In 1888, Rev. Edward Sorin, CSC, celebrated his Golden Jubilee – fifty years since his ordination as a priest on May 27, 1838, in LeMans, France. Shortly after his ordination, Sorin joined Rev. Basil Moreau’s fledgling Congregation of the Holy Cross, which sent Sorin as a missionary to America in 1841. Father Sorin arrived at Notre Dame in November 1842 and for the next fifty-one years he grew the University and the Congregation into world-renowned institutions.
Appropriately enough for a man who dedicated his life to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the grand celebration was scheduled for August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption. One problem with that, however, was that classes didn’t resume until September, so many of the Notre Dame students would not be on campus to participate in the festivities.
To accommodate the students’ schedule, Acting University President Rev. John Zahm scheduled another celebration on the actual anniversary of Sorin’s ordination. This celebration was a private affair for the Notre Dame students to express their gratitude to their adored Founder and few visitors were invited.
On Saturday, May 26th, the eve of Sorin’s anniversary, every building on campus was decorated with flags, banners, flowers, and garland. At 4:00 pm, there was a reception with the students, faculty, and administration in Exhibition Hall. The afternoon’s entertainment included student speeches, poems, and recitals as well as performances by the Orchestra and South Bend St. James Vocal Quartet.
After dinner, Sorin, Zahm, and faculty members retired to the Main Building porch, where below the Band played and the student military units gave their gun salutes. Then a barouche drawn by two black horses came up Notre Dame Avenue by surprise. Professor John Ewing presented the carriage and steeds to Sorin as a gift from the students, faculty, and alumni.
As night fell, “there was a grand illumination of the college buildings and grounds. … Chinese lanterns of every hue and size swung from tree and arch and fountain in the beautiful parterre before the college, while flags and festooning and colors gay made the solemn towering walls of the main building put on a look of gladsomeness. And out of every window of the massive pile… there beamed the noon-day brilliancy of the Edison light.” The Band, gun salutes, and student cheers continued underneath a fireworks display. “The wonted sylvan stillness of Notre Dame was kept in exile far into the night” [Scholastic, 06/02/1888, page 595]
Sunday, May 27th, began with Solemn High Mass sung by Rev. Edward Sorin with Rev. William Corby delivering the sermon. Afterwards, under threat of rain, Sorin quickly blessed the cornerstone of Sorin Hall, a dormitory with private rooms for the collegiate students. The day continued with more banquets, speeches, toasts, performances, and military drills, in typical Notre Dame fashion. Due to the weather, the scheduled baseball games and and boat races were deferred to Monday.
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.
Father Sorin said low Mass at 9:30 am. Just after 10:00am, Cardinal Gibbons celebrated High Mass and a choir from Chicago sang Haydn’s Imperial Mass. “The Knights of St. Casimir, clad in the full uniform of the Polish guard, were drawn up before the communion rail with sabres drawn, and all this, with the glittering tapers, the clouds of incense, the thunder of the great organ, and the solemn nature of the celebration, made the scene an impressive one” [Scholastic, 08/25/1888].
Archbishop John Ireland gave the sermon, which was later published and distributed, including in Scholastic‘s Jubilee issue. Mass let out at 12:30 pm, which was followed by a lavish banquet with numerous toasts and speeches in the Main Building refectories.
Later in the afternoon, Bishop John Watterson of Columbus, Ohio, dedicated and blessed the buildings of the “New Notre Dame.” The Second Main Building had been consecrated in 1866, but it and several other buildings were destroyed by fire in April 1879. The evening concluded with fireworks and musical performances by local bands and the Chicago musicians who earlier sang at Mass.
Sorin’s Golden Jubilee and Notre Dame’s Golden Jubilee a few years later marked a long history of growing success for the Congregation of Holy Cross and her famous University. These Jubilees also held deeper ramifications for the Catholic Church in America: “What had been accomplished at Notre Dame under [Sorin's] stewardship seemed to a wider public emblematic of the growth and maturing of the American Catholic Church as a whole, an there were those in high places anxious to give expression to this fact. To honor the founder of Notre Dame was in effect to proclaim the enduring and legitimate status of the Church, after much struggle, had attained within American society. In accord, therefore, with the late nineteenth century’s predilection for gaudy celebrations, featuring bands and banquets, fireworks and fiery oratory, plans were formulated at the beginning of 1888 to solemnize Father Sorin’s golden anniversary as a national as well as personal triumph” [O'Connell, page 702].