The Laetare Medal

In the early 1880s, the Notre Dame faculty and administration were discussing a way to engage American Catholic lay men and women with the hierarchy of the Church.  University President Rev. Thomas Walsh, Rev. Edward Sorin, and Professor James Edwards decided that Notre Dame should bestow a medal of honor each year on an American lay Catholic member, preferably a college-educated “man of letters,” in similar fashion as the Vatican’s Golden Rose.  The Laetare Medal quickly became not only the highest honor Notre Dame bestows, but also the highest honor American Catholics can receive.

As the medal was initially presented on Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Lent, the medal was known as the Laetare Medal.  Notre Dame administrators or a delegate usually presented the medal to the recipient away from campus.  As time grew on, the presentations floated further away from Laetare Sunday to accommodate the recipient’s schedule, but the announcement is still made on Laetare Sunday.

Front side of the Laetare Medal given to Albert Zahm in 1925.  Astronaut James Wetherbee (Class of 1974) carried this medal with him on his first flight into space.

Front side of the Laetare Medal given to Albert Zahm in 1925. Astronaut James Wetherbee (Class of 1974) carried this medal with him on his first flight into space aboard the Columbia space shuttle in 1990.

John Gilmary Shea was the first recipient of the Laetare Medal in 1883.  Artist Eliza Allen Starr, dear friend of Rev. Edward Sorin, was the third recipient of the Laetare Medal and the first female recipient in 1885.  Edward Pruess accepted the 1887 medal under anonymity, not wanting public honors.  It wasn’t until after his death that his name was added to the honor roll.

In the early years, an illustrative announcement accompanied the medal.  This practice ended in 1908 on the Silver Jubilee of the Laetare Medal.  Each medal has a unique design, reflecting an important aspect of the recipient’s life.  For example, aviation pioneer Albert Zahm’s (Class of 1883) medal features an airplane and the Golden Dome (see above) while President John F. Kennedy’s medal features the Presidential Seal of the United States.

Laetare Medal certificate to James Charles Monaghan, 1908. Artwork by Howard Darnell of Philadelphia.

Laetare Medal certificate to James Charles Monaghan, 1908.
Artwork by Howard Darnell of Philadelphia.

For decades, Notre Dame administrators, usually accompanied by the local bishop or other Catholic hierarchy, would bring the medal to the recipient.  Usually the ceremony was simple, but other times it was a lavish affair.  In 1911, former Notre Dame professor Maurice Francis Egan, who was then service as the United States Ambassador to Denmark, was awarded the Laetare Medal.  Notre Dame invited dozens of dignitaries, including cabinet members, congressmen, high-ranking military officials, and foreign ambassadors to the presentation ceremony.

In 1918, Los Angeles Bishop John Cantwell spoke to a packed crowd in the Shrine Auditorium on the occasion of the Laetare Medal presentation to attorney Joseph Scott:

“This distinguished assemblage of citizens is unique among civic gatherings.  We come together this evening to witness an academic act of a university whose center is far from here, but whose range of activity is confined only by the continent. … When the University of Notre Dame confers the Laetare Medal this evening, it is the witness of a great university to the superb character of Mr. Joseph Scott.”

["Joseph Scott Receives the Laetare Medal," The Tidings, February 28, 1919; CJWC 14/22]

For the Golden Jubilee of the medal in 1933, the presentation was held at Notre Dame’s Commencement.  All living medalists were invited and among those who returned to campus to speak were Margaret Anglin, Al Smith, and Dr. James J. Walsh.

Rev.  Edmund Joyce, CSC, and Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, presenting President John F. Kennedy with the Laetare Medal in the White House, 1961/1122.

Rev. Edmund Joyce, CSC, and Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC, presenting President John F. Kennedy with the Laetare Medal in the White House, 1961/1122.

In 1968, the Notre Dame search committee opened up the requirements of Laetare Medalists to include clergy, not just lay people.  The first religious Laetare Medalist was Rev. John O’Brien, a Notre Dame faculty member and popular author.  Notre Dame has also awarded the Laetare Medal jointly to married couples and groups.

By the 1970s, the presentation of the Laetare Medal became a regular part of Commencement Exercises, and the medal recipient is one of the principle speakers.  In 2006, Laetare Medalist jazz musician Dave Brubeck also graced the audience with a performance of “Travelin’ Blues” (see video below).  In 2009, Mary Ann Gleason declined the Laetare Medal in protest to Notre Dame’s decision to name President Barack Obama as Commencement speaker and award him an honorary degree.

Commencement - Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, presenting Helen Hayes with the Laetare Medal, 1979/0520.

Commencement – Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, CSC, presenting Helen Hayes with the Laetare Medal, 1979/0520.

For the centennial of the Laetare Medal in 1983, University President Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh admitted,

“there was serious discussion whether the University should continue to make the annual award.  After all, with twenty-one Catholic members of the United States Senate, we are hardly an immigrant minority; we have entered the mainstream.  But the consensus was that our nation will always need – and it will be salutary to recognize – the kind of men and women who have worn the Laetare Medal, persons of excellence and faith who exemplify best what it means to be both American and Catholic.  For this reason, I suspect that there will be a Laetare Medal as long as there is a Notre Dame”

[Laetare Medal Centennial: 1883-1983, PNDP 40-La-01].

Sources:
Scholastic
Alumnus
Notre Dame: One Hundred Years
by Arthur J. Hope
CJWC 14/22
PNDP 40-La-01
GNEG 02D/24B
GLAE
GPHR 45/4321
GPHR 35m/05764
Declining Notre Dame:  A Letter from Mary Ann Glendon,” Mary Ann Glendon,  April 27/2009 (http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2009/04/declining-notre-dame-a-letter-from-mary-ann-glendon/)
List of Laetare Medal Recipients

 

Posted in Catholic History, Notre Dame History | Tagged , | Comments Off

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 the first to be 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 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, 1843, 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.

 

Sources:
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 if Its History & Campus by Thomas Schlereth
Sorin to Moreau, December 5, 1842
Scholastic
GNDL 21/08
GCSC 04/30
GCSC 04/32

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , , | Comments Off

The Zahm Special

In the early 1880s, University Vice President Rev. John Zahm and his brother Albert took excursions to the West, Southwest, and Mexico in scientific pursuits, of archeology, geology, and anthropology.  In addition to making observations, they were actively acquiring specimens to replace those destroyed in the 1879 fire.  Along the way, they made many friends and realized they had also found many new recruits of students to attend Notre Dame.

As Notre Dame’s enrollment exploded in the late 19th century, more and more students were arriving from outside of the Midwest.  As travel from the West and Southwest was far more difficult to navigate from the East, Notre Dame helped the western students out with travel special arrangements.  Fr. Zahm played chaperone to the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s students hailing from these distant points in the 1880s.  Zahm arranged for special train cars from points such as Denver and Chihuahua, Mexico, to travel eastward to Notre Dame.  In 1883, the trip from Denver took at three days, five from Chihuahua.

The Zahm Special, 1898.  Train car built by the Worchester Excursion Car Company for use by western students traveling to and from campus.

The Zahm Special, 1898.
Train car built by the Worcester Excursion Car Company for use by western students traveling to and from campus.

Many of the western students’ parents couldn’t afford to also make the trip, so Fr. Zahm and other officials acted in loco parentis, a role Notre Dame faculty and administrators always played.  The special cars allowed for the students to make the trip without changing cars.  Otherwise, it would be a daunting task to wrangle students ranging from the Minims to the Collegiate boys and their travel trunks.  One student marveled, “the journey from South Bend to Denver without a single change of cars, and with all the comforts of a hotel from Chicago to Denver, without extra charge. Truly, wonders will never cease!” [Scholastic, June 20, 1883].

Detail of a broadside advertisement for Notre Dame in Spanish for prospective students from Mexico, featuring a map of the United States with train routes, 1883.

Detail of a broadside advertisement in Spanish for prospective Notre Dame students from Mexico, featuring a map of the United States with train routes, 1883.

The passengers spent much of the day fascinated by the ever-changing landscape – from mountains, to deserts, to the plains.  At night, they sang songs and read stories.  The students who barely knew each other before boarding became quick friends on the trip.  At the stations along the way, they were greeted by alumni and friends of the University.

At the beginning of September 1883, two trains were arranged to bring students to Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s Academy – one from Chihuahua, the other from Denver.  Getting to these major hubs was often a significant length of travel in and of itself.  Someone on the Denver train reported,

“They came from almost every direction, — from Lander and Cheyenne on the north, in Wyoming, to Pueblo, in the South.  Ouray, Telluride, Buena Vista, Crested Butte, sent their quotas to swell the throng of students, parents, and professors.  People in the East have little idea of the difficulties and inconveniences that often beset the path of the Western student bound collegeward.  Taking the case of Mrs. Amoretti, for instance, who with her son—now a Minim at Notre Dame—had to stage one hundred and fifty miles to Green River before striking railway travel, thence to Denver, by rail, and from there twelve hundred miles to Notre Dame!” [Scholastic, 09/22/1883, page 34].

Brothers Albert Zahm and Rev. John Zahm, CSC.

Brothers Albert Zahm and Rev. John Zahm, CSC.

The trains were decorated with banners and bunting, announcing the presence of Notre Dame students aboard and drawing the attention of onlookers.  The 1883 Denver train had a special passenger in the form of a burro, brought to Notre Dame by the Scherrer boys.  The burro and his bale of hay rode in the baggage car.

At the same time in 1883, Fr. Zahm chartered a palace car which left from Chihuahua, Mexico, with fourteen students.  They were chaperoned by Albert Zahm and A. O’Reilly, a Notre Dame alum who worked for the Hannibal and St. Joe line.  This private car allowed for the students to travel nearly 2000 miles without changing cars.  Fr. Zahm, who accompanied the Denver car, kept in contact with the Chihuahua car via telegraph, monitoring its movements.  They picked up more students from Las Cruces and Albuquerque, New Mexico.  By the time two Pullman cars met up in Galesburg, Illinois, over seventy-five students were on their way to South Bend.

In 1885, Notre Dame bought its own private car and hired a chef who at one time worked for Delmonico’s in New York.  Traveling first class this way may have seen an extraordinary expense, but in the end was more economical and convenient than going through the train companies:

“Having a special through car, the party escapes all the annoyances incident to transfers from train to train and from depot to depot.  And if their car be a hotel car, they can take their meals together at their leisure, and when they feel disposed to do so.  They are not obliged to wait for their meals when the train is behind time, or to bolt their food as they are almost obliged to do by the customary twenty minutes’ stoppage at railway eating houses.  By having a hotel car of their own, the party is practically at home, and a long journey, far from being a source of annoyance and fatigue, becomes one of pleasure and recreation” [Scholastic, 06/06/1885, page 626].

The New Hotel Car "Notre Dame University," 1885

The New Hotel Car “Notre Dame University,” 1885

While Notre Dame continued to charter special trains for its students, many local Alumni Clubs took over arranging travel for their students into the 20th century.  Rail travel eventually was bolstered by charted buses and airplanes and car pools.  For Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations in 1959, students spent over $60,000 on eight charted planes and other transportation arranged by Alumni Clubs [Scholastic, 11/13/1959, page 10].  Some Alumni Clubs still help arranging mass transportation, but for the most part, students are on their own getting to and from campus.

 

Sources:
Scholastic

PNDP 30-RR-02

Posted in Notre Dame History | Comments Off

Notre Dame Football 1913

Since the beginning of collegiate football when Princeton played Rutgers in 1869, the game has been constantly evolving.  One aspect of the game that was in flux for many years was passing.  While lateral and backward passes or pitches were legal, anything that crossed the line of scrimmage was against the rules.  In March 1888, over a month before the second-ever Notre Dame varsity game was played, Scholastic reprinted an abridged list of American football rules from Century, which described the techniques of sequential lateral passes, reminiscent of the 1982 Stanford vs. California game (minus the marching band in the end zone):

“Passing” the ball, or throwing it from one to another, is another feature of the game.  Hardly any combination of team-playing and individual skill is more noteworthy than the sight of a first-rate team carrying the ball down the field, each player taking his turn in running with the ball, and, when hard pressed, passing it over the head of an opponent to one of his own side, more fortunately situated, who carries it farther.  Considering that the egg-shape of the ball makes it the concentrated essence of irregularity, that only the most skilful player can even hazard a guess at the direction which it will take after a bound, and that an error of but an inch in the direction of a throw may carry the ball a dozen feet away from the place at which it was aimed, one may be pardoned for admiring the certainty with which individuals and teams make each point of play and combine them all into an organized system.  A “pass forward ” is not allowed, and is a foul; the ball must be thrown straight across the field, parallel to the goal-line, or in any direction back of that line [Scholastic, 03/10/1888, page 391].

Sadly, the rough style of play and lack of much protective equipment led to serious injuries on the gridiron – from cuts to broken bones and even death.  The public, however, loved the game and flocked to newly built stadiums to see the contests.  Many colleges began banning the football programs.  In December 1905 as part of an effort to try to save football, President Theodore Roosevelt called upon college administrations to unite and come up with standards that would make the game safer.  One of the recommendations that eventually came out of the committee was to open up the game with the forward pass.

Once it became a legitimate strategy, the forward pass slowly made its way into the playbooks across the country for the 1906 season.  Saint Louis University is credited with being the first to legally and successfully use the forward pass.  In recapping Notre Dame’s first game of the season against Franklin, Scholastic was disappointed not to see the forward pass immediately used on Cartier Field:

The new rules were much in evidence, especially in the way of penalties, as the Varsity was penalized at least 100 yards during the game.  The rooters did not get a chance to see  the new game tested, as straight football was used by the Varsity; the much-talked of forward pass and short kicks did not show up as it was hoped.  During the first half, and in fact most of the time, Notre Dame resorted to the old style of play [Scholastic, 10/13/1906, page 75].

Notre Dame and Army had both sporadically used the forward pass to success well before 1913.  However, there were still a lot of disadvantages to the forward pass such as penalties for in completions and much higher risks of turnovers than running the ball.  While many football programs were aware of the pass and occasionally used it, it was still a rarity in the game.  Proponents of the traditional style of football tried to revoke the forward pass from the rule book.  However, by 1913, many of the penalties and restrictions were removed and it came time for coaches and players to develop their athletic skills and try their hand at using the open game to their advantage.

The Eastern teams tended to stick with the old-style of play while the Western schools were more comfortable with the open passing game.  Since there had been little interconference play, Harvard, Yale, and Army were apples and oranges to Michigan, Wisconsin, and Notre Dame.  No one was really sure how to compare them to one another.  The Western schools also had the disadvantage in that many East Coast sports reporters were biased toward the Eastern schools and their style of play.

Since 1887, Notre Dame had worked her way up to the top of the Western Conference, even nabbing the title in 1909.  Louis “Red” Salmon (1902) and Harry Miller (1909) garnered third team All-America nods before Gus Dorais became the first Notre Dame player to earn first team in 1913.  In 1912, the Notre Dame football team chalked up its first undefeated, untied season, under the helm of Coach Jack Marks, a Dartmouth man who taught the Notre Dame squad Eastern tactics.  While Marks never lost a game in his two years, the record was against light schedules that brought in little revenue.  The administration, students, and alumni knew Notre Dame athletics could do better.

In this vein, Notre Dame hired the talented and much sought-after Jesse Harper of Wabash College in December 1912.  Harper, who played under Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg at the University of Chicago, would assume his post of Athletic Director and coach of all varsity sports at Notre Dame in September 1913.  In those nine months, he worked hard on behalf of the Blue and Gold to schedule the most competitive opponents possible and to fill the bleachers, and thus the coffers.  Due to conflicts within the Western Conference, Harper sought to schedule teams outside of the Midwest, which proved fortuitous in the long-run for Notre Dame.  The 1913 schedule was one of the most difficult Notre Dame had seen to that point with six of seven opponents Notre Dame had never faced before.

GSBC 1/02:  Football Team with a toy mule, 1913. Back Row:  Assistant Coach Edwards, Emmett Keefe, Ray Eichenlaub, Albert King, Freeman (Fitz) Fitzgerald, Charles (Sam) Finegan, Coach Jesse Harper Middle Row:  Ralph (Zipper) Lathrop, Keith (Deak) Jones, Joe Pliska, Captain Knute Rockne, Gus Dorais, Fred (Gus) Gushurst, Al Feeney Front Row:  Allen (Mal) Elward, Alfred (Dutch) Bergman, Bill Cook, Art (Bunny) Larkin

Football Team with a toy mule, 1913.
Back Row: Assistant Coach Edwards, Emmett Keefe, Ray Eichenlaub, Albert King, Freeman (Fitz) Fitzgerald, Charles (Sam) Finegan, Coach Jesse Harper
Middle Row: Ralph (Zipper) Lathrop, Keith (Deak) Jones, Joe Pliska, Captain Knute Rockne, Gus Dorais, Fred (Gus) Gushurst, Al Feeney
Front Row: Allen (Mal) Elward, Alfred (Dutch) Bergman, Bill Cook, Art (Bunny) Larkin

The 1913 Notre Dame squad was chock-full of veterans and the students were all hopeful for another successful season; however, Scholastic complained “we know Mid-West critics too well to hope for the Western Championship this year” [Scholastic, 10/25/1913, page 80].  The Montgomery [Alabama] Adviser noted that Notre Dame’s “[p]resent prospects point to one of the strongest elevens the university [Notre Dame] had ever had” ["Twenty-Two Candidates Out at Notre Dame," The Montgomery Adviser, 09/20/1913].

Notre Dame had an easy time with the home opener against Ohio Northern, the only previously-played team on the schedule, winning 87-0 while Knute Rockne sustained an early rib injury.  South Dakota was next and proved a bit more of a struggle, even though the scored ended up 20-7 with some late Notre Dame scores.  Alma rounded out the end of the home stretch with Notre Dame defeating them soundly 62-0.

Football Game Scene - Notre Dame vs. Ohio Northern, 1913/1004. Captain Knute Rockne leading the team onto Cartier Field before the first game of the season.

The last four games were on the road, taking the Notre Dame squad to far-flung corners of the country for the first time.  The road trip started with the famous game versus Army at West Point on November 1, 1913.  Army was a big dog in the Eastern Conference, so it was a big deal to get on their schedule.  Fortunately, Army had a few dates open on their schedule and they were accommodating to Notre Dame.  When Jesse Harper was making the schedule for the 1913 season, he actually wrote to Yale a few days before Army.  Unfortunately, there is no reply in the files, so we don’t know if there was a scheduling conflict or a lack of interest as to why Notre Dame didn’t play them in 1913 but did in 1914.

Part of the legend is true – the forward pass was crucial to Notre Dame’s victory, as the Army team outweighed many of the Notre Dame players.  Notre Dame didn’t invent the forward pass, but they brought a balanced offense of running and passing played with such precision and speed as had never before been seen in a major collegiate game.  The mix of offensive plays weakened and confused the Army defense.  The plays weren’t formulated overnight and it wasn’t a secret, as Notre Dame had used such game strategy previously throughout the season.  The Dallas Morning News even predicted that Notre Dame could edge out Army with use of the forward pass balanced with Ray Eichenlaub’s running game, which was thoroughly tested out in the Alma game [Dallas Morning News, 10/30/1913].

Quarterback Charles (Gus) Dorais had perfected the timing of routes with his open receivers Knute Rockne, Joe Pliska, and Charles (Sam) Finegan so that the plays ran like a well-oiled machine.  Dorais was never under pressure and he constantly switched things up, never throwing to the same receiver twice in a row.  Dorais completed 13 of 17 passes for 243 yards and three of the five touchdowns in the air to defeat Army 35-13.

Notre Dame proved that the forward pass could be an effective weapon in an offensive arsenal and that it wasn’t just a trick play or a last-ditch option, as it had mostly been seen in the past.  The defeat of Army in 1913 gave more legitimacy to the open Western-style of playing versus the traditional, smashmouth football of the East.  If done right, the passing game allowed for more scoring in a quicker amount of time and it was safer for the players.  In regards to the Army game, the New York Times noted that “[f]ootball men marveled at this startling display of open football.  Bill Roper, former head coach at Princeton, who was one of the officials of the game, said that he had always believed that such playing was possible under the new rules, but that he had never seen the forward pass developed to such a state of perfection” [reprinted in Scholastic, 11/08/1913, page 107].

Football team members and boosters in Kingston, New York en route to West Point, 1913/1101.  Including Ray Eichenlaub, Charles (Gus) Dorais, George (Hullie) Hull, Art (Bunny) Larkin, Keith (Deac/Deak) Jones, Joe, Gush (Fred Gushurst?), Em (Emmett Keefe?), Charles (Sam) Finegan, Paul (Curly) Nowers, Allen (Mal) Elward, Knute Rockne, and Mike Calnon.

Football team members and boosters in Kingston, New York en route to West Point, 1913/1101. Including Ray Eichenlaub, Charles (Gus) Dorais, George (Hullie) Hull, Art (Bunny) Larkin, Keith (Deac/Deak) Jones, Joe, Gush (Fred Gushurst?), Em (Emmett Keefe?), Charles (Sam) Finegan, Paul (Curly) Nowers, Allen (Mal) Elward, Knute Rockne, and Mike Calnon.

Notre Dame then traveled to Penn State and handed them their first defeat on home soil 14-7.  A few weeks later, Notre Dame defeated Christian Brothers College in Saint Louis 20-7, and then headed to Texas for a Thanksgiving Day game.  Notre Dame was the first school north of the Mason-Dixon line to play Texas.  Notre Dame took advantage of their time in Austin to practice at Saint Edward’s University, an institution also founded by Rev. Edward Sorin and run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross.  The extra practice paid off as Notre Dame secured a 30-7 victory.

After Notre Dame’s second undefeated, untied season in as many years, many schools tried to plan a post-season game with Notre Dame, including Louisiana State University, Michigan State, Oklahoma, and Seattle A.C.  Timing, extra training, and extraneous travel were obstacles to scheduling more games in 1913, so nothing materialized at the time, but it probably did give Jesse Harper leverage when it came to negotiating future schedules.

While already on the college football map before 1913, Notre Dame athletics was becoming better known as a household name outside of the Midwest.  Notre Dame’s student population, and thus alumni, have always been geographically diverse, so rooters met them along the way.  Notre Dame had an entire bleacher section filled with fans and alumni at West Point.  The extensive road trips starting in 1913 coupled with the pervasive anti-Catholicism in America helped Notre Dame to begin building her “subway alumni.”  Jesse Harper saw that he could build a fan base, and thus revenue, by having competitive athletic schedules.  His vision of excellence was the foundation upon which Knute Rockne continued to build when he became Coach and Athletic Director, securing Notre Dame’s place at the top of collegiate football history.

 

Sources:
Scholastic

PATH 1913 Football Season
Shake Down the Thunder:  The Creation of Notre Dame Football by Murray Superber
Forward Pass by Philip Brooks
Notre Dame Scrapbook c1910-1913 [GSBC]
Notre Dame Football Scrapbook 1913 [GSBH]
GCLE 1/03

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , | Comments Off

Souvenirs from the 1953 Notre Dame vs. USC Game

The Archives of the University of Notre Dame recently received a donation of interesting memorabilia from the Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC) football game on 11/28/1953.

Football Program Cover:  Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1953/1128.

Football Program Cover: Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1953/1128.

An eight year old Felix Quesada Jr. attended the game at the Coliseum with his father. After the 49-14 Notre Dame victory, Felix Sr. and Felix Jr. made their way down to the field. As Felix Jr. recalls,

“My dad told me to stand near the ND bench as the players left the field. My dad was able to catch up with the ND players as a large crowd gathered on the field. My dad reached out and grabbed a hold of one of the player’s jersey – #9 Don Schaefer. The team wore green tear away jerseys then. The jersey did as intended, tore away, and my dad ended up with the #9 from the jersey in his hand. Don looked back, smiled, and ran into the tunnel toward the locker room.

Numeral (#9) worn by player Don Schaefer in the Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC) football game, 1953/1128.  Felix Quesada Sr. grabbed the jersey as Schaefer was leaving the field.  The tear-away jersey gave way, leaving the number in Quesada's hand.

Numeral (#9) worn by player Don Schaefer in the Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC) football game, 1953/1128. Felix Quesada Sr. grabbed the jersey as Schaefer was leaving the field.  The tear-away jersey gave way, leaving the number in Quesada’s hand.

“My dad and I went to the locker room exit and waited for the players to come out. They exited and we got to meet Don and eight other players and get their autographs – it was a thrill to meet Don and Ralph Guglielmi, etc.

Chin strap worn by player Nick Raich in the Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC) football game, 1953/1128

Chin strap worn by player Nick Raich in the Notre Dame vs. USC football game, 1953/1128

“This is one of my fondest memories of time spent with my dad. He saved these mementos during his life and passed them to me.”

Football Tickets:  Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1953/1128

Football Tickets: Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1953/1128

The Notre Dame Archives gratefully thanks Felix Quesada for this generous donation that helps to document Notre Dame’s history.

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

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.

Sorin Hall exterior, c1893. Corby Hall is under construction in the background.

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.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart exterior without the steeple, 1888.

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].

 

Sources:
Scholastic
Edward Sorin
by Marvin O’Connell
“History of Sorin College” (http://www3.nd.edu/~otters/history.php)
GNDL 22/19
CEDW 30/16
GGPN 15/10
GMLS 04/02
CSOR 04/01

Posted in Catholic History, Notre Dame History | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

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].

Men's Basketball Team, 1913. Rupert Mills is seated at the far left

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].

 

Sources:
Scholastic

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

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

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).

 

Sources:
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
GSBA
GPHR 45/3024

 

 

 

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

Consecration of Notre Dame

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.”

Second Main Building - Dedication of Statue of Mary, 1866/0531

Second Main Building – Dedication of Statue of Mary, 1866/0531

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.

Detail of the Second Main Building dome, c1866-1879

Detail of the Second Main Building dome, c1866-1879

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.

Engraving of campus, including the first Sacred Heart Church and Second Main Building, c1866.

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.

 

Sources:
PNDP 10-AD-04
PNDP 1866
GFCL 48/15-16
GNDL 6/16

A Dome of Learning: The University of Notre Dame’s Main Building
by Thomas J. Schlereth, 1991

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Universal Notre Dame Night

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].

Universal Notre Dame Night Banquet held by the Alumni Club of New York City at the Hotel McAplin, 1932/0418

Universal Notre Dame Night Banquet held by the Alumni Club of New York City at the Hotel McAplin, 1932/0418

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.

Program from the Universal Notre Dame Night, 1928/0423

Program from the Universal Notre Dame Night, 1928/0423

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.

Universal Notre Dame Night event in Washington Hall, broadcast by WGN radio, 1951

Universal Notre Dame Night event in Washington Hall, broadcast by WGN radio, 1951

 

Sources:
Scholastic
Alumnus
PNDP 70-Un-01
GNDL 26/10
GPHR 45/1377

Posted in Notre Dame History | Tagged , , | Comments Off