World War I Memorial Door

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1924, University President Rev. Matthew Walsh dedicated the World War I Memorial at Notre Dame before saying a military field mass in front of it.  The memorial is an addition to the east transept of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart designed by Notre Dame architects Francis Kervick and Vincent Fagan.  The professors also designed Cushing Hall of Engineering, Howard Hall, Lyons Hall, Morrissey Hall, and South Dining Hall.

GNDL 28/29: Basilica of the Sacred Heart – Vincent Fagan artists' rendering of the World War I Memorial Door, c1923.

Vincent Fagan artist’s rendering of the World War I Memorial addition to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, c1923.

The cry for a memorial for Notre Dame’s contributions to the Great War began shortly after armistice in 1919.  The memorial initially was going to have inscribe all 2500 Notre Dame active students, alumni, and faculty members who served.  In that number were two future University Presidents who served as chaplains during WWI – Rev. Matthew Walsh and Rev. Charles O’Donnell.  In the end, the tablets only list the names of the 46 who sacrificed their lives in the war.

GHOP 1/08: Basilica of the Sacred Heart exterior World War I Memorial Door before the installation of the statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael the Archangel, c1930s-1944. The statues were placed in 1944.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart exterior World War I Memorial door before the installation of the statues of St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael the Archangel, c1930s-1944.  The statues were placed in their nitches through the campus statue project in 1944.

The Notre Dame Service Club worked diligently to raise funds for the memorial through dances, Glee Club concerts, and general petitions in Scholastic.  Notre Dame formed a post of Veterans of Foreign Wars in January 1922, which then took up the efforts.  The VFW disbanded in 1923, as there would be few veteran students left on campus to keep the post going.  They had hoped to have the memorial complete by the end of their run, but it would still be another year before it would be finished.

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A moulded Gothic arch in deep reveal frames a pair of oak doors with twisting iron hinges. Each door contains a tiny opening with a list of stained glass, one carrying the emblem of the Tudor Rose and the other a Poppy.  (Scholastic, May 1924, pages 232-233)

In January 1923, a special committee of Notre Dame’s VFW post approved Vincent Fagan’s design for the memorial to be a new side-entrance to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the idea favored by University President Walsh (see sketch above).  Scholastic noted that “[t]he design is beautiful and appropriate and will add charm to the campus as well as ‘hold the mind to moments of regret'” (Scholastic, March 24, 1923, page 677).

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These [sic] is a splay on the outside of the doors and in the masonry of the arch to carry the names of the soldier dead.  The stone lintel above the door bears the inscription:  “In Glory Everlasting!”  Over the lintel is a carved panel with two strong eagles supporting a shield bearing the university seal and it is surmounted by the Chi and Rho of Christ’s monogram:  The eagles carry in their claws a ribbon which reads “God, Country, Notre Dame.” (Scholastic, May 1924, pages 232-233)

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In the splayed sides about waist high are two projecting corbels on each side [the military figures].  Every Memorial Day these corbels will support the altar table for the military Field Mass offered up for the repose of the souls of those whose names are inscribed above.  Flanking the deepness of the door itself two buttresses rise, shaping themselves into niches with tracery toward the cap.  Over half way up they break back, leaving a supporting ledge for a statue of St. Joan of Arc and St. Michael, one on each buttress.  From these ledges there are raised shields bearing the fleur-de-lys and the sword, while high across the facade of the porch from buttress to buttress we read: “Our Gallant Dead.” (Scholastic, May 1924, pages 232-233)

When the memorial was finally dedicated on Memorial Day 1924, it wasn’t quite yet complete.  However, it would be finished in time for Commencement.  At the dedication, President Walsh remarked,

 The real purpose of a memorial, from the Catholic point of view, is to inspire a prayer for those we desire to remember.  It is very proper that this memorial should be a part of the Church of Notre Dame.

No one who knows Notre Dame need be told of the spirit of loyalty and faith that has animated this university from its beginning.  We should imitate our dead in that they have shown us the lesson of patriotism.  If only the people of America would follow their example there would be no discrimination because of race or creed.  When Washington said that religion and morality are the basis of patriotism he gave us the definition to every patriotic move at Notre Dame.

It is to the boys of the World Ward and to the men of the Civil War that this memorial is dedicated.  Let us ask God that this memorial will not only be beauty in stone, but also a reminder to pray for the men to whom it is dedicated.
(Notre Dame Daily, May 21, 1924, page 1)

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Inside the doors is a small stone-lined vestibule leading into the church and lighted by two narrow lancets of leaded antique glass bearing medallions of warrior saints. The Memorial is the result of the faithful efforts of the Notre Dame Veterans of Foreign Wars and the cooperation of the university. Its design and construction have been in the hands of Messrs. Kervick and Fagan of the architectural department, and a new spot of interest is created in the northwest comer of the main quadrangle. (Scholastic, May 1924, pages 232-233)

For many years, the memorial door was the natural place to hold mass on Memorial Day and other military occasions.  With the changes made to altar placement with Vatican II and the academic year ending well before Memorial Day, this tradition has gone by the wayside.  The memorial remains an important corner of campus and the “God, Country, Notre Dame” inscription is often quoted today.

GNDS 5/11: Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart World War I (WWI) Memorial Door, 1925.

GNDS 5/11: Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart World War I (WWI) Memorial Door, 1925.Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart World War I Memorial Door, 1925.

GDIS 29/02: Memorial Day Ceremony held outside of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart's World War I Memorial Door, view from above, 1941/0530.

Memorial Day Ceremony held outside of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart’s World War I Memorial Door, view from above, 1941/0530.

GPUB 06/39: Three ROTC students, one member of each military branch (Navy, Air Force, Army), standing in front of the World War I Memorial Door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, c1960s-1970s.

Three ROTC students, one member of each military branch (Navy, Air Force, Army), standing in front of the World War I Memorial door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, c1960s-1970s.

 

Sources:
Scholastic
Notre Dame Daily
GNDL 28/29
GHOP 1/08
GNDS 5/11
GDIS 29/02
GPUB 6/39

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