Founder’s Day

October 13th is the feast day of St. Edward the Confessor, patron saint of
Rev. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame.

Statue of St. Edward the Confessor, holding a model of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, outside of St. Edward’s Hall, 1978

In the early 1840s, this feast day naturally became a day to honor the University’s most prominent figure and it quickly became one of the highlights of the school year for the students of all ages.  The students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s Academy celebrated the day, and often the eve as well, with theatrical and musical performances, athletic matches (such as three-legged races, boat races, baseball and football games), and a much anticipated feast in the dining hall.

Students running in a backward race on Cartier Field on Founder’s Day, 1913

Amid the festivities, students, clergy, and other well-wishers sent Fr. Sorin letters, telegrams, and cards, wishing him a happy feast day, expressing their gratitude and affection towards Sorin, of which a number are currently housed with the University Archives in Fr. Sorin’s papers.

Address to the Very Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, Superior General [of the Congregation of Holy Cross], on his Patronal Festival by the Juniors 1885. The address contained the following excerpt: “It is in this wise dear Father General that St. Edward’s Day has come to be a kind of royal feast day at Notre Dame. For it is your name day and you are the illustrious founder and generous protector and director of our beloved Alma Mater.”

Cover of the hand-drawn card the Novices presented to Fr. Edward Sorin on the feast day of St. Edward, c1880s.

In the 1910s, the Columbus Day celebrations were combined with Founder’s Day.  In 1912, the Knights of Columbus Council at Notre Dame organized the Discovery Day celebration.  “The celebration [was] partly the result of a country wide campaign by the order to make the day a legal holiday in the various states” [South Bend Times, 10/12/1912, from PNDP 70-Sa-03].

Over the years, the exuberance of the feast day waned.  In the 1950s and 1960s, students placed wreaths at the base of the Fr. Sorin statue.  Today Mass will be celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to honor St. Edward and to give thanks to Fr. Edward Sorin, who, in all of his tenacity, quickly turned a small school in the wilderness of Indiana into a nationally renowned institution.

Students and unidentified priest placing a wreath at Sorin Statue on Founder’s Day, 1960/1013.

Also of interest, AgencyND produced this video in 2008 regarding Founder’s Day, using a number of assets from the University Archives:

Notre Dame:  100 Years
, by Arthur J. Hope, CSC
PNDP 70-Sa-03
CSOR 3/06-19
GMIL 2/06
GPHR 45/4037
GNDM 78/041


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