The Basilica and…The Wright Brothers??

Trust me, it’ll all make sense in a minute.

Putting on my aviation hat, the Wright Brothers were not the only ones who invented a workable flying machine around the turn of the 20th century. There are anecdotes and stories of others who flew–and a few claims of doing so before the Wright Brothers–but Orville & Wilbur get credit because they put photography on their priority list. Yup. In addition to Orville at the controls and Wilbur standing on the wing, they made sure assistant John T. Daniels was ready at the camera. Without the photos it’s just…an anecdote.

First flight photo from Library of Congress

First flight photo from Library of Congress

So what does this have to do with the Basilica? Gettin’ there…

As University photographers we make the University Archives’ photo collection. In my day-to-day work I’m regularly thinking about what will be important 50 or 75 years from now. When the 50th anniversary of the Stayer Center rolls around, for example, there will be outstanding photos of its construction thanks to the efforts Barbara Johnston put in while it was going up.

Okay, finally: The Basilica.

When the staff at the Basilica told me they’d close after Christmas Mass to replace the carpet with a stone tile floor, I knew that was something that didn’t happen very often. “Around the time of Vatican II” was the guess for when the Basilica was carpeted. My parents were married in the Basilica (or Sacred Heart Church as it was known) in 1970 and it was carpeted then:

Thanks, Mom!

Thanks, Mom!

So it’s been at least 44 years. Something that happens once every 5 decades? Yeah, gotta record that!

My plan was to mount a camera in the choir loft to shoot the entire process in time lapse. John Zack, Fr. Peter Rocca, C.S.C., Andrew McShane and others at the Basilica are used to my out-of-left-field requests and were very generous to make sure I had the access I needed. So on Dec. 23 I popped in and set everything up. The choir loft railing provided a secure spot to clamp and safety-cable the camera. I set the camera’s built-in timer to take a photo every 30 minutes. The choir loft has convenient AC power so the camera wouldn’t run out of batteries. (As a brief side note–this is something that would simply not have been possible in the days of film. I’d have had to change the roll every 18 hours!) I stopped in twice during the construction work to change the memory card and get a few images from other angles.

The result was hundreds of still photos of the process that, when edited together, make a fun time-lapse video as well. Watch 3 weeks go by in 30 seconds:

So when they replace the Basilica floor again 50 years from now and someone asks “What did it look like the last time they did this?” University Archives will be able to answer. At my retirement condo in Boca…I’ll be smiling.

– Matt Cashore

9 thoughts on “The Basilica and…The Wright Brothers??

  1. Too much detail. You should have let people think you stood there shooting through the whole process. :o)

  2. great work!

    now can we find money to broadcast Sunday mass . . . TV as we did for years?

    • The Sunday 10:00 a.m. (ET) Mass from the Basilica is televised live on CatholicTV. See: (The Hallmark Channel no longer carries three hours of religious programming, the first hour of which had been Catholic Mass from Notre Dame.).

  3. Amazing photography. Makes one appreciate the effort and planning it took to do this
    renovation, and the foresight to capture the process visually. Now we’ll have to visit and see that venerable place again for ourselves – and I do agree with a previous comment that we also would like to have the Sunday Mass telecasts resumed.

    • Wondering how it will affect the acoustics, which have been problematical in the past?
      Jim Cooney, ’59

      • The acoustics, with the removal of carpeting and installation of slate tile flooring (a ceramic type of flooring) have improved the acoustics tremendously, according to all the choral directors, organists, a number of priest-presiders and homilists, and even a few of us in the pews.

    • Andy Sullivan, we will have that opportunity when our ND class meets on campus for our reunion, May 29-June1.

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