University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Notre Dame -- One Hundred Years / by Arthur J. Hope, C.S.C.

Chapter II

WHEN the Bishop had closed the door, he explained in a wearied voice: "You cannot know how I have been longing for you, and how anxiously I have awaited your coming! Alas, I had thought, until I received assurances from your superior, that I might have to seek further for missionaries and school teachers! But now that you have arrived, my heart is at rest." To all of which, Father Sorin made answer that the Bishop could not possibly be happier than he and the Brothers. "We wish to start on our task immediately," he finished.

"Ah, you must rest a few days," interjected the Bishop.

"Tomorrow we will be fresh enough," answered Father Sorin.

"Tomorrow then it shall be!"

The next morning, after Mass, it was decided that the Bishop and Father Sorin would leave on an inspection tour of some likely sites. The Bishop came out of his house, carrying his own saddle, and when Father Sorin sought to assist him, the Bishop refused. "Not at all." he said. "`Wait here until I get another saddle for you.

When the horses were saddled, Bishop and priest rode off, while the Brothers stayed behind. The Bishop led Father Sorin to St. Francisville, about ten miles from Vincennes.[1] There, on the other side of the Wabash, in Illinois, was a delightful tract of land, one hundred acres. "This you may have for your own if you like it," said the Bishop. It was a charming piece of property. But Father Sorin declined it. Perhaps he sensed that the Bishop preferred that he accept another piece of property. They took the road back to Vincennes, arriving about dusk.

Awaiting them at the Bishop's house was Father Julian Delaune, the parish priest of St. Peter's. Perhaps the meeting had been arranged by the Bishop. At any rate, Father Delaune's presence gave the Bishop a good reason to talk about the desirability of the region around St. Peter's as a place for Father Sorin and the Brothers. "Why don't you take a look at it?" asked the Bishop.

The suggestion was acted upon without delay. At eleven o'clock that night, Fathers Sorin and Delaune were again in the saddle, picking their way along the dark road to St. Peter's twenty-seven miles away. Their destination, between Washington and Mt. Pleasant in Daviess County, was not reached before nine o'clock the next morning.

St. Peter's was little more than a church in the country. In Father Sorin's words, it was in the middle of the forest, far from road and river, and difficult of approach.[2] But it was a pleasant place, a high plateau, known as Black Oak Ridge. Father Sorin saw that it would be a healthful spot. Moreover, it was one of the oldest missions of the diocese, and the center of several Catholic settlements.

What Father Sorin saw satisfied him. Here he would have 160 acres which he might in time cultivate. As for the buildings, there was a pretty little chapel dedicated to St. Peter, rather in need of repair, to which had been added two wooden appendages. One of these was a sacristy. The other might serve as a room for a priest. Besides this, there were two log cabins, one used as a kitchen, the other as a school. Father Sorin made his decision immediately. He sent someone to bring the Brothers. A few days later they came with all their luggage. Before the altar in the little chapel, they sang the Te Deum and a hymn to the Queen of Apostles.

The parish of St. Peter's included everything within a radius of five miles. It comprised about fifty Catholic families, all of them poor. Various efforts had been made to conduct a Catholic elementary school, but not much progress had been made. Father Sorin understood what lay before him. The Bishop had enumerated the tasks: to care for the Catholics at St. Peter's and at St. Mary's, and Mt. Pleasant, nearby missions; to build a school for the Catholic children of the locality, and to teach them; to build a novitiate and seek recruits for the Brothers and priests. Father Delaune, who had for some time been stationed at St. Peter's agreed to stay on for a few weeks to acquaint Father Sorin with his surroundings, and with his parishioners for neither Father Sorin nor any of the Brothers could yet speak English.

No time was wasted in establishing a novitiate. All that was required was a Master of Novices and some subjects. A building to house them would be useful, but not essential. For a number of years novices, postulants, and members already professed would be obliged to share the same roof; sometimes, to share the same clothes. The niceties of claustral separation and distinct domiciles would have to await more prosperous times. The young community considered itself fortunate to have enough soup and bread.

Brother Vincent was appointed as Master of Novices. The first novice appeared almost immediately. He was Charles Rother, a native of Riedesheim, Germany. He had talked often to the Bishop about becoming a religious. The Bishop had advised the lad to await the coming of the missionaries of Holy Cross. By joining them, he could satisfy his desire to become a Brother. in the meantime, His Lordship had sent the lad to St. Peter's to conduct the school there. When Father Sorin arrived, he took the boy in; by the following December, Charles Rother had become Brother Joseph. In a year's time, there were twelve novices. Although there were many families of French origin around St. Peter's it is interesting to note that of the twelve novices, there was not a single Frenchman. Three were Germans, one was English, and eight were Irish.[3] How they communicated with their superiors is hard to understand. Thought must have been conveyed somehow. But it must have been difficult. The superiors knew no German or English, and the subjects spoke little French, if any.

Father Sorin was undaunted. Difficulties multiplied, but they only added fire to his courage. Starting the novitiate was only one of his tasks. He must start a school, too, and at once. He was ambitious to make a good impression. About the 22nd of October -- they had only been in the country about a month -- there appeared in the paper at Washington, Indiana, a notice that the Brothers of St. Joseph were conducting a school at St. Peter's and were ready to receive students.[4] The notice must have been similar to that which appeared in the Catholic Almanac for the following year:


At St. Peters, near Washington, Indiana. The members of this community are twelve in number. The following institution has been opened under their direction:


Under the patronage of the Right Rev. Bishop of Vincennes, and directed by the Rev. E. Sorin, a school will be opened for the reception of young men on the first Monday in September. Young men of any religious profession will be received. The location is on an eminence, and one of the moat healthy in the State, situated six miles from the town of Washington, Indiana.

The course of instruction will comprise all the branches of a sound, correct, and practical English education as follows: Orthography, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, Grammar, Algebra, Mathematics, Geography, History, both ancient and modern, Bookkeeping, etc.


Tuition and board, including washing and mending,
payable in advance, per quarter -- $13.00.
French or German language -- $2.00.
Or both included -- $3.00.

No extra charge will be made except for books and stationery, which will be furnished at store prices; also for the services of an eminent physician, who will attend the institution.[5]

Father Sorin realized that this notice was a bit pretentious. It represented not so much the material available as things to be hoped for. In a letter to his superior, Father Moreau, he says: "We are not mentioning the fact that we shall have to use the attic for a dormitory; we don't speak of the refectory; nothing has been said of the fact that the teachers will probably not understand their new pupils. Tell me, are we not men of faith?[6] It seems not to have occurred to Father Sorin that the notice may have slightly misrepresented the situation. It was simply a matter of faith.

Events justified Father Sorin's fondest hopes. Not only did the school at St. Peter's attract a numerous enrollment, but six months later the young superior sent Brother Gatian to open another school four miles to the southeast. Brother Gatian, Father Sorin wrote, had learned English very quickly. The new school drew about thirty boys and girls from the neighborhood. Brother John didn't think much of the establishment. The building, he says, consisted of pieces of wood piled one on top of the other, with open spaces that let in the wind and the light. Pleasant in summer, he adds, but very cold in winter.

Sundays, of course, Father Sorin was occupied with his missions. The farmers gathered for mass, and, very often there were as many Protestants as Catholics. Father Sorin often pays tribute to their tolerance and generosity. In a letter to the Bishop of Le Mans, he says: "The Protestants come to our services and conduct themselves well. Last Sunday, for instance, we had a taking of the Habit, and most of the people present were Protestants. If we need anything at all, they are no less kind than the Catholics." [8] "When I see Protestant friends travel twelve miles to bring us planks, and that. for nothing . . . I can only admire the designs of God and try to respond."

A few weeks after his arrival, Father Sorin began preaching in English and hearing confessions. It was a brave start. It must have occurred to him more than once that his audience was entranced not so much by his thought as by his grammar. No doubt the Protestants had never heard anything like it. Some of the more courageous of his parishioners did not hesitate to tell him that they didn't understand much of what he was saying. But they listened. They were impressed by the consuming zeal of a man who had come such a distance and braved such hardships to tell them things which so few could understand. Through it all Father Sorin was a good sport. He could laugh at his own mistakes, for there was a day coming when no one, not even the most obtuse, would mistake his meaning.

For the present, every hour brought some hardship and sacrifice. Poverty pinched them all. It was a struggle to provide not only for the future, but even for the present. The larder was always on the verge of depletion. There was little money to supply the very necessities of life. In such conditions, a broken spade-handle or a rip in Father's trousers could appear as a major calamity. But day by day they went on, trying to be happy. They were happy. To Father Moreau, Sorin writes:

There were some expenses that Father Sorin felt the Bishop should defray. One day he rode into Vincennes and presented a list of his expenditures to the Bishop. There was quite a discussion. For his part, said the Bishop, the outlay was very interesting, but none of his concern. Had not Father Moreau agreed to pay for the foundation? That was the Bishop's understanding. Why expect him to pay the debts of Holy Cross at St. Peter's? Father Sorin's position was very difficult. The two of them could not agree on what should be done without first consulting a third party, four thousand miles away! They decided that both should write to Father Moreau. In the meantime, the Bishop went on to explain.

"Voyez donc," he must have said. "When I went to Le Mans in 1839, your Father Superior promised me that he would send the Brothers to me. I understood that he would send them immediately, and at that time I agreed to pay the expenses. I had the money. But what happens! For two years, I wait. I give up hope. I spend my money for other things. Then, finally, you come. It is a different arrangement, n'est-ce-pas?

"Here I have now a letter from your Father Superior. He encloses a contract that I should sign, a contract that binds me to pay all the expenses of the foundation, and leaves me nothing to say about its direction. But it is absurd! If I pay the expenses, the members work for me and under me. If Father Moreau wishes still to direct the Brothers, then should he not defray the cost?

"And see here also, in this post-script, he tells me that he is drawing on my agent for 3,363 francs. For what, I ask! He says it is for outfitting the Brothers with clothes and things! I do not see how he can do that! When you landed in New York, you received 1500 francs from my agent. I have given you land and homes. I have nothing else to give you. See, I am now building ten or fifteen churches. I must feed my priests. They get nothing from their parishes. My needs have eaten up all my resources," the Bishop concluded reclining and exhausted.[11]

Father Sorin felt certain that his superior, Father Moreau, would never entertain the idea of giving up the direction of this new foundation. But it would do no harm to find out how the Bishop felt about it. So he asked a question.

"What if your lordship should assume the responsibility for this new community? What if Father Moreau should consent to your becoming its superior?"

"Ah," said the Bishop coming to life, "that is a different matter. If he should consent to that, then I could agree to pay all the expenses."

Somehow Father Sorin got the idea that the Bishop could find the money to help them if he really wanted to. It would take three months to get a reply from Father Moreau. In his letter to Le Mans Father Sorin told his superior that he considered it unwise to rely on the Bishop for more financial help. Money would have to be sent from the Mother House. He suggested also that an appeal for help should be made to the Propagation of the Faith, adding that the Bishop was minded to do the same thing. [12]

When Father Sorin got back to St. Peter's, he discussed the matter with Father Delaune, who was still with him. Jokingly, Father Delaune said that they would have to put on their begging shoes, and go looking for help. The suggestion was accepted seriously by Father Sorin.[13] And during the night, as they talked, Father Delaune conceived the idea of going himself, perhaps to Canada, to find money for Father Sorin. "Ah, but will the Bishop permit it?" they asked themselves.

To their surprise, the Bishop was all in favor of it. "Of course, he added, "it will be a good thing for the whole diocese." This remark was amplified after Father Delaune had been a month on the begging tour. "You understand," wrote the Bishop to Father Sorin, "that Father Delaune is making this trip as a priest of the diocese, and for the diocese. Of course, part of the money can be given to the Brothers, but only inasmuch as they are Brothers for the diocese. Not otherwise. You understand?" [14] And to Father Delaune, the Bishop wrote that he would apply a part of the collection to the Brothers if he saw fit).[15] Father Sorin began to wonder if it would be worth while. But it was. For during the year, Father Delaune, traveling in the East and in Canada, was able to procure for Father Sorin 15,000 francs and several trunks of clothes and other necessaries. It made them extremely happy at St. Peter's. With money in the bank and warm clothes, they all pitched in to clear the land and make ready for a crop the following spring.

With all his new-found affluence, Father Sorin began to think of something more substantial than a frame building. He set the Brothers to making bricks; some of the neighbors hauled timber and prepared it in proper lengths; he drew a plan and promised to send Father Moreau a sketch of the proposed edifice when it was finished. As the building took shape, Father Sorin's mind began to think of something bigger than an elementary school. He counted his resources. He enlarged his hopes. Surely, he told himself, it is a college that we must have. In the spring, he laid the foundations. Soon, he was employing twenty to thirty men. The building rapidly began to arise. Then the Bishop sent for Sorin.

It was a disappointing interview. Father Sorin was told that he could not build a college. There was no need of one. Indeed, went on the Bishop, we have one college here in Vincennes, operated by the Eudists. There is scarcely enough return to warrant the existence of one college, let alone two. Father Sorin could not hide his chagrin, although he conceded that the Bishop had good grounds for refusing to sanction the new college.

As often happens, even when men have the best of intentions, Father Sorin and Bishop de la Hailandière were rapidly drawing apart. The Bishop had a greater burden than had Father Sorin. Add to this the fact that the Bishop was ill, and that he was naturally irascible, and we can understand how it was that the minds of these two men did not always agree. Undoubtedly, in their disputes, the Bishop was often right. But Father Sorin, too, had cause for complaint.

To begin with, the Bishop had insisted that Brother Vincent leave his post as Master of Novices at St. Peter's, and come to Vincennes to teach in the school there. This meant that Father Sorin had to assume, besides his numerous other responsibilities, the position of Master of Novices. It worked a hardship all round.

Then, there was the matter of forcing Father Sorin to choose. between financial support from the Bishop or separation from the Mother House in France. It was a cruel dilemma, and Father Sorin, with some justice, thought that the Bishop was taking advantage of his helpless position. From his Lordship's point of view, it was perfectly natural to do everything possible to secure the foundation permanently. If he could make the community entirely dependent upon himself, he had no fear that they would be sent elsewhere to labor.

Moreover, the manner in which Bishop de la Hailandière cut in on the collection of Father Delaune did nothing to soothe Father Sorin's spirit. To be sure, the Bishop had a right to authorize the collection on his own terms. Nevertheless, it was Father Sorin and Father Delaune who had thought of the scheme. And Father Delaune was thinking only of the colony at St. Peter's when he broached the subject to the Bishop.

And now, the Bishop put his foot down resolutely on the idea of a college. By this time it was September. The crops were harvested, but they were nothing to boast of. The money was nearly exhausted. They had planned so much on the college. How could Father Sorin return to St. Peter's and blast all their hopes?

"Mind you," said the Bishop, "I have nothing against your idea of a college, but not here!"

With a sad heart, Father Sorin rode home. For another month he prayed for some way out of his difficulties. Then the Brothers urged him to see the Bishop again. Perhaps he had a change of heart. The Bishop listened to him patiently, but said no. Father Sorin seemed so depressed that the Bishop, unknowingly, said something that changed forever the course of events. What he said was: "In the northern part of the state, there is a piece of land near South Bend. I could let you have that. You could try a college there, perhaps; but I caution you, you will have a more difficult time there than here!" Some intuition warned Father Sorin that he should not seem too enthusiastic. He thanked the Bishop for his offer, and asked for time to consider the matter.[16]

Father Sorin rode swiftly back to St. Peter's. In his mind, he pictured two columns -- one, listing the disadvantages of leaving the foundation already begun, the other, the benefits that might accrue if they would move north. They were so nearly equal that he could come to no decision. But he called a council and laid before his companions the offer of the Bishop.

"True," he said, "if we leave here, we leave behind us the good will of these people among whom we have labored for a year. We have this land and these buildings upon which we have expended so much labor and money. But on the other hand, this land can never belong to us; it is deeded in perpetuity to whoever shall be the parish priest of St. Peter's. What we want is some property that will be our very own. Then, too, you all know that here where we are so close to the Bishop, we have not gotten along so well. The north is wilder and more sparsely settled. But there we are more liable to be our own masters. Think it over. Pray for light that we may do God's will!"[17]

So for some days, Father Sorin and the Brothers thought over the proposal. They consulted with one another. They knelt before the little altar. At the end of four or five days, all of them felt that tt would be better to move north. Yes, they would go north, to the lakes near South Bend. There they would build a home. Could any of them have dreamed that in one hundred years there should arise, from their decision, the University of Our Lady!

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