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FAITH OF OUR FOUNDER:
REV. EDWARD FREDERICK SORIN, C.S.C.
When this school, Our Lady's school, grows a bit more, I shall raise her aloft so that, without asking, all men shall know why we have succeeded here. To that lovely Lady, raised high on a dome, a Golden Dome, [all] may look and find the answer.
--REV. EDWARD FREDERICK SORIN, C.S.C.
When Father Edward Frederick Sorin and seven fellow brothers reached the land that would become Notre Dame's campus, they literally jumped for joy. On that freezing, snowy day on November 26, 1842, Sorin knew he had found the sacred spot he could finally call home, where he would fulfill his destiny. A large man with dark skin and brooding eyes, Sorin was an imposing figure with an equally imposing faith and sense of divine mission. At just twenty-eight, he was a new priest in a fledgling religious order who embraced the New World as his path to salvation. By all accounts he was ahead of his years: bold, confident, shrewd, practical, and on fire with faith in God and in his fellow human beings. Father Edward Sorin was a man of destiny whose vision for the University of Notre Dame became a reality during his lifetime and has grown in size and shape through extraordinary leadership and the loyal participation of those who have let the spirit of the place light the spirit in them.
FROM PAPER VESTMENTS TO PARISH PRIEST AND BEYOND
Edward Sorin was born in the wake of the French Revolution on February 6, 1814, in La Roche, France. The seventh of nine children of Julien Sorin and Marie-Anne Louise Gresland, he could easily have been lost in the hustle and bustle of his home life and turned off by faith in a world that was highly secularized. Instead, he stood out and embraced the faith of his family, a faith that led his parents to offer their nine-acre farm as a station on the underground network for priests during the French Revolution. With his mother's encouragement, by age twelve Sorin was already studying Latin and, as many children in pious French Catholic families did, role-playing the part of a priest by "saying Mass."
To the delight of his devout parents, Edward traded his homemade paper vestments for real ones by entering the Little Seminary at Precinge and working his way through the Major Seminary in Le Mans. Throughout his studies he often dreamed of missionary work in China, but in 1836 he heard a moving talk by a fellow Frenchman, Bishop Simon Brute de Remur, who had returned to Brittany from the United States to plead for vocations to his Diocese of Vincennes, which encompassed Indiana and Illinois. The seed of going to the New World as a missionary had been planted, but it almost did not take root. Following his ordination on May 27, 1838, the young Father Sorin was assigned as an assistant pastor in the small village of Parce, where his creative energies were stifled. After fifteen months in Parce, however, Sorin decided to join a small but very impressive band of priests and brothers (the Brothers of St. Joseph founded by Canon Jacques Francois Dujarie) brought together by Father Basil Antoine Moreau, a professor he knew from Le Mans. On August 15, 1840, Father Sorin took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience with what came to be known as the Congregation of Holy Cross, named for the suburb of Le Mans, Sainte-Croix, where Moreau was given a piece of property referred to as Notre-Dame from an old priest friend. As a man of vision and impatience, the vow of obedience would prove to be one of the hardest for Sorin to follow.
A year before Sorin became a Holy Cross priest, Moreau had received another appeal from Brute in Vincennes for brothers who could teach and work and a priest who could direct them. When Brute died his successor, Celestin Guynemer de la Hailandiere, continued the appeal. Two years later, Moreau decided to make a sacrifice and send six brothers to the United States. He chose Father Edward Sorin, then just twenty-eight years old, to go with them as their religious superior and advisor. Filled with enthusiasm and hope, Sorin wrote to Bishop de la Hailandiere, "The road to America seems clearly to me the road to heaven. . . . I expect all kinds of suffering, and providing theGood Master continues to protect me, it is all I wish for I have need of suffering. . . . How long these six months will be! My body will be inFrance, but my heart and mind will be with you, Monseigneur! I can only live for my dear American brethren. There is my country, the center of all my affections, the object of all my pious thoughts."(1)
As if Sorin were able to see into his future, two things proved to be very true for him: He would embrace the American way of life, and he would suffer.
GOD, THE NEW WORLD, AND NOTRE DAME DU LAC
On August 8, 1841, Sorin and the brothers, none of whom spoke English, left port from Le Havre aboard an overcrowded passenger ship named the Iowa. When they reached New York harbor thirty-five days later, Father Sorin knelt down and kissed the ground. From the moment he rose to his feet until he died at Notre Dame on October 31, 1893, Sorin never stopped moving in service of God, country, and Notre Dame. Upon arriving in New York, he and the brothers made the difficult trek to Indiana by steamboats, horse-drawn canal boats, stagecoaches, and foot. At the end of the twenty-seven-day excursion--which included a side trip to Niagara Falls, fighting off would-be robbers, and bad weather--the men reached Vincennes one morning in time for Mass and breakfast with Bishop Hailandiere.
Once they settled in, the bishop offered Sorin and the brothers one hundred acres in St. Francisville, ten miles to the west in Illinois, to teach and work with people in the area. Immediately, Sorin exerted his strong will and declined the assignment. Hailandiere then offered the men the assignment of establishing a school and novitiate in the well-established mission station called St. Peter's, which was twenty-seven miles to the east in Indiana and consisted of 160 acres. After praying over it, Sorin and the brothers accepted and went to work. When one of the brothers successfully raised money for their efforts, Sorin replaced the existing log school with a brick building. Not content to stop there, he then decided to build a college. Without consulting Moreau or Hailandiere, Sorin and his brothers gathered building materials, borrowed money from the Bank of Vincennes, and began building. When Hailandiere learned of the plans, he ordered Sorin to stop because the diocese already had a small college, St. Gabriel's, only thirty miles away. But after further consideration, Hailandiere decided instead to offer Sorin a plot of land he owned in northern Indiana for Sorin's plan. Sorin was so excited by the offer that he and his brothers ignored the bishop's caution to wait until spring and made the 250-mile journey through the November ice and snow. Several days after their arrival, Father Sorin wrote the following letter to Father Moreau:
December 5, 1842
When we least dreamed of it, we were offered an excellent piece of property, about 640 acres in extent. This land is located in the county of St. Joseph on the banks of the St. Joseph River, not far from the city of St. Joseph (Michigan). It is a delightfully quiet place, about twenty minutes from South Bend. This attractive spot has taken from the lake which surrounds it the beautiful name of Notre Dame du Lac. . . . It is from here that I write you now.
Everything was frozen over. Yet it all seemed so beautiful. The lake, especially, with its broad carpet of dazzling white snow, quite naturally reminded us of the spotless purity of our August Lady whose name it bears, and also of the purity of soul that should mark the new inhabitants of this chosen spot. . . . We were in a hurry to enjoy all the scenery along the lakeshore of which we had heard so much. Though it was quite cold, we went to the very end of the lake, and like children, came back fascinated with the marvelous beauties of our new home. . . . Once more, wefelt that Providence had been good to us and we blessed God from the depths of our soul.
Will you permit me, dear Father, to share with you a preoccupation which gives me no rest? Briefly, it is this: Notre Dame du Lac was given to us by the bishop only on condition that we establish here a college at the earliest opportunity. As there is no other school within more than a hundred miles, this college cannot fail to succeed. . . .Before long, it will develop on a large scale. . . . It will beone of the most powerful means for good in this country.
Finally, dear Father, you cannot help see that this new branch of your family is destined to grow under the protection of Our Lady of the Lake and of St. Joseph. At least, this is my deep conviction. Time will tell if I am wrong.
But "the spot was already a holy place," writes university historian Arthur Hope, C.S.C., in his 1948 book Notre Dame: One Hundred Years. The first white explorers to set foot on this land were likely the Jesuit Jacques Marquette, in 1675, and Robert Sieur de La Salle in 1679. In 1686, the French Jesuit Claude Allouez established a couple of missionary stations near the river his fellow missionaries had christened the Saint Joseph. One of these he named Ste.-Marie-des-lacs (Saint Mary of the Lakes), because it stood on a hill overlooking a pair of small lakes. One hundred and fifty years later, Father Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, set up a mission in this area and built a log cabin chapel, which later served as the first home of Sorin and his brothers. Badin originally bought the land from the U.S. government and two private individuals and eventually gave it to the Bishop of Vincennes, who in turn gave it to the spirited Sorin. Father Sorin, not yet able to see the second lake on the property under the snow and ice, named his school l'Universite de Notre Dame du Lac, Our Lady of the Lake. While the roots of Notre Dame are French, explains historian Robert Burns, in the first group traveling with Sorin from Vincennes, only two were among his original companions from Le Mans, and four of the five others who had joined the society in Vincennes were recent immigrants from Ireland, a land whose inhabitants have played a major role in the life of the school from the start.
THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME IS BORN
From its beginning and many times throughout its early life, the University of Notre Dame would have closed down had it not been for Father Sorin and the dedicated women and men who believed in his vision and mission. In the pre--Civil War era, some 700 colleges were established, mainly under religious auspices, and most of them failed. But not Notre Dame. Without the luxuries of many Eastern schools, which enjoyed dense populations, a more cultured applicant pool, and a higher income base, Sorin began modestly while dreaming big. The first of the thirty-four buildings he constructed was a log cabin much like Badin's. Next, in lieu of a main building, he built the "Old College" with bricks donated by Benjamin Coquillard, the brother of Alexis Coquillard, founder of South Bend, Indiana. Amazingly, this squat building housed classrooms, a student dormitory, a dining hall, a dormitory for the brothers serving on the faculty, a clothes room, and a kitchen. The building, still in use today, is the only remaining building of the first decade. As early as 1843, Sorin realized that the lakes on campus were rich in marl deposits that yielded raw materials for bricks. By 1844, kilns were producing marl bricks as well as lime plaster and mortar. Until the 1880s, the University kilns created the distinctive "Notre Dame brick" that characterized the look of the buildings and, through commercial sales, helped pay the bills to keep the University running. Since then, most of the University has used Belden brick to maintain continuity with the look and feel of the early buildings.
Sorin's enthusiasm was so infectious that only a year after he began building his school, local resident and state senator John B. Defrees, a Methodist, paid Sorin a visit and offered to procure from the legislature a charter establishing Notre Dame as a university with the legal right to exist and grant degrees. After quickly mobilizing his faculty to establish the necessary curriculum, on January 15, 1844, Father Sorin's school became a university by legislative act. In addition to establishing a modest collegiate program, Sorin opened a grade school, a prep school, and a vocational institute known as the Manual Labor Training School, the first Catholic trade school in the United States. Other Notre Dame firsts soon followed: Scholastic magazine began publication in 1867, what has become one of the most active alumni/ae associations in the country was founded in 1868, the law school opened in 1869, the first Catholic engineering program in America opened in 1873, and in 1889 Notre Dame became the first American college to have electric lights and Sorin Hall the first Catholic dormitory to have private rooms.
"Then and for decades thereafter," writes Kerry Temple, "Notre Dame was a frontier school, with wood-burning stoves, outhouses, and mandatory weekly baths in the lake. Staffed almost entirely by the Holy Cross religious--priests, brothers, and sisters--the school soon had bakers, carpenters, a locksmith, and a shoemaker. Benches and desks were homemade; buildings were constructed with bricks made from the marl of Saint Mary's Lake. Fish and ice were harvested from the lakes, and a farm provided meat and milk, corn, wheat, eggs, and vegetables for a growing student population of grade-schoolers, high-schoolers, and collegians."3 Always hard up for money, Notre Dame worked diligently not to turn students away--allowing some to pay their way through manual labor, livestock, or long-term loans. In the meantime, Father Sorin found resources wherever he could--turning over his own inheritance while encouraging other priests to do the same, convincing the Brothers to work for next to nothing, soliciting funds from the Societies for the Propagation of the Faith in Lyon and Paris, begging throughout the East and Northeast and other areas around the country where Catholics congregated, and signing promissory notes on his own authority and then mailing the bills back to France for his order to pay. He even sent a band of Brothers out west during the gold rush of 1849--50. Not only did the Brothers return empty-handed, one of their own died on the trip.
Excerpted from The Spirit of Notre Dame by Jim Langford and Jeremy W. Langford
Excerpted by permission.
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|Foreword : what is the spirit of Notre Dame?|
|Preface : love thee, Notre Dame|
|Introduction : the spirit of Notre Dame||1|
|Faith of our founder : Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin||7|
|The virtues of Notre Dame||21|
|Interlude : Notre Dame's second founder : Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh||80|
|Interlude : fulfilling the promise : Notre Dame today and tomorrow||137|
|Afterword : Notre Dame, our mother||261|
|Afterword : the spirit of Notre Dame is||267|