The Spirit of Notre Dame: Legends, Traditions, and Inspiration from One of America#s Most Beloved Universities


Finally, a book that captures the spirit of Notre Dame. One of the most famous universities in the world, Notre Dame has come to symbolize excellence and faith in action, which sets it apart as an institution and a place that has deeply influenced millions of people. Call it a mystique or grace; there is something about the lure and lore of Notre Dame that evokes admiration and respect. THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME marks the first time that a single book collects the stories ...
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Finally, a book that captures the spirit of Notre Dame. One of the most famous universities in the world, Notre Dame has come to symbolize excellence and faith in action, which sets it apart as an institution and a place that has deeply influenced millions of people. Call it a mystique or grace; there is something about the lure and lore of Notre Dame that evokes admiration and respect. THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME marks the first time that a single book collects the stories that personify the character that is uniquely Notre Dame.

Notre Dame is the Golden Dome, the Victory March, the Basilica, the Grotto, playing fields, dorms, chapels, the library, classrooms, and research centers. But most of all, it is people: from faith-filled visionaries and world-renowned scholars to celebrated coaches and athletes to professors, students, janitors and cooks, volunteers and friends. From the university’s bold founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, to American legends of the football field (and silver screen) Knute Rockne, the Gipper, and Rudy, Notre Dame is the setting for some of our culture’s most uplifting stories of perseverance in the face of tremendous odds.  THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME tells these stories and more . . . of miraclulous athletic comebacks and incredible victories against the odds, of the Notre Dame graduate who survived the Bataan Death March by focusing on the university, of football stars like Chris Zorich who overcame tough circumstances, and of walk-on players who realized their dreams of playing for the Fighting Irish. Included in these pages are stories of the women’s teams who have won national championships in basketball and soccer, and dedicated leaders such as Fathers Corby, Hesburgh, and Malloy; professors Frank O’Malley, Emil T. Hofman, and a line of great teachers whose blood is in the bricks; coaches Leahy, Ara, Holtz, Willingham, and McGraw; and a host of graduates like Dr. Tom Dooley and Judge Ann Williams who have devoted themselves to serving others both on the campus and in the world. Engaging, amusing, and inspiring, THE SPIRIT OF NOTRE DAME is the absolute essential title for the millions of people who have a place in their heart for the Fighting Irish.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385523271
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/16/2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

JIM LANGFORD has been an editor at Doubleday and the University of Michigan Press, and was director of the University of Notre Dame Press from 1974–1999. Author of eight books and a member of the Notre Dame faculty, he has received the Kaneb Teaching Award and is a frequent speaker in the nationwide Hesburgh Lecture Series.

JEREMY LANGFORD is executive editor of religious studies for Rowman & Littlefield and its Catholic imprint, Sheed & Ward. An award-winning author and coeditor of Doubleday’s The Journey to Peace, he grew up in the shadow of the Dome and graduated from Notre Dame in 1992. He lives with his wife and son in Evanston, Illinois.

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Read an Excerpt



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.

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.


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 Bruté de Rémur, 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 Parcé, where his creative energies were stifled. After fifteen months in Parcé, however, Sorin decided to join a small but very impressive band of priests and brothers (the Brothers of St. Joseph founded by Canon Jacques François Dujarié) 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 Bruté in Vincennes for brothers who could teach and work and a priest who could direct them. When Bruté died his successor, Célestin Guynemer de la Hailandière, 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 Hailandière, “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.


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 Hailandière.

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. Hailandière 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 Hai­landière, Sorin and his brothers gathered building materials, borrowed money from the Bank of Vincennes, and began building. When Hai­landière 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, Hailandière 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

Beloved Father,

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.

–E. SORIN(2)

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’Université 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.


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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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