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Full Text Publications > A Visit to Notre Dame

[by Philip O'Hanlon Jr., New York Tablet, May 27, 1865]

Notre Dame, St. Joseph's County, Ind., April 26, 1865

To the Editors of the Irish American:

GENTLEMEN: -- Here I am for the first time away out West, having come here in the company with my friends, Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, of Brooklyn; and having spent a charming week, I thought that many of the readers of the Irish-American might be glad to her what I saw and heard on the occasion of this visit, and hence I give you a hurried sketch of


In the year 1842, the Order of the Holy Cross, in the North of France, sent out to America as missionaries four of its members, the head of whom as the Rev. E. Sorin, a scion of a noble family of France. These holy men, after traveling through the far West, selected as a field for their labors an Indian settlement on the St. Joseph River, St. Joseph County, Indiana, which lies about 85 miles nearly due east of Chicago. They were without means and could scarcely procure sufficient food; -- they arrived, too, at a season when the ground was covered with snow; and from that time until spring opened they suffered from all that a winter in the far west -- a life in a miserable log cabin, and an insufficiency of the absolute necessaries of life -- entail. Having labored constantly for two years they were enabled to erect a very unpretending frame house, and, having procured a few students, dignified this building with the name of "College." Father Sorin applied to and obtained from the Legislature of Indiana a charter for the same. The following year the half-dozen students increased to a score, and an addition was made to the "frame house;" every year has added to the number of students and houses, until this year, when it has become what I shall endeavor to describe.

After a railroad ride of 837 miles west of New York, I arrived at the town of South Bend, Indiana, and proceeded thence to the College of Notre Dame, two miles from the town. Although I had been for some time familiar with the early history and progress of this great institution, still I was wholly unprepared for the stupendous appearance it presents; for instead of a fine building or two, as I expected to see, I find what looks more like a thriving town. I proceed immediately to the main building and here meet my cordial friend, Father Patrick Dillon, Vice-President of the College, and brother to Father James Dillon, late Chaplain of the Corcoran Legion, and 63rd New York Volunteers; here, also, I met father Corby, the late Chaplain of the Irish Brigade, and after mutual congratulations are exchanged, Father Patrick commences "to show me round." First we proceed to the rooms of the President of the College, and here I am introduced to that great and venerable man, Father Sorin. Continuing our visit, we go through the various class-rooms, where I am assured by Father Patrick that 370 students receive daily instruction in the various collegiate branches. From here we go through the well-ventilated dormitories and the vast dining-hall, thence out across the yard to the Engine House, where the steam is generated for the purpose of heating the buildings and cooking; thence we go to the clothing and shoemaking departments, where more than forty hands are continually employed; and from here out on the play ground, where hundreds of the students are engaged at every conceivable health-promoting game. Here are ball courts and a gymnasium, and a cricket and baseball clubs, and so on; at every step we take and everything we see, I am less and less able to realize that this was the spot where only twenty years before the four poor missionaries "pitched their tent." Evening comes on; and, as I am fatigued, I retire early. The following morning (Sunday), I hear, or, perhaps I am only dreaming, a delightful chime of bells. I get up and go down to Father Patrick's room, and then I go to church, where a choir that would rival Dr. Cummings's "dreaming all the while," and after Mass is over, I go around again with Father Patrick, who tells me that, in addition to the 370 students, there are 200 Brothers of the Order at this place, and that these Brothers cultivate eleven hundred acres of land, and that they have the only "marle bed" in that part of the country, from which they manufacture lime and brick in large quantities. We visit the noviciates of the Priests and Brothers -- the former presided over by Father Granger, one of the original four, and the latter by Father Letereneur. From here we go to the Missionary Home for aged and invalided priests, both regular and secular. Passing on through the splendid and highly beautified grounds, we come to the Cemetery, and here I see the grave of General Sherman's child. Further on is the sepulchre, the fac simile of that of Jerusalem. Here I see a portion of the "true Cross," and many symbols of that impressive and ennobling history.

I am now in sight of a large building, lying about one mile west of Notre Dame. This, I am informed, is St. Mary's Academy, presided over by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, where nearly three hundred young ladies (more than half of them Protestants) are being educated, and to which place Father Patrick says he will take me to-morrow. We come back then to the room of the worthy Vice-President, and here, being joined by Father Corby, we sit and talk of "old friends and old times" until bedtime. On the next morning I am introduced to Mother Angela, late Superioress of St. Mary's, and then proceed with Father Patrick to the Academy. And here let me remark that I have had the privilege and honor of having visited many institutions of this kind in the United States and Canada, and can freely say that, while one excel, few can equal this one. Many of the Sisters are Irish ladies, among whom is the Mother Superior, Sister M. Charles, and Sister M. Regis, who attract you no less by their highly cultured minds than their genial simple manners, and their steadfast love for the grand "old land." In the evening an exhibition was gotten up by the pupils to testify their delight at the recovery from a dangerous illness of the daughter of my esteemed friends, Mr. and Mrs. Dunbar, who has won for herself the love and esteem of not only the entire school, but the whole community of Notre Dame. Here we have music of the first order; and a congratulatory address is presented to the parents of the convalescent favorite; after which Father Corby, who has been vociferously called for, tells us with love and pride of the heroic deeds of the "Irish Brigade." Amongst the young ladies being educated here are the daughters of Generals Sherman and Rosecrans, and several other distinguished soldiers and statesmen. After this visit I return to South Bend, from which I am obliged to proceed Eastward, regretting that the claims upon my time will not permit a further stay at Notre Dame.

I am, very truly yours,