As an adviser to presidents, special envoy to popes, theologian, author, educator and activist, Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, who would have turned 100 today, was for decades considered the most influential Catholic priest in America. Although his career included sixteen presidential appointments, his relationship with President John F. Kennedy was especially noteworthy. Born just four days apart in May 1917, their paths would cross multiple times in the 1950s-1960s. One of the more memorable Notre Dame moments was when Fr. Hesburgh presented President Kennedy with the Laetare Medal in the Oval Office on November 22, 1961.
When John F. Kennedy took the oath of office of the President of the United States on January 20, 1961, he was the first Catholic to do so. As such, his name quickly rose to the top of nominations for the Laetare Medal, an honor Notre Dame has bestowed on exemplary American Catholics since 1883. Fearing a loyalty to the Vatican, factions in America were apprehensive of a Catholic president. Traditionally, the recipient of the medal is announced on Laetare Sunday in Lent, which was on March 12th in 1961. Not wanting to ruffle feathers so early in his presidency, Notre Dame was hesitant to bestow Kennedy the the honor during his first year in office. Breaking tradition of keeping the name secret until Laetare Sunday, University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh notified Kennedy in advance on February 14th, giving him the option to decline if it would cause too much public consternation (https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKPOF-030-011.aspx).
Kennedy accepted the offer, but the presentation wouldn’t occur until November 22, 1961. The Laetare presentation ceremony was not yet a staple of commencement exercises, and Notre Dame officials more often took the medal to the recipients rather than have them come to campus. On November 22, 1961, Fr. Hesburgh happened to be meeting with Kennedy and others for a Commission on Civil Rights meeting. Later that afternoon, Fr. Hesburgh and Notre Dame Vice President Rev. Edmund P. Joyce presented Kennedy the Laetare Medal in the Oval Office.
The Laetare Medal presentation was not Kennedy’s first or last interaction with Notre Dame and Fr. Hesburgh. Kennedy attended several Notre Dame football games, was the commencement speaker for winter 1950, and received the 1957 Patriot of the Year Award, and served on Notre Dame’s Liberal and Fine Arts Council. During Kennedy’s administration, Fr. Hesburgh served on the Commission on Civil Rights and the board of the National Science Foundation. Fr. Hesburgh played a significant role shaping in Kennedy’s 1961 Peace Corps initiative, making Notre Dame one of the first university sponsors and training centers for the program.
Kennedy’s untimely death exactly two years after the presentation of the Laetare Medal brought an abrupt end to the relationship. There is always room to speculate what might have been, but it is highly likely that Kennedy would have continued seeking the council of Fr. Hesburgh as so many other United States Presidents did.
Notre Dame’s Junior Parents Weekend (JPW) first began as Parents-Son Day on April 18, 1953. As Scholastic reported, Parents-Son Day was “[a] joint project of the Junior Class and the University administration … designed to ‘better acquaint students’ parents with the everyday life their sons lead on campus,’ [Thomas W.] Carroll [Department of Public Relations] said” [Scholastic, February 20, 1953].
Students took their parents on tours of campus, classrooms, and laboratories, meeting faculty and administrators. They ate in South Dining Hall, played golf, and stayed at the newly opened Morris Inn. The day was an immediate success that turned into a weekend-long affair the next year and all the years that followed.
Some questioned the scheduled April date as opposed to a football weekend when more parents might likely be in town. However, the chaos of gameday makes it difficult for parents to see everyday student life at Notre Dame. A special weekend just for the parents in the spring semester has worked out nicely for well over half a century.
The date of Junior Parents Weekend crept earlier and earlier until it settled in on a mid-February weekend in the 1970s, much to the chagrin of parents hailing from warmer climates than South Bend. Anecdotally, if the harsh February weather is going to break, it likely happens during JPW. In 2017, the temperature will break 60° and the sun will make a rare appearance, dispersing the permacloud and belying the students’ complaints of cold, snow, and the stinging Indiana winds.
While the Juniors are occupied entertaining their parents on campus for the weekend, there are few other events going on for the other Notre Dame students. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Sophomore class turned this lull into an opportunity to take a road trip to Chicago.
JPW has changed little over the years. It still is a time where parents visit their children, meet their friends, tour campus and new facilities, meet faculty and administration, and maybe buy a few things at the Bookstore. The dinners have become more formal and more elegant than the in early JPW years, but the purpose remains the same. In addressing the parents at the first Parents-Son Day, University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh welcomed them to the Notre Dame Family: “‘I want you parents to feel you belong here at Notre Dame as your sons are the main part of our University.’ He considered the Parents-Son Day “definitely pointing to the beginning of a tradition'” [Scholastic, April 24, 1953, page 11].
On Memorial Day, May 30, 1924, University President Rev. Matthew Walsh dedicated the World War I Memorial at Notre Dame before saying a military field mass in front of it. The memorial is an addition to the east transept of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart designed by Notre Dame architects Francis Kervick and Vincent Fagan. The professors also designed Cushing Hall of Engineering, Howard Hall, Lyons Hall, Morrissey Hall, and South Dining Hall.
The cry for a memorial for Notre Dame’s contributions to the Great War began shortly after armistice in 1919. The memorial initially was going to have inscribe all 2500 Notre Dame active students, alumni, and faculty members who served. In that number were two future University Presidents who served as chaplains during WWI – Rev. Matthew Walsh and Rev. Charles O’Donnell. In the end, the tablets only list the names of the 56 who sacrificed their lives in the war.
The Notre Dame Service Club worked diligently to raise funds for the memorial through dances, Glee Club concerts, and general petitions in Scholastic. Notre Dame formed a post of Veterans of Foreign Wars in January 1922, which then took up the efforts. The VFW disbanded in 1923, as there would be few veteran students left on campus to keep the post going. They had hoped to have the memorial complete by the end of their run, but it would still be another year before it would be finished.
In January 1923, a special committee of Notre Dame’s VFW post approved Vincent Fagan’s design for the memorial to be a new side-entrance to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the idea favored by University President Walsh (see sketch above). Scholastic noted that “[t]he design is beautiful and appropriate and will add charm to the campus as well as ‘hold the mind to moments of regret'” (Scholastic, March 24, 1923, page 677).
When the memorial was finally dedicated on Memorial Day 1924, it wasn’t quite yet complete. However, it would be finished in time for Commencement. At the dedication, President Walsh remarked,
The real purpose of a memorial, from the Catholic point of view, is to inspire a prayer for those we desire to remember. It is very proper that this memorial should be a part of the Church of Notre Dame.
No one who knows Notre Dame need be told of the spirit of loyalty and faith that has animated this university from its beginning. We should imitate our dead in that they have shown us the lesson of patriotism. If only the people of America would follow their example there would be no discrimination because of race or creed. When Washington said that religion and morality are the basis of patriotism he gave us the definition to every patriotic move at Notre Dame.
It is to the boys of the World War and to the men of the Civil War that this memorial is dedicated. Let us ask God that this memorial will not only be beauty in stone, but also a reminder to pray for the men to whom it is dedicated.
(Notre Dame Daily, May 21, 1924, page 1)
For many years, the memorial door was the natural place to hold mass on Memorial Day and other military occasions. With the changes made to altar placement with Vatican II and the academic year ending well before Memorial Day, this tradition has gone by the wayside. The memorial remains an important corner of campus and the “God, Country, Notre Dame” inscription is often quoted today.
On June 21, 1964, Soldier Field in Chicago played host to the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights. The principle speakers were Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., President and Founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, President of the University of Notre Dame.
The rally, whose operating costs reached $25,000, opened with two hours of jazz and gospel music and entertainment, including a 5000-voice choir led by gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. General admission was free, but priority seating was available for $2-5. Nearly 150 various organizations promoted the event, distributing 1.5 million flyers in Chicago, and brought their members to the rally by the bus-full. A crowd estimated of between 57,000-75,000 people of diverse walks of life, races, and faiths endured early rain and later sweltering heat in Soldier Field, standing in solidarity of racial equality.
The Illinois Rally was somewhat anti-climatic as the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was imminent – President Lyndon Johnson would sign the bill into law on July 2, 1964. Some were disappointed with the turnout, thinking that it was not as large as it could have or should have been (days before the event, the leaders had estimated the crowd could tip 100,000. The morning rain was blamed for the lower attendance). However, King said to the crowd, “We have come a long, long way in the civil rights struggle, but let me remind you that we have a long, long way to go. Passage of the civil rights bill does not mean that we have reached the promised land in civil rights.” He stressed that the bill alone was not enough – “vigorous enforcement” was essential to success.
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh’s involvement in the national Civil Rights Movement dates back to November 7, 1957, when President Dwight Eisenhower named him to the newly formed Civil Rights Commission. Hesburgh, then 40, was the youngest of the six member-commission. Hesburgh would remain on the Civil Rights Commission until 1972.
At the Illinois Rally, Hesburgh echoed King’s sentiments that there was still work to do: “A long road and a hot summer are ahead of us. Every Negro American who does not use his opportunity now is a traitor to his race. Be proud to be a Negro. Demand respect by being worthy of respect. We want to strive for human dignity with you.”
At the time, the Illinois Rally was the second largest Civil Rights demonstration, after the 1963 March on Washington. While there was a small group of protesters outside of Soldier Field, the Illinois Rally was overall a peaceful and successful event.
For more information about the Illinois Rally, please see the following:
Wednesday, April 23, 1879, started out as any other spring day at Notre Dame. Taking advantage of the warm day, the Minims were out on their play yard. Around 10:00am, they were the first to notice the smoke rising from the Main Building and sounded the alarm — “College on fire!” Notification was sent to South Bend and a fire engine was dispatched to Notre Dame, but it arrived too late to save five of the campus buildings that were quickly consumed. Despite several devastating fires in her past, Notre Dame was ill-prepared for such a large fire. Even though the Main Building was equipped with water tanks, they proved futile on this fateful day.
The origins of the fire are uncertain, but many theories point to construction work being done on the pitch roof of Main Building. As soon as the fire was discovered, students, faculty, and local townspeople scrambled to form a long bucket brigade up the six floors of the building. Many others desperately tried to save the precious library books, museum artifacts, scientific instruments, furniture, and personal effects. They carried many items carefully out of the buildings. However, in the chaos, some people frantically flung things out of the windows, destroying them from the fall in an attempt to save them. Once the wooden supports of the dome gave way, sending the one ton Mary statue plummeting through the center of the building, all chances for further recovery were abandoned. The western winds spread the fire from Main Building, additionally destroying the infirmary, St. Francis Old Men’s Home, Music Hall, and the Minims’ Hall. Fortunately, Sacred Heart Church (designated a Basilica in 1992) and Luigi Gregori’s murals were spared, as were the Presbytery, the printing presses (home of Ave Maria and Scholastic in what is now Brownson Hall), the kitchens, the steam house, and the first Washington Hall (the current one was dedicated in 1882).
The fire raged for only a few hours and was relatively under control by evening. The South Bend fire engine remained on watch for any flare-ups. Miraculously, there were no fatalities and only a few injuries – student PJ Dougherty either jumped or fell from the third story and recovered quickly in a few days. Others narrowly escaped falling debris that could have been deadly. Main Quad was strewn with items that were salvaged from the burning buildings. In all, there was over $200,000 worth of damage, including 25,000 books, 17 pianos and other musical instruments, many valuable scientific specimens, and irreplaceable historical artifacts. Insurance only covered about $45,000.
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At 3:00pm, the administration and faculty convened to map out a game-plan for the immediate future of Notre Dame. They decided that the school year should terminate early. They began making arrangements to send the grief-stricken students home and confer degrees early, but no one believed this was the end for Notre Dame. University President Rev. William Corby decided immediately that the University would rebuild and would be ready to accept students at the normal opening day in September. Scholastic writers echoed, “we feel that there is no reason to give way to discouragement. No, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that the sun of Notre Dame has set. Let the thousands of loving children whom she has sent into the world within the past quarter of a century — let the devoted friends whom she counts in all parts of the country but rally to her relief, and we have every reason to feel confident that the good work which she has been doing in the past will be continued in the not distant future” [Scholastic, April 26, 1879 issue, page 536].
Rev. Edward Sorin, founder of the University, was in Montreal at the time of the fire, about to embark on his 36th transatlantic voyage. A telegram was dispatched to intercept him, although some feared the physical effects of an aging Sorin receiving the news. Professor James Edwards left South Bend for Montreal to tell the Superior General his first-hand account in person. Both of them returned to Notre Dame on Sunday, April 27th. That Sunday morning, thousands of students, faculty, and townspeople packed the Basilica of the Sacred Heart as Sorin preached “Lessons of the Fire,” in which he told them “If it were all gone, I should not give up.” Professor Timothy Howard recalled many years later that they were “the most sublime words I have ever listened to” (X-4-e, April 14, 1906).
What might have led other American institutions at the time to fold seemed to only embolden the Notre Dame spirit: “Yes, Notre Dame will be herself again in a few months with God’s help, the untiring toil of her children, and the aid of her generous friends who have never failed her in her hour of need. … Notre Dame has so grown into the life of the country that it cannot but live and flourish, notwithstanding the fire. Like a vigorous tree which has been burned to the ground, the life is still strong in the great heart beneath, and it will spring from its ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever.” [Scholastic, April 26, 1879 issue, page 534].
Once he returned to campus and surveyed the damage, Fr. Sorin seemed to spring back to his youth, determined more than ever to rebuild Notre Dame into a grander university. There was much work to be done and everyone pitched in as they could. Scholastic noted that Sorin could “wheel off a load of bricks with great grace and dignity” [May 10, 1879 issue, page 546]. Three weeks after the fire, the debris pile still smoldered and smoked. Visitors from all over came to see the ruins for themselves.
News of the tragedy quickly spread across the country and into Europe. Letters and telegrams of support and promises of financial aid poured in. Notre Dame administrators, faculty, alumni, and benefactors immediately hit the bricks in raising funds to rebuild. Fortunately, their strong networks helped to make the rebuilding of Notre Dame a quick reality. Rev. John Zahm solicited specimens for his Museum of Natural History. James Edwards solicited books for the Lemonnier Library. Sorin solicited funds across the country and in Europe.
On May 4, 1879, Fr. Sorin blessed the cornerstone for the new Main Building, even though official architectural plans were still under consideration. By mid-May Chicago architect Willoughby Edbrooke was hired out of many architects who submitted their work in the nationwide competition. Hundreds of laborers descended on campus and construction worked at a fast pace. More than 4,300,000 bricks, mostly made from the marl in the lakes, needed to be laid by September. Sorin figured construction cost $1000-1500 a day and the lack of insurance already put them far behind. However, Sorin’s complete faith in Divine Providence never faltered. He noted to Sister Columba, “our catastrophe, so sudden and so unexpected and so terrible, has been seen as a loss to the whole country, and the American people have marvelously helped us to reverse it” [quoted in O’Connell, page 656].
[photoshelter-img i_id=”I0000abLeGWAmA2c” buy=”1″ caption=”The New Notre Dame – Engraving of Main Building exterior, 1879.” width=”600″ height=”478″]
The core of Main Building was complete for the opening school term in September 1879. Four months earlier, Notre Dame was regarded as one of the largest and one of the best educational institutions in America, particularly in the West. The tragic fire helped bring more national attention to Notre Dame. The physical edifices of the “New Notre Dame” indeed were larger, more ornate, and more modern than their predecessors. Main Building and her Golden Dome stand today as a testament to the dreams, ambition, determination, hard work, and faith of our forefathers to build one of the greatest universities in the world.
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.
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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.
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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].
Notre Dame’s military ties pre-date the Civil War, so when war broke out between the North and the South, Notre Dame inevitably became involved in the conflict. Students and alumni joined the ranks, on both sides of the fighting. Members of the Congregation of Holy Cross also volunteered, but in more peaceable jobs of chaplains and nurses. Rev. William Corby was one of those priest who left his position at Notre Dame and joined up with the predominately Catholic Irish Brigade in 1861. Corby spent the next three years as chaplain for the New York regiment.
On July 1, 1863, the Irish Brigade marched into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They spent much of the next day getting their armament into position near Cemetery Hill. Corby notes in his memoirs that he could see the Confederate lines a mile away, also preparing for battle. Around 4pm, the conflict became heated. Corby recounts, “The Third Corps were pressed back, and at this critical moment I proposed to give a general absolution to our men, as they had absolutely no chance to practise [sic] their religious duties during the past two or three weeks, being constantly on the march” [Corby, page 181].
There is yet a few minutes to spare before starting, and the time is occupied in one of the most impressive religious ceremonies I have ever witnessed. The Irish Brigade, which had been commanded formerly by General Thomas Francis Meagher, and whose green flag had been unfurled in every battle in which the Army of the Potomac had been engaged from the first Bull Run to Appomattox, was now commanded by Colonel Patrick Kelly, of the Eighty-eighth New York, and formed a part of this division. The brigade stood in columns of regiments closed in mass. As the large majority of its members were Catholics, the Chaplain of the brigade Rev. William Corby, CSC, proposed to give a general absolution to all the men before going into the fight. While this is customary in the armies of Catholic countries of Europe, it was perhaps the first time it was ever witnessed on this continent… Father Corby stood upon a large rock in front of the brigade, addressing the men; he explained what he was about to do, saying that each one would receive the benefit of the absolution by making a sincere Act of Contrition, and firmly resolving to embrace the first opportunity of confessing his sins, urging them to do their duty well, and reminding them of the high and sacred nature of their trust as soldiers and the noble object for which they fought. The brigade was standing at “Order arms,” and as he closed his address, every man fell on his knees, with head bowed down. Then, stretching his right hand towards the brigade, Father Corby pronounced the words of absolution. The scene was more than impressive, it was awe-inspiring. Near by, stood General Hancock, surrounded by a brilliant throng of officers, who had gathered to witness this very unusual occurrence and while there was profound silence in the ranks of the Second Corps, yet over to the left, out by the peach orchard and Little Round Top, where Weed, and Vincent, and Haslett were dying, the roar of the battle rose and swelled and reechoed through the woods. The act seemed to be in harmony with all the surroundings. I do not think there was a man in the brigade who did not offer up a heartfelt prayer. For some it was their last; they knelt there in their grave-clothes — in less than half an hour many of them were numbered with the dead of July 2.
Corby continued, “That general absolution was intended for all —in quantum possum— not only for our brigade, but for all, North or South, who were susceptible of it and who were about to appear before their Judge.” A non-Catholic officer approached Corby after the Battle of Gettysburg and echoed Mulholland’s sentiments about the absolution: that it was one of the most powerful prayers he had ever heard [Corby, page 184-185].
The Battle of Gettysburg was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War, with casualties exceeding 57,000. Fr. Corby’s absolution of the troops stayed deeply in the imagination of the survivors for years to come. After the war, Mulholland remained a friend of Notre Dame until his death. In 1900, Professor Jimmy Edwards invited Mulholland to Notre Dame’s Commencement Exercises. Mulholland regretted that he was unable to attend because he had just spent a week with veterans at Gettysburg. He was surprised to find them still talking about the absolution: “Instead of being forgotten it is becoming more widely known” [CEDW XI-2-c].
Corby’s famous absolution has since been immortalized, among other places, in Paul Wood’s Absolution under Fire (1891) at the Snite Museum of Art and in statues on the Gettysburg Battlefield (1910) and on Notre Dame’s campus (1911).
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, May 31, 1866, the University of Notre Dame was officially consecrated and the statue of the Virgin Mary atop the dome was dedicated. The newspapers at the time claimed that “the ceremony will eclipse everything of the kind which has ever taken place in the United States” [New York Herald, 05/20/1866, page 5].
The cornerstone of the first Main Building was laid in August of 1843. Twenty years later, Notre Dame had out-grown the building and University President Rev. Patrick Dillon set about expanding it, following the vision for rapid growth that Rev. Edward Sorin initiated. Construction on the expansion started in 1865 and it would be occupied by that fall, although the edifice wouldn’t be fully complete until the fall of 1866.
The dome of Second Main Building was made of wood and covered in tin. Anthony Buscher of Chicago carved the wooden statue, which was twelve feet tall, weighed 1800 pounds, and cost $850. The dome and statue were painted white, representing the purity of the Virgin Mary. In the octagonal oratory at the base of the dome was a $1500 solid gold crown made in France and blessed by Pope Pius IX. Etched into the crown were the names of the donors and the mysteries of the Rosary.
Ever the marketeer, Rev. Edward Sorin invited “every bishop in the country and every important cleric and congressman in the Midwest” to the dedication ceremonies [Schlereth, page 5]. Twelve bishops and archbishops made the trip to Notre Dame, including Revs. Martin Spalding of Baltimore, John Luers of Fort Wayne, Louis Amadeus Rappe of Cleveland, John Timon of Buffalo, John Henni of Milwaukee, and Thomas Grace of St. Paul. Over five thousand people visited campus for the event, more than could be accommodated for Mass or the grand banquet.
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Part of the day’s festivities included prizes of $100 in gold for the best prose and poetic essays regarding the Virgin Mary. The writing were judged solely on merit, with the judges not knowing the names of the authors. Orestes Brownson and Louis Constantine (an assumed pen-name) took top prize for their prose. Professor George B. Males of St. Mary’s College, Maryland, and Mrs. Anna H. Dorsey of Washington, D.C., won for their poetic essays. The day ended with Vespers and a Eucharistic procession around St. Joseph’s Lake with all the pomp and circumstance that typified such celebrations at Notre Dame.
The growing nationwide enthusiasm and support for Notre Dame seen on this day in 1866 would help to sustain the University through one of its greatest setbacks – the fire of April 23, 1879, which would destroy this and many other buildings on campus.
Alumni Association president John Neeson inaugurated Universal Notre Dame (UND) Night as a means for alumni to connect with their alma mater without having to travel to campus for Alumni Reunion. The first UND Night was held on April 24, 1924, and more than forty Alumni Clubs gathered in their respective cities. As part of the night’s entertainment, the Clubs tuned into a radio broadcast with speeches by University President Rev. Matthew Walsh, President of the Board of Trustees Albert Erskine, and Football Coach Knute Rockne. Fr. Walsh spoke about “the university’s plan for expansion, the unyielding observance of the traditions, the spirit of the present day student and the alumni influence in retaining that spirit in after years.” Rockne talked about the importance of athletics and the high standards for student athletes at Notre Dame [Alumnus, May 1924, page 243].
UND night was a smashing success and it quickly became a signature event for the Alumni Association. For many years, the celebrations utilized radio broadcasts to connect anyone within reach of the radio signal to Notre Dame. Other times the Alumni Association distributed films for the Clubs to watch. Universal Night was also an opportunity for Alumni Clubs to hold elections, honor members, and connect with fellow alums living in the same geographic area.
The Alumni Clubs still celebrate Universal Notre Dame Night today, but it is no longer technically “universal” in that the events are not held on the same night. Alumni Club schedule dates that are convenient for them. UND celebrations still are a way for alumni to connect with the University as Notre Dame administrator, faculty, and staff are invited as keynote speakers. UND Night remains an important annual event for Alumni Clubs worldwide.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Notre Dame students, faculty, and administrators would often grumble about the Hill Street Car: overcrowding, aging equipment, erratic timetables, and rude conductors. The streetcar operators often complained of the students: overcrowding the cars, not paying fares, and playing pranks. In early February 1916, it all came to a head.
Contemporary accounts vary on the details, but the following is a general outline of the incident: On the afternoon of February 3, 1916, a group of Notre Dame preparatory students locked the door on the conductor to prevent him from collecting fares. The motorman heard the commotion and asked a Carroll Hall (Main Building) preparatory student, who was about 15 years old, to pay his fare. As the student had already paid and wasn’t going to pay twice, he began to argue with the already irritated motorman. The motorman hit the boy with an iron switch hook and a collegiate student on board defended the younger student by hitting the motorman in the jaw.
That evening, the streetcar company added a few burly men to the line, presumably as a means of security. From the students’ point of view, these “hired thugs” were there to exact vengeance. On the way back to Notre Dame after a night downtown, a few Carrollites lit up cigars after the last woman disembarked the streetcar. While technically against the rules, this custom of smoking among passengers and employees had been honored for years, so long as no women were on board and the car was outside of city limits. However, this was enough for the streetcar muscle to bring the transgression to fisticuffs. One student reported that there were eight thugs, armed with revolvers and clubs, who took on teenage preparatory students.
For the next few days, throngs of Notre Dame students packed the cars, looking for the men who beat up their fellow classmates. By Sunday, February 6, the students hadn’t found the culprits, so they decided to take vengeance on the car itself. A group of students hijacked a streetcar near Cedar Grove Cemetery on Notre Dame Avenue. They told the conductor and motorman to get off the car; and once it was empty, the crowd of about 150 students took to destroying the car and eventually setting it on fire.
University President John W. Cavanaugh and a few other priests happened to return to campus via automobile around 11 p.m. to find the Hill Street car surrounded by students. Cavanaugh recounts to Rev. John Talbot Smith that “a short distance from Egan’s we espied an immovable car gorgeously lighted and surrounded by a multitude of very happy students. As we approached, the boys, thinking we were the plug-uglies sent out to take care of the situation, fastened on us like hungry wolves, commanding the machine [automobile] to stop. Opening the door, I stepped lightly out and stood in the midst of them. Curtain; likewise curses. Oh, how those poor boys besought me to go on and not interfere with their labors!” [PNDP 30-St-16].
Father Cavanaugh told the boys to go back to their dorms and leave the streetcar alone. As things settled down and students started to disperse, Cavanaugh then continued on to the University by automobile; and once out of sight, the students continued on with their bonfire. Cavanaugh wrote, “I never thought to glance backward until I arrived at the University, when I found to my intense surprise that the students, seeing me pass by them with such child-like faith and innocence, had turned back and wrought their zeal upon the trolley. It made a beautiful fire and was the talk of the town and the subject of editorials, I regret to say, in many cities” [PNDP -30-St-16].
The South Bend fire department arrived on the scene, but high winds made it impossible to save the car. Police officers also responded to the situation, but only went as far as the city limits and no arrests were made. Tensions between Notre Dame and the car company were high for days in the aftermath of the fire. A mass meeting of the students was held in the Fieldhouse regarding the incident. Many, including the student body president, spoke against the destruction of the streetcar company. The streetcar company demanded that Notre Dame pay thousands of dollars for the damaged car. With both sides at serious fault, neither side pressed charges. The students had an advantage in that they could positively identify the “thugs,” but no student could be identified as the arsonists. The students, not the University, were ultimately liable for the property damage.
While many expected mass expulsions, Father Cavanaugh defended the Notre Dame students while also condemning their lawlessness. While usually severe in punishment on seemingly lighter situations, Cavanaugh felt that the students’ actions were inevitable after such provocations and that the students were right to seek justice, even though it be misguided and unlawful.
Officials from Notre Dame and the streetcar company met a few days after the fire to draw a truce. Both sides regretted the incident and vowed to work together to prevent such a disastrous breaking point. The student body agreed to behave in a civil manner, so long as the streetcar employees maintained a similar manner. The streetcar company also agreed to provide better service and newer equipment on one of its most profitable lines. Streetcar service to Notre Dame resumed shortly thereafter with no other notable incidents. Streetcars service in Michiana ended on June 15, 1940, when the line was replaced by a more economical bus line.