first great-grandchild predeceased him this past year.  

A man of great learning, he had a deep faith and a special devotion to Our Lady of Fatima and the Divine Mercy of Jesus; he prayed a complete twenty decade Rosary every day.  He was particularly grateful to Fr. Michael Heintz and Fr. Terry Fisher for their spiritual support over the years and through his illness.