University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame

A Memoir from the Freeman's Journal

Published 5 July 1873

Commencement of the University of Notre Dame, Ind., 1844 vs. 1873


Mr. Editor:

During the terrible year of 1844 so full of danger and alarm to the Catholics of the United States -- when the Native American party was destroying our churches, giving our rare and valuable libraries to the flames, sacking and pillaging our houses and property in Philadelphia, and hunting our people, men, women and children, as if they were wild beasts, and proclaiming with fierce and terrible menaces that Catholicity should be exterminated all over the country -- I had read in the papers several notices of a band of Frenchmen in the far west so foolish or rather fanatic, as to be actually preparing and opening a Catholic Educational Insitution and to settle down and earnestly enter on the great work of bringing the American people to their senses. After satisfying myself that such in reality was the fact, and that these Frenchmen had the daring honesty, for Christ's sake, to settle down in a country at the time that numbers of their co-religionists were fleeing for their lives to Canada and elsewhere, for safety from the persecuting spirit that had siezed the anti-Catholic mind. Having business in Detroit, one hundred and eighty miles from where they had settled, I determined to see them. I arrived on Christmas Eve 1844 being the first white stranger that had visited them. There was a small brick school house where the Rev. President and Father Cointette lived. The rest of the society, seven in all, priests and brothers, with a few Irishmen who had joined them, lived in the school house. The little church that night was glorious, the altar was a blaze of brilliancy, the incense dashed to the roof and curled back to the floor, filling the house with a haze of glory and enveloped the altar lights with a soft and pleasing aureole.

I entirely forgot my fatigues as I left the church at 2 A.M. Christmas morning while the Rev. President was leading me to my quarters for what sleep I could get before daylight. He showed me, as he said, to the best bed the place afforded. I soon discovered that the hard nature of my bed would prevent sleep, for no matter what side I turned on, it was like looking for the soft side of a deal board. After a time I became satisfied, from the breathing that came from the opposite corner of the log house, that there was some one else besides myself in the room. This alarmed me a little, for there had been many, at least on the outside, rough looking characters at the midnight Mass, and perhaps some one of them, observing that I was a stranger, was watching for an opportunity to ease me of my watch and travelling expenses, which on examination I found safe under my pillow. This, with the hard bed, banished all sleep, and as I was anxiously waiting for the slowly coming daylight, when at last a break in one of the big logs on the fire-place threw up a sudden blaze which enabled me to discover that my companion in the room was no other than the tall priest who has do beautifully sung the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and also joined in singing all the parts of the Mass with the Brothers. There he lay fast asleep, on the floor of the log cabin, wrapped in his cloak with a log for his pillow. I feel now that the thoughts that came over me were pleasing to my angel guardian, for I instantly forgot the hardness of my bed, soon fell soundly asleep, and when I awoke it was broad daylight and I was the only occupant of the log house.

Well, Mr. Editor, behold the change. This is the 29th anniversary of 1844; the institution that then could not give a stranger hospitality without depriving some one of the members of his bed, last night gave accomodations to nearly 1,500 people, nearly 700 of whom were strangers.

Many eminent and distinguished persons have attended the commencement exercises of the term just concluded, and all unite in giving their warm testimony to all that they have witnessed. Had I not gone off in such a long memento of the past I would have given you some items concerning the essays, orations, conferring of degrees, &c., &c., and the scholarly manner in which all passed off, but that doing so would intrude too much on our dear Freeman,

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