University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


"My days and nights are hardly long enough to visit and help the sick and to give them the Last Sacraments. Fifty boarders arrived and there is not a single professor able to teach a class . . . I must handle the Latin and French classes by myself besides doing all the office work. My only assistant is a thirteen year old boy. The rest of my time is taken up with visiting and caring for the sick who have practically no one else to help them. I felt the fever in my bones. Surely God will have pity on us! He is punishing us to make us better religious. If this letter should be my last, permit me to close it by asking your blessing." LETTER #66, SORIN TO MOREAU, 1854

"This year of such sad memory may be summed up almost entirely for Notre Dame in the terrible plague which seemed destined to ruin it, but God, after six months brought back life and health. Fathers Curley and Cointet, a postulant -- J. Flynn, Brothers Alexis, Dominic, Amadeus, Joseph, and Daniel, two postulants, and five sisters died. Some suddenly, some after months of suffering and exhaustion. Epidemic a mixture of dysentery and typhoid which no remedy could stay. For several months the house was simply a vast hospital where hardly anyone could be found to do the most needed services. Survivors seemed to have lost all desire of life. In order not to frighten the students, they had to hide the sick and the dead. Each day a new silent convoy went at evening or early morning to the cemetery. May God never send us such nights and days again.

"Eighteen members died, including three students in the college, or one out of five. Only two not touched. Survivors looked like skeletons or walking deadmen rather than real beings.

"Most essential daily duties abandoned and yet for outside they had to appear as tho nothing had happened and as if the ordinary routine was maintained. The students had returned. Knowledge of insanitary conditions would have sufficed to empty the college in 24 hours. Happily they had good health. Only three or four sick, one death. That there was no panic among them due to Providence. At times only one professor standing while four were incapable of teaching and 'hors de combat.' Half of deaths unknown to them. 'Oh the sad days of August and September of '54.' About November hope returned and better days.

"During several months sickness diminished but didn't disappear. So exhausted was the personnel at the end of autumn that the least fatigue or first unforseen accident brought to the infirmary again those considered cured. Brother John of the Cross, head of 'Atelier', 'Bottier', most capable exemplary and universally liked here abouts, died in a short time -- March 30, 1855. Ill eight days, same complaint and symptoms. Ruin of University now expected. Recalled epidemic of preceding summer, but instead of attributing deaths to same cause which could affect even the healthiest of localities, as before, now they said the place was unhealthy and that the swamp west of the college between the two lakes was prime cause of illness. Some attributed it to a certain herb, others to a species of fish that the Indians were said to be always afraid of, and which abounded in the lakes, others said it was the water in the wells. Opinions differed, but all were agreed in saying that the place was unhealthy. Nobody said with authority that the cause was here or there, but all asserted there was a cause -- it is unfortunate and sad. Such was public opinion. 'Wasn't it wonderful that of the 300 persons who depended directly or indirectly on Notre Dame not one tried to abandon his post, not one deserted or retreated. Why?

"It was the beginning of the reign of the Know-Nothings, sworn enemies of the Catholics. Notre Dame was odious to them. It was practically the only Catholic stronghold in northern Indiana. And so it was natural that they would profit by circumstances to hasten fall of the University without taking the blame for themselves. On the other hand, by a series of off-and-on sad coincidences, a house heavily in debt, a miserable inspector had just recently been discovered cheating the administration out of $15,000, which, in writing he had solemnly promised to pay the year before. Instead of having a vast fortune which he was to leave Notre Dame, he was penniless and had taken $100 and $250 in board and room. Again, everything sold at exhorbitant prices. Wheat and corn doubled in value. A financial crisis had just shaken the United States. Banks folded up by the dozen. One didn't know whose note to accept. Student bills were put off or unanswered, but nevertheless creditors pressed for their money. Imagine the administration's feelings! After so much sweat, toil, and expenses, then public opinion ready to slay forever the bright future of Notre Dame.

"It was only too clear that Notre Dame was arriving quickly and that every day the slightest event would alarm and create a panic among creditors, boarders, and novices. Notre Dame was finished.

"The only human hope which could have given some force could not be maintained, that of seeing (?) the dam which was considered the most probable of all these evils. The owner asked $9,000 for the property: $3,000 to be in cash, but the Institution was unable to pay.

"Soon the ruin of Notre Dame was so talked about even to the Mother House. Death had just taken a fifth of the community and besides half of the survivors were ill. Men had to be hired at great expense. Prayers to heaven! Each one worked as much as he could, without murmurs, complaints, or regrets. All were resigned to God's will.

"The day following Brother John of the Cross' funeral the owner of the land on which the dam was came of his own accord and offered to sell on easy terms almost unbelievable. Surprised the community: $8,000 for all; $1,000 down, the rest over four years. This made a purchase possible. Fortunately the long winter of 54-55 wasn't yet over. Ice still abounded and enabled St. Mary's Lake to be lowered before the heats and the swamp to be dried without any danger. For a long time the Mother House had approved the purchase. Four days were spent in talking and preparing the title of mortgages. Finally on the last evening, when all was arranged except to exchange documents, the owner suddenly left South Bend, doubtless so that he might withdraw his offer. He had clearly duped Notre Dame and wanted to be sure that Notre Dame would buy at any price. It was Wednesday of Holy Week. There are times when to take a firm stand astonishes the enemy and frightens him so that one can escape his trap. Early on Thursday morning Sorin sent five or six strong men to listen to nobody but to smash the dam. Never was an order executed more quickly. The owner couldn't stand for this bold attack on his dam from which he hoped to collect a few more thousand dollars. The wrecking of the obstacle changed his mind. We had a 'title-in-the-making' as justification. Public indignation, which was going to be assured, by a trial in which he was the aggressor after this new act of trickery frightened him. An hour later he was in South Bend with th epapers, which he gave Brother Lawrence. It is impossible to express the joy in the house at the news of the destruction of the dam. Thanks to God for healthier conditions.

"The treasury of Notre Dame was not enriched by this purchase. But at least it assured a monopoly on 'Chaux' for the whole neighborhood . . . .Besides, it gave complete control over a waterfall of 50 to 60 feet between the lake and river, which could ultimately be used for a wheat mill, a saw mill, or some other purpose. The property contained 185 acres with a new house and a large barn. They immediately have room for tenant . . . . . . (?)

"It was 1/2 mile, convenient, on banks of St. Joseph, one of the prettiest and healthiest places hereabouts . . . .buying from Rush of 185 acres brought many advantages: better health of community; farming of 30 acres of finest land around the college.

"In 1855 Mr. and Mrs. Phelan, Lancaster, Ohio, gave Congregation property valued at $89,650 plus mortgage notes on which was due $22,500 for which the community took responsibility. A condition was payment of a life annunity of $3,000 (mr. and mrs.) and also taking one boarder free at Notre Dame. Value three times that of the liability.

"Rev. Fr. Foley of Toledo, Ohio donated property worth $4,000. Previously he had bought a scholarship good for 20 years for two boys for $3,000.

"About this time, too, the future Father Croby donated title to real estate in Detroit valued at $6,000. Thus Providence repaired losses of previous years." SORIN CHRONICLES, 1855

"Two priests, Fathers Cointet and Curley, a postulant, Mr. J. Flynn, five Brothers; Alexis, Dominic, Amedee, Joseph, and Daniel. An apprentice and three students, five Sisters, successively cut down by death. Epidemic; combination of diarrhea and typhoid. For several months the house was nothing but a vast hospital in which hardly one could be found even for the most indispensable offices. Those that survived seemed to have lost all desire to living longer. Evidently, in human eyes the house was nearing its fall.

"Not to spread terror among the pupils, it was necessary to keep the maladies and the deaths secret. Every day a new procession wended its way toward the community cemetery in the evening or the early morning

"One of the apprentices of the Brothers, aged thirteen years, a pupil of promise and good parts was found dead in his bed by his own father, who had himself been watching over him for several days.

"This was enough to spread terror thru the house and especially in the minds of those who had charge of it; but the hour of trial had come and the cup of bitterness which was to be emptied even to the dregs had only let some drops fall from its overflow on the poor children of Notre Dame du Lac.

"Two pupils of the college were carried away, noiselessly and without causing much surprise, as their passage to a better life had been long expected." SORIN CHRONICLES, 1854

"Whatever may have been the designs of Providence, which it is not given us to penetrate; but which we should adore in silence and submission, victims were at the same time demanded from among the Brothers. Five of them and three postulants were carried off one by one in spite of all efforts of the house to save them. Of the five only Brother Dominic was professed: Clement, Joseph, Cesaire, and Daniel. They all offered up their lives in a most edifying manner; and if the number of deaths was calculated to spread terror among the survivors, their last moments on the other hand were so pious and consoling that only one impression seemed to remain in the depth of those that were the witnesses: May our last moments be like those of the just: May our souls thus leave their prison . . .

"Eighteen members of the desolate family of Notre Dame du lac had disappeared almost one in every five. Two only had not been attacked, and the survivors looked like skeletons walking corpses than living men. Employments, even the most indispensable had daily to be abandoned, and yet it was of the utmost importance to keep the state of affairs from being known and to have things move as usual. SORIN CHRONICLES, 1884, See the "Know Nothings, 1885"

"The list of deaths at Notre Dame was not closed on September 27, for it is now my duty to recommend to your prayers Brother Clement, a novice, who died on the 25th of that month, fortified by the Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction. This brought the total number of deaths to eighteen, including some postulants and students. The poor Superior there is overwhelmed with deepest affliction, and he can not provide for even the most indispensable employments because the survivors are exhausted by lack of sleep, weariness, or sickness. Just when the Congregation beyond the ocean seemed on the threshold of prosperity, and the college and academy were filled with students from the best families, the epidemic broke out, and all these bright hopes were shattered in an instant." CIRCULAR LETTER, #69, Fr. Moreau, 1854

"In September, when the absent students returned from their vacation, the surviving professors had not recovered from their prostration; and, as the college had been used as a hospital, it had to be renovated from top to bottom and disinfected, and this work had to be done by the weakened Brother, who were, in fact, convalescent only." Blanchard, History of Church in Indiana, 1898, Vol. 1, p. 547, 1853

"The angel of death has passed once more over Notre Dame du lac, and his arm seems to grow heavier as the number of his victims increases. First of all Brother Dominic, professor, who had come back from New Orleans, but a few months before, died on September 16, fortified by the Sacraments of Penance and Extreme Unction.

"I was about to finish this Circular when a second letter from Notre Dame brought me news of two more deaths: Brother Cesaire and Brother Joseph, both novices. Father Sorin misses them both, especially the second, whom he regarded as a real treasure. Poor Father Sorin! How my heart goes out to him! 'We are reduced,' he writes, "to burying our dead secretly. Every day for the past week we have been going in silent procession to the cemetery." LETTER #68, Father Moreau, 1854

"Meanwhile, everyone in silence and as far as his strength permitted, attended to his work. Neither complaints, murmurs, nor regrets were heard. All seemed resigned to the will of God, whatever that will might decree. Not only was there resignation, but there was prayer, and in prayer one dared to hope. It was sweet to think that God is infinitely rich in mercy, and that He sometimes calls us back never in vain, and the more desperate affairs seemed to be, the more did they find pleasure in saying to that merciful Lord, that it was worthy of Him to stretch forth his mighty hand to save the Lake, where all apparently was going to ruin. De locu miseriae et de tuto faecis." SORIN CHRONICLES, 1854


July 17 -- a postulant; a 14 year old apprentice Aug. 10 -- Brother Alexis drowned in St. Joseph's Lake Aug. 15 -- Sister Mary of St. Aloysius Aug. 18 -- Sister Mary of St. Dominic Aug. 24 -- William Ward, nine years old, in College Aug. 30 -- Sister Mary of St. Anthony Aug. 31 -- Thomas Dillon, A Brother postulant Sept  6 -- Sister Mary of St. Anastasia Sept  8 -- Fr. Curley, 2nd Holy Cross priest to die; at New Orleans Sept 16 -- Brother Dominic Sept 17 -- John Riley, a 12 year old student Sept 18 -- Patrick Cass, a Brother Postulant Sept 19 -- Father Cointet Sept 21 -- Brothers Cesarius and Joseph (buried at 10:30 p.m.) Sept 26 -- Brother Clement (buried very early in the morning) 

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›