Meeting Muhammad Ali

Sr. Elaine DesRosiers, OP
Article by Sr. Elaine DesRosiers, OP

Sr. Elaine DesRosiers recounts her memory of meeting Muhammad Ali:

In 1959, I was principal of the new Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Louisville, KY.  At that time, schools could get maps and globes by redeeming Pepsi Cola bottle caps. (Remember when soda came in bottles?) I was also a Saturday student at Nazareth College (now Spalding University); and all the Dominican Sisters studying there would bring me little bags of bottle caps for the school. One Saturday, a handsome young man who was sweeping the floor offered to collect bottle caps from the Nazareth Pepsi machines for me. Every Saturday afterward he brought me a bag of bottle caps.

A few months later, I was reading a feature article in LIFE magazine about Cassius Clay, who had just won Gold in the 1960 Olympics. A photo showed him returning to Nazareth College to greet the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, who had hired him as a part-time maintenance worker while he trained for the Olympics. “Well, that’s the young man who saved bottle caps for me!” I said.   Whenever I’d look at our new maps and globes, I’d think with delight about the Olympic Champion who’d helped us get them.

ali 2The photo shows Muhammad Ali visiting with me in 1988 at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. A staff member in the Educational Media Center at Notre Dame invited the Great Ali to surprise the Notre Dame students who were training for the Bengal Bouts, an annual fundraiser for the Holy Cross missions in Bangladesh. Ali was brought to meet me because of the story of the bottle caps. Of course, Ali did not remember, but he graciously kidded me about how old I must be if I had known him “back then. He already had Parkinson’s, but entertained us with a little performance where he pretended he could levitate off the ground. It was a great moment for us all to have “The Greatest” come to Educational Media. We shall all miss him. He died June 3, 2016.

Posted in News

8 responses to “Meeting Muhammad Ali

  1. Dear Elaine,
    Like Ali I am a native of Louisville and was a student at Nazareth; however, I never met “the Greatest.” Your story brought back memories of keeping up with the exploits of our native son but even more with events of my early life in Louisville as we’ll as our shared life at St. Stephen Martyr. Thanks for writing!

  2. Thanks for sharing this memory with us, Elaine. It is good to know that he was generous with his time before he became famous.

  3. What a great story, Elaine! Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Ali clearly had a generous spirit. So glad you had the opportunity to meet him… and to re-connect after many years to share your memory!


  4. Elaine,
    What a wonderful memory ! Thanks for sharing. It is a very touching story and confirms other remembrances that speak of his generosity.

  5. Thanks, Elaine, my brother would love to meet you — he would storm you with questions you wouldn’t have of Ali’s life. But I will tell him we have a sister who knew him personally — and he will just be so glad to hear of his generosity.

  6. Elaine, I had read that Muhammad had always had a great generous spirit so I loved your article. I’ve made copies and going to share with our staff and other Small Faith Communities. It also confirms the ministry of our Sisters. Thanks, Elaine
    Rose Mary

  7. Elaine,
    Thanks for the interesting story. I think the redhead in the blue blouse in the photo is also “The Greatest.”


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