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Online Exhibits > Father Edward Sorin and the Founding of Notre Dame


The Sermon delivered by Archbishop Elder of Cincinnati

Notre Dame Scholastic, November 11, 1893

"I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in Me, even though he be dead, shall live; and he that liveth and believeth in Me slall not die forever." -- ( St. John, xl., 25.)


I do not know how to speak on this occasion to you who knew him so much better than I did; to you who saw every day the manifestation of that great mind and of that deep feeling heart which made him so admirable and so lovable; who were blessed by the examples of his virtues -- you who feel yourselves indebted to him for so large a share of that knowledge and training which make up your intellectual and your spiritual life. It seems like a cold intrusion on the sacredness of your own emotions for me -- who knew him indeed and knew his works (for who does not know them?), but so much less than you -- for me to interrupt the sweet flow of your own feelings by my words. And yet I have no choice but to do so. He who now occupies his place among you has seen fit to ask me to say something on the occasion. And although to comply seems almost out of place, yet to refuse would certainly be worse.

Pardon me, then, if I distract you from your own sad feelings of sorrow and of gratitude. For life must not be all spent in communing with our feelings. Our life is work. His own life was all work -- wondrous work! -- and it is God's will that every event in our lives, sorrowful or joyous, should be an occasion to animate ourselves to the accomplishment of the work that lies before us. This is pre-eminently an occasion when our feelings should be turned to good account by bracing ourselves up to work and duty. For these remains tell us of a life of extraordinary and untiring labor and self-sacrificing devotion to duty. They teach us to profit by the lessons of his example and to walk in his footsteps. Not in the footsteps, indeed, of his intellectual greatness, of his wonderful natural power. Oh, no! they are beyond the reach of an ordinary man; but in those footsteps which constituted for him the highest effort of his life -- the footsteps of the love of God; of devotion to duty; of self-sacrifice; of indomitable trust in God; of tender love for all men for God's sake. For God and man he did his great work, and he did it marvellously well. Let me mention briefly an outline of his life, most of which has been spent right here before you.

It was in the year 1814 that he was born in the town of Ahuillé, France. He was blessed with good parents who knew the value of a good, Catholic education, and of good early teaching in the sciences, and gave to him, therefore, an opportunity of advancement by which he profited even in his early childhood, and devoted himself to the study of everything which would elevate him. He applied himself assiduously to acquiring a knowledge of that which would fit him for the service of his God and of his fellowman, and to aid him in the development of his intellectual powers. He had accurate observation; clear, sound reasoning; diligence in application; and, still more valuable, he acquired that higher education without which all the rest cannot but be a failure -- the education of the soul, teaching it to trust in God; to bring out the power of the inner life and to serve God as He deserves. He in his youth devoted himself to all that was required for the training of body, mind and soul.

Very early in his life he felt that Almighty God had called him to the sacred priesthood, and with that extraordinary zeal and activity which have so wonderfully marked his whole life, he offered himself to that community -- that young community which had just been raised up and begun its existence in France, devoted to the great work of education and of evangelizing the people. He joined the Congregation of the Holy Cross, then founded by the venerable and beloved Father Moreau, in Mans, France. Almost at the earliest possible age he received the holy priesthood; he was already so well prepared that the sacred unction was laid upon him at the age of twenty-four. In the meantime he had imbibed a zeal and a strong desire to come over to this New World of ours and help the struggling Church of God here.

Because of this that great man, who was so very much like himself in his unusual ability, but still more like himself in his ardent devotion to the cause of God and of the Church and in his love of souls, the saintly Bishop de la Hailandière, of the Diocese of Vincennes, was attracted to him. This good man went to Europe, seeking after zealous souls to aid him in the work of his diocese. He depicted to the young priest the great need of laborers in this new field of God, and the great harvest of souls that awaited the reaper. Unto him he likewise depicted his love of God the Father, and said, as did Saint Paul, how many great things must be patiently suffered for His dear sake; how that the love of souls would call for sacrifices and sufferings from him. And, animated by his love of God and man, Father Sorin offered himself a willing servant even in the face of the unknown tasks and suffering, and with the thought perhaps never again would he be permitted to return to France.

In the year 1841, then but twenty-seven years of age, and only three years a priest, his superiors saw, in his abilities, his intellectual powers and his untiring energy, and still more in his self-sacrificing love of God, that he would be a mami in every way suited to lead the little band of missionaries into this new country. He therefore came. A young priest -- only three years before had he taken the sacred vows -- he came with a band of seven good, devoted Brothers of the society, having in their breasts the spirit, the same spirit of God as their noble leader. One of that brave, God-fearing band still survives among you -- survives as a monument of the zeal which led that entire community to devote themselves to us, to carry the spirit of God into our country.

Vincennes was the Episcopal See, and the diocese embraced the whole State of Indiana. When he arrived in Vincennes there had been some pioneers before him who had labored with and greatly benefited the Indian inhabitants. The former mission band had been carried on with more or less success; but under the pressure then put upon it, it had been reduced to a little community of God's servants, and, frankly, it had been, as a separate mission, abandoned. But the venerable Father Badin, one of the brave pioneers of God's Gospel in this part of the country, had secured a tract of land which he conveyed to the Bishop of Vincennes. When Father Sorin arrived with his band of missionaries, it was proposed by the bishop that the tract be dedicated to the new society, on the condition that a college for the education of youth should be erected here. A college of arts and sciences in a wilderness, still uninhabited except by Indians and some few scattered whites! Not a town of any importance within reach; few if any roads, that could be called roads, around it! To erect in that wilderness a temple, a college for the education of youth; to erect a college to teach the arts and sciences! Was it not a dream? Yes, it was one of the dreams of the saints. Bishop de la Hailandière was pre-eminently a man of education and a man of God. So was Father Sorin. I have no doubt but his sagacity enabled him to understand the man. He recognized in that young priest, scarce twenty-eight years of age, scarce four years a priest -- recognized in him, as Samuel recognized in the youthful David -- the person selected by God to do God's work.

And how could that young man, with any prudence, accept such a burthen, and bind himself to such a contract? Why, by the same spirit that gave courage to David before the giant Goliath -- the spirit of undoubting trust in God -- when God called him to His work. "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts. The Lord will deliver thee into my hand, that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel."

I need not tell you how that trust has been rewarded, what work he has done. You know better than I, and a part of it we see around us and above us. This grand temple of God, with its majestic proportions, its soul-moving decorations; this altar of the living Sacrifice, enriched with all that art and skill could lay out upon it -- these are the creations of his genius animated by his zeal for the glory of God. This University around us with its numerous grand buildings -- each one of them itself a monument of which any man might well be proud -- these spacious halls of science equipped with all the best appliances of the age, these are but some of the material monuments of his ability and untiring labor.

There are cities in our country -- the most remarkable perhaps very near to us -- which have grown with wondrous rapidity. But I do not think that in all our country, nor in any other country, there is a place where one single man has transformed a savage wilderness into such a city of material splendor, intellectual culture, and spiritual life as this University of Notre Dame -- one single man, aided, it is true, by able, earnest fellow-laborers. But almost all these fellow - laborers are themselves a part of his own work. He formed his own tools -- the instruments of his work. You know it, Rev. Fathers, and you, good, holy Brothers, and you, devoted Sisters; you yourselves have loved to tell how it was he that led you here, he that trained you to the work, and inspired you with his own burning zeal for God's glory and the welfare of men. He fired you with his own enthusiasm in great and difficult enterprises; his own immovable confidence in God's assistance; his own humble distrust of himself and reliance on prayer; his own strong spirit of meeting great obstacles by greater efforts. It is from yourselves I have learned these things -- that you yourselves are a part of his great work, and all that has been accomplished here is due, under God, to Father Sorin. But it was under God it was effected, because he took his work as imposed by God, and because in success and in disappontment he trusted all to God.

Here then lies our duty -- yours and mine on this occasion -- to praise God for giving such power and such faithfulness to His servant, and to follow his example in our own place and measure as God may grant us.

He certainly had extraordinary powers of mind and extraordinary energy of will. So far as these were gifts of nature we can only have as much as God has been pleased to grant us.

But his natural gifts would never have accomplished such extraordinary things if he had not cultivated and improved them by untiring diligence, and if he had not elevated and sanctified them with God's grace and devoted them most faithfully to God's service. And here let our sorrow over his remains sink his example deeply into our hearts, amid move us to profit by it.

In the world around, those who heard of the great work he was continually engaged in might naturally think that with so many other cares he would necessarily be distracted from the interior life, amid could with difficulty find time even for the prayers imposed by the obligations of the priesthood and of his religious rule. But those who were nearest him knew best how munch time he spent before the Blessed Sacrament. One who is now a man tells how when he was a boy he was often impressed with devotion by seeing Father Sorin kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament in some retired part of the church where he would be least noticed, and observing how deeply he was absorbed in his adoration. When he was travelling and had his time free from business, he would often pass hours and hours of the day in prayer, much of the time reciting the Rosary over and over again. When he visited the Holy Land, a few years ago, he spent his time at Bethlehem in making a spiritual retreat, and in his journey afterwards he was almost continually occupied with the Rosary. His companion in travel made attempts to talk with him about what they had seen; but he quietly shook his head and said: "I am in the Holy Land; I want to entertain myself with the life of Our Lord, in company with His Blessed Mother." He was a man of prayer, and his logical mind and loving heart led him to make the Blessed Virgin the ordinary channel of his prayers to God. The power of our prayers all comes from the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ and His merits flow from the sufferings of His human nature -- His human body and soul. St. Paul says: "We are redeemed by His Blood." But it was from His Blessed Mother that he was pleased to receive His human nature. She is then "the gate of heaven," through which He came to our help, and by the same gate He wills that we come to Him. Amid since, as the model of sons, He loves His Mother above all His other creatures, so he listens most favorably to the prayers offered to Him through her.

This made the Rosary to be Father Sorin's favorite form of prayer. And he had not only a love, but a chivalrous devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He would willingly speak of her many times a day. He was jealous of anything that might affect the honor due to her. He was sensitive even to innocent remarks which might seeni to be less reverential towards her, and he never tired of devising ways to show her honor.

When this building was in course of erection after the disastrous fire of 1879, even while they were yet struggling for means to build the walls, already he declared that it must be crowned by a dome, which should serve as a pedestal for a colossal statue of the Blessed Virgin, and that the statue and the dome must be covered with gold. And, whether by his confidemice in science or by a spirit of prophecy, or both, he designed the crown of stars over her head and the crescent under her feet to be lighted by electricity, although at that time the incandescent light had not been invented, amid there was no way then known by which such lighting could be accomplished. Those around him, still fearful whether they could get means to finish the building at all, regarded this talk of gilded dome and statue and electric light as a pious fancy; but, like the early dream of a college, his fancy was a fruit of his love of God amid of God's holiest Creature. We all see how God rewarded his love.

Another outgrowth of his love of God was his extraordinary zeal for the souls in Purgatory. Many of you have heard his exhortations to this work of charity. Many of you, dear boys, no doubt are observing now the pious compact he made with you to repeat every day, at least in November, some of those short aspirations which carry indulgences for the suffering souls. He felt happy afterwards in calculating and telling how many of these aspirations would be offered in thie month, and conjecturing what relief they would give to those prisoners of love.

One act shows most remarkably both his love of these souls and his exceeding trust in God more than in human means. Soon after the fire a friend, moved by his distress, sent him a donation of one thousand dollars, Those around him regarded it as an omen from heaven, and expected, of course, it would be safely deposited, or perhaps invested, as a nucleus till more could be obtained for restoring the ruined buildings. Father Sorin immediately laid out the whole amount in charity, to be applied for the souls in Purgatory. "And now," he said, "we shall have not only the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph to aid us, but all those souls and their guardian angels will help us in the building." This is one of those extraordinary acts which even pious men might hesitate to copy. But the result seems to show that in this case it was inspired by God, and these devotions were the outward growth of the interior spirit which made the true riches and greatness of his soul -- his union with God. Those among you who have heard his spiritual instructions -- you, particularly, the religious of his own community, and you, good Sisters, whom he trained in the ways of spirituality, -- you know how deep and pure was his love of God.

Was it not in reward for his devotion to the Rosary and his zeal for the souls in Purgatory, that God fixed the time of his death on the very last day of the month of the Rosary, and only two days before the commemoration of all the souls in Purgatory? Had the Blessed Virgin obtained for him such sacrifices and crosses in this life that his soul was perfectly purified, and me passed at once to celebrate in heaven the Feast of all the saints? Or had he still some debts to the divine justice, and did God wish him to have the benefit of all the Masses and Holy Communions and prayers offered all over the world on All Souls' Day?

But perhaps it is not wise to indulge too much in these pious conjectures. They might have the cruel effect of making us less diligent in praying for his soul. Our judgments are not God's judgments. His purity is infinite; and even in the lives that seem to us all holiness His all - searching eye may see faults that we do not suspect. When Moses in obedience to God's command struck the rock and there gushed forth water to satisfy time countless hosts of Israel, even in the working of this miracle God saw a defect which His divine justice decreed to punish. The Fathers are perplexed to find out what the fault could have been. God has not been pleased to tell us; but He has told us the punishment, and we may well be terrified to see how severe are his judgments on faults so imperceptible to human eyes. The chastisement was that Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, After his forty years of faithful labor and sufferings to head God's people to the home prepared for them, he himself was permitted only to see it from a distance: not to enjoy the beauties and riches of the country which he so ardently desired, and for which he had so long labored.

Pray, then, my dearly beloved, pray for the souls even of those whose lives have been most saintly. We know not what hidden debt they may owe to divine justice. Pray particularly for your priests, for they have to render a rigorous account both of their own souls and of yours. They have to answer, not only for what they have done, but for what more they might have done by the diligent use of those divine powers which God has given them -- not for their own glory, but for the service of His people; and as God requires them to use their priestly powers for you, so He requires you to use your power of prayer for them.

This, then, is the fruit which we all must draw from this sad occasion: to pay our debt of gratitude to him for the great work he has done among us by offering our fervent prayers for him, and to show our gratitude to God for all these works by imitating the virtues which God's grace enabled him to practise -- his spirit of charity for the living and the dead, his spirit of prayer, his immovable trust mi God even under the heaviest crosses and disappointments, -- in a word, his faithfulness to the command to love God above all things and to love all men for God's sake; and so may we all come to enjoy with him the promise of Our Lord: "He that liveth and believeth in Me, shall not die forever."