University of Notre Dame

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

Chapter VIII

THROUGH all those early years, Notre Dame was indeed poor. There were no subsidies from the government. No one expected them. But there were some other sources of revenue which, in all gratitude, the University has never forgotten. We have already detailed the grant of land originally purchased by Father Badin and given to the Bishop of Vincennes, land upon which the college was built. True, it had not cost Father Badin a fortune. But for a community that had nothing, it represented a tremendous stake when Father Sorin came into possession of it.

Nor was this the only benefaction of Father Badin. When in July, 1845, that aging missionary paid his first visit to Notre Dame after the establishment of the college, witnessing the unbelievable progress made by the institution, he called Father Sorin aside. He had a proposal to make. "Look," he must have said, "I am old; not many more years remain to me. I have some property in Louisville -- two lots. They are worth between twelve and fifteen thousand dollars. By a judicious disposal of that property, you could realize enough to purchase the land between Notre Dame and the St. Joseph river. All I ask is that you pay me an annuity of four hundred dollars until my death. What do you say?" Father Sorin said yes. Three months later, to Father Sorin's chagrin, the most he could realize on the sale was six thousand dollars. Moreover, Father Badin was not so near death as one might think. He lived eight more years. That meant a profit of only twenty-eight hundred dollars. For every penny of it, however, Father Sorin was deeply grateful.[1]

During the early years of the nineteenth century, there had been formed, at Lyons, France, the Association for the Propagation of the Faith. This remarkable organization has never received due recognition for the splendid manner in which it sponsored the work of Catholic missionaries. Through the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, it made known to Catholics, particularly in France, the extent and poverty of the mission field, in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It appealed for alms from both rich and poor, and from the faithful of all nations; it gathered clothing, altar linens, religious articles, everything that might further the cause of Catholic missions. And to this Association, all missionaries appealed. Through a wise administration of funds, the Propagation of the Faith did an immeasurable amount of good.

One of the last things that Father Sorin spoke about before he first embarked from France was what the new missionaries might expect from the Propagation of the Faith. Father Moreau made application for assistance. In 1842 Father Sorin received twenty-five hundred francs, and in 1843, 14,700 francs. The following year, when the four-story college building was erected, he obtained 18,000 francs. In all, between the years 1842 and 1869, the University of Notre Dame received from this source an amount just short of $50,000.[2] Not all of this sum was retained by Father Sorin. For example, in those years when the Mother House in France suffered financial embarrassment, Sorin sent all he received to Le Mans.[3] But for more than a generation Notre Dame was the object of charitable sustenance by the Association for the Propagation of the Faith. All in all, the money received from that source was just about the finest gift that Notre Dame has ever received. It was an outright gift, with no strings attached.

It was a matter of great pride, frequently mentioned in the early chronicles and letters, that Notre Dame should have been graciously remembered by the King of France, Louis-Phillipe. Both the King and his Queen gave the nod of approval to this tall grave missionary who was founding a University where the French language and French culture would be always held in honor. They also gave him seven hundred dollars.[4]

In 1855 there was a young student at Notre Dame from Detroit, William Corby. His name will loom large in the annals of Notre Dame. In the year 1855 he was only a seminarian. But he owned a bit of land in the city of Detroit. He made an outright gift of it to Father Sorin. The land was sold for six thousand dollars.[5]A cynical reader might suppose that young Corby thus paved his way to power under Father Sorin. In the light of subsequent history, the suggestion is without any foundation whatsoever.

In this same year Father Sorin received another gift. It was as large and as generous as it was unexpected. It will be recalled that in the graduating class of 1849 there was a young fellow from Lancaster, Ohio, by name, Neal Gillespie. He stayed on at Notre Dame after graduation, and signified his determination to become a priest. A short time thereafter, Neal Gillespie's sister Eliza came to Notre Dame and joined the Holy Cross Sisters. She assumed the name of Sister Mary Angela. The father of these two Gillespie children had died some years previous, and their mother had married a William T. Phelan. The Phelans were endowed with considerable wealth. Around Lancaster they were regarded with not a little awe.

Now Mrs. Phelan, seeing that her two children had entered the ranks of Holy Cross, felt keenly the poverty they had embraced. It was only natural that she should have worried about their health and well-being. She was delighted to have her son become a priest and her daughter a nun, but, at the same time, it grieved her to know they would have to wear patched clothing and exist on a skimpy diet. For some time she had been coaxing her husband to do something for the community at Notre Dame, whereby her children might suffer less. Mr. Phelan, however, wasn't interested. But his wife kept judiciously pressing him.

Just before the commencement exercises of 1855, Mrs. Phelan, who was visiting Notre Dame, handed Father Sorin a letter. When he opened it and read it, he was totally unprepared for what met his eye. He tried to maintain his gravity, but it must have been difficult. It was a situation that called for the most lusty rejoicing. Mr. Phelan was offering to turn over to Father Sorin all -- or almost all -- of his fortune. "My property," wrote Mr. Phelan, "has a value of $89,650. It is encumbered by mortgages to the extent of $22,500. I give it all to you provided that you will assume the obligation of paying off the mortgages, and, also, guarantee me an annuity of $3,000. As security for this annuity, I will expect you to give me a mortgage on the Notre Dame property of $50,000!"

Father Sorin could hardly believe his eyes. He folded the letter, and if he were not already seated, he probably took a chair to catch his breath. Words came slowly, measured and profound, in which he thanked Mrs. Phelan and her husband. The offer entailed figures which, to Father Sorin, were astronomical. He must think the matter over. He must call a council meeting. In a few days it was decided that Father Sorin should accompany Mrs. Phelan to Lancaster and review the situation. In a few weeks the arrangement was made. Aside from the total surplus that would finally accrue to Father Sorin, the principal benefit of this donation was the security against which Father Sorin could borrow actual cash when he needed it[6]. When one wonders at the manner in which the early Notre Dame expanded, this gift of the Phelans must not be overlooked.

Finally, at about this same time the Reverend Philip Foley, pastor of St. Thomas' Church, Toledo, Ohio, gave the University $4,000. This was meant as an endowment, whereby Father Foley would have the right for twenty years, to maintain two students each year at Notre Dame. Ultimately, it did not represent much. But it was cash at the time, and sorely needed.[7]

For no sooner did Father Sorin see a way to pay his debts than disaster of some sort would bedevil his path. There was another fire. This time it was the stables and barns, located near "Old College," close to the present site of the Library. It started at two o'clock in the morning of December 17, 1856, and in two hours all the buildings, including the old log chapel, together with a large supply of oats, corn, and hay, were consumed. Fortunately the wind was from the west and the flames did not reach "Old College." But the quantity of inflammable material that shot into the sky and was borne eastward threatened both the church and the new college building. Father Sorin was at the corner of the western tower of the church, where he could see the roofs of both college and church, shouting directions to his helpers and students to rush to those spots most seriously threatened. It was a lively night, but everybody was thankful when, at dawn, it became clear that the college and church were safe.[8] In narrating the events of 1857, Father Sorin says the year was remarkable for three things: first, the increase in the number of students at Notre Dame (they averaged one hundred and forty); second, the papal approbation of the rules and constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross; and finally, the long-awaited visit of the Very Reverend Basile Antoine Marie Moreau, the founder of the Congregation. The first gave Father Sorin the consolation of knowing that his foundation was making progress; the second conveyed the assurance that the Holy See approved the way of life set down for the Religious of Holy Cross, a way of life which, if followed faithfully, would, in the words of Pius IX, lead to salvation; and finally, the consolation of a personal visit from the founder of the Congregation, an event which Father Sorin and his community in Indiana had long desired. The president of Notre Dame University had, for many years, been persuaded that if Father Moreau would but come to see what had been accomplished and what were the special difficulties under which the community here labored, all differences between the Mother House and Notre Dame would be dispelled.[9]

The community at Notre Dame had been notified to expect the founder of Holy Cross on the 26th of August. Accordingly the entire religious body was awaiting him. When the post arrived, and the horses were drawn to a halt, the priests and Brothers were ranged in great numbers about the entrance; the students were drawn up in lines on each side of the gate; the bells in the church began to ring wildly. Father Moreau stepped from the coach and was welcomed in a tender embrace by Father Sorin. Father Moreau's own words describe the event:

The following day, the 27th, the Superior General invited the members of the Local Council to come to his room. The members of this body included, besides Father Sorin (who was sick that day and could not attend), Fathers Granger and Gillespie, Brothers Vincent, Antoninus, Amadeus, and Lawrence. As a beginning, Father Moreau thought it well to name the officers of the institution and determine the sphere of each. Father Sorin was named president de jure; Father Granger was appointed master of novices for the priests as also assist- ant superior; Father Letourneau was designated as master of novices for the Brothers; Father Patrick Dillon was made steward, and under him, Brother Lawrence was appointed general overseer. Besides these designations, we know that Father Gillespie was named Director of Studies; that Brother Amadeus was appointed to take charge of money deposits of the students and to verify their accounts.[11]

It was further determined by the Superior General that no extraordinary expense could be incurred without the approval of the local council of Administration at Notre Dame. Father Moreau stated that no new buildings should be erected without permission of the Superior General; moreover, that the council had no right to sell without his permission any of their property above the value of one thousand dollars. This last provision immediately raised difficulties. Notre Dame had purchased a certain amount of real estate, or had accepted it in payment for services rendered, with the express intention of converting it into cash.

When this was explained to Father Moreau, he was willing to compromise. He granted permission to sell any land situated outside of St. Joseph County; likewise, he agreed that any land within the county which had already been cut up into lots might be sold, provided none of the land comprising the original grant was offered for sale. He charged the members of the Council, however, to render him a strict accounting of all property thus alienated.[12]

The following day, Father Sorin was still sick, but Father Moreau held another meeting. Its purpose was to investigate the financial standing of the community at Notre Dame. It will be recalled that from the beginning the Mother House had found fault with the way in which Notre Dame kept its accounts. Likewise, it will be remembered that there were many circumstances preventing a registry of expenses and receipts such as the General Administration had wished. Consequently, no satisfactory statement could be made at this meeting. It was determined, however, that, since the beginning in 1842, debts to the amount of 1,200,000 francs had been incurred. But the exact amount received could not be ascertained. Nor was it clear just how much money was still owing to Notre Dame's creditors.

On the 29th, Father Sorin was able to attend the next session, which was held in Father Moreau's room. Notre Dame had supplied the community's establishments both in Canada and in New Orleans with various sums in the past, and Father General Moreau wanted to clear this matter up. Canada's debt was insignificant -- $6.37. But with New Orleans, it was a different matter. And Father Sorin was not inclined to overlook the debt. His feeling toward the establishment in New Orleans was none too kindly. Checking up on the accounts, Father Moreau came to the decision that New Orleans owed Notre Dame $873, not to speak of the expenses of clothing, etc., whose cost was to be determined later.[13]

The session then adjourned to the church where, standing before the high altar, the Superior General proclaimed the Pontifical approbation of the Rules and Constitutions of the Congregation of Holy Cross. This approbation, so desired by all the Religious of Holy Cross, had been issued from Rome in the previous month of May. But on this day of August 29th, the Superior General, wishing to make a solemnity of the occasion, gathered all the priests and Brothers about the altar and proclaimed to them that the way of life indicated for them in their new rules and constitutions was to be a sure way of salvation for them. The ceremony ended with a deeply grateful Te Deum.

Then the Council returned to Father Moreau's chambers for another session. It was a painful one. It involved a discussion of a debt which the Mother House owed to Notre Dame. Two years previously Father Moreau had written frantically to Father Sorin for financial assistance. The Mother House at Le Mans, he had said, was on the brink of ruin unless it could get some help from Notre Dame. After a great deal of hesitation, Father Sorin had borrowed the money at a very high rate of interest, sending Father Moreau 15,000 francs. To do this, Father Sorin had to mortgage a piece of property in Columbus, Ohio, valued at $25,000. Now he claimed that he was in danger of losing the property altogether unless the Mother House repaid that money.

Father Moreau seemed surprised. He stated that both he and his council in France had considered the 15,000 francs not a loan, but a gift. Moreover, he pressed the still precarious state of the Mother House as a reason for not reclaiming this sum. In justice, he said, Notre Dame had a right to claim the money. But in charity, and for the sake of good feeling, he begged the council at Notre Dame not to demand repayment. This the council agreed to do -- that is, all but Father Sorin. The founder of Notre Dame said that, for the sake of the record, the sum should be repaid. But, to show his good will toward the Mother House, he himself would transfer his own patrimony, lately received, and equivalent to the debt in question, to the account of Notre Dame as a cancellation of the 15,000 francs loaned to the Mother House.[14]

After a few days -- September 10th, to be exact -- Father Dillon was able to present the financial report. Father Gillespie, who kept the minutes of this meeting, remarks, with some humor, that Brother Amadeus read the accounts in French: "as the members of the Council either already knew the accounts to be correct, or owing to their ignorance of the details, could not correct them if they had been incorrect, His Reverence Father Moreau dispensed with the reading of the details and asked for the totals."

Assets, including all property, real or personal, amounted to $258,191.29. The total indebtedness was figured $63,105.49. Father Moreau then asked how much the University stood to lose on outstanding accounts of the students and others. The sum was not trifling -- $30,038.65 -- and when it was added to the total indebtedness, and then subtracted from the total assets, it left a balance in favor of the Province of $159,047.15. This, concluded the Superior General, was not too bad.

Very Rev. Father General, having heard the report was well satisfied with the state of affairs, saying that the condition of the establishments was good although the amount of debts was great; he strongly recommended that no new debts should be made; that all the foundations made in the future should have very good conditions for the Congregation; remarking that up to this time, not only in America, but also in France, establishments had been made in order to make the Congregation known, although the conditions on which they were taken were not advantageous to the Congregation in a pecuniary point of view.[15]

An entry made on the 11th of September is pertinent to the relations between the University and the Sisters of the Holy Cross: "The Council of St. Mary's, entering fully in the views of that of Notre Dame, it is decided that the mutual services of St. Mary's and Notre Dame shall not be paid at a fixed price." There were already at St. Mary's many Sisters inclined to the view that Father Sorin and Notre Dame were getting more than their share of work from these good women. Between the Sisters working at Notre Dame and the Sisters at St. Mary's there grew up an unfortunate estrangement that was to last for years. The Notre Dame nuns had a fierce loyalty to Father Sorin. On the other hand, the nuns at St. Mary's, engaged largely in teaching, took the view, with some justice, that they would never make progress as a teaching community if Father Sorin's aims were allowed to prevail.

Father Moreau remained but three weeks at Notre Dame. Affairs in Europe demanded his attention. On October 17, 1857, hardly a month after his departure, Father Sorin wrote to him:

Father Moreau, on receiving this alarming intelligence, was quite puzzled. Only a month since he had sailed out of New York harbor and at that time the financial condition seemed so sound. Had he been better acquainted with the political situation in the United States, Father Moreau might have sensed the terrible unrest which was to culminate, four years later, in civil war.

It may have been this presentiment of war to come that aroused a new enthusiasm on the campus at Notre Dame. William F. Lynch was a student that year. "He was a skillful tactician," writes Timothy Howard) "trained to an enthusiastic love of military affairs under Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of Chicago."[17] A local newspaper of 1858 says: "The students have just organized their various societies, (among them) a military company which already numbers some forty or fifty members.[18] This refers to the company formed among the older students. They adopted a uniform reminiscent of the American Revolution, buff and blue, and took the name of Continental Cadets. Bill Lynch was the boss of the organization. He was very earnest and not a little tyrannical. But the students knew he had courage. "Our town," says the South Bend Forum, "was enlivened on Wednesday morning by a parade through the streets of the Notre Dame Continental Cadets, a military company composed of the students of the University. Their drilling, maneuvers and marching made a fine impression. Their patriotism is highly commendable."[19]

Not to be outdone by their seniors, the younger students clamored for the privilege of learning how to carry a gun. In the fall of 1859, a Notre Dame student wrote to his mother: "A new military company was formed among the smaller boys. Party spirit ran high in electing a captain. A week before the election, the two candidates were busy electioneering. Frank Bigelow was elected by a large majority."[20] They were called the Washington Cadets.

Just how many members of these military organizations saw service in the subsequent fray, it is impossible to determine. Timothy Howard, speaking of the Continental Cadets, says: "Almost every member became a real soldier in the army. . . . Many of them became distinguished; many more took their place in the private ranks, content so that they did their duty well."[21] Captain Bill Lynch became a Colonel of the 58th Illinois Infantry, and afterwards a Brigadier-General, commanding a division in the southwest, where he was seriously wounded, and subsequently died.

His career was presaged one day when, after Lincoln had called for 75,000 volunteers, the citizenry of South Bend met at the Court House to determine the action to be taken. Schuyler Colfax, a future Vice-President of the United States, was there, and Andrew Anderson, and many another. There were speeches galore. Partisanship was damned. All agreed that they must drop petty quarrels and show a united spirit. But the tenor of the meeting seemed to counsel moderation. At this point, Bill Lynch, tall and soldierly, arose. He was the last to speak. With fiery words he denounced the secessionists and declared that he was going to join the army and shed, if need be, the last drop of his blood for the Union. His ringing words brought all to their feet, and on the spot, they formed a company, afterwards known as First Company, Indiana Regiment. Bill Lynch would have no part of them. He elected to join Colonel Mulligan's 23rd Illinois Infantry. There, at least, he was sure to find the fire and the wild surge for strenuous endeavor.[22]

It was natural, of course, that the University, in its administration, should side with the North. in the vicinity of the University there was a household that cared for the negro slaves making a dash for Canada and liberty (the old Bulla house, on the Eddy Street road, directly across from the present Biology Building and recently demolished), and you may be sure that Father Sorin's long nose had, for months, detected what was going on there. Most of the student body was anti-South. Excitement ran like a fire among the under-graduates, and studies were neglected.[23] The faculty, through Father Sorin, took immediate steps to curb the restless spirit. The President voiced the opinion: Let those who wish to, go take up arms; but let us remember that this is a school. The students may hold as they wish, but let there be no discussion, either among faculty or students, in favor of one side or the other. That can lead only to bitterness and recrimination, and will utterly destroy the spirit of study. That was a wise, but sometimes futile, decree. Many students from the Southern states were enrolled during the years of the Civil War. It is possible that Notre Dame's attempt to make the spirit of tolerance prevail led many of these youths to Notre Dame.

There were, to be sure, some unpleasant incidents. On the walks the the playyard, many heated arguments escaped the vigilance of the prefects. John B. Walker, for instance, was a stout, handsome youth, aggressive and foremost in expressing his loathing for Southerners, but one day he went too far. Shortly after St. Edward's Day, 1863, he had a bitter dispute with Billy Welsh. Billy hit him on the head with a kick. When it got to the ears of the authorities, they decided that Billy would have to leave. A large section of the student body protested the decision and refused to go to the study hall. A committee of three waited upon Father Patrick Dillon, acting president, and asked him to reconsider. He was agreeable on one condition: they must go back to the study hall immediately.

When the committee went into the yard to report on Father Dillon's reply, some were skeptical. "It's only a trick!" This sentiment prevailed. They did not go back to the study hall, and they violated numerous other rules. It was a delicate situation. Father Dillon showed the utmost tact, but he was not the man to let his authority be thwarted. He waited patiently for some days. The unruly students, fatigued by days of playing, retired at night. After all was quiet at night, Hank Painter, the local cab-man, drove up to the college just before train time. In the morning, some familiar faces were missing. This was repeated on successive nights. Once Father Dillon had weeded out the ring-leaders, peace descended on the campus.[24]

At a later date, a campus row was reported in the St. Joseph Valley Register:

The newspaper notice gave Father Sorin an opportunity to vindicate the University. He sent a notice to the paper in which he said the story was greatly exaggerated. The quarrel between the boys was not a political one at all! The public ought to know that the students of this University were never allowed to discuss politics! Literary pursuits alone occupied their interests! Anyhow, the boy with the fractured skull was doing nicely![26]

Like nearly everyone else in the North, Father Sorin thought it would not be much of a war. About a year after the shooting began he wrote to Mrs. Phelan: "If we are correctly informed, the war is to be closed at Corinth for the west, and at Yorktown in Virginia. May God give our arms two such victories as to crush at once this wicked rebellion."[27]

When the fall term of 1862 opened, the wife of General William T. Sherman brought her young son, Willy, to Notre Dame, and her daughter, Minnie, to St. Mary's. Willy was but eight years old and was, of course, placed in the minim department. Mrs. Sherman wrote to her husband saying that Willy was delighted with the place, wanted to stay. His cousin, Tommy Ewing, "had had him out horseback riding already and he feels quite important to be at College."[28] The following spring, Mrs. Sherman notes that "Willy is happy and full of fun. He has more outdoor exercise and good rough play at Notre Dame than he would have at home."[29] "I take it he has scuffled, kicked, amid played enough, for he has worn out all his pants, and I am officially notified that 'Master W. T. Sherman needs two more pants' to scuffle, kick, and play in."[30]

After placing the young lad at Notre Dame, Mrs. Sherman had returned to her family in Ohio. In the spring of 1863, she writes: "He (Willy) has more playmates there (Notre Dame) than he would or could have had at home. . . . I heartily wish I could live at Notre Dame with the children, or rather South Bend, which is only two or three miles from there." On June 21st, she was at Notre Dame for the closing exercises.

During the vacation Mrs. Sherman took her entire family to Vicksburg, where her husband had taken part in the campaign against that city. "Willy was a great favorite with the 13th regiment. They made the lad an honorary sergeant, and gave him a neat little uniform. All day long he rode at Sherman's side untiringly; he had so much to tell his father and so much lost companionship to make up."[33] Unfortunately, this likable boy contracted "camp fever," and died at the Gayoso Hotel in Memphis, whither the family had gone, on October 3, 1863. A priest from the University of Notre Dame, Father Joseph Carrier, was with him during his last hours, and his presence brought consolation to General and Mrs. Sherman.[34]

In the fall of 1864 Mrs. Sherman and her entire brood moved to South Bend. She was to occupy the home of Schuyler Colfax who would be in Washington that winter. While she was waiting for the Colfax mansion to be prepared, she lodged at the hotel. On the night of September 4th, a huge crowd gathered in the street before the hostelry. The daily papers had been full of news about the fall of Atlanta. The townspeople had come to serenade the wife of the soldier who was marching through Georgia. Mrs. Sherman and her little son, Tommy, who was just entering Notre Dame, were persuaded to appear on the balcony. The crowd went wild. Mrs. Sherman was so moved that she could not speak. She bowed graciously, waved her hand and retired. At midnight she was still writing to her husband about the compliment.[35]

Tommy Sherman, like his dead brother, was eight years old when he came to Notre Dame. He was somewhat more bookish than Willy had been, and his mother remarked to the General that "he ding-dongs his story-books into my ears for hours at a time."[36] The son of a famous father must often submit to a little ribbing. Tommy was no exception. The students, most of them full of admiration for General Sherman, liked to tease Tommy. "Your pa says he's going through Georgia like a whirlwind! Yeah, he says he's going to have Christmas dinner on the sea-coast! Can't be done, Tommy, it's crazy!" Indignantly, Tommy took pen in hand and complained to his father of the rank injustice of his fellow-students. "As for me," he added, "you can count on ONE boy at Notre Dame that believes you can do it!"[37]

When the war was over, General Sherman was invited to come to Notre Dame for the commencement exercises. He accepted, no doubt because there he would find his family. It was June 7, 1865. After the reception, Sherman went into the large refectory. The students were waiting for him, and gave him a great hand. After they had eaten, Timothy Howard formally addressed him in the name of the faculty. Tommy Corcoran of Cincinnati, speaking in the name of the Senior department, alluded very touchingly to the General's dead sons.[38] It was left to Tom Ewing, however, to bring tears to the General's eyes.

This generous offer enabled Sherman to regain his composure. He was deeply moved by the reference to his deceased children and said that, under the circumstances, he would rather go into battle than make a speech. The allusion to Willy was almost more than he could bear. But he assured them that the boys at Notre Dame would always be dear to him as having been the companions of his son.[39]

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