University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


"Brother Alphonsus, rector of Brownson Hall and President of the Audobon Society, reports that only six species of birds put in an appearance at Notre Dame in January. 'These birds', says Brother Alphonsus, 'Come to drink out of the springs near the banks of St. Joseph Lake, as the water in these springs never freezes. I find that the best way to study the habits of the birds is to find the place where they feed or drink" SOUTH BEND TIMES, Winter Birds, 1918


"Students of the University of Notre Dame, former as well as present lost one of their best friends in the death on June 14, of Brother Alphonsus, for thirty years rector of Brownson Hall, one of the oldest of the student dormitories. Brother Alphonsus died in St. Joseph Sanatorium at Dearborn, Michigan of a heart attack, following a nervous breakdown."

"Brother Alphonsus came to Notre Dame in 1884 as Dean A. Sweet. He was born in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 1872. Brother Alphonsus divided his attention between the boys and the birds at Notre Dame. To the boys he gave advice and help, particularly in his capacity as a member of the board of discipline at the University. But it was as a student, of birds, that Brother Alphonsus established himself as one of the leading ornithologists of the country. He took up this study as a recreation, but it soon became a passion with him. He wrote many articles for the MIDLAND NATURALIST, a scientific monthly published at Notre Dame. He was one of the earliest advocates for bird sanctuaries in Indiana, and it was through his efforts that the whole area in which the University is the center, was made such a preserve."

"Brother Alphonsus was considered an authority on Newman and taught a class on this subject at the University." Alumnus, 9:24, 1930

"The one thing that influenced me most at Notre Dame was the wonderful influence the late Brother Alphonsus had on the students of Brownson Hall." Bulletin University of Notre Dame 27:1, p.118

"Christian Doctrine classes for non-Catholics are taught by Brother Alphonsus on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, also on Friday in Room 117, main Building. All are welcome." SCHOLASTIC, 48:140, 1914

"On Tuesday evening, January 14, Brother Alphonsus read a paper entitled 'The Story of Our Birds Through the Year 1915'", before the Chicago Ornithological Society. There were thirty persons present at the address which was given in the club room of the Art Institute. Afterwards a brief discussion of its more interesting points took place. The members of the society conferred a great honor on Brother Alphonsus by electing him an honorary member of the association." 1916

"I had to think rather valiantly to keep up a conversation about the celebrated events and persons of the 19th century England with such a well informed lady as the countess, and I remember expressing in the course of the talk a silent but heartfelt wish "for the knowledge of Brother Alphonsus about this period." Letter to Fr. Wm. Havey, August 25, 1926, ALUMNUS 5:89

"The 1918 DOME is to be dedicated to Brother Alphonsus, rector of Brownson Hall. This was the unanimous decision of the Seniors of all the courses. Brother Alphonsus came to Notre Dame as a Minim and left Carroll to enter the Novitiate. He has been Rector of Brownson for more than fifteen years and through his inflexible observance of the rules, which does not however forget to be kind and human, has won the respect and regard of thousands of students. He is known throughout the West as an ornithologist and is vice-president of the State Audubon Society." SCHOLASTIC, 51:250-1

"The lover of birds is an enthusiast. If he were not, he would not be a lover of birds. Only those whose interest in any subject is intense and unabating can in truth be said to have enthusiasm in its pursuits." SCHOLASTIC, 51:507, 1918

"An apostolate to encourage taste in good reading was established at Notre Dame, October 4, 1919." SCHOLASTIC, 53:2,24, 1919

"To Brother Alphonsus, too, the SCHOLASTIC is deeply indebted. His classes have provided many of the literary essays, and he, himself, has been most helpful and encouraging. Brother Alphonsus, prized teacher and beloved rector, is typical of what is greatest at Notre Dame." SCHOLASTIC, 58:877, 1925

"Brother Alphonsus suffered a nervous breakdown recently, and reports from the Sacred Heart Sanitorium, Milwaukee where he is undergoing treatment, state that he is not making the progress that was expected. You are requested to offer prayers for his recovery. No religious at Notre Dame has been more faithful to his duties than Brother Alphonsus, and he has been a slave to the students whom he has served for many years. Keep him in all your prayers." RELIGIOUS BULLETIN, December 18, 1928

"Students of the University of Notre Dame, former as well as present, lost one of their best friends in the death on June 14, of Brother Alphonsus, for thirty years rector of Brownson Hall, one of the oldest of the student dormitories. Brother Alphonsus died in St. Joseph's Sanitorium at Dearborn, Michigan of a heart attack following a nervous breakdown."

"Brother Alphonsus came to Notre Dame in 1884 as Dean A. Sweet. He was born in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 1872 . . . Brother Alphonsus divided his attention between the boys and the birds at Notre Dame. To the boys he gave advice and help, particularly in his capacity as a member of board of discipline at the University." 1930

"Our Neglect of Newman" SCHOLASTIC 54:204; Spirit of Cardinal Newman (Ibid. 54:452)

"Brother Alphonsus, foremost disciple of the great Cardinal Newman" SCHOLASTIC 54:213

"Although educated Catholics now freely appreciate the influence of Newman in the religious world, still all classes of Catholics are far from being well acquainted with the wonderful products of his pen. Among university students, Newman is hardly more than a name. A casual reference to his wonderful style and to one or another of his works is all that is heard even from professors of English Literature. Does not this neglect seem incredible? Two of Newman's works that should appeal especially to students are the 'Apologia' and the 'Idea of a University.'" OUR NEGLECT OF NEWMAN

"The inherent beauty of the spiritual truths of faith are furnished with fitting adornment in the works of Cardinal Newman; and the cultivated and sincere searcher after divine wisdom will find his way marvelously illumined by the light that gleams from the pages of Newman's masterpieces. How many of the noblest minds have through Newman's guidance been led into the true fold of Christ: and how many more, as the years succeed one another, will be brought by the study of Cardinal Newman's works to those same fruitful pastures. As long as the English tongue endures, so long will the writings of its greatest master of prose bring comfort and hope to hearts that yearn to know and to love God." SPIRIT OF NEWMAN, SCHOLASTIC, 54:454

"This select library was founded by Brother Alphonsus in 1908. A private collection of books served as its nucleus. The students were much interested from the beginning and showed their enthusiasm by contributing money for the purchase of new books. The collection grew steadily. Everyone was interested and Brother Alphonsus was enabled to secure a choice assortment of the very best authors."

"In the early days of its establishment, Brother Alphonsus used to send books around to the various halls. Each hall had a promoter who looked after the distribution."

"The library became well known largely through the cooperation of the professors of Religion and English who referred their students to it for information." Frank Connolly: SCHOLASTIC, 59:645

"Brother Alphonsus has been following the movement of the birds on the campus since he was a student here in 1884 -- not to mention the movement of the birds in Brownson Hall who have been under his supervision."

" . . . the birds seem to recognize his quiet step as the approach of a friend and to help him in the intensive study he has made of Notre Dame's bird life."

"Twelve hundred acres of campus, embodying as it does two lovely lakes and acres of woodland, offers a haven to birds and specimens have been found here that appear very rarely in any other section of this part of the United States."

"Each year during Christmas week a national bird census is taken and the results are published in the February issue of BIRD LORE."

" . . . a walk should last four hours at the very least, and all day is far more preferable, for the observer then can visit more of the different types of country in his vicinity, and thus obtain a list more indicative of the birds present. Each report must cover one day only, that all censuses may be comparable."

"It should be signed by all the observers who have contributed to it . . . "

"Brother Alphonsus . . . took the census at Notre Dame on December 22."

"The time spent in observing was six and one-half hours -- three and one- half hours in the morning and three in the afternoon."

"The bird census was the most successful one that Brother Alphonsus has ever made." ALUMNUS, 6:203

"Brother Alphonsus has completed plans whereby Notre Dame will become an official bird sanctuary. Brother Alphonsus was assisted by D.K. Stephenson of South Bend, owner of a sanctuary in Michigan. Notre Dame is the first school in Indiana to take steps to protect migratory birds." ALUMNUS, 6:266, 1928

" . . . northern Indiana seems to be a favorite place for bird life, and many species are found here that are not seen in other portions of the state. All of which brings memories of that truly great man, the late Brother Alphonsus, C.S.C. who was a member of the faculty of the University of Notre Dame for years, and who was one of Indiana's best authorities on Ornithology, or the study of birds."

"It happens that Brother Alphonsus was the second man with whom I came into contact when I entered Notre Dame as a preparatory school student thirty five years ago last Autumn. He was detailed that year to meet incoming students at the administration building, to assist them in registering and then to show them where they were to live. He was a splendid man for this particular task, for he understood boys and could make friends with them, despite the fact that he was extremely quiet and reserved. But Brother Alphonsus inspired confidence and the boy coming into contact with him immediately sensed that here was one who would be a good friend and to whom he could appeal in time of need."

"It was not without reason that Brother Alphonsus knew student life with all its problems. As a young boy -- his name in the world was Dean Sweet -- he had entered Notre Dame as a student, where, no doubt, he encountered the same routine that fell to the lot every other student of his day experienced. I know men -- at least I know one man -- who was in school with him, and he has told me that Dean Sweet was an exceptionally brilliant student and much given to thoughtfulness. He loved Notre Dame and the Congregation of Holy Cross, and so when he had completed his education he decided to remain as a religious of the Congregation. His nature was humble, so much so that he never cherished the idea that he had a priestly vocation, but preferred the more obscure life of a teaching Brother."

"Brother Alphonsus will be remembered by generations of Notre Dame men as rector of Brownson Hall. He taught many classes during his lfie, but came completely into his own in later years when the University had grown and the courses of the Department of English expanded. Brother Alphonsus was an absolute authority on the literature of the English Catholic revival. He keenly appreciated the works of Newman and that long line of English Catholic writers whose names stand high on the list of English literatures."

"The cultivation of interest in good reading was a genuine apostolate with Brother Alphonsus, and he organized a circulating library in Brownson Hall which had as its patrons many boys not generally given to serious reading and who never thought of patronizing the regular university library. In this way he developed many good English scholars from the ranks of those with no previous inclination along this line. It is impossible to given an adequate account of Brother Alphonsus without saying that he was among those who have been called perfect imitators of St. Francis of Assisi. Yet I have hesitated before putting that statement on paper for fear of being misunderstood. There are many moderns who, attracted by the life of St. Francis as it was revealed in its more romantic aspects, believe they are his imitators if they display a love for birds and other creatures of forest and fields. St. Francis was no doubt a lover of birds, but this was only one -- and perhaps the least -- of the many characteristics which elevated him above the men of his own time and has caused his memory to be cherished for more than 700 years."

"St. Francis was a man of deep humility and so was Brother Alphonsus. St. Francis sought out the poor and the lowly and gave them cheer and comfort. Brother Alphonsus did the same. St. Francis, although a great preacher, believed that example was more eloquent than words. By his example Brother Alphonsus preached many a sermon to those about him. He had a special affection for those of lowly station and took many of his meals at table reserved for the men, some of them transients, who did the most ordinary laboring work around the grounds. And then, like St. Francis, although I insist this is a minor detail and may have been purely co-incidental, Brother Alphonsus was a great lover of birds."

"I can see him as on Spring days he started forth with his field glasses to watch the birds which made Notre Dame their summer habitat. He was usually followed by a group of interested students, anxious to share in his knowledge of the little feathered creatures. Each year Brother Alphonsus made a catalogue of the various types of birds he observed and this was of astounding length."

"In his study of birds he became one of the best known ornithologists in the Middle West. Taking up the subject as a hobby for his leisure moments he soon established himself as an authority by his close study during his own field work. On holidays he could always be seen with his binoculars and a group of students under the maples and elms of the University or along the St. Joseph River. He contributed many articles on ornithology to the Midland Naturalist, the monthly published by Notre Dame. He was also much in demand as a lecturer before clubs, Izaak Walton leagues and Boy Scout gatherings."

"As Shakespeare says, 'Some men have greatness thrust upon them.' Such was the case with Brother Alphonsus. Try as he might, he could not hide his talents under a bushel. The ornithologists of the state soon recognized that there was an authority far and above the ordinary -- a man who knew their subject as well if not better, than many of the professors who teach it and write learned books about bird life. In his humility Brother Alphonsus shrank from acclaim, but to no purpose. He was elected president of the Indiana Audubon Society, a position he filled ably and with simple dignity." Paul R. Martin in South Bend News- Times, 1930

"One of the greatest friends of Notre Dame students in the past thirty years lies in state in the Community House at Notre Dame. Brother Alphonsus, who became rector of Brownson Hall before the start of the present century, died in the St. Joseph Sanatorium in Dearborn, Michigan, Saturday morning. Few men on the campus, either of the priests, brothers or lay members of the faculty, held the respect of the student body as this quiet unassuming Brother who came to Notre Dame in 1884 as Paul A. Sweet. For three years he attended as as student, became a convert to the Catholic Church and in 1888 entered the novitiate to become a Brother. He entered the school from Washington, D.C., where he was born on April 10 , 1872."

"Brother Alphonsus divided his attention between birds and the boys of the campus. To the boys he brought advice and aided innumerable students, particularly in his duties as a member of the board of discipline of the University. Few men on the campus possessed his sympathetic understanding.

"In his study of birds he became one of the best ornithologists in the Middle West. For the past quarter century he was an advocate of bird sanctuaries and worked with Don Stephenson of South Bend in the establishment of the preserves found in this locality. He was chiefly instrumental in establishing the preserve that covered both Notre Dame and St. Mary's College. Since this foundation these preserves have teemed with wild life.

"Besides all these things, Brother Alphonsus was considered one of the leading authorities on Newman at the University, and taught a class on the subject at the summer sessions.

"Brother Alphonsus had suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to the St. Mary's Hill Sanatorium in Milwaukee. He returned from there during the Christmas holidays and seemed to have completely recovered, but he suffered a relapse late in January and was sent to the sanatorium in Dearborn where he died.

"His death was sudden; the night nurse found him sleeping quietly an hour before he suffered a heart attack. He was dead a few minutes after the attack seized him." South Bend Tribune, June, 1930

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›