April 8, 2011
Following his graduation from Notre Dame in 1967, Matt Dwyer, one of the founding members of the University’s men’s lacrosse club, traveled to Sierra Leone, West Africa as a member of the Peace Corps. Despite his untimely passing in 2003, Dwyer still is having an impact on the continent of Africa to this day through the actions of his daughter and the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team.
Matt’s daughter Anna followed in her father’s footsteps by enrolling at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2007. Anna, now a senior at the school, knew that coming to Notre Dame would give her opportunities to take part in unique experiences just like her father was able to do.
“My decision to come to Notre Dame had a lot to do with the fact that it was my father’s alma mater,” says Anna. “I was looking at colleges during my junior year of high school, which was just a year after my father had passed away. When I visited Notre Dame several opportunities appealed to me including study abroad in Africa, the Women’s Boxing Club, and the ability to study the Irish language. My father’s zeal for sports, his love of his Irish heritage, and his experience in Sierra Leone in the Peace Corps in addition to his enthusiasm for all things Notre Dame provided the starting point for all of these interests. Notre Dame was an obvious fit to explore them simultaneously.”
Anna joined the boxing club as a freshman and she has fought in the Baraka Bouts in each of the past four years. The Baraka Bouts are exhibition boxing matches that Notre Dame female students compete in to raise funds for Missions in East Africa. Most of the money raised through the Baraka Bouts goes to the African country of Uganda, where Notre Dame sponsors a study abroad program.
“I was determined to apply to the study abroad program in Uganda,” states Anna. “During my junior year, I studied abroad there and while I completed coursework in Kampala, I was regularly in contact with the priests, brothers, and staff of Holy Cross at their Mission Center outside of Kampala. Life in Uganda is very different and it was very comforting to have such a strong connection to Holy Cross as a link to Notre Dame. Also, I think I was able to learn more about Uganda from the Ugandans who work with Holy Cross because there was the Notre Dame connection.”
After she completed her course work, Anna stayed an extra two weeks in Uganda. Her friend Kathleen Stanley, who is a fellow boxing captain and officer for the club, joined her for the two weeks and they visited the Lakeview Senior Secondary School, which is where a lot of their boxing funds go to support. They were able to witness firsthand how their involvement with the boxing club had an impact in the area.
Anna came away from her time in Africa with a much better understanding of the challenges that faced the Ugandan people. That knowledge encouraged her because it made the issues feel more approachable. She was excited to return to Notre Dame and to the boxing club and communicate a clearer message of what they were supporting abroad.
“While I choose a different sport than my father and I ended up exploring a very different part of Africa, I doubt I would have done either without his initial displays of passion for sports, Sierra Leone and Africa, international affairs, and service,” says Anna. “Likewise, I would not have been able to follow through with these interests were it not for my Mom’s extensive support and encouragement.”
Matt Dwyer had an obvious impact on his daughter and her pursuit of helping those less fortunate and he also has had his legacy carried on through the Fighting Irish men’s lacrosse team. An endowment called the Dwyer Fund was created at Notre Dame in Matt’s memory that funds the team’s community service initiatives. Their community service has ranged from mentoring local youths in the South Bend area to trying to secure peace in Sudan.
Not only has the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse program been one of the nation’s best over the past several seasons, the student-athletes also have been valuable contributors to society. In 2008, the team was recognized with The Trophy Award at Notre Dame’s seventh annual O.S.C.A.R.S (Outstanding Student-Athletes Celebrating Achievements and Recognition Showcase). Established by the Office of Student Welfare and Development at Notre Dame, The Trophy Award annually recognizes an athletic team that has demonstrated its commitment and dedication to the community through unparalleled community service to Notre Dame and South Bend.
The Dwyer Fund has provided the resources for the men’s lacrosse team to start a flag football program with the St. Augustine Parish youth ministry group. Through money from the fund, the team has been able to purchase the belts and pylons needed to set up the well-organized games after church on Sundays in the fall. The fund also enables them to hold occasional pizza parties with the kids in the youth ministry group.
The men’s lacrosse team also has been able to build relationships with local schools, including Marshall Elementary. Members of the team have mentored students from Marshall and the fund has enabled some of those students to come to the Notre Dame campus in the fall for a holiday dinner in the dining halls and to a lacrosse game and pizza party during the spring.
The Fighting Irish squad has been able expanded their horizons in their mission to help humanity thanks to the Dwyer Fund.
In early December of 2010, the Irish men’s lacrosse and men’s basketball teams worked together with Notre Dame student government and a host of departments across the campus to sponsor the Playing for Peace 3v3 basketball tournament. The tournament’s purpose was to raise awareness for peace in Sudan. The event also featured a Stand With Sudan peace rally.
Later that month, a delegation from the University of Notre Dame that included men’s lacrosse operations assistant Kevin Dugan and junior defenseman Jake Brems spent time in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Md. to further the school’s commitment to peace in Sudan by advocating for full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan.
The group had meetings with key policymakers and non-governmental organizations. Among the stops on the trip were the White House, the State Department, Senator Richard Lugar’s (Ind.) office, Congressman Joe Donnelly’s (Ind.) office and Catholic Relief Services Headquarters.
Uganda also holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team just like it does with Anna. Members of the team have been instrumental in helping form the Uganda Lacrosse Association through a non-profit organization called Fields of Growth, which was started by Dugan.
Dugan along with members of the Notre Dame team and other men’s and women’s lacrosse student-athletes from across the country have taken service trips to Uganda to help with building schools and other humanitarian efforts.
These ventures, both locally and internationally, would not have been possible without the Dwyer Fund. The endowment has been aided by several men’s lacrosse alumni and it has helped carry on Matt’s legacy of community service, which was such a big part of his life.
Matt was born in Syracuse, N.Y. and after volunteering in the Peace Corps he was drafted into the Army where he trained in General Westmoreland’s Vietnamization program and became fluent in Vietnamese. Due to his Peace Corps duty, Matt was assigned as a personnel clerk in Long Binh, Vietnam.
Cornell Law School was next on the docket for Matt. After graduating from law school in 1974, he was hired as a law clerk in Lake Placid, N.Y. While in upstate New York, he served on several boards and continued to be an asset to the community in any way possible.
“Community service was a strong message to Matt when he was an undergraduate at Notre Dame,” says his widow Barbara. “He continually gave back to his community, wherever he was, whether it was Peace Corps, the Army, law school or the Adirondacks. He conveyed this to our children as well.”
Matt and Barbara were married in 1975 and they settled in Lake Placid. Anna is the second youngest of their four children. Matt and Barbara’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth, graduated from the Whitman School of Business at Syracuse, while their second daughter, Olivia, graduated from Cornell University with a degree in natural resources. Their son, Peter, is a junior at the College of Holy Cross (Mass.) with a double major in Russian and political science.
“Matt always encouraged to our children the participation in organized sports as a form of discipline in one’s life and a balance,” states Barbara.
Along with being a lacrosse player, Matt also loved to hike, ski and kayak. He enjoyed the challenges and possibilities that life held. Barbara says that Matt’s most meaningful project in the Peace Corps was when he was involved in building a concrete bridge between two villages that previously only had contact for two months out of the year in dry season.
He also was responsible for building a bridge that connects his daughter Anna’s work in Africa and beyond to that of his former team.
Matt’s graduation from Notre Dame in 1967 was 14 years before the Fighting Irish men’s lacrosse team gained varsity status at the University. Those early club teams were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the successes that the current team is enjoying on and off the field.
The team’s work in both areas continues this weekend as the Fighting Irish will look to remain undefeated on the season when they play host to Georgetown on Sunday in a key BIG EAST Conference showdown. The Notre Dame program is using the game as a platform to further their Playing for Peace initiative for Sudan. Following the game, there will be a 7v7 inter-hall Playing for Peace lacrosse tournament.
These efforts to raise awareness are needed because Sudan continues to face many challenges. As a new nation, South Sudan is very vulnerable to internal and external conflicts, violence and injustice continue to cause suffering in Darfur.
Helping those in need is something Matt Dwyer strove to do throughout his life. That legacy continues to this day through the hard work of his daughter and his former team.