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Five Famous Notre Dame Alumni

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, St. Joseph County, was founded in 1842 when 28-year-old French priest, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. and seven companions of the Congregation of Holy Cross were given 524 acres from the Bishop of Vincennes.

In the early decades, just a dozen or so actual college students attended annually (it was more a place of religious apprenticeships, grade school, and a manual labor school). But the main campus—famous for several incredible landmarks including the Golden Dome, “Word of Life” mural (also known as “Touchdown Jesus”), the Morris Inn, and Basilica—now covers 1,250 acres and has a student population of over 12,000.

If you’re looking to visit or tour the legendary campus, be sure to check out where to have some game day fun with the Fighting Irish, and see one of the most beautiful college cathedrals in America.

While Notre Dame has no shortage of famous athletic alumni from the legendary Fighting Irish programs, there are even more notable graduates from many other interesting fields. With such a storied history (and about 120,000 alumni), there are bound to be some interesting individuals.

From authors and astronauts to TV stars and a former Secretary of State, read on for a list of five (well, six really) famous Notre Dame alumni, each of whom holds a special connection to the university’s place in Indiana’s storied history.


1. Regis Philbin

In case you haven’t heard of him, Philbin is an American media personality, actor, and singer known for hosting game and talk shows since the 1960s.

Highlights from his impressive resume include hosting Live! with Regis and Kathie Lee starting in 1988, which became Live! with Regis and Kelly in 2001. He also debuted and hosted several hit shows including Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Million Dollar Password, and the first season of America’s Got Talent.

Philbin earned a degree in sociology from Notre Dame in 1953, and often spoke fondly of his Alma Mater during his Guinness World Record-holding career—he holds the record for most time spent in front of a television camera.

2. Michael Good and Kevin Ford

A two-for-one. Several Notre Dame Alumni have had incredibly successful careers in engineering, aeronautics, aviation, and as astronauts for NASA. Two of the most notable are Michael Good and Kevin Ford.

Michael Good

Good, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering at Notre Dame in 1984 and a Master’s in 1986, is a NASA astronaut and former Colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

He flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis during the fifth and final Hubble servicing mission in 2009, logging 15 hours and 58 minutes outside the shuttle during spacewalks. He travelled 5,276,000 miles in 197 earth orbits. After returning to earth, he made sure to pay a visit to his alma mater.

Good met with College of Engineering and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps students, and gave Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., a photo collage and Notre Dame banner he took aboard Atlantis. Father Jenkins gave Good a framed Notre Dame number 84 football jersey, a nod to the year Good graduated with his bachelor’s degree. In 2010, on a mission to the International Space Station, Good completed another 186 orbits and travelled 4,879,978 miles.

Kevin Ford

Earning a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Notre Dame in 1982, Ford is a retired NASA astronaut and U.S. Air Force Colonel.

He joined NASA in 2000 as a pilot, and worked on advanced exploration issues, avionics, and testing. In October 2012, he arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) for a five-month (143 day) tour of duty as commander.

His fondness for Notre Dame was clear even in orbit, as he took a variety of Notre Dame memorabilia with him into space, including an “Explore Like a Champion Today” sign. He has logged 4,700 flying hours and holds Federal Aviation Administration commercial certificates for planes, helicopters and gliders.


3. Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice was the 66th U.S. Secretary of State and also a former National Security Advisor. She earned a master’s degree in Government & International Studies from the University of Notre Dame in 1975, and went on to work as one of the America’s top political scientists and diplomats.

Rice served as President Bush’s foreign affairs advisor during the 2000 presidential campaign, and previously served from 1989 to 1991 in George H.W. Bush’s administration as director and senior director of Soviet and East European affairs in the National Security Council.

She logged more miles traveling than any other Secretary of State, and pioneered the policy of Transformational Diplomacy, which worked on expanding the number of responsible democratic governments in the world.

Rice previously served on Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees and as a member of the advisory council for Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters. She also received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree and delivered the principal address at the college’s 1995 commencement.


4. Phil Donahue 

Donahue is an American media personality, writer, and film producer best known as the creator and host of The Phil Donahue Show (one of the first ever talk shows that included audience participation). After beginning in Dayton, Ohio, in 1967, his show had a 29-year run (nearly 7,000 one-hour daily shows) on national television that ended in New York City in 1996.

Donahue’s approach frequently focused on topics that divided opinions on the political spectrum, and he interviewed several famous figures, including Malcolm X, Elton John, Muhammad Ali, and presidential candidate John F. Kennedy.

He (and his show) won 20 Emmy Awards, and his success led to him being named to TV Guide’s Top 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time.

Donahue graduated from Notre Dame with a Bachelor of Business Administration, Marketing, in 1957.


5. Nicholas Sparks

Odds are you’ve shed a tear or shared a laugh over one or more of Nicholas Sparks’ amazing stories.

Sparks has sold over 105 million copies of his novels worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 75 million copies in the United States alone. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers—and several made into successful films—with some of his most popular stories including A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, and Dear John.

Sparks donates to several charities, and is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame, where he also provides annual scholarships, internships, and a fellowship. He attended as a student on a full track and field scholarship, majoring in business finance, and graduated with honors in 1988. 

Now that you’re familiar with some famous Notre Dame alumni, be sure to tour the beautiful campus while exploring South Bend-Mishawaka!