Okay, class, show of hands: How many of you know the nickname of the statue in front of Corby Hall? A good number of hands–that’s right “Fair Catch Corby.” Now how many of you know what that statue truly commemorates? Hmmm, quite a few hands went down. Take out your notebooks, time for a history lesson.
During the Civil War, Fr. Sorin sent seven C.S.C. priests to be Union Chaplains. Rev. William Corby, C.S.C. was assigned to the 88th New York Volunteer Infantry, nicknamed the Irish Brigade because of the high number of Irish Catholic soldiers.
At the Battle of Gettysburg, shortly before the Irish Brigade was about to take part in the action, Fr. Corby asked the commanding officer if he could address the men. He stood upon a rock and gave a blessing and general absolution. The moment was depicted on canvas in 1891 by Paul Wood, a Notre Dame art student. That painting now hangs in the Snite Museum of Art.
After the Civil War Fr. Corby returned to Notre Dame and became our third president, and was president of Notre Dame at the time of the 1879 fire and the construction of the Main Building we all know.
In 1910 Fr. Corby was honored with a statue on the Gettysburg battlefield depicting that moment. A year later the copy we all know as “Fair Catch Corby” was placed in front of Corby Hall.
In 1963, on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Then-President Fr. Hesburgh celebrated Mass at the statue on the battlefield, so it was in keeping with tradition that current Notre Dame President Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C. did the same on June 22, 2013. This time instead of the Irish Brigade, the Notre Dame Club of Gettysburg turned out in force and the Mass was standing-room-only. In his reflections after Mass, Fr. Jenkins reminded us all that among the hundreds of statues and memorials on the battlefield, Fr. Corby’s is the only memorial to a man who never carried a weapon.
Well, class, I hope you took good notes. There will be a quiz later. Until then, here are some photos:
For more images check out the entire gallery.
Nice job Matt Cashore!
A couple of years ago I read Corby’s Memoirs of Life in the Irish Brigade. He and Fr. Dillon of Notre Dame, together with Fr. Oullet (Willett) of Fordham University served the Irish Brigade. During my thirtieth Reunion in 2011 I went to the Library and reviewed the Corby papers. Among Father Corby’s papers was a hand-written letter to Father Corby from a Margaret Tinsley, from West Upton, MA. Let me share a part of it.(I have not corrected the punctuation.)
“Dec. 19th 1897
West Upton Mass
I have been reading about the Priests of the Grand Army and I had a good cry over it. My good husband was a Soldier in the 88 New York Irish Brigade and when he came home from the war he told me about Father Corby giving the soldiers absolution before the great Battle of Gettysburgh and he said he felt as strong as a lion after that and felt no fear although his Comrade was shot down beside him his name was John Tinsley he is dead 15 years … .
West Upton Mass”
The “Muster-in Rolls”, a copy of which was also in the files, showed that Corby was age 30 when he joined the 88th NY Volunteers on December 15, 1861.
In another work I read that the moment of Corby’s blessing was so moving, that all soldiers, Catholic and non-Catholic alike within ear-shot, stood quietly awaiting the absolution before battle. Corby says in his Memoirs that a Protestant Minister later wrote to him asking for a copy of the prayer of absolution, as Corby given the absolution in Latin.
Last week my daughter returned from ND Vision. I had asked her to find Fr. Corby’s statue and take a picture, as my son is going to the Boy Scout National Jamboree and stopping at Gettsburgh. I wanted them to compare pictures of the respective statues, which were cast from the same mold. A teaching moment: Notre Dame, Gettysburgh, Scouting, Father Corby and my children’s Irish heritage all wrapped into one.
Frank Browne ’81
A remembrance of where we come from.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to post replies!