Early fires. Cholera, malaria and numerous deaths. Father Sorin's boldness regarding the Rush property. Misunderstanding between Notre Dame end the Mother House. California expedition. Sorin ordered to India, and the question of dispensation; Sorin capitulates reconciliation. Sisters moved from Bertrand to St. Mary's.
IN THE YEAR 1849, along in November, Father Sorin was preparing for the consecration of the new church. He had finished the edifice only by squeezing every possible penny from his resources. But, of course, the Bishop was coming for the ceremony. One must receive a Bishop with decency. Father Sorin had set aside some little money to grace the festivities. There would be extra candles for the procession, some expense for the outfits of the altar boys; and, of course, there would be a banquet fitting the occasion. As he counted his money he saw that he would have nothing left.
It was a pity, too. The morning set for the arrival of the Bishop, Father Sorin was interrupted in his preparations by an insurance agent. Hadn't Father Sorin better put some insurance on these new buildings? Never can tell when fire might destroy what you have built at so much cost. "That's true!" answered the priest, "but see, right now, I haven't the money. If it were not for this little celebration for the consecration of our church, I could spare the cash. But not today! No, you must come later and I will insure the buildings."
A week passed. Then came Saturday, November 18th. At midnight the Sister Sacristan awoke to find three rooms in the Apprentices' building in flames. She screamed in terror. Immediately her cries awoke the entire community and student body.
The fire spread so rapidly that nothing could be saved. Within two hours, this new building, 150 feet long and two stories high, was reduced to ashes. Up in smoke went the tailor shop, the bakery, the kitchen with all its provisions, the shoemaker's shop, the sacristan's room with all the altar linens, and the stables. The apprentices' dormitory, beds and bedding, their clothes with the exception of what they had on, and all the effects in their study room, were flaming ruins. As he stood looking at the smoking pile, Father Sorin must have had many a sorry thought about that insurance agent. The desolate priest went to his writing desk and wrote to his superior in France:
All the bread and the flour in the bakery has been burned. I don't know how, nor with what I am going to serve breakfast for 150 persons.
The loss was estimated at three thousand dollars. The need for food and shelter was immediate. True, they could all crowd into the college building. But what would they eat? Literally, there was nothing. All the food had been kept in the kitchen and the bakery. Nothing had been saved. In this crisis two women from South Bend, Mrs. Coquillard and Mrs. Woodworth, came to the rescue. Not only from their own larders did they bring food, but they went begging for help among the citizens. They begged all week. Protestants as well as Catholics came to the assistance of the hard-pressed University. Later on Mrs. Coquillard and Mrs. Woodworth went to Detroit and Cincinnati for the same purpose. The Propagation of the Faith, when notified of the disaster, appropriated about $2,000. Finally Father Sorin asked one of his own priests, Father Barroux, to go to France and there make an appeal among their old friends. Father Barroux was just recovering from a four months' illness, and was not so well pleased with the assignment. Nevertheless, he undertook the arduous task, and, after arriving in France, for eighteen months went begging from parish to parish. Altogether, he procured about twenty-four hundred dollars.
There was immediate need of a new kitchen and bakery, and three days after the fire, November 22nd, without consulting the Mother House, Father Sorin started to build. He planned a brick building forty-four feet by twenty, and two stories high. The cold weather prevented the completion of the work, and by spring, the plans were changed, lengthening the building to seventy feet. The new plans made provision for a kitchen and a cellar, three large dormitories, a common refectory, a pharmacy, and infirmarian's office.
This conflagration of 1849 was the worst so-far suffered at Notre Dame. There had been other fires previous to this, in which damage, more or less serious, had been done to some of the buildings. This fire left an indelible impression on priests and Brothers. After that, nothing so tranfixed them with fear as the cry of "Fire!" The general use of candles and lamps and stoves was always a danger. There was no sense of security. The community lived in perpetual fear lest they should be wiped out by fire.
Fire was only one of the things that threatened the life of the University. Another disaster befell the institution that was to prove more costly. At various times during eight years, from 1847 to 1855, an exhausting epidemic of malarial fever and cholera so oppressed the faculty and students that the University almost closed its doors. Some inkling of what might happen was given in 1845 when many were sick of malaria, although none died. But in 1847, shortly after the harvest, one of the Sisters at Bertrand, Sister Mary of Mount Carmel, died, while, at the same time, twenty of the sisters were violently ill. At Notre Dame, Fathers Sorin, Granger, and Cointet were sick. Brother Gatian, who kept a chronicle of those days, was ill for months. During the next few weeks, there were fifteen or twenty sick all the time. The infirmary could not contain them. One of the dormitories was transformed into a hospital. Many of the students were attacked. The few religious who were able to stay on their feet dragged themselves from bed to bed, trying to minister to the wants of the sick. It was a desperate situation. There was so much to do, and there were so few to do it. Each one's tasks were multiplied by five or six, and at nightfall, those who were well fell exhausted on their beds. Some of the students went home with the fever. In spite of the fact that the epidemic was very wide-spread, parents were persuaded that the cause of the infection was at Notre Dame itself. They refused to send their children back to school, and dissuaded many others from coming.
The following year, the fever abated somewhat, but many of the faculty members were sick. In fact at one time there was only one professor able to be up and about. As there was, strangely enough, very little sickness among the students just at this time, the boys must have enjoyed themselves.
In 1854 the ravages of cholera made themselves felt in many parts of the country. Particularly in the South, at New Orleans, thousands died from the plague. There was a general epidemic in many regions. When, in the late summer, the disease seemed to have spent itself, and when it seemed that Notre Dame was to escape the scourge, one of the Sister postulants was taken with violent pains in the chest. She died in a few hours. The following night one of the apprentices, a promising lad of thirteen, was found dead in bed by his own father who had come to see him and had himself been watching over the boy for the past few days.
A few days later two young students were sent home in coffins. Terror began to spread through the ranks. Father Sorin began to think that it would be perhaps the wisest thing to close down the University. As though his mind were not already harried enough, someone burst into his room to tell him that one of the Brothers, Brother Alexis, had been drowned in the lake.
Up at Bertrand, conditions were terrible. Five persons, two professed Sisters, two novice Sisters, and one postulant, died about the same time. At Notre Dame death came to five Brothers and three postulants. It was feared that if the students knew of these deaths a panic might ensue. Consequently Father Sorin tried to keep them in the dark. The dead were taken to the cemetery at night and buried without any religious solemnity. Conditions, however, could hardly be kept secret, and when professors did not appear for class, the students suspected the worst. Their fears were confirmed when, day after day, the mounds of sandy clay increased in the cemetery.
On September 7th, Father John Curley died. His death was particularly affecting. He was a young man, lately come from Ireland, and had been ordained just the year previous. When the cholera struck the University, he had been especially zealous in his care for the sick. So genuine was his devotion, so fearless his ministrations, that the entire community was crushed by his death. When they gave him the last sacraments, however, and witnessed his profound satisfaction with God's will, Father Sorin could write: "It left nothing to be desired; nothing to be feared."
Father Curley had been dead ten days. Already there were nineteen new graves in the cemetery. Then, on the afternoon of September 13th, Father Cointet, returned from one of his missions, feverish, weary, and sick. When they told Father Sorin, it was as though a knife had pierced his heart. Because Father Cointet, more than any other of his associates, had been Father Sorin's comfort and buoy, the fear of another catastrophe drove him to distraction.
For a week, while the doctors and Sisters tried frantically to cure him, Father Cointet lay in the infirmary. He seemed to be of the impression that he was going to get well. On September the 18th, however, Father Sorin told the good priest to prepare for death. Father Cointet was surprised. But he was resigned. After having received the last sacraments, and passing the whole night in fervent prayer, he died the following morning. "When I saw he was going to die, I thought I would lose my mind," wrote Father Sorin. "For eleven years, he had been the glory, the light, the joy, and the life of the community and the missions." Some idea of how much he was revered can be gathered from the fact that, when Father Sorin had completed his church, he buried Father Cointet by the side of those two great missionaries, Fathers Deseille and Petit. It was a bold compliment to his co-worker that his bones should rest in the same grave with men he considered saints.
During the following winter, the sickness abated, but did not totally disappear. All were so weak that the slightest upset sent them back to the infirmary. In the following spring new cases developed. Happily the students were not touched. But such seemed to be the contagious condition of the college that everyone lived in dread lest there should be a general exodus of the seventy students, and thus bring the school to a close. One day in March, 1855, a young seminarian, Mr. De Vos, died. A few days later, Sister Bethlehem died.
In South Bend, and in surrounding towns, they were saying openly that there must be something about Notre Dame itself that was causing all this sickness. It didn't seem to occur to these critics that there had been a general epidemic throughout the country. To add to the local misery, as Father Sorin himself records, there was the bitter insinuation of the "Know-Nothings" that the Notre Dame cholera was brought on by the Catholic religion. Others professed a more plausible solution. Some said that it was caused by a certain fish that the Indians had always regarded as poisonous, and of which there was an abundance in the lakes; others decided that the cause lay in the drinking water; the greater majority, however, laid the blame on the marsh land that surrounded the lakes. And this latter opinion was shared by Father Sorin. He had attempted on more than one occasion to lower the water level of the lakes, and drain the marsh. At the western end of St. Mary's Lake the water descended in a narrow stream to St. Joseph's river. This stream, about a quarter of a mile long, flowed through property that belonged to a Mr. Rush. Rush had built a dam in the ravine that lies just below St. Mary's College. This dam kept the water in the lakes at a high level. When he demanded an unreasonable price for the property, Father Sorin was unwilling to submit to this bit of highway robbery, as he put it.
Then early in April, 1855, came the death of Brother John of the Cross, one of the most able and exemplary of the Brothers. Everyone was thoroughly aroused lest the series of deaths in 1854 should be repeated. Something had to be done. To the great surprise of everyone, Mr. Rush came forward and offered to sell the property at a more reasonable figure. Father Sorin could have the property for $8000. They spent four days drawing up the necessary papers, and just when the transaction was to be completed, Mr. Rush left town.
Father Sorin was deeply resentful. He felt that Mr. Rush was playing with human lives, that his avarice had blinded him to the misery so long endured at Notre Dame. Rush wanted more money. It didn't matter if a few more religious died in the meantime. In this moment of trial, Father Sorin took the law in his own hands. It was Holy Thursday morning, 1855. Before Mass, Father Sorin called five or six of his workmen. He told them to get their axes and hatchets and crowbars, to go over to Mr. Rush's dam, and to smash it to pieces. If anyone asked them what they were doing, they were to say simply that they had orders to tear down the dam. They were do it quickly and expeditiously! Then Father Sorin went to say Mass.
This bit of high-handed business might have had serious legal consequences for Father Sorin. That it did not was due partly to the fact that even in South Bend, there was resentment against Mr. Rush for his annoying behavior. Then, too, Mr. Rush seems to have been completely non-plussed by Father Sorin's boldness. Father Sorin, some months later, wrote: "There are moments when a vigorous stand upsets the enemy." Anyhow, Rush completed the deal. The water level sank. The marsh was dried up. There was no more cholera at Notre Dame.
Fire had destroyed the dwellings at Notre Dame. Sickness had crushed the health of the men and taken a frightful toll of life. There was still another difficulty, however, a difficulty peculiar to religious congregations. If Father Sorin had been perfectly independent, if he were not obliged to look to someone else for direction and assistance, if he could have determined his own plans and executed his own designs, this difficulty might have been avoided. But that is not the way religious communities operate. A congregation of religious, no matter how splendid or intelligent the individual members, cannot long endure without authority. There must be a superior upon whose will the subjects depend. A religious community commits itself to some work of mercy. It tries to do it as efficiently as possible, and for the slightest possible remuneration. If this is to be anything more than a pretense, it is apparent that unified action, under wise authority, demands the spirit of ready obedience. Without a spirit of obedience, religious communities could not have done the great things that today stand in their honor.
When Father Moreau gathered around him five or six secular priests whose aim was to preach the gospel in the little towns of the diocese of Le Mans, he had the nucleus of a religious community. When they had been living together a few years, they thought seriously of binding themselves by the vows of religion. Not all of them were of this mind. Some of them, although they loved the work of the missions, were not inclined either to found or to join a religious community. But by 1840 Father Moreau and Father Sorin, together with some others, arrived at the decision to take vows. Father Moreau placed his vows in the hands of the Bishop of Le Mans, thereby constituting the Bishop his superior. The other priests, making their vows before the Bishop, promised to obey Father Moreau, who, with the consent of the Bishop, was constituted the superior. In such simple fashion was born the Salvatorists[*] of Holy Cross. As time went on and the organization was perfected, obedience to the Bishop would be eliminated. Every religious community seeks to have its organization and constitutions approved by the Holy See. To a great extent, such approval liberates a religious order from the narrower diocesan scope of activity which is naturally the first concern of the Bishop. It takes some time, however, to obtain papal approbation. Rome is slow in these matters. Much study and reflection and investigation must precede a favorable decision. In the meantime the superior of a religious community operates under the direction of the Bishop.
That day in 1841, August 5th, when the future founder of Notre Dame climbed into the coach that was to drive him to Le Havre, his last act was to embrace with profound emotion the man he had promised to obey. These two men parted, not only the greatest of friends, but thoroughly impressed with each other's zeal and capacities. Here were two men whose strength of character was undeniable. They were of tough fibre, body and soul. Neither would be easily subdued. Moreover, both of them were animated by the same purpose. Both were driven by the same force. Both desired that through their efforts God should be glorified. Both had a profound stake in spreading the mission of Christ.
For all this identity of mind and heart, there were, however, important differences. Father Moreau had been, by this time, a priest for over twenty-five years. His experience had been wide, his preparation profound. Among the priests of his diocese he was admired for his zeal, his spirit of abnegation and his powers of administration. As the founder of a religious order, he had graces of vision not shared by others. On the other hand, Edward Sorin was fifteen years younger than his superior. By nature, he was impetuous, inclined to see only his side of the picture. By later events, we know he found it difficult to temper his enthusiasm with either patience or prudence. When he met opposition, he sometimes suspected the disinterestedness of his opponents. In a religious, those qualities can be ruinous unless one masters them in the spirit, and according to the vow, of obedience.
Now the principle of obedience, if it is not to be a farce, demands that a subject submit with good grace to the lawful commands of a superior. To what extent was Father Sorin animated by this idea? It is true that he had not had much training in the religious life as such. Immediately after taking his vows, he made a nine month's novitiate, and then, without further trial, was set on his own, in a new world, thousands of miles away from his superior, with whom communication was slow and hazardous. Later on, Father Sorin would contend that he had not been given enough power to act on his own discretion. But the fundamental thing to remember is that he had bound himself, freely and without compulsion, to abide by the word of his superior. And until that word was forthcoming, he had the solemn obligation to conduct his affairs in accordance with the mind of Father Moreau.
Considering his natural impetuosity, Father Sorin often found it difficult to practice perfect obedience. There was a definite understanding that he should expend no large sum of money or proceed with any extensive plan without the permission of the Mother House. Sometimes, without justice, he argued himself into the position of presuming permission, and it was often too late to undo the work he had begun, even when an adverse decision came from Le Mans.
Sometimes, of course, his haste was justified. Or so it seemed to him. There was, for instance, that night of the fire when the students were left without shelter or food. Was he to let them all go away? Or should he begin to rebuild immediately and show them, by the energy of his reaction, that he was aware of his responsibility? He presumed permission. It would be three months before he could get actual word from Father Moreau. He was later rebuked for his haste. In his narrative of the event, Father Sorin ends it just that way. He fails to do justice to all the reasons objected by the General Chapter.
Most of the religious communities in the United States of that day had their roots in Europe. Communication with their superiors was as slow an affair for them as it was for Father Sorin. Nearly all of them complained -- seconded, it must be said, by many of the bishops -- that they should have more liberty of action; and that if this were denied, it would be better to sever connections with the Old World. It is easy to see how Father Sorin, champing at the bit, was influenced by such a daring opinion, and why he so easily justified his impatience.
But not in every case was Father Sorin's action justified. In 1849 his imagination was fired by the news from California -- how men were finding gold in such amounts as to stagger even sane men. How he could use some of that gold! Here, at Notre Dame, they were so poor. And across the sea, at Le Mans, was not the Mother House begging for help? What if Sorin, working quietly, should send an expedition to the west, should find gold, enough for himself and the Mother House! What a fine thing it would be, he argued, if, all unexpectedly, he could lay a treasure at Father Moreau's feet!
Without asking permission -- he suspected quite rightly that it would be refused he laid his plans. In March, 1850, he organized the St. Joseph's Company: four Brothers and three laymen. Captain Wentworth would head the company. If gold was found, the three laymen agreed to turn over half of it to Sorin; the four Brothers, as religious, were to turn over everything. Father Sorin was to pay all the expenses of the enterprise.
It should be noted that between the time Father Sorin conceived this plan and the moment when he finally set it in motion, he had ample time to consult with his superior. It was only after the expedition had departed that Sorin wrote to Le Mans about it, a letter which seems never to have reached its destination. For it was only through a third party, much later in the year, that Father Moreau learned about the gold hunt; how the expedition had, indeed, reached California, but had found no gold. And what turned Father Moreau's vexation into profound grief was that one of the young Brothers -- Placidus -- died en route with no priest to care for him. Quite understandably, the superior asked Father Sorin to explain himself.
It appears that if Father Sorin had been more patient, as well as more obedient, his difficulties would have vanished. The personal letters of Father Moreau to Father Sorin breathe a supernatural spirit of forgiveness. They say, although "you have made a mistake, start over, and try to do better." But there were some at Le Mans who, it seems, were not animated by such generosity. Among them, must be mentioned Father Charles Moreau, a nephew of the Founder. He was a brilliant fellow -- later on, he would be tutor to the future Cardinal Charost -- but antagonistic, sharp, sarcastic. He was, quite properly, indignant when his uncle's authority was threatened. In many of Father Sorin's letters one may see how much he distrusted the counsels of the nephew.
When, in 1900, Father Charles Moreau's manuscript biography of his uncle was published, Father Gilbert Français, then superior General, felt that Charles Moreau had wronged Father Sorin and some of his associates. Be that as it may, Father Français had something pertinent to say of the character of Charles Moreau: "The older religious of the congregation know Father Charles, and they remember the unevenness of his temper, his oddity and irritability. . . . There are to be found on every page (of the second volume) regrettable insinuations, unwarranted assertions, unjust accusations made in a lamentable tone; and a patently absolute predetermination to admire and justify everything on one side and to depreciate and censure everything on the other."
Whatever may be its limitations, Father Charles Moreau did us a great service in writing the life of his uncle. To date, it is the most authoritative biography we possess of the Founder of Holy Cross.
Those who kept the financial accounts at Le Mans often expressed their dissatisfaction with Father Sorin's records. They were either late in coming in, or inexact, sometimes incomplete. Father Sorin did a great deal of business on the barter system. The parents of poor boys often paid for board and tuition in kind. It took some figuring to reduce a barrel of molasses to the correct number of francs. Then, too, Father Sorin because of his perpetual activity, rather turned up his nose at "wasting too much time with figures."
Notre Dame was but two years old when it became apparent that the imported European discipline would neither attract nor hold the American boy. A radical change in studies and discipline must be made if the new college was to obtain patronage. We have seen how Father Sorin investigated three Catholic colleges, and finally determined to follow the plan established at St. Louis University. There was some apprehension at Le Mans lest this innovation might be too great a concession to "liberty," of which Charles Moreau thought the American boy had more than his share.
In September, 1852, Father Sorin received a letter from Father Founder Moreau which upset him. He was to return to France, ran the letter, and then go to Bengal, East India, as head of that new foreign mission. Eventually, so he read, he would become Bishop of Dacca. It was ten years, he reflected, since he had set foot at Notre Dame. He was in a fair way to build a flourishing school for Catholics. Now all that was to be changed.
There is no question as to what Father Sorin should have done. Without seeking to justify his subsequent action, we can reflect, however, on some of the things which made obedience in this matter difficult. He had come to Indiana as to a missionary country, his work was beginning to show results, and he was, perhaps, inclined to consider his presence as necessary for the future of his mission. Certainly, many of his companions and co-workers felt that way, for they hastened to write to Father Moreau, representing the impossibility of getting along without Father Sorin. Many of the American bishops, likewise, wrote in the same vein. Father Moreau replied patiently that in his view the Bengal mission was so difficult that he wanted the very best possible man to head it. And that man, he felt, was Sorin.
All this pressure gave new impetus to Sorin's perhaps unconscious, natural tendency -- to have his own way. He let his mind dwell on the possibility of ruining Notre Dame; and soon he had convinced himself that if he left the University, it would fall apart! At night, he held fretful conversation with the two men he most trusted, Fathers Granger and Cointet. Often they repeated: "If only Father Moreau would come here, if he would but see what has been done, the promise, the future of the place! Then he would not insist on taking Father Sorin away!"
Thus far, there was no conscious thought of rebellion. But somehow or other, the question of their vow of obedience came up. Just how binding was it? As yet, the Congregation of Holy Cross was merely a diocesan-approved organization. Could they obtain a dispensation without recurring to Rome, or to the Superior General? Could a bishop, any bishop, dispense them? Without saying anything to the other members of the community at Notre Dame, the local council wrote to several American bishops posing this question.
In time, the bishops wrote their opinion: the Bishop of Vincennes, in whose diocese Notre Dame was located, could dispense them from their vows. Now Sorin became bolder. He applied to the Bishop of Vincennes, Maurice de St. Palais, who granted the dispensation for the entire community at Notre Dame. Sorin then wrote to the Mother House, informing Father Moreau of his action.
Quite properly, Father Moreau was appalled. And he felt quite sure that the dispensation was invalid. He threatened to take the case to Rome where, because of the injustice done a third party, namely, the Mother House, the action of the Bishop of Vincennes would not be upheld. Father Moreau further announced that he was sending a General Visitor to Notre Dame to investigate the situation. This Visitor was to be Father Chappé, a dear friend of Sorin's, and a trusted ally of Moreau, all three of whom had made their vows together August 15, 1840.
A General Visitor comes armed with great authority. In this instance, Father Chappé had power to regulate, command and order in the name of the Superior General. But since Father Sorin considered himself and his co-workers as dispensed from their vow of obedience, he made it clear to Father Chappé, that he was being received as a guest, a very welcome guest, but not as one having authority. For the moment, Father Chappé would not argue the point. He was confident that after a few friendly visits with Sorin and the other members of the council, he would be able to reach an understanding.
In the meantime, the Visitor took a good look around. Contrary to reports he had heard, he found that religious exercises were attended with devotion, classes were taught regularly, and a large number of vocations were fostered with care. He was equally surprised to note the spirit of harmony which animated all the religious. But with the stubborn council he got nowhere.
Father Sorin was making a brave show of liberty. He brought out the letter of the Bishop of Vincennes. He was careful to point out that the dispensation was for five years only, and that no one knew of it except the members of the council. He could not agree with the Visitor that the dispensation might be invalid. Alas, poor Sorin was closer to submission than he was, at that moment, willing to admit. All along he had realized that his new-found freedom had brought no peace of heart.
Then, one evening, about nine o'clock, Father Sorin sent a messenger up to Father Chappé's room. "Would the Visitor kindly come to Father Sorin's room?" He would. Father Chappé was totally unprepared for what was to take place. Without having given him any clue as to what he was doing, Father Sorin had written a two-page note, addressed to Father Moreau, in which Sorin fully submitted to the commands of his Superior General. With tears in his eyes, Father Sorin read the text to the Visitor. He agreed to accompany Father Chappé back to France, and to submit himself to whatever decision Father Moreau might impose.
The prudent Father Chappé had a better idea. He would return to Le Mans, but asked Father Sorin to delay his coming for some time yet. He felt that he could explain the situation to Father Moreau with greater sympathy and objectivity if Sorin would hold off a bit. Months later, Father Sorin left Notre Dame, fully expecting never to return. But at Le Mans, he experienced once more the great and forgiving heart of his superior. He no longer insisted on Sorin's heading the mission to India. Perhaps, after these recent events, he had some doubts about Sorin's fitness for the post. At any rate, he sent him back to Notre Dame to continue the work he had begun.
The work of the Sisters in the foundation and development of Notre Dame is a story of toil and sacrifice and privation that is no less than heroic. No misunderstandings or bitterness or rancor that may have developed in the subsequent years can dim the glory of that tale. These good women, wearing the blue cordon of the Lady Immaculate, and the silver heart of the Sorrowful Mother, their faces framed in the fluted linen halo, worked themselves to the bone for Notre Dame. And when they were too old and too sick to acquit themselves of arduous tasks, their days were spent praying for the success of the school.
It will be remembered that when Father Sorin first welcomed the Sisters to Notre Dame, he, like they, had one purpose in mind. They were to perform the menial tasks of washing and cooking and mending. He could not afford to hire domestics for this purpose. It was clearly understood that these religious women were to give themselves to this task, without any other remuneration than that they should be cared for until death. When he established them in their first rude quarters at Notre Dame, he did not dream that their presence would cause difficulty. Yet, as soon as the Bishop of Vincennes learned of their coming, he wrote Father Sorin to the effect that he would not have them in his diocese. He had already, so he wrote, one community of religious women at Terre Haute, and that was enough.
Happily, the state line of Michigan was only four miles from Notre Dame. The little town of Bertrand, Michigan, was in the diocese of Detroit. The Bishop of Detroit was not unwilling to receive the nuns, so Father Sorin moved them, bag and baggage, to Bertrand. Every day, in foul weather and fair, through cold and snow, heat and dust, the Sisters trudged back and forth between Notre Dame and Bertrand, working all day at the college, performing an unbelievable variety of tasks. Nightfall must have found them tremendously weary. What sort of courage was it that could keep these women daily faithful to such work? The fidelity of the Sisters is difficult to describe without becoming rhapsodic.
For some reason or other, in time the Bishop of Detroit became less enthusiastic about the presence of the Sisters in his diocese, and since there was a new bishop of Vincennes, it was decided to move the Sisters to Mishawaka. Although it was closer to Notre Dame, it was still too far. And the establishment at Mishawaka was none too satisfactory for other reasons.
That piece of property to the west of the University which Father Sorin had purchased from the unwilling Mr. Rush, the owner of the mill-dam, and for which he had paid $8000, included not only the site of the dam, but also 185 acres of land. Father Sorin had the Sisters inspect the piece of property. They were delighted. It was decided to close both the establishments at Bertrand and at Mishawaka, and build a new college on the high plateau overlooking St. Joseph's river. This decision was made possible by an extraordinary gift lately received by Father Sorin. Mr. and Mrs. William T. Phelan of Lancaster, Ohio, the step-father and mother of Father Neal Gillespie and Mother Angela, deeded, for some consideration, almost their entire wealth to the President of Notre Dame. With this fortune in hand, Father Sorin went ahead with his plans for St. Mary's.
Six of the Sisters were appointed as a council. Under oath they declared their intention of forming a corporation for the erection of St. Mary's Academy. Judge Thomas S. Stanfield of South Bend, always a friend of Notre Dame and St. Mary's, contributed his advice and labor in drawing up the articles of incorporation. Father Sorin gave a deed to fifty acres of the land purchased from Rush, as well as $5000 to be spent immediately on buildings for St. Mary's. Thus he secured for the University of Notre Dame, so he thought, as well as for the Sisters, the mutual assistance of both houses. It was an arrangement that seemed perfect, from Father Sorin's point of view.
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