University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Brother Aidan's Extracts


On several occasions Notre Dame was on the point of being sold for debt. One day the farm horses were taken out of the stables and sold by a creditor. At another time there was not a morsel of food in the house, and only the unexpected arrival of a gift of money from a stranger prevented the students from going to bed supperless.

"In spite of the intense cold Father Sorin a few weeks later began to gather bricks and lumber. The lime the Brothers burnt from the marl taken from St. Mary's Lake. The little community went to work with a will although their empty stomachs often craved or the soothing foods of the native Normandy and Brittany. Hand and fingers were often frozen. What did it matter; was not their work the work of God? Were they not mere instruments in his hands? Early in the spring of 1843 the foundations of an edifice 35' square were excavated. With what holy joy did Father Sorin dig the first shovelful of earth? As the edifice grew many a shrewd old farmer wisely shook his head and predicted disaster. "What folly it was to erect so large and costly a building in the forests of Indiana! The monks would never be able to fill their college. They would soon be penniless. Wasn't the log hut that was good enough for Mr. Badin and his orphans good enough for them?" But students were forthcoming. Young Alexis Coquillard who had guided Father Sorin to the log cabin was the first. Then several Pottawatomi chiefs entrusted their sons to the care of the community.

Half breeds and the sons of neighbors followed. The fee asked for tuition, washing, and mending of linens was $70 a year. Before the end of the year the building was too small to accomodate the students that applied. Plans were made to erect a large one." 1843

"When I first came to Notre Dame, water was drawn from the wells by means of a chain to which was attached an open bucket, which was lowered, then filled with wather, and drawn up." (See catalogue for date: 1871)

"The old white house by St. Mary's lake is the most interesting historical landmark at Notre Dame, the only connecting link that binds the hallowed past to the glorious present. Fortunate is it for future generations that this relic of early days still exists.

"It is only a plain square house, two stories in height, with an old- fashioned hip roof projecting from over the low brick walls; but what a memory does the squatty looking structure recall of early hopes and sacrifices! Built into its brick walls are the enthusiasm of the youthful Sorin and his humble companions, the Brothers of Holy Cross, who assisted him in founding the University of Notre Dame . . . "

"Go back to the cold desolate winter of 1842-3 when that little band of French enthusiasts arrived on the scene of their future labors. What did they behold? Ice-locked lakes, trees heavily laden with snow, and the earth covered with a carpet of dazzling whiteness, while the biting cold of the atmosphere penetrated the log cabin, the sole evidence of civilization.

"In spite of the intense cold, Father Sorin began to gather bricks and lumber and lime. Early in the spring the foundations of the first college building were excavated amid great rejoicing. As the edifice grew many a good old farmer wisely shook his head and predicted disaster. "What folly to erect so large and costly a structure in the wilds of Indiana." Alas, how little has human nature changed! In spite of protests the house grew. As each brick was laid and each nail driven in its home, fervent were the prayers that were offered by the pious pioneers begging God to bless their work. At last amidst great rejoicing the doors were thrown open for the reception of students. The first to matriculate was the youthful Alexis Coquillard, who had guided Father Sorin through the woods from South Bend to Notre Dame. Several Pottawatomi chiefs followed, and half-breeds, and the sons of neighboring whites. The terms for tuition, board, washing and mending were $70 a year. Before the end of the year the new building was too small to accommodate all who thirsted for knowledge, and Father Sorin began to make preparations to erect a larger building. Did the wise-acres profit by the failure of their prophecies? No. In their opinion Father Sorin was evidently crazy. The Indians would soon disappear then where would he find boys for his first house?"

"Limitless expanse of wilderness, a log hut, built by unskilled Indians, through the gaping crevices of which the wintry snows swept inward, rising in unwelcome heaps of the humble cots of the occupants, a young priest with a few Brothers, literally without staff, scrip, or money -- this was Notre Dame in 1842" Archbishop Ireland, 1888, 1842

ON BIGOTRY -- "When Father Sorin first came to Notre Dame he found the people of the surrounding country inimical to him and his Brothers. He went to work to make friends with them, and he succeeded. On numerous festivities during the year he would invite the whole neighborhood to have dinner with him, which was sometimes served by the Brothers on long, narrow tables in the grape arbor" J.F. Edward's

"Many sectarians living not far from the college building were bitterly hostile. They said, 'You may build a college, but we will burn it to the ground.' Threats were followed by repeated insults, for Father Sorin, like all big-minded men did not stoop for revenge. He sought for the friendship of his bitterest enemies. 'We are in the midst of malicious foes, let us make them our friends.' By having public exhibitions once a month, and inviting the neighbors to dine with him on feast-days, in the open woods on the important feast days, he made himself known and liked. By his courtesy to the humblest, he gained the good will of his neighbors." Mss.

See also "Sold for Debt," -- folder - J.F. EDWARD'S

Sorin -- "Father Sorin with all his great nature loved little children, especially the orphans and the minums of St. Ed's Hall. One of his last thoughts was to express a desire that $500 should be sent from his insurance to the orphans of the diocese of Ft. Wayne . . .

"His enthusiasm was unlimited. Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is truth. Without it, no victories are accomplished. It was enthusiasm, French economy, and devotion to Our Lady and St. Joseph that built Notre Dame" J.F. Edward's CATHOLIC FAMILY ANNUAL, pp. 67-73, 1895

"With joy Father Sorin rode on horseback 250 miles over rough roads and almost impassable marshes, to look at the new field.

"Stepping from the ferry, Father Sorin and his guide penetrated the almost trackless forest. After walking two miles they came to a clearing, upon which stood a rough log cabin bearing the sign of man's redemption. That was the object of their search, the rude sanctuary built by Father Badin. As Father Sorin drank in the scene with its snow-laden trees mirrored in the dark blue waters of a beautiful lake, a delightful thrill of enthusiasm sent his young blood coursing through his veins, and throwing himself on his knees he awakened the echoes of the forests with a joyous triumphant Te Deum . . . He soon returned with his Brothers and with $5.00 in his treasury." J.F. Edward's ILLINOIS CATHOLIC FAMILY ANNUAL, p. 69, 1895

"Late in the year, 1842, a solitary ecclesiastic checked his horse near the southern curve of the St. Joseph River, gazing with anxious interest across its rushing waters. Tall, slender, graceful, with a face full of character, searching dark eyes shielded by glasses, he had about him an air of refinement, and a look of superiority to ordinary mortals. Turning aside he entered the small village of South Bend to inquire about his route. An Indian trader summoned his nephew, Alexis Coquillard, to act as guide. Priest and boy boarded a flat-bottomed boat propelled by means of a rope stretched between the banks of the river. As the rude ferry crossed the waters, memories of early readings . . . . " Catholic Family Annual, p. 69, 1895

‹— Brother Aidan's Extracts —›