University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


"Brother Basil organized the first orchestra and was leader of the band in the late fifties. Taught flute, piano, the latter he made for many years a specialty." 1850

"It was also thought necessary that some exertion -- and, even if it was required, some expenses -- be made to render the study of instructional music more a tractive, and more animated and also to organize the Band for the College on a new and better footing. Brother Basil was recommended as one to impart more life to his department." Local Council, Dec. 29, 1862

"Brother Basil was appointed to give music lessons to the Brothers" Local Council, July 8, 1881

"Brother Basil took hold of the band and sounded the first notes of the Philharmonic Societies, which have since, under various names, re-echoed their notes every year with inert vim and sweetness." Lyons, SILVER JUBILEE, p. 37, 1869

"Brother Basil: Leader of the Notre Dame Orchestra, played oboe; of PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY. SECOND TONOR OF ARION SOCIETY 1873

" . . . the latter (Brother Basil) still with us to make more holy and beautiful the world in which he yet lives." 1895

"The celebration also marked the end of the fifty third year of active service which Brother Basil has spent in the Congregation since his profession. No one who has heard Brother Basil play the beautiful organ in the Church will ever forget the sweet strains and harmonious musings that spring from the pipes when his fingers touch the keys. And when we look on Brother Basil we are pleased again to think of a Father Lilly or a Professor Girac, a fond remembrances of their geniuses fly back through receding years." SCHOLASTIC, 41:14-15, 1907

"Even the mere memory of such men as Girac, Father Lilly, and Brother Basil elicits renewed joy and reverence on the part of anyone who knew or heard them . . . Born artists they call them who had about them what can be felt and experienced but not defined. Though practically none of their compositions can be found to prove the musicianship of any of these men, a poem, THE DEAD MUSICIAN, written by Charles L. O'Donnell, C.S.C. in memory of Brother Basil, who was organist at Notre Dame for half a century, immortalizes not only the artist, but the artist whose work was consecrated to God and one.

" . . . There have been many efficient teachers of music at Notre Dame during her history but Girac, Lilly, and Basil, aside from their teaching and philosopizing about the art, stand out as artists. They performed the practical work of teaching but along with their analysis of the art, they enjoyed those peculiar gifts and intuitions that belong only to the artist.

"Though Brother Basil is the first musician that is recorded among the list of the faculty in 1854, very probably the foundation of the school of music should be attributed to Professor Maximillian E. Girac, whose name appears in the University Bulletin of 1855. It was Girac who discovered the genius of Brother Basil and learned that this retiring religious had played the viola at eight years of age and the violin previous to that age. Brother Basil had studied music somewhere in Germany. No one knows where. But his discovery was a revelation to those who had known him at Notre Dame for some time. Though he played many instruments, he excelled at the organ . . .

"The school of music during these first years under Girac and Brother Basil enjoyed a large enrollment . . .

"At the school flourished new names were added to the faculty of music until in 1866 there were seven."

"The death of dear Brother Basil gave me a shock . . . I can't say that I know Brother well. Who ever did but God? Who but God could know so shy a man very well? Shy men, however, are often proud. But Brother was exceedingly humble. He was really (so I have even thought) superior to any of our big professors. But he never felt it. Least of all did he for an instant show any sensitiveness to their preferment over him . . . for understanding and rendering what is beautiful in sound, true and touching, Brother had few equals. And I have known many fine musicians.

"That man that made the violin sing angelic anthems, we would notice by times absorbed alone in prayer in the church. Never did anyone bear plainer marks of being fascinated with God then did Brother. Oh, thou gentle, retiring, affectionate, prayerful soul, what shall not be the rapture in the harmonies of paradise forever! I feel so hard to pray for him because I feel so sure that I had better pray to him.

"May God grant you such other vocations as dear Brother Basil and many a one of them!" SCHOLASTIC, 42:379, Fr. W. Elliott, 1909

"It was a sorrowful message the Church bells announced to us on Friday, February 12; another member of Holy Cross has been called to his reward, a member long esteemed and loved by all -- Brother Basil. Brother Basil left us suddenly, but not unprepared. His entire life had been an act of preparation for that supreme moment. When he embraced the austere life of a religious, there burned in his soul the fire of genius: Music was the natural expression of his ardent spirit. His wonderful talent he laid on the altar of sacrifice. This, however, was not all he had to offer; his best and purest holocause was a heart full of love for God, a mind thinking and striving only for the honor and glory of the Church, a hand anxious to toil in the interests of Holy Cross.

"Brother Basil, known as John Magus, was born in Freiburg, Bavaria, [entered C.S.C.] February 15, 1852, and was professed, June 24, 1853. To his old age he fulfilled every day with the vigor and enthusiasm of youth. And so he appeared before his Judge with the credit of 56 years of service in the religious life.

"On Saturday last the members of the community and the students of the University attended the solemn High Mass of Requiem, celebrated by the Very Reverend Provincial, Father Morrissey. The University Choir did its best to beautify the last ceremonies for him who for so long a time had been the tones of the DE PROFUNDIS. The organ was draped in black as if mourning for the master, and the tremulous chords seemed to bid him a last farewell.

"The following paragraphs from the funeral sermon of Father Cavanaugh are the tribute merited by the departed Brother: 'He was a man of extraordinary modesty. When he joined the Congregation of Holy Cross he came with no blare of trumpets. It was not known then nor afterward until it was accidentally discovered that he was gifted with a genius for music; that this great power had been nourished by study and devotion; that in all America there were few who knew the contents of musical literature as he did, and fewer still who could interpret them with such exquisite delicacy and feeling. From the day on which his talent was revealed until his worn and wasted body rested in death he was the University organist and the director of the department of music. During those years he developed many students who shared in some small measure in his power. Scattered over the country today they will go to their graves with the memory of a holy man who I loved only what was greatest and best in music, whose life itself was a great hymn of praise to God. And great multitudes of other students, who knew him only as the college organist, will remember him forever as the gentle soul who charmed forth from the heart of the great organ such exquisite improvisations as the angels may well have leaned down from Heaven to hear. But the lesson I wish to draw from this side of his character for you is that in him there was not a trace of vainglory. In him was modesty and simplicity, and Christian humility.

"Another lesson was his heroic devotedness to his work. It is a great thing to say of a man that for more than fifty yearshe has gone loyally to his work with hardly a single interruption. There must have been days when it cost heroic effort to do so -- days of suffering and pain, but the sun hardly rose more faithfully upon the earth each day than he went to his appointed work. On the night before he died he was at his post playing the organ for Benediction. To his work he brought a conscientiousness which overlooked no detail and tolerated no shabbiness. Work to be work at all must be good work, and if that long and useful life had left us, professors and students, no other lesson than this high ideal of the quality of work, that alone would have been a great and distinguished service. He was pious and mortified. In the days of his novitiate he nourished a tender devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and throughout all his life that devotion grew till it brought him close to sanctity. His life was a blameless life, and few and small must have been his transgressions, yet his spirit of mortification was almost heroic. St. Jerome, after more than fifty years in the desert, still troubled when he thought of the Judgments of God. Brother Basil after as many years spent in holiness and innocence in his Religious Community was still disciplined and mortified in body with an austerity that was almost saintlike . . . And so Brother Basil went through life shedding holiness and devotion about him. The memory of his genius, and above all of his virtue, will live in the minds of generations of students, and will find its place in the annals of his Community as one of its most treasured possessions." SCHOLASTIC, 42:349, 1909

"The ode, 'A Dead Musician' from the pen of one of our former editors is a notable tribute to a singularly gifted man. Like others who sleep in the little cemetery above the lake, Brother Basil passed from this scene of his unheralded work, asking no tribute and wishing none. The world outside knew him but little, and that was the dearest wish of his heart. He was a maker of melodies, a dreamer of harmonies caught from the deeps of song. The busy world passed him by and he heard not its voices, wrapped as he was in the Children of his thought,

Those who have heard his far-away spiritual reveries from the organ loft will not soon forget his magic touch. He was a musician, a maker of melodies, and he looked and lived the part. Yet in his personality was nothing exotic, nothing to excite curiosity or wonder. He lived the life of a religious man, and did his work unknown and as much as possible unseen. It is said that every man's place can be filled. In a sense this is true. It is true in the sense that every man's work may be taken up and carried on without any noticeable lapse. But there is another sense in which the man who is specially gifted with any one talent and uses that talent to the best advantage is not, and under normal conditions, cannot, be replaced for a number of generations. Brother Basil ranks high among the artists of Notre Dame, and it is fitting to keep his memory green in tradition and song." SCHOLASTIC, 43:323, Editorial, 1910

"My musical memories of Notre Dame began with Brother Basil, who added to superb musicianship the art, much rarer, of a good religious, reticent, secluded. It came my way to hear, more than most of the students of my time, his afternoon reveries on the pipe organ which are so charmingly enshrined in 'The Dead Musician'" Rev. M.J. Shea's tribute, Provincial

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›