Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh Online Portal Now Available

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:

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.

See the full press release about the launch of the Hesburgh portal here:

For more information, please email, phone (574) 631-6448, or write to us: Notre Dame Archives, 607 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN, 46556.

Edward Sorin & the Founding of Notre Dame

On February 6, 1814, Edouard-Frédéric Sorin was born and baptized in the small town of Ahuillé, France.  He was born the seventh of nine children into a relatively well-to-do Catholic farming family, a generation or so after the bloody French Revolution.  The Revolutionaries heavily persecuted the Catholic Church, sending thousands of priests to the guillotine or exile.  However, by the time Sorin’s birth, France had begun mending fences with the Church.  In this resurgence of peace, Sorin saw an opportunity for leadership to rebuild the Catholic Church in France through the priesthood, a calling he had since childhood.

Chateau de la Roche - Birthplace of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, in Ahuille, France, 1939/0715.
Chateau de la Roche – Birthplace of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, in Ahuille, France, 1939/0715.

In 1834, at St. Vincent’s Seminary in Le Mans, France, Sorin met the charismatic professor Rev. Basil Moreau, who was on the brink of founding the Congregation of Holy Cross.  Sorin was ordained on May 27, 1838, and assigned to be a parish priest in Parcé-sur-Sarthe.  A year later, Sorin jumped on the opportunity to join Moreau’s new ambitious order that focused on education and foreign missions, rejoining the novitiate in Le Mans.  On August 15, 1840, Sorin officially took vows in the name of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

At the appeal of the Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière, Bishop of Vincennes, for clergy in a predominantly French Indiana,  Moreau offered to send six brothers led by a young priest – Edward Sorin.  As would echo throughout Sorin’s life, Sorin saw this assignment as a direct mission from God and he threw himself into the idea with unabashed zeal.  Before he even left French soil, Sorin declared his allegiance to America, which to him was a relatively blank canvas upon which he could help build the Catholic Church:

“How happy I am to be able to assure you that the road to America stands out clearly before me as the road to heaven. … Henceforth I live only for my dear brethren in America.  America is my fatherland.  It is the center of all my affections and the object of all my thoughts. … At the present time I see clearly that our Lord loves me in a very special manner as has been told me many times.” [Sorin to Hailandière, summer 1841, as quoted by O’Connell, page 52.]

The group left France on August 5, 1841, the Feast of Our Lady of the Snows, a coincidence not lost on Sorin a year later, and headed to New York.  Hailandière arranged for Samuel Byerley to meet the group in New York, who remained friend and benefactor to the Community throughout the years.  From there, they took an arduous journey primarily across a series of canals and rivers to Vincennes, with none of them knowing English.

Portrait of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, c1860s.
Portrait of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, c1860s.

Fr. Sorin and the Brothers were assigned to St. Peter’s parish near Washington, Indiana, tasked to build a novitiate for the Brothers of St. Joseph.  The hope was that novices would serve as teachers within the diocese.  A poor harvest, lack of monetary resources, and struggles between the strong personalities of Sorin and Hailandière led both of them looking for new opportunities.  As it happened, the Diocese of Vincennes had in its possession a tract of land in Northern Indiana, near the south bend of the St. Joseph River.

The land now occupied by the University of Notre Dame has a long tradition of being a place of Catholic missions.  French Jesuit Rev. Claude Allouez founded a mission along the lakes and christened it Sainte-Marie-des-Lacs.  Rev. Stephen T. Badin, the first priest ordained in the United States, came to the area at the request of Leopold Pokagon, leader of the Potawatomi, for Catholic priests to minister to his people.  He bought the parcels over time in 1830-1832.  As one who was often negotiating real estate deals, Badin sold the land and a few dilapidated buildings to the Diocese of Vincennes in 1835 for $751 with the condition that it be used for a school and orphanage.  Rev. Ferdinand Bach was given the task to build such institutions on the land in 1840.  His failure to do so and abandonment of the post timed perfectly with Sorin’s ambition to build a college in America.

Perhaps as a way to physically distance himself in Vincennes with Fr. Sorin, Hailandière offered the northern land to Sorin as a place for him to build his envisioned college, giving him only two years to do so.  Sorin was so determined to make it a reality that he made up his mind to leave Vincennes in the middle of a harsh Indiana November without first seeking permission from Fr. Moreau.

Fr. Sorin and seven of the Brothers – Mary (later changed to Br. Francis Xavier), Gatien, Patrick, William, Basil, Peter, and Francis – left Vincennes on November 16, 1842, and their 250 mile trek was not an easy one.  They only gained five miles on the first day in the cold, snow, and high winds.  Impatiently, Fr. Sorin and four of the Brothers went ahead of the other three, who were slower with all the gear loaded on a broken-down ox-drawn wagon.  Eleven days later, Sorin and the four Brothers arrived in South Bend.  Alexis Coquillard, nephew of the South Bend merchant of the same name, greeted the band and showed them to their new home that same afternoon.

Engraving of Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, and the founding of Notre Dame in November 1842.  The artist is F.X. Ackermann, who was a faculty member from 1890-1937. Caption:  "Father Sorin's Arrival, Nov. 22, 1842."
Engraving envisioning Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, and the founding of Notre Dame in November 1842 [the exact date is left up to interpretation, but is generally acknowledged as November 26th].  The artist is Francis Xavier Ackermann, who was a faculty member from 1890-1937.
Finally writing to Moreau over a week after arriving at Notre Dame, Sorin basks in the majesty of the land:

“Everything was frozen, and yet it all appeared so beautiful.  The lake, particularly, with its mantle of snow, resplendent in its whiteness, was to us a symbol of the stainless purity of Our August Lady [Our Lady of the Snows], whose name it bears; and also of the purity of soul which should characterize the new inhabitants of these beautiful shores. …  Yes, like little children, in spite of the cold, we went from one extremity to the other, perfectly enchanted with the marvelous beauties of our new abode.  Oh! may this new Eden be ever the home of innocence and virtue!  There, I could willingly exclaim with the prophet: Dominus regit me … super aquam refectionis educavit me! [“The Lord guides me … beside still waters”; Psalm 23]  Once again in our life we felt then that Providence had been good to us, and we blessed God with all our hearts.”

The great dreamer continued,

“While on this subject, you will permit me, dear Father, to express a feeling which leaves me no rest.  It is simply this: Notre Dame du Lac has been given to us by the Bishop only on condition that we build here a college.  As there is no other within five hundred miles, this undertaking cannot fail of success, provided it receive assistance from our good friends in France.  Soon it will be greatly developed, being evidently the most favorably located in the United States.  This college will be one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country, and, at the same time, will offer every year a most useful resource to the Brothers’ Novitiate; and once the Sisters come – whose presence is so much desired here they must be prepared, not merely for domestic work, but also for teaching; and perhaps, too, the establishment of an academy. … Finally, dear Father, you may well believe that this branch of your family is destined to grow and extend itself under the protection of Our Lady of the Lake and St. Joseph.  At least such is my firm conviction; time will tell whether I am deceived or not.”
[Sorin to Moreau, December 5, 1842]

The men quickly got to work clearing the land to build a new log chapel, which opened on March 19, 1843, the Feast of St. Joseph.  Sorin nearly exhausted his finances buying lumber and bricks with the hopes of building a grand main building.  Unfortunately, the hired architect showed up months too late for it to be open in 1843.  In the meantime, the Community built the sturdy brick Old College so that at least the Brothers wouldn’t have to spend another drafty winter in the log chapel.

In the summer of 1843, more support personnel came from Le Mans – “two priests, Fathers Francis Cointet and Theophile Marivault; a seminarian, Mr. Gouesse; one Brother, Eloi; and four Sisters, Mary of the Heart of Jesus, Mary of Bethlehem, Mary of Calvary, and Mary of Nazareth” [Wack].  Each had his own talents, which contributed greatly to the growth of Notre Dame.

Among the first students to arrive were Theodore Alexis Coquillard and Clements Reckers in 1842.  Others slowly trickled in and Notre Dame had 18 students enrolled by June 1844, although many didn’t stay long enough to earn a degree.  Ever ambitious, Sorin saw Notre Dame as a central beacon for the influx of Catholic immigrants in America.  Notre Dame would be the model for all levels of Catholic education – elementary, preparatory, collegiate, seminary, vocational.  He envisioned satellite campuses and most definitely institutions for girls and women.  Notre Dame applied for a charter with the State of Indiana to grant degrees with the authority of a college and formed an administration.  On January 15, 1844, Indiana chartered Notre Dame as a university, even though it would be some time before Notre Dame would have a strong collegiate student body and faculty.

Engraving of the first Main Building in 1844
Engraving of the first Main Building in 1844

Mr. Marsile, the main building architect, finally arrived in August 1843.  Sorin was running out of funds, but knew that if he delayed building, it might never happen.  He boldly decided to start the project right away.  Fortunately, the winter of ’43 wasn’t as harsh as the year before and “[b]efore the first snow fell, the walls were raised and the building was partially under roof.  The remainder of the work, particularly the inside plastering and preparation of the rooms, was left to be finished in the spring.  By June, 1844, the main college building was complete. This first main building did not include the two wings which had been planned; these were left to be added in later years” [Wack].  Notre Dame was well on the way to success, although not without the obstacles and growing pains that many American colleges faces at this time.


Chronicles of Notre Dame du Lac by Rev. Edward Sorin
Edward Sorin
by Marvin O’Connell
The University of Notre Dame du Lac: Foundations, 1842-1857 by John Theodore Wack
The University of Notre Dame: A Portrait of Its History & Campus by Thomas Schlereth
Sorin to Moreau, December 5, 1842
GNDL 21/08
GCSC 04/30
GCSC 04/32

Sorin’s Golden Jubilee

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.

Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of the Very Rev. Edward Sorin, August 15, 1888. Seated:  Bishop Richard Gilmour (Cleveland), Archbishop William H. Elder (Cincinnati), Father Sorin, Cardinal James Gibbons (Baltimore), Archbishop John Ireland (St. Paul), Bishop Joseph Dwenger (Fort Wayne), Bishop John Watterson (Columbus), Bishop Richard Phelan (Pittsburgh) Standing:  Bishop James Ryan (Alton), Bishop John Janssen (Belleville), Bishop John Keane (Washington, D.C.), Bishop Maurice F. Burke (Cheyenne), Bishop John Lancaster Spalding (Peoria), Bishop Steven V. Ryan (Buffalo), Bishop Henry J. Richter (Grand Rapids). The group is seated between Sacred Heart Church Basilica and the Main Building. Photo by A. McDonald of McDonald Studio, South Bend, Indiana.  The 09/08/1888 issue of Scholastic, page 48, mentions that copies of this photograph are being sold "at the low price of $1.00 each."
Souvenir of the Golden Jubilee of the Very Rev. Edward Sorin, August 15, 1888.
Seated: Bishop Richard Gilmour (Cleveland), Archbishop William H. Elder (Cincinnati), Father Sorin, Cardinal James Gibbons (Baltimore), Archbishop John Ireland (St. Paul), Bishop Joseph Dwenger (Fort Wayne), Bishop John Watterson (Columbus), Bishop Richard Phelan (Pittsburgh)
Standing: Bishop James Ryan (Alton), Bishop John Janssen (Belleville), Bishop John Keane (Washington, D.C.), Bishop Maurice F. Burke (Cheyenne), Bishop John Lancaster Spalding (Peoria), Bishop Steven V. Ryan (Buffalo), Bishop Henry J. Richter (Grand Rapids).
The group is seated between Sacred Heart Church Basilica and the Main Building.
Photo by A. McDonald of McDonald Studio, South Bend, Indiana. The 09/08/1888 issue of Scholastic, page 48, mentions that copies of this photograph were being sold “at the low price of $1.00 each.”

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.

Card from Rev. Edward Sorin's Golden Jubilee, 1888/0815
Card from Rev. Edward Sorin’s Golden Jubilee, 1888/0815

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.

Front page of the banquet program for the celebration of Rev. Edward Sorin's Golden Jubilee, featuring an engraving of Main Building by A.C. McClurg & Co., 1888/0815.
Front page of the banquet program for the celebration of Rev. Edward Sorin’s Golden Jubilee, featuring an engraving of Main Building by A.C. McClurg & Co., 1888/0815.

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].


Edward Sorin
by Marvin O’Connell
“History of Sorin College” (
GNDL 22/19
CEDW 30/16
GGPN 15/10
GMLS 04/02
CSOR 04/01

Rupert Mills

Only four Notre Dame student athletes have earned monograms in four different sports – Alfred Bergman (Class of 1914), Rupert Mills (1915), Johnny Lujack (1948), and George Ratterman (1949).  Mills earned monograms in baseball, basketball, track, and football.  Along with his athletic ability, Mills was president of the Senior Law Class and appeared in several theatrical productions at Notre Dame, along with his roommate Ray Eichenlaub.

Baseball Game Scene - Player Rupert Mills at bat, c1915.
Baseball Game Scene – Player Rupert Mills at bat, c1915.

After graduating in 1915, Mills signed an iron-clad contract to play professional baseball for the Newark Feds in the Federal Baseball League.  When the team disbanded after the 1915 season, Mills was intent on getting his piece of the $3000 contract.  Pat Powers, President of the ball club, was also under pressure from other players who had contracts.  He tried to buy Mills’ contract in April of 1916 at $500 and to place Mills on a minor league team.  Mills refused the compromise “and then Powers is reported to have said that if Mills wouldn’t be ‘reasonable’ and insist upon the fulfillment of his contract, Mills would have to report each day at the deserted Federal league park… each day at 10am, remain until noon, get back at 2pm and linger until 6pm.  That’s what Mills will have to do seven days a week, over a stretch of twenty-two weeks, rain or shine.  And Powers figures that the loneliness of the job will soon make Mills ‘open to reason'” [Scholastic, April 29, 1916, page 488, quoting an unnamed Newark newspaper].

[photoshelter-img i_id=”I0000ZU_irgYqEWs” buy=”1″ caption=”Men’s Basketball Team, 1913.  Rupert Mills is seated at the far left” width=”576″ height=”401″]

Mills called Powers’ bluff, showing up at the field every day to play “solitaire baseball”:

“I’ve played 12 games since the season started,” said Rupe, “and won ’em all. What’s more, working alone has whipped me into great trim.  It’s kinda hard to slam ’em out, beat the ball down to first and then have to call myself out.  The first thing I know I’ll be chasing myself to the club-house and Pat Powers is liable to fine me $1o.  When I get through in this league I ought to be a valuable utility player.

“If I don’t lead the league in everything but errors it won’t be my fault.  So far I have knocked the cover off the ball every time.  Everything is a hit because Rupe Mills is official scorer.  I simply can’t fail to hit safely, because I do my own pitching.

“The other day I wrenched my ankle while sliding and I had to put myself in to run for me.  I have a dickens of a time trying to pull a double steal.  Everything else is a set-up.

“I do mostly pitching in the morning to get wise to my curves for the afternoon game. So far this year I haven’t been in any extra inning games.”

[Scholastic, May 20, 1916, page 533, quoting the Toledo News Bee].

Football Player Rupert Mills, full-length portrait in uniform and monogram sweater, c1913.
Football Player Rupert Mills, full-length portrait in uniform and monogram sweater, c1913.

Later that summer, after many a game of solitaire baseball, Mills and Powers eventually settled their differences.  Mills went on to play for a farm club associated with the Detroit Lions and for the Denver Bears.  His baseball career sputtered out and he enlisted in the Army during World War I.  After being discharged, Mills decided to concentrate on a career in law.

Roommates Rupert Mills and Ray Eichenlaub in costume for the senior play "What's Next?," April 1914
Roommates Rupert Mills and Ray Eichenlaub in costume for the senior play What’s Next?, April 1914

Professionally, Mills held political positions including State Senator of New Jersey and Under Sheriff of Essex County.  However, he did remain athletically active in local baseball and polo clubs.  Mills was also a representative of Notre Dame in the East, sending reports of potential athletic recruits to his old teammate, Athletic Director Knute Rockne.

On July 20, 1929, Mills was visiting with political friends at Lake Hopatcong when he convinced a reluctant Louis Freeman to explore the lake in a canoe.  Freeman was not a good swimmer, which turned fatal for Mills.  The boat capsized 100 feet out and Freeman panicked, although he was wearing a life vest.  Mills rescued Freeman, towing him back to shore with the help of an oar.  About twenty feet from shore, Mills apparently suffered a heart attack and sank below the water.

Rupe was only 35 years old and his death was a shock to the Notre Dame and New Jersey communities.  Notre Dame Alumnus reported that “twenty thousand persons lined the blocks around St. Augustine’s Church.  The funeral procession was one of the largest and most impressive ever seen in the county” [September 1929, page 22].  The New York Herald Tribune reported, “Troop A of the 102nd Cavalry, of which Mr. Mills had been captain since the World War, led the procession from the home to the church. … Behind the regiment came the mourners and behind them marched World War veterans in uniforms, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Essex Troop.  A police platoon under the command of Police Commissioner McGregor and a contingent of 200 firemen completed the procession” [July 25, 1929, page 2].



PATH:  Rupert Mills
UATH 16/78-79
Baseball Anecdotes by Daniel Okrent
GMIL 1/11
GTJS 7/28
GNDS 28/24
GKLI 1/12

Rev. William Corby at Gettysburg

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.

Notre Dame’s Civil War Chaplains with two officers from the Irish Brigade at the Union Army camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia, Summer 1862. Sitting: Captain J. J. McCormick; James Dillon, CSC; and William Corby, CSC. Standing: Patrick Dillon, CSC, and Dr. Philip O’Hanlon. Photo by Alexander Gardner, official photographer of the Army. Original glass negative is housed in the Library of Congress.

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].

Portrait of Rev. William Corby, CSC, 1863
Portrait of Rev. William Corby, CSC, 1863

Colonel St. Clair Mulholland was attached with the Irish Brigade and later gave this account of Corby’s famous absolution [Originally published in the Philadelphia Times, reprinted in Scholastic, April 3, 1880, pages 470-471]:

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.

Paul Wood’s Absolution under Fire at the Snite Museum of Art

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].

Rev. William Corby, CSC, statue at Gettysburg, c1910s "Dominus noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego, auctoritate ipsius, vos absolvo ab omni vinculo, excommunicationis interdicti, in quantum possum et vos indigetis deinde ego absolvo vos , a pecatis vestris, in nomini Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen" [Corby, page 183]
Rev. William Corby, CSC, statue at Gettysburg, c1910s
“Dominus noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego, auctoritate ipsius, vos absolvo ab omni vinculo, excommunicationis interdicti, in quantum possum et vos indigetis deinde ego absolvo vos, a pecatis vestris, in nomini Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen” [Corby, page 183]
 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).


Memoirs of Chaplain Life
by Rev. William Corby
Scholastic, April 3, 1880
CEDW XI-2-c:  St. Clair Mulholland to Jimmy Edwards, 06/08/1900
GPHR 45/3024




Rev. Edward Sorin Lost at Sea

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 stranded near 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 Edward Sorin (in the center with the long, white beard and black cassock), Miss Eliza Allen Starr, and other passengers being transferred to the Ville de Brest, the steamer sent out by the French Transatlantic Steamship Company, which save passengers from the disabled steamer L’Amerique and which towed her into Queenstown harbor, and thence to Havre, 1875.

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.


“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


Joseph Casasanta

“When four rows of Glee Club singers chant a Notre Dame song; when columns of blue-uniformed bandsmen play and march to Notre Dame music — then we forget the ubiquitous campus grinds and gripers, and we hike along, down the line, cheering her name, and glad that Irish Backs are marching” [Scholastic, 03/14/1930, page 689]

Born into a musical family, Joseph Casasanta naturally became involved with the music organizations as a student at Notre Dame, holding leadership positions in the Glee Club and the Marching Band.  Before he graduated in 1923, Casasanta joined the faculty in teaching piano and as an assistant director of the University Band.  While music had long been taught at Notre Dame, there were no programs leading to a Bachelor of Music degree until the 1920s.  It is believed that Casasanta was the first student to earn such a degree at Notre Dame.

Portrait of Marching Band Director Joseph Casasanta, c1933

After graduation, Casasanta remained at Notre Dame, moving up to director of the Music Department until 1942.  He also led the University Band, the Glee Club, and the Orchestra; and he founded Notre Dame’s Linnets and the South Bend Symphony.  Casasanta’s most enduring legacy came from the songs that he wrote for Notre Dame, many of which have been in the repertoire of the Glee Club and the Marching Band since their debuts.

Inspired by the cadence of the football team, Casasanta and his brother-in-law and Notre Dame Architect Vincent Fagan wrote Hike, Notre Dame in 1923.  Scholastic reported that “About a year ago many of us felt the need of a new college song – ‘The Victory March,’ it was thought, was in danger of becoming too trite.  Our constant desire to sing our appreciation of Notre Dame demanded another melody.  As a result ‘The Hike Song’ was composed” [Scholastic, October 1923, page 102].

Alumni Michael and John Shea wrote the Victory March in 1908 to fill the void of a stirring Notre Dame fight song.  They felt their contribution was “amateurish” and they hoped that future students would build upon their initiative to create something even better.  Rev. Michael Shea recalled that “Ten years after my ordination, I heard the ‘Victory March’ for the first time while on a visit to Notre Dame.  How it came to its present exalted condition, I do not know.  The coming of Mr. Casasanta was evidently the realization of our hopes, and to him I express my hearty appreciation of a good work admirably done for the best University in the land” [Scholastic, 07/30/1930, page 529].  Casasanta’s arrangement of the Victory March is the basis for what the Marching Band and Glee Club still perform today.

“When the Irish Backs Go Marching By,” by Joseph Casasanta, c1930

On Down the Line came in 1925 and the students quickly embraced it in the repertoire of collegiate songs and cheers at the football games and pep rallies.  The Glee Club also sang these songs at concerts, on radio broadcasts, and for recordings, which helped to solidify their national popularity.

Notre Dame, Our Mother, whose lyrics were written by University President Rev. Charles O’Donnell in March 1930, debuted at the premiere of The Spirit of Notre Dame on October 7, 1931, and was quickly adopted as the Alma Mater.  At the end of the halftime show of the last football game of the 1931 season, “the people in the stands [were] requested to stand at attention for the playing of ‘Notre Dame, Our Mother,’ in memory of the late Knute Rockne” [Scholastic, 11/20/1931, page 9], and thus, another tradition began.

When the Irish Backs Go Marching By debuted in 1930 at a time when the “Fighting Irish” moniker was still somewhat influx, as Scholastic noted with tongue-in-cheek:  “The dispute over ‘Irish’ as applied to our varsities seems to be at an end; the name of the song has commemorated in lyrical history the 1929 activities of those doughty Celtic side-steppers—Carideo, Schwartz, Elder, Brill, Gebert, and Mullins” [Scholastic, 03/14/1930, page 689].


Alumnus Magazine, December 1968-January 1969, page 42:
Obituary of Marching Band Director Joseph Casasanta, 1968.


Notre Dame honored Casasanta at the 1932 Commencement Exercises.  Deeply touched by the honor, Casasanta wrote his appreciation to University President Charles O’Donnell and said in part, “Whatever I have done, I owe all to Notre Dame.  She has always been and will always be the source of all my inspiration, love, and joy” [UPCO 1/77, June 15, 1932].  Casasanta passed away in December of 1968, but his music has become an indelible part of Notre Dame’s identity and has endured throughout generations.



UDIS 103/04
GDIS 2/17
UNDR 10/04
100 Years of the Notre Dame Victory March (1908-2008)


Sister Mary Aquinas, OSF

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.
“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, ‘flying nun,’ applying a little glue to the model P-38 which hangs from the ceiling of her classroom at Catholic University. A veteran of fifteen years’ teaching experience, the Sister is giving a summer Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instruction,” June 1943.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

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.

“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas, ‘flying nun,’ exchanging trade secrets with an engineer at the Washington National Airport,” June 1943.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

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.

“Washington, D.C. Sister Aquinas teaching a lesson in practical radio operations to the Sisters attending her Civil Aeronautics Authority course for instructors at Catholic University,” June 1943.
The women with heart necklaces are Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Source: Library of Congress, FSA/OWI Collection

Sister Mary Aquinas was the subject of a 1956 television program The Pilot Her moniker as “The Flying Nun” leads many to believe she was the inspiration of the 1967-1970 television show starring Sally Field.  Furthering the thought there might be a connection, the television show was based on a The Fifteenth Pelican, a book by Tere Rios Versace, who also researched the life of Sister Mary Aquinas for an unpublished biography.  Versace’s papers can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives.



“The Fighting Irish at the Fronts,” By Jim Schaeffer, Scholastic, October 1, 1943, page 9

September 3, 1942 Commencement Program [PNDP 1300]

Sister Mary Aquinas, ‘The Flying Nun,’ Says Air-Minded Child Is a Happy Child,” by Margaret Kernodle, AP Features Writer, Lewiston Morning Tribune, Lewiston, Idaho, August 8, 1943

Navy Invites Nun to Pilot Jet,” Lodi News-Sentinel, Lodi, California, July 25, 1958

“‘No Glamor Girl,’ Flying Nun Says,” by Bob Considine, The Milwaukee Sentinel, September 8, 1957

Three Sisters, Three Stories, Touching Lives,” Silver Lake College New Directions, Fall/Winter 2008-2009

Sister Mary Aquinas Is Dead; Pilot Inspired TV ‘Flying Nun,'” The New York Times, October 23, 1985

The Wisconsin Historical Society

Photos of Sr. Mary Aquinas from the Library of Congress are in the public domain


1928 Olympic Tour

Ever the entrepreneur and marketing guru, Athletic Director Knute Rockne organized a six-week European tour with a stop over to watch the Track and Field events at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam.  He recruited friends, colleagues, and former Notre Dame athletes across the country to act as representatives to sell the tour within their social and professional circles and to the general public.  Many of these representatives held positions as coaches and athletic directors at colleges, high schools, and local athletic clubs.

According the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Rockne pilgrimage is expected to be the largest tour ever conducted by an individual to the continent, and it is the first time that an individual has arranged for the use of a boat of such great tonnage as the Carmania for a trip to the old world” [“Rockne to Conduct Olympic Tour,” January 30, 1928].

 Form letter regarding the details of Knute Rockne’s Olympic Tour, 1928

The nearly 200 participants were made up of Rockne’s friends and colleagues, including the likes of Pop Warner, Harry Stuhldreher, and Tom Lieb, college students, single men and women, and families.  The party departed New York City on July 20, 1928, and returned on September 2nd.  During the six-week summer trip, they visited England, Holland, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and France.  Due to the success of the 1928 trip, it is likely that Rockne would have organized future Olympic excursions had he not met his untimely end on March 31, 1931.


PATH 3-5-Ol Folder
UADR 22-23
Rockne to Conduct Olympic Tour,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 30, 1928
Many Will Journey with Rockne abroad for Olympic Events,” St. Petersburg Times, March 27, 1928

Remember the Maine and Shilly

On the night of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded and sank in the Havana, Cuba, harbor.  Tensions between the United States and Spain over the fate of Cuba led many to believe that Spain was behind the sinking of the Maine.  While multiple investigations have been unable to definitively identify the culprit, “Remember the Maine!  To hell with Spain!” became a rallying cry that helped to launch the Spanish-American War.  The Maine suffered 266 fatalities and most of the 94 survivors sustained some kind of causality.  Among the fatalities was John Henry Shillington, yeoman, third class.

Survivors of the USS Maine, 1898/0222.
Caption: “Roll Call of the Gallant Maine Boys at the Barracks Key West, Florida, Feb. 22, 1898. Washington’s Birthday. Maine blown up Feb. 15, 1898. Crew of 360 men, 266 perished, +L. Moriniere saved. Pennant of the Maine”

John Shillington of Chicago was a popular student at Notre Dame who was involved in many campus activities, including theater and athletics.  He played varsity baseball and was captain of the 1897 basketball team.  Rumor has it that Shillington was expelled for not returning to South Bend with the baseball team after playing at the University of Chicago in May 1897.  He then joined the Navy and ended up on the doomed Maine.

Portrait of John Henry Shillington, c1897

The February 19, 1898 issue of Scholastic reported on the death of their friend:

“John H. Shillington was of a nature which won him many friends, and when, last year, it was deemed necessary for him to sever his connection with the University he went away with the best wishes of all his friends and of all his professors.  He was a manly boy, and he did not complain. ‘I often think of Notre Dame,’ he wrote to a friend from the ill-fated Maine.  ‘I can picture her daily, and in my reminiscences of her a tear is often brushed away . . . . I suppose ‘Shilly’ is forgotten by people at the old college, and I don’t blame them.  Though forgotten, I shall always hold Notre Dame near and dear to me.’

“No; ‘Shilly’ is not forgotten at Notre Dame, but remembered with affection and mourned with sincere grief.  He shall have a share in the prayers of students and professors who will not fail in the only service which friendship can now render him.  God rest his soul!”

On Memorial Day 1915, a monument was dedication in the honor of Shillington just north of Science Hall (LaFortune Hall).  The Secretary of the United States Navy Josephus Daniels gave an address at the dedication and much fanfare surrounded the event.  The monument consists of a shell from the Maine on a base of red Wisconsin granite.

Shillington Monument, c1915-1916.
“To the memory of John Henry Shillington of Brownson [Hall] who went down with the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, February 15, 1898. This marker is raised [1915] by the men of Brownson as a symbol of their sorrow and their pride. Requiescat in pace.”

Between 1925 and 1930, the monument was moved closer to the Bronson Hall wing of Main Building.  Many students had since forgotten Shillington or knew anything about the reason for the memorial.  In 1930, Scholastic reported that the Brownson Hall residents had taken to calling the monument “The Bullet,” as do some students even today.  The Shillington Memorial was moved further into obscurity to the south side of the Joyce Center near Gate 8 in 1989.  The Shillington Monument finally found a prominent home on the south side of the ROTC Pasquerilla Center in the 2000s.


“The Destruction of the USS Maine,” Department of the Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command
PNDP 02-Sh-01
GSBB 2/05
GPOR 17/02
GMIL 1/03