University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


"Brother Columba, known to the world as John O'Neill, died at the Community Infirmary Tuesday morning at the age of 75, of general debility. He was born at Mackeysburg, Pennsylvania, November 5, 1847 . . . . . . . "

"Brother Columba spent the early days of his life picking slate from the mines near his home and at the age of fourteen was apprenticed to a shoemaker. He entered the Novitiate, July 9, 1874; after his novitiate he was assigned to the college shoe shop, though he had offered himself for the Bengal Missions or Molokai.

"During the last two years of the life of Rev. Edward Sorin, Brother Columba was his personal attendant. After the death of Father Sorin he returned to his duties at the College show store where he continued until 1920. (Brother Columba spent some time at the boys' orphanage in Lafayette, Indiana in these years) The influenza epidemic of that year found him a victim and he never quite recovered from its attack. The resultant weakness had much to do with the hurrying of his death.

"Brother Columba received much acclaim through his devotion to the Sacred Heart. He was known by many as the 'Divine Healer' and as the 'Miracle Man of Notre Dame'. He, however, never claimed any credit for cures which may have occurred and no official investigation was ever made of such cures.

"Concerning Brother Columba, a letter was received at the office of the 'Daily' yesterday. It follows: 'I am enclosing a clipping which should be of interest to you and your staff. Brother Columba, who is the subject of this clipping, has but a few days more to live. He is slowly passing away in his humble room at the Community House, the while be cared for in his last hours by the tender hands of his fellow Religious.

"In these days when the whole country is singing the praise of the Notre Dame team, when the student body is liable to feel that this same team exemplifies all that is best and noblest in the University, a great and good service can be done by showing the students and the nation that this institution is builded on a more solid foundation, a foundation of sacrifice, devotion, charity to fellow men and an undying love of Almighty God.

"Thousands of homes in this fair land will join in mourning the departure of the saintly Brother. He has made many trips to the Middle West carrying his message of love and hope. Hundreds and thousands have found him here in his humble retreat and besought his prayers for cures of their maladies, spiritual and physical and other thousands have sent their letters asking for his Sacred Heart badges and asking him to remember their petitions in his prayers. Dozens of letters are arriving each day, and it was just recently that a lady called on him, having traveled here from New York.

"When all is summed up and you are looking for the big thing for this life, the work that he was sent to perform, just look around you. It is only a few years back when about the only outward devotion manifested at Notre Dame to the Sacred Heart was a little red light burning before the statue in the shoe shop. This holy soul kept talking this devotion, kept handing out Sacred Heart leaflets, kept distributing his badges until this has now become one of the favorite devotions of the Congregation and of the student boys.

"Brother Columba has about finished the work given him to perform, the Sacred Heart has been most gracious to him, and it only remains for us to reap the fruits of his labors. He has sown the seed, and who can say what the harvest will be? He was worked wonders in this weary world, but who can foretell what the increase will be when he is united in glory with the Sacred Heart?

"Let us carry on!" Rev. W. Corcoran, c.s.c., NOTRE DAME DAILY, Nov. 22, 1923

See "Religious Bulletin", November 23, 1923

See "Associate", October, 1936

See "From an Old Album" "Associate", 11:2

"Say five times a day, for nine days (or more, if not cured), offering your prayers through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and St. Joseph: 'Sacred Heart of Jesus cure me! St. Joseph, pray for me to the Sacred Heart.'

"That was the novena by which the late Brother Columba worked his many marvelous cures. His devotion to the Sacred Heart and the many cures credited to him earned for him the title, 'The Divine Healer of Notre Dame'.

"Another condition of the novena sometimes used by suppliants was to wear the Sacred Heart badge, and to make the Sign of the Cross with it on the afflicted part every day.

"It is interesting to note that the room in which Brother Columba spent the last days of his life and in which he died, was next to that of the late Brother Florian. The two died, it is said, on dates exactly a month apart.

"There is nothing unusual about Brother Columba's room in the Community House. A single bed, a writing table, a small stand at the head of the bed, a bookcase, and several holy pictures -- that is all. But the very simplicity of that room typifies his life and death. He was simple and sincere in his devotion to the Sacred Heart, never claiming credit for the miraculous cures attributed to him. He was always gentle, always kindly, and uncomplaining during his illness.

"As one of the good Sisters who attended him put it, 'He asked nothing -- and refused nothing. He was indeed a beautiful soul!'" NOTRE DAME DAILY, November 29, 1923

"Several years ago the South Bend News-Times carried an article in which the story of the miraculous cures attributed to Brother Columba, just dead, were told. The article began by telling of his long hours of prayer at the shrine of the Sacred Heart in the old log chapel near St. Mary's Lake and continued as follows:

These were but the first of a remarkable series of cures which Brother Columba attributes to his devotion to the Sacred Heart.

"The fame of his cures has spread far and Sunday after Sunday his shop is filled with visitors, come on their own behalf or on behalf of a relative or friend for whom they seek the old man's prayers, and he receives letters from all over the country acknowledging the efficacy of his prayers. Some days he has received as high as six of such acknowledgements.

"Some time ago he heard of the case of a young girl in Iowa who had not walked for seven years. She suffered from a spinal trouble, which caused her back to be misshapen and her legs to be useless. Brother Columba sent her the badge, and one morning the girl astonished her family by rising from her bed and walking about the room.

"It was only a few weeks ago that Brothe rColumba read in a paper of the case of a child in Ohio who has been bitten by a mad dog and was dying. Hope had been given up by the attending Physicians. Brother Columba hastily dispatched to her mother a Sacred Heart badge, explained to her his purpose in sending it and telling her of the other cures. Several days later he received a letter. 'My daughter is on the road to recovery,' it read. 'You saved her life.'

"Several cases of insanity are said to have been cured by the old man's prayers two or three cases of cancer, and a multiplicity of lesser ailments." N.D. Daily, November 24, 1923

"A plain white cross in the Community Cemetery along the well-trodden path to Niles road, marks the early resting place of another beloved and respected religious of Notre Dame, Brother Columba, known to the world as John O'Neill and more intimately known to the hundreds of Alumni and old students as the Brother in the Shoe Store, died November 20 at the age of 75. The saintly man entered the Novitiate in 1874, and was the personal attendant to the Very Reverend E. Sorin, first president of the University, during the last two years of the life of the venerable founder. After the death of Father Sorin, he accepted the managership of the College shoe shop, where he labored daily till 1920. The influenza epidemic of that year found him a victim and he never quite recovered from its attack. The resultant weakness had much to do with the hurrying of his death." ALUMNUS, 2:70 (Religious Bulletin; November 23, 1923) "All over the country there is mourning for Brother Columba, the old cobbler whose devotion to the Sacred Heart brought relief to thousands of troubled souls during the last couple of decades. His little Sacred Heart Badges and his Novenas to the Sacred Heart made physicians acknowledge, time after time, that there is a higher medical power they could not fathom. He was good to the poor souls. They took him during their month.

" . . . . Brother Columba, for many years Community cobbler at Notre Dame, who, by his life of unceasing prayer, was the means of making God's mercy better known to the many whom he aided through his intercession to the Sacred Heart. Those of us whose lives were influenced good by the privilege of knowing him and who have reason to thank him for his prayers which brought about what surely seemed to be miracles of healing for souls and bodies of loved ones, can but hope that Holy Mother Church will some day acclaim his virtue." Sr. M. Eleanore, ON THE KING'S HIGHWAY, p. 391

"The grave most visited in the cemetery is that of Brother Columba, whose devotion to the Sacred Heart wrought so many cures of mind and body . . . .his intercession is still sought by thousands of the afflicted." SCHOLASTIC, Sept. 22, 1925

"Do you remember Brother Columba? He retired from the shoe shop to the Community House a few years ago. In many circles he is the most widely known man at Notre Dame. For years he promoted devotion to the Sacred Heart, and then he began to obtain miraculous cures through that devotion. Hundreds of people have been cured through his intercession. You'll learn more wisdom through one hours talk with Brother Columba than in a hundred years with merchants or books. Brother Columba knows what Our Lord meant when he said, 'What doth it profit a man . . . .'" 1923

"The reputation for holiness enjoyed by Brother Columba during his life- time was recalled recently by a most striking story of his intercessory power with the Sacred Heart.

"It was the case of an instantaneous recovery from a hopeless heart condition and was told to a member of the Sacred Heart Juniorate faculty by the nun in whom the cure took place.

"At the time it occured, the nun, now a Superior in her Community, was a student at Notre Dame University Summer School. She was attending clases in spite of the fact that a few months previously her doctor had pronounced her the victim of an imminently dangerous heart ailment. Indeed, her Superiors had refused her permission to return to Notre Dame that summer, since the least bit of excitement or even the exertion entailed in walking upstairs might prove futal; the nuns doctor, however, had himself defrayed his patients expenses for the summer in the hope that she might benefit thereby.

"A nun-friend, hearing the Sister's story, took her to visit Brother Columba, who was living on the University campus. The venerable Brother urged her to have confidence, gave her a Sacred Heart badge, and made the sign of the Cross with his thumb over her heart. From that moment (about 13 years ago) until this very day the nun has felt no traces whatever of her old complaint, nor has her doctor discovered any symptoms of it . . . " 1936

"His influence with the Sacred Heart, however, was known far and wide throughout the nation; the ill and the crippled came to him from various parts of the country and many of them departed cured." ASSOCIATE OF ST. JOSEPH, OCTOBER, 1936

"Brother Columba of the Congregation of Holy Cross, died at 7:35 this morning at the Community Infirmary at Notre Dame. Death was due to no specific cause, but to the general weakness and physical infirmities attendant on advanced age. November 5, this year, marked the 75th birthday of the deceased.

"Brother Columba was known to the world as John O'Neill, at Mackeysburg, Pennsylvania. His parents were very poor and at an early age he was working, like many of the children of that neighborhood, picking the slate from the coal in the mines. He was born with a physical deformity, being club-footed. In later years after he entered the Congregation of Holy Cross the famous Doctor Senn, of Chicago, operated on the Brother's feet. The operation was so successful that almost every trace of the original condition disappeared, though the Brother always walked with a slight limp.

"At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a shoe-maker, and learned the cobbler's trade. For a few years he traveled about, working at his trade in Pensylvania. Later he went to Denver, Colorado, and from there to California. During this time the idea came to him that he should devote his life to the service of God in some religious community. He learned of Notre Dame through a chance meeting with a man who had formerly been an apprentice in the shoe-making trade at the manual labor school, then conducted at Notre Dame. He decided to apply for admission to the Congregation of Holy Cross as a working Brother. He did apply, was accepted, and entered the novitiate, July 9, 1874. On the completion of his novitiate he was assigned to work in the college shoe shop though he had offered himself for the Bengal missions and also to go to the assistance of Father Damien, among the lepers of Molokai.

"Except for a period of nine years when he worked at his trade at St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum in Lafayette, Brother Columba lived and worked at Notre Dame. During the last two years of Father Sorin's life, Brother Columba acted as a personal attendant to the venerable founder of Notre Dame, and traveled with him wherever he went. After Father's death the Brother resumed active charge of the shoe shop of Notre Dame where he remained until 1920. During the 'Flu' epidemic of 1918, the Brother contracted that illness in a rather severe form. He never recovered his full strength afterwards. Since retiring from active life he has lived quietly at the Community House at Notre Dame.

"Brother Columba first attracted attention some twenty-five years ago when he began actively to promote devotion to the Sacred Heart. It gradually became noised abroad that the prayers of this simple shoemaker were very efficacious and soon people of all kinds and of all classes of society came to him and asked for his prayers. Mostly there were cases of physical ailment and distress. They received sympathy and wise advice, together with the promise of prayers.

"Brother Columba attached importance to the wearing of a little badge of the Sacred Heart. Many of his clients loudly proclaimed that they were cured through his ministration and assistance. The unlettered called him a 'Divine Healer' and newspaper writers have sometimes referred to him as the 'Miracle Man of Notre Dame'. Brother Columba never took any credit to himself for any cures that may have occurred. To the end he was simple and unassuming. He had a remarkably keen sense of humor and was a shrewd judge of character. No official investigation was ever made of the so-called cures attributed to his influence." SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE, Nov. 20, 1923

"From the age of fourteen he (Brother Columba) felt a special call to serve God in the religious state. But not until twelve years later were his footsteps guided, he believed, by the direction of the Blessed Virgin, to Notre Dame and Holy Cross. And as a Brother of Holy Cross for fifty years he had no doubt but that he had walked the path of God chose for him. He offered himself to go on the foreign missions; he offered himnself to go to Molokai to assist Father Damien among the lepers. Superiors assigned him to work in the shoe shop as the Community cobbler. And here he remained and worked till in the course of time and the Providence of God the cobbler's shop itself became a shrine. The humble shoemaker had somehow learned to mend immortal souls . . . . But a time came at last when the obscurity of a hidden life wove an aura, and shed a luster all its own on surroundings that were by many others claims distinguished . . . .At the time of his death, one who knew him intimately said: 'Thousands of homes in this country will join in, etc. with Rev. Corcoran's message as given above." ASSOCIATE OF ST. JOSEPH, April 1941

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›