University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
My Fifty Years at Notre Dame / by Leo R. Ward, C.S.C.

CHAPTER I: Notre Dame, Here I Come

On a fine day over sixty years ago, I first walked up toward the Golden Dome at Notre Dame. I was a green gawk who had never been on a college campus and had not been far in high school. I had made up my mind, not an easy thing for me to do, to be a priest. This "to be a priest" rang at most the tiniest bell in my mind and heart. To be a farmer made sense for I was born one and to be a country teacher for I had been one for several terms. But to be a priest and a Holy Cross priest when I had never heard about "religious" and "secular" priests, and eventually to be a college teacher and the author of trashy books -- these ideas fortunately were far from embarrassing me.

It would have made little difference to Notre Dame, to thousands of students and hundreds of professors, to the Holy Cross priests and brothers or the Catholic Church, if I had never zigzagged across their paths. But all these have made a great difference to me.

By the time of my writing these lines, it would be flattering and comforting if it was true to say "I had a dream." Conceivably and not impossibly, I had a dream and a vision. Stated in hard terms, I went off to be a priest because I was not much good on a farm powered by horses and mules, and because there was not much else I could do. Or because I was too gauche in mixing it at work and games and dances with boys and girls. Or because I feared God, had God-fear closer than God-love to my heart. But perhaps I went because it was understood in our Irish, all-Catholic community that God's help is nearer than the door, that God is to be -- is to be allowed to be -- a continual co-presence with us and that, so our conviction if unravelled would say, this divine co-presence, this God-with-us sense, enjoys its highest expectancy in the priesthood. That is the way our community, itself an almost incredible solidarity, felt; and by today I am sure that decisions are largely community products.

True, I decided and I went off to be a priest. But the family, and the community and culture for years and centuries, were cocreating a priest-making atmosphere. Let them all be blamed along with me.

Leaving home meant much because home meant much to a rural family in a well united community. I was going 400 miles east through Chicago, and I had never been twenty miles from home. I had gone a few miles west on a railway excursion to a ball game when our team beat a big town on the Fourth and I had gone the other way to the county seat to "Normal" and once to a circus; and eight or nine miles north and again south on a horse. All of us were vaguely conscious of strange and foreign Chicago and Indiana. We didn't believe in east, never even thought of it. People went west.

My father and my oldest brother took me to the railway station. Except when I leaned forward to talk about horses and crops, I stood beside a trunk in the tail-end of the spring-wagon. This was on September 7, 1914, and in the wheatfields we had lately been talking about "war in Europe," a place seemingly ten million miles away. My brother said he was going to get married the next June and said I should get a new suit to serve as best man, and father said it would be nice to get a dark blue.

I did not sleep three winks sitting upright on the train from ten at night until seven in the morning. A veteran teacher with an Iowa life certificate, I did not carry anything to read. I watched and saw everything, the dirty train as clean and nice as anticipated, its windows open, and I noted every stop, almost twenty of them in a 319 mile trip.

Whatever may be the good of a great city was lost on me. I was back at home on the farm. Chicago did have good horses, magnificent Clydes and Shires on brewery wagons; farmers knew that their big horses went to breweries or logging camps. As Parmelee Transfer crossed town I sized up its well-driven and sleek sorrel and bay -- wouldn't a pair like that sell for $300?

Otherwise, Chicago was nothing to me and Chicago never turned to look at this young farmer. It got no red cent out of me. What would a rube from Melrose, Iowa want with Chicago newspapers? He'd prefer the Melrose Bell. As for breakfast and lunch, hadn't my mother and a fond aunt packed a decent farmer's meal or two for me? Think how the seminary's ancient boiled rooster would taste.

The old pastor at St. Patrick's, Melrose, established as the bill he lived on, amused us with his instruction for fasting in Lent. "Of course, if you are traveling," and we knew that only he ever traveled. He had told me about Parmelee and the LaSalle Street Station, and it was all working out like a story in a book. At the station were two boys with Notre Dame labels on their baggage. I bearded them, and duly recorded, to write home about, was the fact that one had come right through our home town with me.

In half an hour we were into northwest indiana, its sand dunes a desert. In South Bend we scarcely glanced at the Studebaker plant and soon were wiggle-waggling on the Hill Street car, no wonder of the world to me though less jolty than a wagon, and as we made the last lap we passed a man with a horse conveying my trunk to the seminary. In the trunk was a spare suit, a soft brownish one, which I had bought second-hand, shirts and socks, long stringy underwear for winter and for summer, and my own safety razor, a new device then for a country boy.

All at once we were at Notre Dame. Did my eyes stick out and my mouth open? Not at all. "Campus" was foreign to me. Just as foreign was the figure of a priest standing on a pedestal; priests were more or less foreign in our Catholic and Irish country community, and priests were to remain somewhat foreign to me. The priest on the statue was Father Sorin, the elder of the two co-founders of Notre Dame and, perhaps because he foresaw my invasion of his campus, he had died a few months after I was born.

If I was not a bull in a China shop, I was at least a plow horse stomping through a field. I was unacquainted with the name of Knute Rockne, who -- soon to become co-founder of Notre Dame -- less than a year before had caught {???} touchdown passes from Gus Dorais to beat the Army. I tramped toward the Golden Dome, not even knowing the literal meaning of Notre Dame. I had no idea at all of joining Sorin or Rockne or Holy Cross or Nostra Domina du Lac. All at once I was going alongside one of Notre Dame's two natural lakes which were to mean much to me: my mileage in them must be a record. Until then I had never seen anything more than creeks and muddy ponds. Two men cutting weeds were sizing me up: "Look at the new fellow right out of the corn field!" I also was privileged to size up their rig and outfit -- a one-horse mower! It did not occur to me that the seedy-looking drivers of the swaybacked mare, one of them an amateur plumber, the other an ex-blacksmith, were seminarians.

Up a mound of earth, nothing compared to the Big Hill back home, was a sort of old barn. This makeshift, typical of houses, factories, cow sheds and colleges in America for two or three hundred years, was the seminary. It was not much like a house. It was dingy, as if not meant at all, its parts more or less hanging together, and the only reason that our clothes and books were not eaten by mice was that these were policed by rats, on which we occasionally waged a bloody war. But bad as the shack was, it was redeemed. The soul of the place and the studies and training and discipline -- the way things were done there -- was a man. If the one hundred seminarians had been on their own and had any spunk at all, they might have gone home. But this man redeemed all things and without knowing he did it. His method was a quiet charity-simplicity which he had kept learning with St. Francis de Sales as his tutor. But Francis de Sales, whom I was to learn to admire as combining the hawk and the dove, would have been a mere name to most of us. To me and many another, the man himself was father and mother, brother and sister. The rules did not crowd us or give us the sense of "the establishment."

Up to now the most successful ruler the American Catholic Church has had was Cardinal Gibbons whose method was *vigilant and masterly inactivity." When I was embarrassed because an aunt kept sending me goodies, the boss said: "Let her alone -- it does her more good than it does you harm." The best thing that happened to us who became priests and those who didn't was our friendship with our vigilant St. Francis de Sales. We were encouraged to feel at home; our father-boss said his aim was to make the seminary a home. Our windows were open in important senses, at our back was a woods, mostly pin oak, black and white oak, and in front was a lake lined by elms and sycamores, and every day those who pleased went swimming. We were "let go in," and when the lovely golden autumn came, boys might swim as long as they went every day; two of us did go up to and including the 11th of November, my father's birthday. One day we went in through a big soft snow: we could not balk with all daring Nibs and Ward to go.

Thursday, no classes; chores and housecleaning in the morning, games and walks in the afternoon. Each had some assignment every day keeping us occupied and keeping up house and grounds. Another and myself ran the "commission" wagon to bring supplies. The food was stale, the parboiled old hens a long rooster-crow from down home on the farm. Cattle, hogs and chickens were butchered just off the campus, and now and then the butcher gave us (the commissary department) steaks for ourselves, and the nuns who cooked for the University gave us lobs from long rectangular apple and raisin pies. If all this seems primitive or at least different, it was the way Catholic and Protestant seminaries, and colleges, too, many of them half-seminaries, had been doing for two centuries.

Not only farmers but many city people would find it difficult to imagine how stale the meat and eggs and most of the vegetables were; refrigeration was little known, and the seminary rated last among houses at Notre Dame. I did not complain, and I'd say that those crabbing had little at home.

The successor to the sway-backed mare was a bay pretty to look at, his short-coupled body as sleek as a squirrel's. He'd balk on steep slopes, and nothing could be done until he'd start with a leap. One day I sat holding the reins, and my partner sat with his feet dangling from the wagon's back. All at once the bay leaped like a frog and my pal landed squat on the hill, an event that may have caused him to become a grouchy priest.

The next year I became "steam man" to stoke the plant, and later a "monitor" whose function was to keep the juniors, some only fourteen, at their studies by day and in bed at night. One night a fellow who had little sense of new wine in old bottles bounced child seminarians out of bed at midnight and lectured them on the love of God; he was the forerunner of those who two generations later went for "love-ins" and said with Bishop Robinson's Honest to God that love will home intuitively on the proper objects. The next day the lecturer was put down by the lake scything weeds, and soon afterward was packing his bags for upper Wisconsin. Lately I heard words spoken in the boy voice of a young priest: ". . . show them how much we love Christ, and then they will see that we are real and alive!" He was struggling to prove that he was what he wasn't. In Holy Cross Seminary, it seems to me we did not feel with that heroic cleric that our life was unreal. Yet coming in at twenty-one, as few did, having worked for a living and having taught school and owned calves and horses, I probably had more sense for reality than most seminarians then or now, a sense of responsibility for tools and other property and how hard it is for a family, all working together, to keep fed and shod.

All around us were real and beautiful things that I may have lived more simply into than did boys from towns and cities. Few of them knew the types of oaks or saw the shape and texture of a sycamore's leaves and their spotty shade or could tell a locust from a walnut tree on an April day, few had ever caught the odor of wild grape blossom, had ever stuck bare toes into loam or even seen and cared about the sky. Northwestern Indiana has wonderful sunsets, winter and summer.

More than I then knew, I would never want to be divorced from such things which had been familiar to us on a hilly farm. I vaguely felt that my companions suffered because they lacked sense for grass and trees and they poorly understood horses and pigs. Consciously in reaction to insensitivity, I wrote for "The Scholastic" "The Charm of the Familiar," my first production; this has false words and phrases but I stand by its ideas. We had been reading Lamb, R. L. Stevenson, Agnes Repplier and others; the easy essay, called "familiar" and "personal," attracted me, and my writing even in philosophy has ever since been influenced by this genre. The false part came from imitating catchy words and manners out of English authors, a falsity that stuck with me for several years, no teacher suggesting that style cannot be imported.

I wrote because I wanted to express any feelings and ideas I had. As the article shows I even then had a sense of disciplining myself on ideas, words and phrases. My reaction against insensitivity was less deep than my feeling for nature and the familiar. There may have been an additional and subtler reason. Years afterward when things would not go my way at the University or in society, I would write what I thought I ought to write, but also to let off steam and solve on paper problems I had little opportunity or ability to solve in action. My first printed essay may have been written for the same reason.

Some boys were pleased to see my name in the University paper, then a literary weekly. I was pleased though not elated, but I think no copy of the essay went home to the farm as it should have. Our St. Francis de Sales boss was delighted with anything his boys achieved. We had a "literary society," and the one-man program committee asked me to write and publicly read about my exploits as a country teacher, terrific feats in seminarians' eyes; and to write a poem and publicly read it. Most of the boys were incapable of saying whether there was any poetry in me; the best poet and critic among them was charitable and told me that my poem had one good poetic phrase, "the love-dewed tree," but that I had no poetry in me. (This critic's own considerable spark got little kindling; he ran away from his gift.) I also wrote some sentimental lines of verse about an abandoned log house.

Many were interested in things for which I would not give a cent. From first year of high through the last year of college, it seemed that most were dying for a cigarette of the roll your own variety. One friend of mine disappeared so often to have a "drag" that we called him master of the art of disappearing. Many thought that to see a movie in flickering and blinding lights was next door to heaven. Some lived from year to year, as some still do, to see football games and hope for a winning season.

I did not go for those values. It was not that I was too good a student, too pious or mystical. They just made little sense to me. Not to care for those things and not to tie in with the more or less reigning gang were pretty much the same thing, and without my knowing it I was an independent, would never be a party man, and possibly I gave offense by unconsciously taking my stand. Whether my holding off was through pride or lack of a social spirit or shyness and a kind of clodhopper stiffness, I was and would remain somewhat alone. But I think not too much alone. What I disliked and rejected in movies was what is essential to them: a machine between actors and audience, a heavy dosage of sentimentality, and naivete in both the acting and story: in short, a dehumanizing and lack of finesse.

I liked swimming and liked to study, liked to play baseball, was considered a fair short-ball hitter, though I was awkward and ran as slow as a goose with a broken leg; I liked tag football then allowed in the seminary (I had seen a football in my native hills, but had never seen football or basketball played). When during those years Notre Dame played Yale in football and got well beaten I did not feel loss or gain. On that historic occasion, a college-level New England boy groaned two words, "Old Eli!" I wondered why he took the world so hard; for me the last judgment had not yet come.

Twenty years later, football would be at once a live interest and a problem for me, but up to that time it wasn't even an interesting spectacle. From my five years in that seminary, I recall merely one football event: a Notre Dame end named Johnny Morales, a Mexican, chased a ball out of bounds and retrieved it by diving under what was then called an "au-to-mo-bile." I remember two or three matters from basketball; the hardwood was dirt, some local players were dirty players, and I asked a companion why Notre Dame threw only into the basket at one end.

A sort of reigning gang really existed and I now suppose the boss referred to it in his frequent remarks about "cliques." The constitutions of the Holy Cross men said it would be bad to form "cabals" for a letdown in the rules or to get rid of zealous superiors. (The famous old Brother, Leopold, a saint wandering in his mind and in the corridors, said the monks and superior were cliqued up against both him and the rules).

Many good things were with us. We lived in a woods and all liked the boss, and were spared the unhappy word "subjects," referring to religious. Studies kept us fairly busy. I had taught in Iowa public schools for four years beginning at the age of seventeen and even then was in possession of a life certificate. But one of my chief seminary trials was to sit for hours in the study hall.

The academic life was elementary, a lot of drilling in geometry, Latin and Greek. The idea was that we should get them. The Latin teacher was fussy and now and then moralized about studies; he would say he hoped we would become students modeled on Father so and so who I eventually learned was a witty, clever and lazy Irishman. Math was in the boss's hands, a physicist who made the subject glow; five days a week he inquired whether everyone had got the problems assigned, he had students put on the board and explain matters we slow-learners had failed to get, he gave a prelude to tomorrow's lesson, and had time to tell us about the elections and the war: we never saw a newspaper. He also taught Greek. After a year I taught algebra and after another year I put beginners through elementary Greek, but never with the ease and simplicity of the master.

Exactness, precision, the letter of the law has, so Whitehead said, to be the order of the day at this level, and that is what we got; those who did not get exactness got nothing. As we advanced, we began not to read and enjoy but to struggle with translating Vergil and Homer; the time had passed when people read classics to enjoy them. We and no doubt many others were drudges trying to get through those works. That the works expressed ways of life was something teachers had ceased to understand and those destined to teach could do no more than get words and grammar day by day. One teacher loved Homer, took delight in reading the Greek sonorously and tried to teach us to develop a sense of the caesura in the lines. Even he gave little hint that the subject matter we were studying was a civilization. If we came across "agora" or "acropolis," we got the word but not the meaning.

Third year English was famous because of the teacher. Everybody looked forward to it and looked back happily on it. This was five days a week for a year, was understood to mean work and precision, and the discipline of it was notorious. We had reading assignments every day in Long's history of English literature and in a book of readings: twelve centuries of English literature; a written quiz every day, a given number of lines to write of prose or verse once a week; and if this was not ready at the exact moment, the amount was doubled the next day. The teacher waited at the classroom door for the bell, then we said a prayer and were at work; if a boy came half a minute late, he had trouble. Even so, the feature was that we got something. The teacher corrected our papers and returned them with written and oral comments; though we never saw our quizzes again, he read out our marks, quiz by quiz and down to half points. A real if minor good, I'd say now, was that seminarians roughed it with lay students. Down town was a popular hangout called Hully's and Mike's and a student was commended for doing on that institution some lines

My elbows on the counter My feet upon the floor.

The only praise I got was the word "good" written in the left hand margin of a prose page.

According to Plato and Aquinas among others, the teacher's part is to serve as a midwife helping learning to be born, the student being the chief agent. The teacher aids the student to achieve confidence and desire to go on his own. Studies had meaning for me when I got to studying for fun, to working difficult surplus problems at the end of the algebra text, including one in which we proved that one equals zero, to writing for pleasure, and to extracurricular translating of Vergil and Homer in a big handwriting already becoming strained and backhand.

At home in the country we had men and women who were fiddlers, and if strings were intact our fiddlers could play a tune or two for a dance or to entertain neighbors. When our family acquired a "Lake side Grand" piano, our father was proud of it and of how our two sisters could play; at our big sister's wedding the bride played and she and I sang "Flow Gently Sweet Afton," and she and the groom sang several songs.

When I heard a certain seminarian play the violin, a wonderful and devoted musician on a wonderful instrument, I felt like Keats when first looking into Chapman's Homer

Then felt I like some watcher of the sky When a new planet swims into his ken

or like stout "Cortez" himself staring at the Pacific. It was as if I had never before heard any music. That man's devotion to music and his instrument and the reverence with which he genuflected in the crowded dingy chapel may have added to the mesmerism. No one can now recall what he played, but one says it was "only the classics." Strange that I immediately loved his music, I who could barely read notes and had barely passed the music exam to qualify to "teach music" along with everything else in a rural grade school.

Seminarians grasped nothing of the reality of a war in Europe. They knew less about the war than did Iowa farmers who had at least opposed turning clocks forward an hour. One of my brothers plowed and husked and pretended he thought he was making the world safe for autocracy. The most the seminarians knew was war songs and slogans: "Over There, Over There," "Food will win the war," "Making the world safe for Democracy" and "The war to end all wars." Some in the seminary heard the nocturnal celebrations in South Bend for signing the Armistice, and with "Deo Gratias" at breakfast, a boy shouted, "Come on, fellows. Food has won the war, let's do justice to it!" In class the art of disappearing boy had created an immortal line:

"Be it ever so homely, there's no face like your own."

When I saw varsity debaters, a spectacle in their long-tailed coats, I hung over the banister of Washington Hall and thought, "If I ever could do like that!" My interest was not in the tails, but in the debate. Helped by the war, I made it, was pleased by praise from non-party men in the seminary and elated by praise from the coach who plated me ahead of a man who made it the previous year. College students spoke with florid gestures and paraded on the platform; we defeated -- that was the word -- Ohio State and Purdue, both of them sitting ducks; and the next morning after a victory, a dapper Dan seminarian saluted me: "Ward, you were damn good last night, but I thought you'd break your leg!" All seminarians and a big percentage of lay students attended debates. I did not care who was present, but was more than pleased to hear the seminary boss whisper, "He's good, ain't he!" Generally, I was eaten up by self-consciousness, so that I'd stumble over a straw. But in debates I was conscious only of the matter and of putting a point across.

My feeling is for the underdog, the dispossessed and persecuted; in the seminary, boys with little talent, greenhorns, sons of recent immigrants, were supposed to be looked down on. I do not know the origin of my caring for such people in or out of the seminary; it may have come from my family and especially my mother. It was not that any made fun of me; the mere fact of my having worked, made money and held a then respectable job gave the status. I came from a relatively poor country place, but others who came from poor places missed this sense for people. Related to it was an early acquired feeling against political power, social prestige, the pulling of levers and playing up to the great.

The "feeling for" was unquenchable and has discovered its proper ambit so that by this time old students sometimes ask me if I am still as strong as ever for "man." As if naturally, I was in time to take a stand for blacks, the less privileged nations, working men. I tend to stand against dictators, empire and colonialism, and in the religious life against superiors in general, against such a phrase as -- from a minor official -- "I must get two new teachers," when in fact it is we and students and the department that need them. All the same, I probably like the prestige and power that go with being a priest.

These pro and anti feelings were affecting me in the seminary. A sort of power structure among older boys tended to say which side of seminary issues everyone should take. I don't know what merit or demerit I should get for my automatic and as if pre-conscious refusal to sign up and go along. I simply had to remain independent. A new boy was supposed to get his privileges by joining up. I could not do this. Certain boys or groups were belittled because it was fun for power lovers to lead the way in laughing at them.

Some with a measure of naivete appeared, and others set out almost systematically to make fun of them. I could not go with this sadism. But it took me years to see in a rational way that though it is in order to laugh at people including ourselves, it is wrong to make fun of anyone; at last I also saw that no one can make fun of himself. The greenhorn type, some of whom might make good priests, was fortunate if he could stand the torture. The same problem comes up in college and when I later taught at Notre Dame I tried, feebly and by indirection, to save a Detroit boy who, though possessed of a high I.Q., was socially inexpert, and it hurt me when the boy mounted my stairs and said: "I'm going. I can take this no longer." Leaders in the reigning gang in the seminary were to some extent self-conceited torturers. I intuitively knew it was wrong to nag, even though the thing to do.

When I had been two years in the seminary and was as green as ever, one lovely autumn-day two Polish boys appeared. It was all right to be of Irish, German or French-origin, but beyond those lines the going was tough. The gang impulse was to outlaw those two who, say what one might, did dress differently, look un-Irish-German-French and had what most rated an accent. I could not be indifferent toward them. They were competent and intelligent young men but not quite at home. All I had to do was to speak civilly to them and show them, in whatever farm-life manner I could, that we were going along together. They never forgot this bit of nursing. Thy people my people. Years afterward a superior drew national lines in receiving, retaining or firing boys, he wanted more Irish, fewer Poles, and some priests wanted more Irish and fewer Poles and Italians on the Notre Dame football team.

National or racial groups that have been crushed tend, if given the chance, to "take it out on somebody," usually the next lower group on the totem pole. Possibly members of the reigning crew were obeying that law.

Holy Cross Brothers lived near us in Dujarie Hall, and because they had already made their novitiate, they were a step ahead of us. Yet our prestige group made fun of "the Brothers," and we were to call them the "Dujacks," presumably a bad name; and because when going to university classes they wore black almost Amish hats, the crew laughed at them and called them "Black Crows." Because of their religious status, I thought we should honor the Dujacks. This priest-brother issue eventually became a touchy one. Some thought my attitude meant I was seeking the Brothers' vote. That the judgment was incorrect is seen in the fact that my feeling and reaction in regard to Brothers is what it always had been; we are called to honor each other.

Boys got all kinds of nicknames from all sorts of sources; a German boy was "Shots," and a long time a priest, he remains "Shots," an Irish born boy was "Dooley," Cromby was called "Lord John Crampy," one was called "Jiggs," another "Ribs," and from the day he entered the house one was "Bishop," and until the day he died he still was "Bishop." They might have called me "Lantern Jaw," and a classmate and good friend always called me "Hick Ward." But the name fastened on me was "Doc" and I still am Doc and "Doctor," through an historical accident which only I now recall. Before I reached the house, Dr. Wilfred Ward, whose father was a theologian and an associate of Cardinal Newman and whose daughter, Maisie Ward Sheed, eventually my was my friend and gave lectures at Notre Dame on Newman. Seminarians had to go, and the talk among them for weeks had been "Dr. Ward," and though I never saw this man the name descended on me.

I was up to countryfied jokes and was used a time or two as a stage piece. It was easy for me to stand by like a pillar though to act was beyond my comprehension. We put on a play in which a boy more solemn than myself was to say that the house would be warm this winter because it had two coats on it, but he did much better by saying, "because they painted it twice." In another episode, I did my part too vigorously and the victim scarcely ever did forgive me. Also it occurred to me that our class could dramatize the best of our Greek teachers, an obvious stunt since one boy had imitated him all year. It was fun of a horseplay sort, simple and obvious.

Though our life in that place was largely cut off from American life, we experienced a home such as the old boss hoped. It seemed and still seems a nice meeting of rules and freedom. The boss was good to us, but not too good; he defended us as a group and also boy by boy. Popular at our back door were benches and a sort of town pump. One day a boy who was too nice as a boy, and later as a priest, said in good fun, "Ward, I must say you are owlish-looking." The word was good description, but the boss standing by thought it might hurt and he said that he expected me to become one of the house's finest students. His flattering words made me feel that I belonged.

Those years were pleasant and happy, in part I'd say because I lived with a variety of new friends, in part because I saw that I could read Latin and Greek and do geometry -- is not a child delighted when he begins to read? For many and assuredly for me, who loved home in my native Iowa community, it was chiefly because this seminary was so much a home and a community.

Copyright ©2000 by the Indiana Province of the Priests of Holy Cross. All rights reserved.

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