Student soldiers. Spanish Influenza. Capt. George Campbell. The armistice. Father Cavanaugh's correspondence. His wit. Leaves the presidency.
MEANWHILE, at the University, things had changes greatly. In September, 1918, Notre Dame had become in great measure an armed camp. The government had finally agreed to let Notre Dame have a larger share in the education of the army. The Students' Army Training Corps (S.A.T.C.) was installed on the grounds. This innovation permitted students (if they passed the physical examinations) to join the armed forces, while at the same time continuing their studies. Because of the numerous drills and military exercises, studies would necessarily be curtailed. But it was something. In its contract with the University, the War Department agreed to pay the regular tuition, which was $120 a year, for each student-soldier, plus $30 a month for subsistence. Captain William P. Murray was sent to take charge. Under this new arrangement, the enrollment at Notre Dame grew rapidly. On October 1st, all applicants who had passed the physical examination were sworn in as soldiers of the United States.
When the boys had been in uniform but a week, one Saturday evening Father Cavanaugh and Father Eugene Burke saw the new soldiers racing from the street car to line up in ranks in front of Corby Hall. Some were a few minutes late, and the rasping voice of the commanding officer shouted: "When I say 7:30, I mean 7:30 and not 7:31. Those who were late will do K.P. duty tomorrow!" Father Cavanaugh remarked to Father Burke: "That's just what those fellows need, a touch of army discipline!" He wrote to a former student:
You wouldn't know old Notre Dame. I have read of miracles in Lourdes, but I have seen greater wonders at Notre Dame. Charley McC. . . . hasn't missed a single morning with one exception. Saturday morning he reported at 5:31 instead of 5:30 and was "bawled out" with eloquent fluency. That day Charley washed the toilets of Barracks No. 1, formerly Corby Hall. Charley hasn't missed the 5 :30 since.
When I think of the bunch of boobs that I tried to wheedle and coax into some kind of elementary ten-commandment morality in the past, I have a great idea. I should like to organize the ghosts of bygone days into a ghostly battalion and march them all over the place with Brother Alexander in command. I think of the mental and moral deadbeats, into whom I could put no semblance of wit or worth and I regret their passing out of sight these wonderful days. But thank God, they are somewhere drilling their fat hands off and history will add another chapter to Father Quinlan's book of Poetic Justice. . . .
Father Cavanaugh's bed-room was directly under one of the dormitories occupied by the soldiers. In the interest of truth, it must be stated that the new occupants were not strong on the quiet and peaceful side. Too often, the nights were made merry with howling and whistling; there were battles with shoes and pillows; beds and chairs were changing positions with great frequency. Father Cavanaugh became hollow-eyed for want of sleep. His first estimate of the new discipline was undergoing a rapid change.
The President complained to Captain Murray, set before him, in fact, a whole list of grievances. These were not adjusted to Father Cavanaugh's satisfaction. There were, no doubt, misunderstandings on both sides and a certain amount of friction developed. Murray, quite naturally, had his mind on training soldiers. Father Cavanaugh was thinking of his preparatory students and others who were not in uniform.
The month of October was particularly pleasant. Had it been unpleasant, had it only turned cold, said many, it would have been more healthful. As it was, Spanish Influenza was sweeping through the country. It was the opinion of some that the germ would have been killed by cold weather. But October was unusually balmy and warm. Students fell ill by the scores. Classes had to be abandoned.
We have gone through serious experiences since my last letter to you. The influenza was almost the death of all human joy. We had more than two hundred cases of the disease, and there were nine deaths among the students.
The wave of sickness had scarcely subsided when the whistles of South Bend factories one midnight announced the "false armistice." The real armistice followed a few days later.
Forty-six Notre Dame men had given their lives in the service of their country. Their names are inscribed on the bronze tablets affixed to the "Memorial Door" at the east entrance to the church.
Notre Dame mourned for all her fallen sons, and particularly for Captain George Campbell who had assisted in the military program at Notre Dame before the war. Because of his bravery and his gifted leadership, he had been promoted from sergeant to captain. During the battle of the Argonne in early October, 1918, Campbell was placed in command of the 2nd Battalion of the 18th Infantry. He had orders to capture "Hill 240" and hold it at all costs. Campbell, in that first day of battle, led his troops several times but was repulsed each time. Finally, about four o'clock in the afternoon, with about twenty-five picked men, he attacked the town of Exermont frontally, captured and held it and then advanced toward the hill beyond in the face of constant machine-gun fire. He sought a narrow path leading to the top of the hill, but he had no sooner set foot on the path than he was seen to drop. Six bullets were found in his head, and three in his chest. He was buried on the spot where he was killed.
The government ordered the demobilization of the S.A.T.C. in December. This might have proved disastrous had not the government very justly offered compensation to all schools which might suffer from the sudden withdrawal of thousands of students from the class-rooms. The combination of army and college had brought difficulties to many institutions, but, like the others, Notre Dame survived. In January, 1919, Father Cavanaugh was able to write to John Talbot Smith in the following vein:
The soldiers are gone with only slight damage to Brother Philip's campus. Mentally, morally and socially, the University was never so well conditioned before. The old spirit has come back with a rush, and Notre Dame is perfectly herself again. It is the sweetest miracle of my life.
When the terrible war was over, Notre Dame could be proud of her record. In spite of the fact that Notre Dame's military training had been labeled as "inferior in quality," it was a satisfaction to note that when her sons went into the army, they experienced no difficulty in obtaining commissions. As for her priests, she had sent eight to act as chaplains, for in addition to the six previously mentioned, Fathers James O'Brien and Frederick McKeon also joined the colors. Over 2200 Notre Dame men had been in the fighting ranks, and of these forty-six died in the line of duty. Father Cavanaugh was proud of the record, of course, but he was very grateful that the struggle was over.
Father Cavanaugh's rare charm was manifested continuously in his correspondence. With the young especially his manner was most captivating. Once a little boy, Stephen Docekal, of Providence, wrote him a little letter asking him to send a catalogue, and to "please tell me what I have to do to study to be a cowboy!" For reply, Stephen got this:
You asked me where you had better go in order to prepare yourself to be a cowboy. To begin, I believe that as you get a little older, you will not be so anxious to be a cowboy. There are various other ways of being happy, even in Providence, R. I., and I am afraid that if you attempted just at present to carry out your wish, you would be very sorry for it. The only place where a cowboy's life is pleasant is in the dime novels. Out West, I am told, there is more misery than poetry in it.
But if you are absolutely determined to be a cowboy, I should advise you to go about it in this way. First of all, take plenty of physical exercise by playing boyish games and mixing freely with other decent boys in your neighborhood. Be kind to your parents, and obedient to them, and thus by conquering yourself you will be learning how to subdue great herds of cattle. Secondly, cultivate a clean character by turning away from all kinds of meanness. Be pure in thought, word and conduct. Hate a lie. Scorn every kind of deception. Attend strictly to your religious life, for you know a cowboy is likely to be killed any time, and he ought to be prepared to go when called.
Finally, as there will be no study when you are a cowboy, it is necessary that you devote your time very earnestly to cultivating your mind. Go to school every day and study hard. Be obedient to your teachers and be fond of them. Talk over with your family the question of what you are to be. Perhaps they will not approve of your being a cowboy at all. But if Almighty God has given you that vocation, it will all come right in the end; if not, you will not want to follow it.
To one of his very dear friends, about to be invested as a domestic prelate, he wrote as follows:
Right Reverend and dear Monsignor:
Permit me, at least once, in your sweet young life to address you in this formal manner, after which I shall proceed to revert to my old custom of calling you Frank. Having made this declaration of plans and purposes, I now present you with my affectionate congratulations. I once telegraphed a new monsignor: "Congratulations on well deserved honor. You adorn the purple!" Western Union, with diabolical astuteness in that particular case, delivered the message as follows: "You adore the purple!" Certainly all who know you will say that you adorn the purple, and I venture to add that all will adore the purple when they see you clothed in it.
When he received notice of the marriage of one of his old students, he usually wrote a letter of congratulations, sometimes to the bride. He might humorously warn her to beware of the "old tramp" and urge her to do something for the man; Notre Dame, he might add, got nowhere on that score.
And it was his custom, when he heard that the stork had been busy, to write, not to the parents, but to the infant itself, feeling pretty sure that the letter would be folded away and kept as a precious souvenir. To one such newly-born, he wrote:
My dear Mayellen:
I hope you will pardon the boldness of a strange man who addresses you in this familiar way, without ever having been properly presented to you. Though a bold man, however, he is not a bad man, and he ventures to address you thus familiarly because he feels sure that you are a charming young lady of excellent judgment and taste, as well as appearance, and also because he is an old friend of your father and mother.
It is a month and a half since you arrived in Chicago, I believe, and I am wondering what you think of life as far as you have got. Don't judge every place by Chicago. The fact is, that when you get old enough to run around a good deal -- as most young ladies do nowadays, I regret to say -- you will find that in spite of the opinion current in Chicago, there are really other places. I will say in all frankness, that you will meet mighty nice people in Chicago. I will mention particularly Mr. & Mrs. Fred Steers, with whom you are already, I dare say, somewhat acquainted. In fact, the chief object of this letter is to compliment you on your good taste in selecting them for your parents and their home for your boarding house.
Some day, I expect to meet you formally and I hope you will have so far recovered your presence of mind by that time, that you will be able to speak coherently. In the meantime, let me wish you from the bottom of my heart a cordial welcome to this neighborhood. It is true that your father might have manifested his loyalty to the old school in a more striking way, if you had been a boy. But when I remember how much nicer girls are than boys, I really cannot blame him.
Personal acquaintances love to recall some of Father Cavanaugh's witty remarks. He was exceedingly quick in repartee, and generally quite good-humored about it, although there were times when his words had a "bite" to them. He was out walking one day with one of the younger priests. They were passing by the University barns, where, at that time, was stationed a mule with a most extraordinary bray. The younger priest was twitting Father Cavanaugh about something or other when, just at the moment, the mule broke forth into song. Father Cavanaugh halted, pointed his cane at his companion, and said solemnly: "Gene, that animal is an aristocrat among jackasses! But you, confound you, are a jackass among aristocrats!"
Of Father Arthur Barry O'Neill, who was a prolific writer of verse, and who, when the death of a priest, Brother or Sister in the community was announced, could dash off a sonnet "in memoriam," Father Cavanaugh said he had added a new terror to death. And when one of his colleagues wrote a very impertinent letter about one of Cavanaugh's dear friends, his only reply was to send a little card entitled "Prayer for a happy death."
To a stuttering boy, who was in disciplinary hot-water, Cavanaugh's heart went out. The boy was a problem. Though he frequently exasperated his preceptors, the President thought he could be of some assistance. He called the boy to his office, and put his arm over his shoulder. "Now, look here, Mac!" he said, in his most ingratiating tone, "I've always been your good friend, and I've always treated you fairly, haven't I?" There was a moment of sputtering. Finally, the boy said: "I w-w-w-ouldn't s-s-say s-s-so!" Cavanaugh, unable to resist his sudden impulse, said firmly: "Damit, you can't!"
One afternoon Father Cavanaugh went for a walk with Father Walsh. It was a Friday, and before they started out Father Cavanaugh telephoned Sister Cecelia that he and Father Walsh would come to the infirmary for supper, around six-thirty. That afternoon one of Father Cavanaugh's good friends, a priest, came to call on him. Father Joseph Burke took him in tow and when it came time for supper, the guest was invited to the dining hall, which could be very drab on Fridays. After the meal all the priests went up and sat on the front porch. At that moment Father Cavanaugh and Father Walsh sauntered up the front walk. After exchanging greetings with the guests, who remarked that Father Cavanaugh was late for supper, Father Cavanaugh explained that he had arranged to take supper at the infirmary. "Won't you join us?" asked Father Cavanaugh. "No," was the laconic response, "I've been down to the refectory and have partaken of the ordinary food. I suppose you're going over to have lobster!" There was a twinkle in Father Cavanaugh's eye as he answered with a smile: "Frank, if I had wanted lobster, I'd have been here with you!"
In April, 1919, Father Cavanaugh celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination. It was a very informal celebration, just a "family affair," with his own priests and students. There was a concert in Washington Hall, and two of the students made short addresses. Their words of praise were very sincere, for all the students had tremendous admiration for him. He said he was very grateful for the brevity of their laudations; it made him feel, by contrast, how he would have suffered had their remarks been strung out to the length of a great oration which he had once heard, and which he could not describe in any other fashion except by saying that it reminded him of the wisdom and mercy of God, the wisdom which is unfathomable and the mercy which endureth forever.
Nevertheless the genuine and heartfelt friendship of the students for Father Cavanaugh touched his soul deeply. He thrived on it and took a humble sort of pride in the fact that he was well loved. This demonstration of affection was to be the note on which he was to end his presidency, for he had handed in his resignation to the Provincial. After all, he had been President and superior at Notre Dame for fourteen years, the longest presidency, Father Sorin's excepted, in the history of the University. And he was not yet fifty years old.
"Come out and help us pick a good president for next year," he had written to Father John Talbot Smith. "The spirit of the new canon law seems to dictate that I should be replaced. Canon law or no canon law, I would not continue the work longer. Rather 'I would become a Presbyterian and go to hell!' as the Irishman said."
After the Provincial chapter, held in the summer of 1919, Father Cavanaugh wrote to Father Marin-Sola, O.P.:
In accordance with the provisions of the new Canon Law, I have been replaced by Father Burns, formerly superior of our house of studies in Washington. He is two years older than myself and profoundly skilled in educational problems and school life. . . He is an old friend of mine. We made our novitiate together and have been intimately associated for the last thirty years.
Personally, I expect to be very happy next year. I am to reside at our house of studies in Washington, not as superior, but merely as a member of the community and will be permitted to arrange my own work in my own way. This will give me a chance to do some writing. . .
It was suggested to Father Cavanaugh by Father Burns that he employ himself by writing a history of Notre Dame. It was a thought that Father Cavanaugh had seriously entertained, even before Father Burns spoke to him about the matter. Even a year before he resigned the presidency, he wrote a note to Father Timothy Maher, in which he said:
I enclose a Neckrology -- as we used to call it -- of the Community. If you will be good enough to help me, I want to go over the whole list with you, with a view of getting as much information as possible about every one of these men.
Briefly, my idea is this: I would like, if I had the leisure, to compile a book called "The Story of the Little Graveyard." I should want to go from cross to cross, telling the story of each of these religious, simple and great, with the hope that when the reader had finished it, he would have the true history of the University of Notre Dame.
You and Father Vagnier are the only two men I think of who can tell much about these men. I will see you later and go over this proposition with you.
Unfortunately, the book was never written. One day after he had gone to Washington, he was walking back and forth on the porch with Father Zahm. He told Father Zahm about his desire to write the story of Notre Dame, and Father Zahm rather discouraged the idea. "Cui bono?" he asked. "Why not, rather, try to do something a bit serious?" In this instance, it was a pity that Cavanaugh listened to Zahm.
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