University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Notre Dame: Foundations, 1842-1857 / by John Theodore Wack

Chapter III
Tremors, 1845-1848


The widespread illness which had attacked almost all members of the institution had caused many boys to return to their homes with tales of the epidemic or with graphic evidence of the disease in their own bodies. As a result, some not only did not return to Notre Dame in the autumn, but their example persuaded potential new students to stay away from the school.{1} In the fall semester, only seven new boys arrived to join some twenty students who had previously been at Notre Dame, a decrease of seven young men from the year before.{2} The enrollment remained at a low ebb throughout the first term, but in the spring of 1848 the number increased sharply. By the end of the year over thirty new students had enrolled at the college,{3} indicating a return of confidence in the stability and health of the institution.

Aside from the effects of illness, there was another reason for the decrease in new students in the fall term; a rumor was abroad that Notre Dame du Lac was to be moved. Perhaps the activity of Father Delaune in Kentucky had something to do with this, but the move of the Brothers' novitiate to Indianapolis was the major cause of the rumor. Mr. Keegan of Bertrand wrote to the Freeman's Journal "to correct a report going the round of the papers that the Brothers of St. Joseph have removed their institution from Notre Dame du Lac to Indianapolis. The Novitiate only has been removed but their chief house as heretofore will be at Notre Dame du Lac."{4} Such a situation as this had been one of Sorin's fears in separating the college and the novitiate.

Father Granger, as Master of Novices, moved to Indianapolis in September with six novices; the location was adequate, but expenses were higher than at Notre Dame du Lac.{5} As soon as the Brothers moved, de la Hailandiere granted the land and the money which he had promised, and Sorin made quick use of it to pay the most pressing debts and to provide a schoolhouse for the Sisters in Bertrand.{6}

The many difficulties which arose during the year 1847-1848 caused Father Sorin, once again, to turn from the administration of the college to concentrate his activities in the search for solutions to extra-collegiate problems -- with Kentucky, with Badin, with the Motherhouse, and with Vincennes. As a result, there were no changes in the structure or curriculum of the school, despite the fact that changes were needed. There were more disciplinary restrictions, particularly on leisure time: students were to surrender all of their pocket money to the school to be given out as a weekly allowance, also, as a result of disorders involving students in South Bend, no student was to go into the town except on business; once a month all who had such reasons were to be driven to town in a horse and buggy under the supervision of a faculty member.{7} Nevertheless, discipline did not improve, as several incidents attest. Brother Gatian wrote in the spring of 1848: "The discipline is exceedingly mild. This year pupils may almost do anything with impunity. There is indeed almost no other law than of nature."{8} While one can hardly agree with the Brother that Notre Dame was reverting to the primitive state, the authority of the school must have been infrequently applied, especially in the course of the first term.

The faculty was distinctly smaller. Keegan's letter, mentioned above, also listed the members of the faculty with full and impressive titles. Father Sorin was "President and Professor of the French and Spanish Department" (whatever that was), Father Cointet was Prefect of Discipline and Professor of the Second Latin and Greek Class, Father Shawe was Professor of the Second Latin and Greek Class, Father Gouesse was Professor of Music and also assistant Prefect of Discipline, Brother Gatian was Professor of Mathematics, and the sole seminarian, Mr. Dessault (who, it is hoped, had learned English by this time) was Professor of Drawing and Penmanship. A new priest was also on the faculty, the Reverend William Quinn, who was Professor of the First English Course, but there was no mention made in the various records of where he came from or of what brought him to Notre Dame. Possibly he came to be admitted as a novice of the Auxiliary Priests (now coming to be known as the "Salvatorists" or the Priests of Notre Dame de Ste. Croix -- thus the Preists of Holy Cross). Quinn's tenure at Notre Dame was very brief. One more faculty position should be noted. George Campeau, a student from Detroit, was listed as Director of the Gymnasium, completing the roll of faculty members.{9} This gymnasium warrants some explanation. A gym of some sort (undescribed in the records) had been built in the late spring of 1847, and gymnastic exercises were held in it,{10} but it must have been of little consequence for it was not mentioned in the records thereafter.

There was also talk of hiring a layman as professor, provided enough students could be induced to enroll to provide tuition to cover a salary, which was set at a maximum of two hundred dollars per year.{11} There were several attempts to secure such a man during the course of the scholastic year,{12} but they were unsuccessful until the beginning of 1848, when John Williams, "a young boarder of great abilities"{13} took over the Reverend William Quinn's course in the First English Course for a salary of one hundred and forty dollars.{14} He was the first layman to be employed as a teacher, although his background indicated that he was hardly a qualified one.

The Reverend William Quinn was not the only teacher to depart the campus that year. Father Shawe suddenly determined to move to Detroit and turned over his Latin classes to Father Cointet. Shawe has been teaching a special course in "Eloquence" that semester, which now was suspended. It is not fully certain as to his reasons for leaving Notre Dame at this inconvenient time; he was reputed to have said that it was the result of a natural antagonism between himself and the French at Notre Dame which was a by-product of his participation as an English officer at Waterloo.{15} Despite his unquestioned ability and value to the college, even Sorin was relieved to see his departure, for, after the summer of 1847, Shawe had constituted a disruptive influence on the faculty.{16} Fortunately, Shawe's loss (he had been one of the two true college teachers on the staff) was quickly mitigated by the arrival of an "English priest of some reputation,"{17} the Reverend Mr. Nightingale, who proposed to remain at Notre Dame for a short time, but who was persuaded to take over some of the abandoned classes and to remain until the end of the term.{18}

But the problems of the school and the faculty had to remain secondary in Father Sorin's mind until solutions were found for matters outside the college which threatened its reputation and its existence. Old Father Badin still remained a problem, particularly in his diatribes of the perfidy of Sorin which he passed out freely as he traveled. One further attempt was made to solve the controversy and satisfy the old priest. Badin, after the settlement of the previous fall, had raised further claims against Sorin. The next year he gave Father Julian Benoit his power of attorney, and Benoit came to Notre Dame (while Badin remained waiting irritably at Fort Wayne) where he decided that Sorin's accounts in the affair were not only substantially correct, but that Badin owed to Sorin the sum of $57.621/2!{19} As might have been expected, Badin indignantly refused to accept this result and now denounced both Sorin and the poor Benoit.{20} There was little danger to Notre Dame du Lac or to Sorin from the legal threats of the old man, but his accusations carried weight in that they came from a man with so remarkable a past career as a missionary:{21} From Fort Wayne, Badin moved straight to Vincennes where he denounced the two priests once more, this time to the newly elected Bishop, John S. Bazin. Benoit and Sorin wrote to defend themselves, calling for an investigation by the new bishop.{22} After this, the matter died down, but Badin was never content with the outcome. As late as June, 1849, he was still attempting to recover the funds he thought were owed to him.{23}

In October, 1847, Bishop Celestine de la Hailandiere had resigned from the Bishopric of Vincennes, to be replaced by Bishop John Bazin, who Sorin fervently hoped would be better disposed toward Notre Dame, despite the effect which Badin's unwarranted charges may have had upon the new bishop. Sorin was unable to attend the consecration of Bishop Bazin; in fact, he was unable to travel to Vincennes until the following April.{24} Thus the disposition of the new bishop remained something of a mystery until that time.

The affair which kept Sorin so occupied all that winter and which left Notre Dame du Lac once again without effective leadership was, as might have been anticipated, centered around St. Marys College in Kentucky. In the months which had passed since the arrival of Father Saunier in America, the misunderstanding between the Motherhouse and Notre Dame du Lac had not decreased as much as it had been temporarily suspended, and now, late in the summer of 1847, a new difficulty arose. The essence of the question was the proper method for the administration of both Notre Dame du Lac and St. Marys of Kentucky without wasteful duplications and time-consuming correspondence between France and America. As the General Chapter had defined it, Father Sorin was to confine himself strictly to Notre Dame du Lac, and Father Saunier was to assist Father Delaune at St. Marys, but not yet to commit Ste. Croix to the foundation and its debts. Those in America felt that such a system would only compound the difficulties of communication; if, for example, some crisis should arrive at either school, word would have to be sent to France and back before the other college could come to the aid of that which was troubled. Such a cumbersome system was unnecessary and unrealistic.

In September of 1847, while Saunier was present at Notre Dame du Lac, there was a discussion of a possible merger of the two groups. Here too, for the first time, talk of abandoning Notre Dame du Lac was recorded. Brother Gatian reported in his journal that the Minor Chapter (of which he was then still a member) felt that Notre Dame was a potential failure due to financial problems and the reluctance of students to attend the poorly staffed and weakly organized institution, especially since evidence was growing that it had been built on a site which was susceptible to disease.{25} It should be remembered that these were dark days; the Brothers' novitiate was in the process of being moved to Indianapolis, and Notre Dame herself was just ending another summer season in which disease had taken a heavy toll.{26} Father Saunier urged that St. Marys of Kentucky should be the central institution,{27} and, while Sorin's feelings were not recorded, this proposition must have sorely tempted him, for it would mean escaping the unwanted restrictions of Bishop de la Hailandiere. It was finally decided to send a petition to Holy Cross, asking, in effect, for the linking of the two establishments. This petition was an interesting one, for it graphically outlined the reasons behind the recurrent troubles between the two Notre Dames. It noted that the distances between the two had caused necessary delays in the various actions which Notre Dame du Lac had desired to perform and for which it was necessary to obtain permission, leading to lost opportunities and to other difficulties "because before an answer reaches Notre Dame du Lac from the Holy Cross, circumstances may change . . . ." They asked, then, not for separation, but for a new rule which would end the difficulties, sooth the jealousies, and facilitate transactions between the two countries:

. . . Father Rector & the Major Chapter should name a Superior, who, with a Chapter composed of the Minor Chapters of the various Houses, or their deputies, might pronounce without appeal upon all American affairs, except such as the F. Rector & the Major Chapter might believe absolutely necessary to reserve to their authority & that the said Superior thus appointed by Our Lady of the Holy Cross & his council might alone have the right of treating with the Motherhouse both for the temporal & spiritual affairs.

Second, the Minor Chapter petitioned that Notre Dame du Lac and St. Marys College be allowed to cooperate, and that the Major Chapter should make a decision to establish a permanent colony at St. Marys.{28} Once the petition had been prepared, however, they began to lose their nerve; their proposed solution to the problem was a daring one to be offered up as advice to those in France who already were perturbed with reports of Sorin's willfulness and incompetence.{29}

For the next two days, September 15 and 16, the petition was debated. It was decided not to send the first part, lest it prejudice the acceptance of the second part. In the end, they grew uncertain as to whether or not they should send even the second part.{30} Ultimately, on October 5, they decided to forgo sending the petition for fear that it might offend Father Moreau and his Chapter.{31} A very short time after this, the wisdom of the proposal to allow the two groups in the United States to cooperate was effectively demonstrated. Father Saunier, immediately after he arrived in Kentucky, become locked in hot dispute with Father Delaune. Contrary to his orders, Father Saunier tried to take the primary authority of the college away from Father Delaune, even going so far as to assume the presidency of the college and irretrievably compromising Notre Dame de Ste. Croix in the affair by having the property of St. Marys put in his own name, making it appear as if Ste. Croix had definitely accepted the foundation.{32} Delaune protested to Moreau, who immediately annuled all that Saunier had done, causing Saunier to threaten to leave the Priests of Ste. Croix.{33} The man who had been appointed to be the new Bishop of Louisville (formerly the see of Bardstown) was the Reverend Martin J. Spalding; he now angrily denounced Ste. Croix for its poor choice of envoys.{34} Father Sorin, despite the fact that he was officially forbidden to interfere, realized that some action had to be taken to preserve all of their reputations with the American hierarchy, and, feeling that nothing could be done unless he intervened directly, Sorin decided to journey to St. Marys after first: securing the approval of his Minor Chapter.{35} The trip was delayed, however, and it was not until April, 1846, that Sorin could make his way to Kentucky. He visited the college and decided that either the college had to be abandoned for else more firmly and directly supported from Notre Dame du Lac.{36} Sorin then consulted with Bishop Spalding who wished him to keep the college open; Sorin agreed to send a priest, Father Gouesse, and some of the Brothers from Notre Dame du Lac to reopen the college in the following September, but only if Father Moreau gave his approval.{37} While instructions were sought from Moreau, Gouesse was sent to St. Marys. This angered Saunier who felt that Sorin was trying to put some one in authority over him, and he refused to cooperate with Gouesse or with anyone else who might come from Notre Dame du Lac. He added that he intended to leave St. Marys soon.{38} Bishop Spalding was afraid that the long delay in news from France meant that Moreau would not authorize the new arrangement, so the Bishop contacted local priests, asking them to staff the college when it reopened in September, 1848. Therefore, when Sorin returned to Kentucky in the late summer with the authorization of Moreau to take over the direction of the college, Spalding refused to hold to the agreement made the previous April, saying that Moreau would most probably cancel the agreement again and that he would rather leave things as they now were.{39} In this way, the affair ended. Father Saunier and two Brothers left St. Mary's and entered the Jesuits. Father Gouesse and Father Sorin returned to Notre Dame du Lac which was henceforth to remain the indisputable center of the energies of Father Sorin in America.

The continued existence of the University of Notre Dame as the keystone of the congregation centered at Notre Dame de Ste. Croix in their work in the United States had received, in the meantime, a strongly positive impetus. On his journey to Louisville in April, 1848, Father Sorin had taken the occasion to make his first visit to Bishop Bazin in Vincennes. To Sorin's delight, he found the Bishop well disposed to him and to his institution; moreover, Bazin was most understanding of the difficulties which Sorin had had with de la Hailandiere. The two men reached an agreement which gave to Sorin some of the freedom which he ardently desired.

A memorandum of five articles was signed on April 10, 1848. The first article gave an absolute title to the lands of Notre Dame du Lac, on the sole condition that three thousand dollars be paid to the Diocese of Vincennes if the congregation from Ste. Croix should ever sell and leave the land. The second article allowed the return of the novitiate to Notre Dame and the sale of the recently purchased property in Indianapolis, provided that three thousand dollars which had been given as a partial payment for the property by de la Hailandiere should be returned to the Diocese. In addition, the three hundred and seventy-five acres of land near Notre Dame and the five hundred dollars, both of which had been given to Notre Dame as an inducement to move the novitiate, were to be retained by Notre Dame. Also, some six hundred dollars which had been advanced by the Bishop for the churches of South Bend and Mishawaka was to be used instead for the building of the church at Notre Dame. The last three articles dealt with the ordination of members of the congregation, the regulations governing the Brothers while in the Diocese, and the continued protection and encouragement of the establishments at Notre Dame by the Bishop of Vincennes.{41} Nothing was said in the written agreement concerning the granting of permission for the Brothers to make foundations outside of the Diocese, but such permission must have been granted to them by the Bishop (and by Moreau as well), for foundations outside of the state of Indiana were made in succeeding years, beginning with one in New York the following year. These foundations, where successful, proved to be valuable sources of students for the college.

A few weeks after signing this agreement, Bishop Bazin died, but his successor, Bishop Maurice de St. Palais, another of the French missionaries, carried out his predecessor's decision.{43} In May, the novitiate was returned to Notre Dame, and Father Granger and the novice Brothers were welcomed back to their old novitiate building which was repaired and refurbished for the occasion{44} The additional funds which came from the Bishop enabled them to get on with the building of the church on which construction had been started and then suspended.

The Minor Chapter had toyed, for a time, with the idea of raising the new church as a wing of the college building, but his idea was abandoned because of the expense it involved.{45} Foundations for a church had been dug near the college building in August, 1847, and the cornerstone of the church had been blessed by Sorin, but the project had been quickly halted by a lack of funds.{46} The building was now recommenced in May, 1848, on the foundations which had been laid out the previous summer.{47} The log chapel which had been crudely constructed in the severe winter of 1842-43 now was totally inadequate, and the Motherhouse, despite the general prohibition which had been made on new buildings, granted them special permission to erect a church if the total cost did not exceed $1500.{48}

Not even that sum was available, but it was decided to build just the nave of a church, using the money from the Bishop and spending no more than $500 in cash, the rest to come from their own labor and materials: bricks, lime, and timber.{49} The remainder of the church would be finished at a later date. When work was begun again in the spring of 1848, rapid progress was made. The church was twenty-four feet in height, ninety feet long, and thirty-eight feet wide, designed in the Greek style, with arches and columns. It possessed a small organ for the choir, and a bell tower was to be added later to the structure and a bell purchased for it.{50} The church was to be named the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.{51}

The college year was brought to a close a month early, on July 4, 1848, for Sorin feared a recurrence of the fever which had crippled the college and had hurt its reputation the previous years, although, as a matter of fact, there was no mention of the fever in any of the records written that summer, so it is to be assumed that it did not recur with much violence.{52}

Before those at the college could enter into a relaxed summer after the somewhat tumultuous year, the college was forced to sit through an anti-climatic farce in the guise of the annual commencement exercises which this year were combined with the 4th of July festivities. It was decided to hold the distribution of premiums in the college barn, despite the danger of fire.{53} The troubles, however, sprang not from the location of the exercises, but instead centered around their director, the Reverend Mr. Nightingale, whose serious ways had not endeared him to the students. He was put in charge of the play to be presented at the commencement, but the students were pleased by neither the play nor the Reverend Mr. Nightingale; as a result, there was no play.

There was, however, music -- but unfortunately Nightingale was also in charge of this (Father Gouesse had been off in Kentucky that term). It rained the morning long and into the afternoon, and, what with all cooped in by the down-pour, nothing was prepared when the sun did come out and it was time to venture down to the barn. To make matters infinitely worse, Bishop John B. Purcell of Cincinnati was present on his first visit to Notre Dame. When it came time for the music, nothing went right and Nightingale abandoned his musicians in disgust. The boys, to their credit, struggled through their piece on their own (the cacophony must have rattled His Excellency's eardrums), and then it was time for the distribution of premiums, but the spirit of misadventure had reached the students, several of whom were not to be found when it came time to receive their awards. As Brother Gatian succinctly remarked: "In fact, the whole was botched."{54} The Reverend Mr. Nightingale wisely chose to leave Notre Dame soon after, slipping quietly away,{55} and the college and its attendant institutions relaxed to dream away the whole disgraceful episode in the hot Indiana summer sun.

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