University of Notre Dame

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

Chapter VI
A Crisis of Identity, 1852-1855


The summer was spent peacefully: "People were so tired of the cruel state through which they had just passed, that any change would have been considered an improvement."{1} But it was not so peaceful elsewhere. In New Orleans, four religious died of yellow fever at the orphans' asylum; Gouesse did not inform those at Notre Dame du Lac of the disaster, further kindling Sorin's wrath.{2} In France there was agitation over the news of the separation of Notre Dame du Lac. In June, 1853, Father Chappé was appointed by the Superior-General as Visitor to the establishments in America.{3} Chappé, as well as Sorin, was one of the five original priests of Notre Dame de Ste. Croix, having made his vows of profession on August 15, 1840, with Father Sorin and two other priests; on the same day and in the same place, Moreau made his own profession as Superior of the Auxiliary Priests. On August 13, 1853, Father Chappé arrived in Quebec and began a Visit of the Canadian establishments.{23}

Back at Ste. Croix, an unusual committee was appointed to investiate the whole relationship between the two Notre Dames, particularly the reasons that had been offered by the various Chapters at Notre Dame du Lac as causes for their separation. The committee conceded many points to Sorin, admitting that he had done good work in America and allowing that the difficulties of communication and of understanding between the Motherhouse and the American foundation may have worked some hardships on Sorin. But the committee found no reason here for separating; the success of Notre Dame du Lac was not the only important thing to be considered. Father Voisin, the chairman of the committee, aptly remarked: "Father Sorin is not a business man; he is a religious."{6} This report, although offering no solution, would seem to have been the closest that either side came to a realistic appraisal of the situation.

When Sorin learned of Chappé's arrival in Canada, he immediately wrote there to tell Chappé he was not to come to Notre Dame du Lac; the separated community refused to recognize his authority.{7} Disregarding this warning, Chappé traveled on to Notre Dame du Lac, and Sorin, confronted by Chappé, agreed to receive him at the college as a friend but not in his capacity as Visitor.{8}

What followed were strange days at the college, when to all appearances the students and faculty welcomed and entertained their French guest while unknown to most, an agonizing struggle went on in the meeting room of the Minor Chapter and in Sorin's own lodgings. Father Chappé had come on the college while it was in the process of opening its doors for its eleventh full year of matriculation; the new wings of the college were completed, and the students were arriving to fill the halls with beds and clothes, books and clatter. All appeared prosperous and growing, and Father Chappé was quite taken by the place.{9} Sorin escorted him through the whole institution (although not, of course, in a capacity as Visitor) and Chappé, like Drouelle four years earlier, saw things with greater clarity than the distant view from France had hitherto afforded him.{10}

Chappé's visit to Notre Dame du Lac brought the two opposing groups to a meeting point. Sorin, faced with a colleague whose presence must have evoked many memories of the birth of the little community in France, was torn inwardly between new success and old loyalties. He was unable to decide whether to stand with his decision to separate, which, as a "businessman," he felt was the practical and even essential thing for Notre Dame du Lac, or to submit and retract the separation, a move which, as a "religious," he felt drawn to by his Faith and by his vow of obedience.

Almost two weeks passed, and Chappé was still on the campus. At one time appeared that Sorin would leave immediately and return to LeMans with Father Chappé, but, whether at the request of the Minor Chapter or as a result of Sorin's own uncertainty, the departure was called off.{11} Finally Sorin gave way; the "religious" overcame the "businessman." As he wrote a few months later:

Up to this time, F. Sorin had been sincere and honest in his opposition. He had wished to save the Association in the United States. But when he saw the direction that things were taking, he yielded, and sooner than publicly raise the standard of revolt against the Motherhouse, he asked himself, whilst reciting his beads, if now, when Sainte Croix knew everything, it would not be more religious to surrender at discretion and to leave to God the consequences of a step that he could no longer defer without involving the whole work in an atmosphere of scandal that would not be easily dissipated.12

It was time to concede. His belief that the Motherhouse was primarily responsible for the rise of the difficulties between the two by the failure of those in France to have trust in him, this belief does not seem to have altered. Rather he came to see that separation itself was wrong and unwise. The presence of Father Chappé, the arguments of Canon Huentebize, the letters of his friends in the community (even Drouelle had by now come to oppose him), the uncertain disposition of the American bishops, and, finally, the news that Moreau would, if necessary, carry the matter to Rome where it would surely become a public scandal, all of these had beaning on his decision.{13} Of course, one must not forget that Sorin was a religious man, and he did not take his vows lightly; the desire to be reconciled with his religious Superior must have been the strongest force in his decision.

On the evening of September 20, 1853, Sorin called Father Chappé to come to visit him in his room at the college, where Sorin showed the startled priest a letter of submission which he was sending to Moreau. Chappé, elated with the news, left Notre Dame du Lac the very next day to hurry with the letter to France.{14} Notre Dame du Lac was to remain a foundation of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

A few weeks later, early in November, 1853, Sorin departed for France to make his personal submission. There at Notre Dame de Ste. Croix he met with an unexpected situation, for it had been decided, after all, that Sorin would not go to Eastern Bengal but would instead return to his work at Notre Dame du Lac. To be sure, he was no longer Provincial of the United States but was simply an assistant to Father Reze of Canada who was to be the Provincial of America. Also Sorin's Minor Chapter was dissolved, and any professions made since the separation were declared null and void.{15} Nevertheless, Sorin was to be back at Notre Dame du Lac and, in all practicality, once again in charge of its destiny. In fact, in only a few years he would be Provincial once more. Moreau's treatment of Sorin was most gracious and showed the unselfishness of his character; the penitent priest could hardly have anticipated so mild a punishment for his religious rebellion.

Sorin returned to America, and, on February 4, 1854, he met with the Minor Chapter at Notre Dame du Lac, where he described the results of the meetings in France and informed the Minor Chapter that one of the decisions reached there had been to order the Chapter's dissolution.{16} The group who constituted the Chapter continued to meet in an unofficial capacity on a weekly basis to administer the college and the other institutions, although they now called themselves the "Local Council." On June 12, 1854, these former members of the Minor Chapter reorganized, in conjunction with the Board of Trustees of the college, into an official administrative council which met weekly.{17}

Thus the college escaped from the perils which had been brought to it by the internal struggles of the young community which had founded and controlled it. Not only would the University of Notre Dame remain a part of the Community of Holy Cross, but it would also remain under the able direction of Father Sorin.

While all of this had been proceeding, the college had continued in a desultory fashion; little was done while the Chapter had awaited word from France. There was a slight advance in enrollment; probably no more than eighty or so students were present at the college at any one time, and perhaps not even as many as that.{18} Significant for the future of the college, however, was the increase in the number of students enrolled in the Senior or collegiate program, possibly as many as one half of the student body.{19} Oddly, this increase in the number of true college students saw a decline of the St. Aloysius Society, the Senior society. The organization met with less and less frequency in 1853-1854 and with less seriousness of purpose. The last written minutes were for July 4, 1854. Members were listed for 1855, but no minutes were recorded until the Society was reorganized in the fall of 1856.{20}

On occasion, however, the St. Aloysius Society still held forth in a grand style. On a day in June, 1854, they took part in a typical student celebration, an outing of some six miles, possibly to Niles, Michigan, made in carriages and wagons. The college band accompanied the party and invitations were extended to all of the faculty and members of the administration, as well as to several "prominent men" from South Bend. At the chosen site, an inn of some sort, a dinner was served and toasts and speeches given, punctuated by musical selections the band, and then the party traveled back to the college and to South Bend.{21} This type of "outing" was a popular affair at Notre Dame, although in winter they were sometimes held in the form of sleighing parties, with the band playing valiantly despite sticking stops and frozen fingers. A more formal and official mode of entertainment at the college was the academic "exhibition," usually held on a holiday and similar in some ways to the proceedings at an "outing," although held at the college itself and more extensive in its offerings. The flavor of one of these was captured in the description of an academic exhibition given at the college on Washington's Day in 1852. The narrator is young Neal Gillespie:

We celebrated Washington's Birthday on this day as tomorrow is Sunday & on Monday we begin the 40 hours (devotions). The Exhibition commenced at 2 o'clock PM. Immediately after dinner carriages & omnibuses began coming from Niles, S. Bend & Mishawaka. The Study Room was crowded -- the Band, which is now much better than when you were here, opened the Exhibition. Then followed a very good speech from one of us of the Novices -- afterwards three different speeches from as many students of the College -- between the speeches there was music either on the piano by the young Woodworth or Mr. Girac or pieces by the band -- then we had a fine song -- the Skater's Chorus. Then a French play -- some scenes from "L'Avocat Pateliu" -- afterwards a quartette "The Good Old Colony Times," then an English play -- and the Evening Hymn -- and it being 5 o'clock the people started home very well pleased with the idea of getting home before dark and having a cup of strong tea.{22}

On July 4, 1854, on the occasion of such an "Exhibition," the St. Aloysius Society, in its last recorded meeting for over two years, was addressed by the Irish-American historian, Thomas D'Arcy McGee.{23}

The numbers and status of the faculty remains a mystery in these years; no records exist listing the members between 1850 and 1855, and by 1854 there had surely been many changes. Maxmillian Girac and Cointet and Granger were present that year (Cointet in the second semester), and most probably Shortis, Gillespie, and, perhaps, Kilroy taught in the college, but there must have been others: laymen, priests, Brothers, and seminarians. One addition to the faculty was made in March, 1854, a Mr. James Byrne, a man near fifty years of age with "good penmanship, Arithmetic, and English" was recommended to Notre Dame by the Bishop of Covington. Byrne wished to become a teacher. He would need no pay, in fact, he brought $500 with him to give to the college; he merely wanted a "permanent home and a chance to sanctify his soul."{24} Byrne was made Professor of Book-keeping and English.{25}

After commencement, as the college settled down into the summer of 1854, it was decided to make an attempt to train better teachers for the college and to give better theological training to the novices in the priests' seminary by sending some of them to Rome to study. Two of the young men, Neal Gillespie and Louis Letourneau (the latter having just returned to Notre Dame after spending some time in a seminary in Detroit), left Notre Dame that summer to journey to France and to Rome. They were followed later by Edmund Kilroy, after his ordination in November, 1854.{26} The young Americans were delighted with Rome; they sent long letters back to their superiors and friends at the college describing the life of the Eternal City. Unfortunately, various circumstances caused all three to soon return home with their educations uncompleted.{27}

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