The Notre Dame Archives and Hesburgh Libraries recently opened an online portal featuring materials from the papers of longtime University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh: https://hesburghportal.nd.edu
Important stories of Hesburgh’s life and career are showcased by select photographs, video, audio, and writings, mostly from his own papers housed at the Notre Dame Archives. The hope is that the items digitized for this portal will aid scholars world-wide, but will also whet their research appetite to dig deeper into the collections in the Notre Dame Archives. The finding aid for the Father Theodore M. Hesburgh Papers shows the vast amount of materials originating from Hesburgh, but there are many other collections and resources within the Notre Dame Archives and Hesburgh Libraries that help to tell his remarkable life story.
In the early 1880s, the Notre Dame faculty and administration were discussing a way to engage American Catholic lay men and women with the hierarchy of the Church. University President Rev. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Edward Sorin, and Professor James Edwards decided that Notre Dame should bestow a medal of honor each year on an American lay Catholic member, preferably a college-educated “man of letters,” in similar fashion as the Vatican’s Golden Rose. The Laetare Medal quickly became not only the highest honor Notre Dame bestows, but also the highest honor American Catholics can receive.
As the medal was initially presented on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the medal was known as the Laetare Medal. Notre Dame administrators or a delegate usually presented the medal to the recipient away from campus. As time grew on, the presentations floated further away from Laetare Sunday to accommodate the recipient’s schedule, but the announcement is still made on Laetare Sunday.
John Gilmary Shea was the first recipient of the Laetare Medal in 1883. Artist Eliza Allen Starr, dear friend of Rev. Edward Sorin, was the third recipient of the Laetare Medal and the first female recipient in 1885. Edward Pruess accepted the 1887 medal under anonymity, not wanting public honors. It wasn’t until after his death that his name was added to the honor roll.
In the early years, an illustrative announcement accompanied the medal. This practice ended in 1908 on the Silver Jubilee of the Laetare Medal. Each medal has a unique design, reflecting an important aspect of the recipient’s life. For example, aviation pioneer Albert Zahm’s (Class of 1883) medal features an airplane and the Golden Dome (see above) while President John F. Kennedy’s medal features the Presidential Seal of the United States.
For decades, Notre Dame administrators, usually accompanied by the local bishop or other Catholic hierarchy, would bring the medal to the recipient. Usually the ceremony was simple, but other times it was a lavish affair. In 1911, former Notre Dame professor Maurice Francis Egan, who was then service as the United States Ambassador to Denmark, was awarded the Laetare Medal. Notre Dame invited dozens of dignitaries, including cabinet members, congressmen, high-ranking military officials, and foreign ambassadors to the presentation ceremony.
In 1918, Los Angeles Bishop John Cantwell spoke to a packed crowd in the Shrine Auditorium on the occasion of the Laetare Medal presentation to attorney Joseph Scott:
“This distinguished assemblage of citizens is unique among civic gatherings. We come together this evening to witness an academic act of a university whose center is far from here, but whose range of activity is confined only by the continent. … When the University of Notre Dame confers the Laetare Medal this evening, it is the witness of a great university to the superb character of Mr. Joseph Scott.”
[“Joseph Scott Receives the Laetare Medal,” The Tidings, February 28, 1919; CJWC 14/22]
For the Golden Jubilee of the medal in 1933, the presentation was held at Notre Dame’s Commencement. All living medalists were invited and among those who returned to campus to speak were Margaret Anglin, Al Smith, and Dr. James J. Walsh.
In 1968, the Notre Dame search committee opened up the requirements of Laetare Medalists to include clergy, not just lay people. The first religious Laetare Medalist was Rev. John O’Brien, a Notre Dame faculty member and popular author. Notre Dame has also awarded the Laetare Medal jointly to married couples and groups.
By the 1970s, the presentation of the Laetare Medal became a regular part of Commencement Exercises, and the medal recipient is one of the principle speakers. In 2006, Laetare Medalist jazz musician Dave Brubeck also graced the audience with a performance of “Travelin’ Blues” (see video below). In 2009, Mary Ann Gleason declined the Laetare Medal in protest to Notre Dame’s decision to name President Barack Obama as Commencement speaker and award him an honorary degree.
For the centennial of the Laetare Medal in 1983, University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh admitted,
“there was serious discussion whether the University should continue to make the annual award. After all, with twenty-one Catholic members of the United States Senate, we are hardly an immigrant minority; we have entered the mainstream. But the consensus was that our nation will always need – and it will be salutary to recognize – the kind of men and women who have worn the Laetare Medal, persons of excellence and faith who exemplify best what it means to be both American and Catholic. For this reason, I suspect that there will be a Laetare Medal as long as there is a Notre Dame”
[Laetare Medal Centennial: 1883-1983, PNDP 40-La-01].
In 1888, Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, celebrated his Golden Jubilee – fifty years since his ordination as a priest on May 27, 1838, in LeMans, France. Shortly after his ordination, Sorin joined Rev. Basil Moreau’s fledgling Congregation of the Holy Cross, which sent Sorin as a missionary to America in 1841. Father Sorin arrived at Notre Dame in November 1842 and for the next fifty-one years he grew the University and the Congregation into world-renowned institutions.
Appropriately enough for a man who dedicated his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the grand celebration was scheduled for August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. One problem with that, however, was that classes didn’t resume until September, so many of the Notre Dame students would not be on campus to participate in the festivities.
To accommodate the students’ schedule, Acting University President Rev. John Zahm scheduled another celebration on the actual anniversary of Sorin’s ordination. This celebration was a private affair for the Notre Dame students to express their gratitude to their adored Founder and few visitors were invited.
On Saturday, May 26th, the eve of Sorin’s anniversary, every building on campus was decorated with flags, banners, flowers, and garland. At 4:00 pm, there was a reception with the students, faculty, and administration in Exhibition Hall. The afternoon’s entertainment included student speeches, poems, and recitals as well as performances by the Orchestra and South Bend St. James Vocal Quartet.
After dinner, Sorin, Zahm, and faculty members retired to the Main Building porch, where below the Band played and the student military units gave their gun salutes. Then a barouche drawn by two black horses came up Notre Dame Avenue by surprise. Professor John Ewing presented the carriage and steeds to Sorin as a gift from the students, faculty, and alumni.
As night fell, “there was a grand illumination of the college buildings and grounds. … Chinese lanterns of every hue and size swung from tree and arch and fountain in the beautiful parterre before the college, while flags and festooning and colors gay made the solemn towering walls of the main building put on a look of gladsomeness. And out of every window of the massive pile… there beamed the noon-day brilliancy of the Edison light.” The Band, gun salutes, and student cheers continued underneath a fireworks display. “The wonted sylvan stillness of Notre Dame was kept in exile far into the night” [Scholastic, 06/02/1888, page 595]
Sunday, May 27th, began with Solemn High Mass sung by Rev. Edward Sorin with Rev. William Corby delivering the sermon. Afterwards, under threat of rain, Sorin quickly blessed the cornerstone of Sorin Hall, a dormitory with private rooms for the collegiate students. The day continued with more banquets, speeches, toasts, performances, and military drills, in typical Notre Dame fashion. Due to the weather, the scheduled baseball games and and boat races were deferred to Monday.
[photoshelter-img i_id=”I0000jZvDw1WUsco” buy=”1″ caption=”Sorin Hall exterior, c1893. Corby Hall is under construction in the background.” width=”576″ height=”480″]
The official celebrations for Father Sorin’s Golden Jubilee took place on August 15, 1888. Thousands of people, clergy and lay, were on campus for the event and many more sent Father Sorin letters and telegrams, congratulating him on his milestone. Due to the far-reaching influence of Sorin and Notre Dame, formal invitations were not issued. Rather, Father Corby issued general invitations in newspapers across the country via the Associated Press.
The arrival of James Cardinal Gibbons to South Bend the day before itself was the cause of much fanfare. “An immense concourse of citizens was gathered at the station in South Bend on Tuesday evening together with several Catholic societies, bands and any number of people in vehicles. So great was the crowd and the desire to see the Cardinal when the train arrived that it was almost impossible for him and his suite to reach their carriages. Very Rev. Father Corby took charge of the Cardinal in Father Sorin’s barouche, and the long procession filed down South street into Michigan, and then across the Water street bridge and on out to Notre Dame. Bands of music were playing, the great bell of Notre Dame could be heard, and all along the line of march were decorations and illuminations.
The society of the Ancient Order of Hibernians of South Bend acted as escort” [Scholastic, 08/25/1888].
There ceremonies of August 15th started off at 6:00 am with the consecration of Sacred Heart Church. Bishop Joseph Dwenger of Fort Wayne led the consecration ceremony, which lasted three hours. Bishop Maurice Burke of Cheyenne then blessed the large bell in the tower of the Basilica. The cornerstone for the Basilica was laid on May 31, 1871; the first mass and blessing was held on August 15, 1875. The Lady Chapel addition was completed in late 1887, in time for Sorin’s Jubilee; but the steeple wouldn’t be complete until 1892. In February 1888, Father Sorin requested that Sacred Heart Church be elevated to the status of Basilica Minor, a title that would eventually be realized over a hundred years later in 1992.
[photoshelter-img i_id=”I0000RFMbX5hkSik” buy=”1″ caption=”Basilica of the Sacred Heart exterior without the steeple, 1888.” width=”576″ height=”352″]
Father Sorin said low Mass at 9:30 am. Just after 10:00am, Cardinal Gibbons celebrated High Mass and a choir from Chicago sang Haydn’s Imperial Mass. “The Knights of St. Casimir, clad in the full uniform of the Polish guard, were drawn up before the communion rail with sabres drawn, and all this, with the glittering tapers, the clouds of incense, the thunder of the great organ, and the solemn nature of the celebration, made the scene an impressive one” [Scholastic, 08/25/1888].
Archbishop John Ireland gave the sermon, which was later published and distributed, including in Scholastic‘s Jubilee issue. Mass let out at 12:30 pm, which was followed by a lavish banquet with numerous toasts and speeches in the Main Building refectories.
Later in the afternoon, Bishop John Watterson of Columbus, Ohio, dedicated and blessed the buildings of the “New Notre Dame.” The Second Main Building had been consecrated in 1866, but it and several other buildings were destroyed by fire in April 1879. The evening concluded with fireworks and musical performances by local bands and the Chicago musicians who earlier sang at Mass.
Sorin’s Golden Jubilee and Notre Dame’s Golden Jubilee a few years later marked a long history of growing success for the Congregation of Holy Cross and her famous University. These Jubilees also held deeper ramifications for the Catholic Church in America: “What had been accomplished at Notre Dame under [Sorin’s] stewardship seemed to a wider public emblematic of the growth and maturing of the American Catholic Church as a whole, an there were those in high places anxious to give expression to this fact. To honor the founder of Notre Dame was in effect to proclaim the enduring and legitimate status of the Church, after much struggle, had attained within American society. In accord, therefore, with the late nineteenth century’s predilection for gaudy celebrations, featuring bands and banquets, fireworks and fiery oratory, plans were formulated at the beginning of 1888 to solemnize Father Sorin’s golden anniversary as a national as well as personal triumph” [O’Connell, page 702].
On a beautiful November 13, 1875, the steamship L’Amerique left New York and set sail for Le Havre, France. Aboard were Rev. Edward Sorin, making one of his many journeys between America and Europe, and Catholic artist Miss Eliza Allen Starr. They were supposed to arrive on November 23, but their plans took a great detour.
Around 3:30am on Sunday, November 21, 1875, the shaft of the L’Amerique broke and left her strandednear the Scilly Islands in the Celtic Sea. The nearby Royal Mail Steamship China was able to take on a few of L’Amerique’s passengers and cargo, but many stayed behind. November 23rd newspaper reports claimed that “L’Amerique was proceeding under sail for Havre, all well” [The Patterson Weekly Press, November 25, 1875]. Scholastic reported similar news, not knowing yet that L’Amerique and many of her passengers were still stranded, although not sinking.
Father Sorin and Miss Starr were among the passengers left behind on the disabled steamer. They hoped a rescue ship would come by that Friday. The week’s weather was beautiful and calm: “On Friday evening the ship seemed actually to stand on a sea of glass, so profound was the calm. The sounds on board were as peaceful and domestic as those of a country-house. In fact the stillness was so deep as to be solemn, and almost oppressive; for no ship had come, as we had so confidently expected” [Starr, “Pilgrims and Shrines”]. Then the weather turned and the sea became rough.
A German rescue boat finally found L’Amerique on Tuesday, November 29th. However, “the roughness of the sea and the darkness preclude all thoughts of a transfer. She could only take our dispatches to Southampton, and go on her way” [Starr]. While the weather once again cleared, no ships arrived to the rescue. Fortunately, there were enough provisions on board to sustain the crew and passengers the extra week at sea. However, thoughts of not being rescued lingered in the minds of Starr and Sorin. They were comforted by prayer and both vowed to keep the devotion of a Thousand Hail Marys.
On Sunday December 5th, L’Amerique was approached by a group of fishermen from Newfoundland. Unfortunately, their boats were not capable of rescuing the steamer. L’Amerique had no means of communication and they could only hope that a passing steamer would find them before it was too late. Back home, the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students worried greatly: “The non-arrival of the ‘Amerique’ causes great anxiety—
Telegraphic reports from Paris and London describe the ‘Amerique’ as going slowly but surely to the destined port. But though these reports allay any extreme fears for the safety of our Venerated Very Rev. Father Sorin, and the other dear friends on board—still, the suspense and anxiety will be very painful till certain tidings of the safety of her passengers reach us” [Scholastic, 12/11/1875].
The Ville de Brest had gone in search of the incapacitated L’Amerique on November 24 and finally spotted her on December 5th and approached closer at midnight. The weather and rough seas prevented a rescue for another week. On December 12th, the crew of the Ville de Brest transferred the ninety passengers from L’Amerique and towed the disabled steamer back to Ireland.
Father Sorin wrote to Scholastic about the ordeal and said that during the transfer to the Ville de Brest Miss Starr “went down bravely enough half the length of the rope ladder along the side of the big boat, but when she reached the lower boat I could see she was still alive by the sign of the cross she was making and repeating. Ah! she is a Christian woman” [Scholastic, 01/08/1876].
After the Ville de Brest rescued L’Amerique, the continued storms prevented a swift return to port. They wouldn’t arrive safely at Queenstown harbor until December 18, 1875, nearly three and a half weeks after their original anticipated arrival date in Le Havre. Ville de Brest then took the passengers to Le Havre through more storms. From there, the travelers took the train to Paris, arriving on Christmas Day. They went to Mass at Notre Dame des Victoires, where prayers and Masses had been said for weeks earlier for their safe rescue.
In January of 1876, Fr. Sorin commissioned artist Luigi Gregori to paint a mural in the newly built Church of the Sacred Heart (now the Basilica) in thanksgiving of his rescue. The mural depicted Christ walking on water with Saint Peter sinking below the waves while the other apostles remain in the boat. Unfortunately, the murals on the southern wall on either side of the organ were painted over sometime between 1951 and 1977.
Scholastic “A Memorable Voyage” by Miss Eliza Allen Starr from “Pilgrims and Shrines,” as reprinted in Scholastic issues 01/31/1885 and 02/07/1885
“Accident to the Amerique,” The Patterson Weekly Press, 11/25/1875
Notre Dame celebrates 40 years of coeducation this fall. While the undergraduate women who arrived in 1972 were the first class to matriculate in the regular academic year, women had been earning bachelors’, masters’, and doctorate degrees since 1917 through the Summer School Program. One of those women gained a bit of fame during World War II because she was an unlikely aviatrix and aeronautical expert.
Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, OSF, earned a bachelor’s degree from Catholic University in 1926. She became a teacher and her interest in aviation stemmed from the enthusiasm for the subject from her students. In order to best teach her students, she wished to learn as much about the subject as possible. In 1942, she earned a Master of Science in Physics cum laude from the University of Notre Dame. Her dissertation was entitled “Electron Projection Study of the Deposition of Thorium on Tantalum.” Wanting hands-on aviation experience, Sister Mary Aquinas learned to fly in 1943.
That summer, she taught aviation at Catholic University and was involved in training through the Civil Aeronautics Authority. Below is an announcement regarding Sister Mary Aquinas’ activities published in Scholastic, October 1, 1943:
One of Notre Dame’s religious alumnae who is doing her part in the War effort is Sister Mary Aquinas, the “flying nun.” Sister Mary Aquinas, who received her master’s degree in physics from the University, is an educational adviser to the C.A.A. in Washington. Her aeronautics course at the Catholic University of America is one of the first, if not the first, sequence of such courses for Teacher Training in universities during the summer sessions. The Sister, who believes in practicing what she teaches, is a flier. She often takes her classes on inspection and demonstration tours through aircraft factories and airports. Her group of black-hooded nuns are a familiar sight in these places.
In 1957, “the Air Force Association gave her a citation for her ‘outstanding contributions’ to the nation’s security and world peace” [“No Glamor Girl”]. As part of the honor, Sister Mary Aquinas had the opportunity to fly in a T-33 jet trainer and take the control for much of the flight, making her the first nun to fly a jet.
The Feast of Corpus Christi was once one of the most elaborately celebrated religious holidays at Notre Dame. When the academic year ran through June, clergy, students, faculty, and community members celebrated the holy day with Mass, Vespers, and procession of the Eucharist through campus. Students decorated the procession path with flowers, banners, flags, and arches. They sang hymns and the band played as they processed around St. Joseph’s Lake in the 19th century or around the buildings of Main Quad in the 20th century.
Corpus Christi Benediction in front of Walsh Hall –
Revs. T. Maher and Peter Franciscus, CSC, 1910
In the 19th century, the celebrations were so grand that they drew large crowds from the local community. In 1876, three thousand people participated in the Corpus Christi celebrations, drawing people from as far as sixteen miles away (Scholastic, 06/17/1876). Scholastic often reported details of the Corpus Christi festivities and below is the account from 1872:
Scholastic article detailing the Corpus Christi
celebrations at Notre Dame, 1872
Elaborate celebrations of Corpus Christi waned over the years. However, Campus Ministry reinstated an annual Eucharistic Procession through campus several years ago. These new processions accommodate the current academic calendar, as opposed to being held on the actual Feast of Corpus Christi. Photos of Eucharistic Processions from the past few years can be found at photos.nd.edu.
Corpus Christi procession leaving the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, c1964
On March 1, 1837, in the town of Saint-Croix near Le Mans, France, Blessed Basil Antoine-Marie Moreau joined his band of auxiliary priests with the Brothers of St. Joseph, which was founded by Father Jacques-François Dujarie. The Vatican officially recognized this group of priests, brothers, and sisters as the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1857.
In 1841, Moreau sent Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, from Le Mans, France, to a newly formed diocese in Vincennes, Indiana. Sorin’s ambition was stifled in Vincennes, so when Bishop Celestine de la Hailandiere conceded to let Sorin establish a college elsewhere in the diocese, he quickly jumped on the opportunity. As luck would have it, Rev. Stephen T. Badin had sold the Diocese of Vincennes land just north of South Bend, Indiana, in 1835, with the intent of using it for an educational institution. The land became available to Sorin and upon his arrival in November 1842, he renamed the area Notre Dame du Lac. After serving as President of the University of Notre Dame for 23 years, Sorin became Superior General of the order in 1868 and served in this position until his death in 1893. As such, Notre Dame’s history is inevitably an important part of the history of the Congregation of Holy Cross (CSC).
Early in Notre Dame’s history in 1843, four Holy Cross sisters joined founder Rev. Edward Sorin. For over 115 years afterward, they graced the “French Quarter” behind Main Building, now known as the Brownson Hall complex.
Two unidentified Holy Cross (CSC) Sisters, c1860s-1870s
The nuns at Notre Dame were entrenched in university life from 1843-1958. “They staffed the laundries, infirmaries, kitchens, and St. Edwards’ Minims School. There was hardly a facet of Notre Dame life they did not influence. They set type in the University Press offices located just east of the rear of Brownson Hall, bound books and periodicals, and deciphered mysterious chirography in manuscripts which baffled the editors. They were tailors, nurses, gardeners, seamstresses, cooks, and charwomen for thousands of Notre Dame priests, brothers, lay faculty and students. Beginning with only 4 sisters, their numbers grew to 140, then dwindled to only 14 in 1958″ [Schlereth, page 45].
Mass of thanksgiving in the Holy Cross Sisters’ convent chapel, 1958/0504. Caption: “Rev. Arthur Hope, CSC (right), author of Notre Dame: 100 Years, preaches at a Solemn High Mass May 4th marking the departure of virtually all the Holy Cross nuns from the campus after 115 years of devoted service to the University. Pope Pius XII sent his congratulations and apostolic blessing to the Sisters who vacated the campus convent and returned to their mother-house at St. Mary’s College the following day. in earlier years more than 100 Holy Cross nuns served Notre Dame in many capacities. Only five nuns will remain to care for altar linens and staff the student infirmary.”
Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton (1774-1821) was canonized as America’s first native-born saint in 1975. As part of the mission of the Archives of University of Notre Dame to collect and maintain records that document the life of the Catholic Church and her people as lived in the American context, the University Archives holds a number of collections containing material regarding Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton. Most notably are the Robert Seton family papers. Robert Seton, grandson of St. Elizabeth, was the titular archbishop of Heliopolis, founder of the American Sisters of Charity, and the founder of Seton Hall University.
During the past several decades, interest in parish histories has grown considerably in America. Throughout the United States, pastors and parishioners have become more keenly aware of the need to preserve the history of their parishes in written form. Consequently, the publication of parish histories has flourished.
Saint Mary’s Church Diamond Jubilee Parish History of Annapolis, Maryland, 1928
The Parish History Collection represents a specialized resource in the holdings of the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. The core collection was originally formed through the dedicated and persistent efforts of Francis P. Clark (1936-1979). The collection includes occasional items which are not strictly parish histories, as, for example, histories of schools, religious congregations, and some diocesan histories. It should be noted that the University Archives holds works on priests, religious orders, lay organizations, dioceses, and schools often affiliated with the parishes as separately organized subject collections. It should also be noted that the University Archives generally does not have the actual parish records and that the parish histories seldom contain much information about individual parishioners.
The parish history collection in the Archives contains information on more than 2000 parishes throughout the United States. The major portion of the Archives collection documents parishes in the Midwest and the Ohio River Valley. The microfilm segment of the Archives collection sometimes duplicates printed items.
Parish History of St. Francis Seraph in Cincinnati, Ohio, 1884 (in German)
The Theodore M. Hesburgh Library, a separate entity from the University Archives, also holds a number of parish histories in their Catholic Americana Parish History Collection. The Library collection contains printed parish histories, and some newspaper accounts, of more than 1300 Catholic parishes throughout the United States and other countries. The Library collection continues to expand through solicitation, purchase, and gifts received.
Both collections contain books, pamphlets, newspapers clippings, and ephemeral materials which frequently describe the history of the parish from its inception to the date of publication of the work. Frequently parish histories celebrate the anniversary of the founding of a parish or the dedication of a church. Also included are jubilee celebrations, financial statements, invitations, general histories, directories, bulletins, and some photographs, which are mainly from the Indiana and Kentucky region. Most items in the collection reflect activities of parishes beginning in the mid-nineteenth century. Rarely do items pertain to parishes prior to 1800.
Cover of the Souvenir of the Centennial Celebration of St. Patrick’s (Old Cathedral),
New York, New York, April 23, 1909
Parish histories also are found in other collections in the University Archives, including the following collections: