University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Notre Dame -- One Hundred Years / by Arthur J. Hope, C.S.C.

Chapter XIV

THE table manners of boys at boarding school are amazing. A boy's mind is surprisingly fertile in finding ways of reverting to primitive types of food absorption. It comes as a distinct shock to parents to discover, that whatever else the lads learned in college, they learned no table manners.

In the winter of 1880, the students in the refectory at Notre Dame were complimented on their courteous behavior.[1] One might gather from that statement that the table manners of the boys of Notre Dame were quite exceptional. It is difficult to believe, however. For years it had been the practice to have reading at meals. Students were supposed to listen, and sometimes they were questioned regarding the substance of what was being read. Perhaps that practice did help some, but it sorely tried the patience of the boys. Moreover, it occasioned many things not sanctioned in any book of etiquette. During reading it was always funnier to spill gravy in your neighbor's lap, slip a frankfurter into his pocket, or let a platter crash to the floor. Father Corby decided to omit a great deal of the reading at meals.

When spirits got too high, it was the policy of the Prefect of Discipline to walk the legs off the boys. Long journeys afoot were prescribed. For instance, on October 1, 1879, the Juniors walked to Bertrand. Professor Joe Lyons and three Brothers went along to see that the lads committed no depredations. The college dog trotted along with them. They sang and hollered and ran and scuffled. As they passed through the country, the girls in the fields waved to them, which, of course, brought spirited response from the boys.[2]

When the Michigan state-line was reached, they gave three lusty cheers for Michigan, and betook themselves to "The Sign of the Horse-Shoe" for refreshments. After roaming about for an hour or so, they were pretty well tuckered out. It was decided to ride back on the train. "The conductor proved to be a whole-souled man, and took the party at excursion rates." When the train got to St. Mary's station, Father Sorin was waiting for them. This was always a sobering experience. The Prefect of Discipline was waiting for them at the college. They marched up to him in grand military style, their caps decorated with sprigs of green. each carrying a stick over his shoulder like an improvised musket. After supper the Prefect of Discipline told them they might sleep an extra hour next morning.[3]

The Minims were becoming more and more the apple of Father Sorin's eye. He delighted in their innocent companionship. The Sisters who had charge of them were exceedingly careful to instill into their young hearts a reverence for the tall priest with the white beard. It was not difficult, for when he visited them Father Sorin always brought along some gift, candy, or fruit, or a religious article. As he saw their number increase, he promised them a great "Parisian dinner" when there should be fifty minims. In the spring of 1881, when it seemed that fifty would not be reached, Father Sorin felt sorry for the little fellows who had set their hearts on that banquet. Bishop Dwenger of Fort Wayne, together with Father Sorin, visited the class-room of the Minims, and Father Sorin suggested that if the lads would proclaim the good Bishop a Minim, ex honoris causa, for even one day, he might really count as two Minims, and then there would be just fifty of them. Bishop Dwenger was immediately assailed and graciously yielded to this pious fraud. A few days later, while this latest Minim acquisition was still on the grounds, the "Parisian dinner" took place. One Minim, less afraid of the Bishop than of Father Sorin, remarked that, as a good Minim, the Bishop ought not to smoke. "So! Well, then, I'll take the day off!" was the episcopal reply.[4]

Football, as played in 1881, was still a far cry from the game of today. It seems that everyone played, not just in different games, but in the same game. On September 22nd, for instance, Joe Lyons urged the boys to get up a match. Frank Campau captained the "Reds," and Dick French led the "Blues." By actual count, one hundred and twenty students joined in the contest. Without any time out, the "Reds" ran all over the field, mostly between the sidelines, until DeVoto finally kicked a goal. It had taken forty-five minutes. The "Blues" then had a turn at it, and, after forty minutes, kicked the ball between the uprights. It looked for a time as though the "Blues" were going to get another score, but the "Reds" rallied, and after thirty minutes, all were so thoroughly exhausted that they were willing to call it a tie.[5]

Southeast of the college building, and on that site occupying a position relative to the church, Music Hall was being started. It is practically the same building which today is called Washington Hall. Three years a-building, it was not dedicated until 1882, although it was serviceable long before that.

Father Corby took especial pride in his new college building. The ceilings were very high and the rooms quite spacious. Not only was it considered very elegant, but very hygienic. It was pointed out that Notre Dame had installed a ventilating system unequalled in any public building in America. Fresh air, warmed in winter time, was introduced into ninety-five different apartments, while the foul air, "which," says the Scholastic, "is the cause of those fatal diseases of the lungs and throat so common in our country," was drawn off through ventiducts which rose sixteen feet above the college roof.[6] As yet (1879), the dome had not been added to the Main Building, but Father Corby had a model of it in his office, and was happy to show it to those interested.[7]

Travel by rail was yearly becoming more accommodating. Notre Dame was able to draw students from great distances due to the im- proving facilities. When the students arrived in South Bend, or left for vacations, they were generally accompanied by some professor, a priest or a Brother. It was, perhaps, for this very good reason that the railroads were lavish in their praise of the conduct of Notre Dame boys. It was pleasant to hear that the students drew attention to themselves as being better mannered than "students going to or from other colleges." Notre Dame had reason to be grateful to the railroads, for immediately after the fire, when it was so necessary to transport, and that hastily, great quantities of building material, the railroads in the vicinity were most obliging, even granting the college a half-rate on all incoming freight.[8]

In the summer of 1880 the huge statue of the Virgin which now surmounts the dome was brought to Notre Dame. Since the dome was not finished, the statue was hoisted to the roof of the porch on the Administration Building.[9] The interior of the building, which had been only roughly plastered the year before, was finally finished and painted. To Gregori, Father Sorin made the suggestion that he should make some sketches for a series of frescoes that might adorn the central corridor. The subject was to be the life of Columbus. The painter was to depict the glories as well as the humiliations of the great discoverer. These frescoes, coming, as they did, a short time before the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, were of special interest. Their artistic merit is not of a very high order. Our keenest recollection of them is connected with the Brother-porter who invariably repeated his set speech while showing them off to visitors. Before the painting that represented "The Mutiny," he would say, in a soft, rich brogue: "Notice the calm expression on the face of Columbus as contrasted with the fury of the mutineers. Please do not touch the murals!"[10]

In February, 1882, Father Corby thought it was time to add to the eastern wing of the Administration Building, and thus to lengthen what today is known as Brownson Hall. The original plans called for this addition, as also for one to the west.[11] A few months later the administration deemed it wise to give the Minims a separate building. It would not be large -- only ninety feet by forty -- a four-storied structure, to which an addition could easily be made if the number of Minims increased. Father Sorin laid the cornerstone on April 20, 1882, and made a graceful little speech to his "Princes."[12] As erected then, the building comprised but one half of what is now called St. Edward's Hall.

The death of Father Edward Lilly deprived the University, just after Christmas, 1879, of one of its most talented young priests. From that day in 1860 when he had played the piano for Father Sorin, until his death, music was his life. He had great purity of taste and was impatient with mediocrity. His health had always been bad; he had no reserve strength. After a concert or an arduous practice he would stretch out on his cot exhausted. Only once did music cease to be the center of his life. That was after the great fire, when, misjudging his capacities, he set to work like a little fury, cleaning brick and hauling away rubbish. It was his undoing. Fever, coughing-spells, loss of appetite soon gave his superiors the melancholy knowledge that he was dying of tuberculosis. On New Year's Day, 1880, the band led a funeral procession to the community cemetery, playing one of Father Lilly's own compositions, a death march that he had composed a year previously for the funeral of George Sampson, the student who had accidentally shot himself.[13]

Once again military training, on a limited scale, became part of the student life. A certain Captain Cooke was in charge of this department. Through the good offices of Senator D. R. Leeper, the government contributed one hundred Sharpe's breech-loaders of the latest pattern.[14] Father Corby was, naturally, partial to the military. He noted, too, that in nearly every educational institution in the country there was a group of military cadets. He favored this revival because, as he said, it was a great source of recreational and physical culture. Nor did he forget the disciplinary angle.[15] When they paraded in South Bend the following spring, with their gray uniforms, with frock-coats and regulation caps, the Notre Dame Cadets drew many cheers from the throngs gathered to see them pass.[16]

During the year of 1880-81, 351 students were in attendance at Notre Dame, an increase of 26 over the previous year. At commencement, 1881, the University conferred only seven degrees -- one in Arts and Letters, two in Science, and four in Law. Commercial diplomas were given to 31. The University honored John Boyle O'Reilly with an LL.D. This was about the only thing for which that day can be distinguished.[17]

That there were plenty of boyish pranks and lots of devilment among the students, there is no denying. Generally speaking, however, it was not only the close supervision of the boys that prevented any serious outbreaks. As Father Sorin remarked on more than one occasion, it was a fine sense of reverence for the priests that made the boys behave themselves, even if they did so grudgingly. Notre Dame never tolerated fraternities. Nor would she permit hazing of students, a practice that is, happily, dying out in most institutions. Occasionally, however, the night air was rent with the cry: "In the lake!" This was the signal for the dunking of some fellow who had offended the "student code." In many instances, it was very effective, although the prefects tried to stop this, too. Most often, however, they arrived on the spot when the victim was already well dampened.

For many decades past, it has been the custom of the Senior Class to present the Stars and Stripes to the University on Washington's Birthday. The beginning of such a custom was in 1882, although it took place, not on February 22nd of that year, but on March 7th. The students and faculty gathered in the rotunda under the yet unfinished dome. After the band had finished a martial air, George E. Clarke, of Cairo, Illinois, made the presentation speech. Father Walsh reciprocated, and promised that the flag should fly from the steeple on Washington Hall. At the conclusion, cries of "rec" were heard on all sides. That afternoon, there were no classes.[18]

Shortly after the beginning of 1882, Father Corby received a note from Father Sorin. It read to the effect that Rome had heard with some astonishment that Father Corby was both Provincial and President of the University. Ecclesiastical authorities thought that this was too much responsibility for one man. Accordingly, Father Sorin felt it his duty to relieve him of one or other of the offices. Father Corby immediately replied, saying that he would be glad to yield the office of Provincial and retain the presidency, since it represented less authority. Father Sorin, however, had a different idea. He thought it better to have Father Corby remain Provincial since he was an older man. "It's time we should look to young Father Walsh and try him in the office of President."[19]

Father Thomas Walsh, the new president, explained why Notre Dame had so few graduates in comparison to the number of students. He said that it had been the policy at Notre Dame to disregard the rigid and unbending practice at most institutions of considering Greek and Latin alone the gauge of an education. "Until the conductors of colleges," he said, "concede that students and their parents possess a certain right in the matter of determining the course of studies to be followed, they will be looked upon ... as men who have no sympathy with the world of beneficent actualities."[20] Of course, Father Walsh did not approach Harvard's Eliot in his advocacy of "electives." What Father Walsh was saying was that when a parent wanted to give his son a little education that would fit him for business, it would be unfair to exclude him from the college because of his reasonable unwillingness to follow the college course "in its entirety." The President concluded by expressing the hope that the "time will soon come when the greater majority of those attending (Notre Dame) would be prepared to follow the regular Collegiate Course as at present laid down."

So, on Commencement Day, 1882, the Bachelor's degrees were scarce: three in Arts and Letters, two in Science and one in Law. Those receiving diplomas in the Commercial department, however, reached the number of forty. The exercises were made more notable by the production of "Oedipus Tyrannus." Professor Gregori had designed the costumes; Professor Nobles had written some original music for the choruses; and Father Stoffel had drilled the actors for months. Father Stoffel, the eminent Greek scholar, took care that not one word was spoken except in the original Greek. The performance must have been quite a bore to the parents and friends who had come from Keokuk or Cairo, but none would admit it. Perhaps it was the new system of illumination that held their rapt attention, for that night was the first time Washington Hall sparkled with "Edison's incandescent bulbs." Indeed, for most of those visitors the wonder of electricity was more strange than the tongue their children spoke that night.[21]

Father Sorin always had an eye to the press. He realized it could be of immense value to the school. Indeed, not only in the local papers in South Bend, but in the neighboring cities as well, Notre Dame was always given generous attention. On New Year's Day, 1881, the founder dispatched to the two South Bend papers identical gifts. Each received a huge pyramidal cake, flanked by "bottles of Bordeaux of the vintage of '75 and California wines of 1878, and a good flagon of Chartreuse." With this present went the following admonition:

Father Sorin could be very courtly. In the 1880's, when his appearance was so majestic and patriarchal, his figure was one that inspired reverential awe. But when he bowed graciously, and smilingly spoke in his rich, bass voice, his eyes lost some of their fire. Guests who met him under these conditions were deeply impressed. The more prominent people of South Bend, the Studebakers and the Stanfields, the Hubbards and the Millers, brought their visitors to see him as an example of old world courtesy. Father Sorin's mood expanded under these attentions. He was inclined to show these people how responsive he could be. They would assemble in the parlors at Notre Dame about five in the evening, with introductions and pleasant exchanges, and a bit of an appetiser, perhaps. At six they were ushered into the Senior refectory where three or four tables were "fairly groaning under their wealth of viands." After the dinner, the guests repaired to the parlors "where wines were served," or to the porch where the gentlemen "were regaled with the choicest cigars." `When all had rested, Mrs. Stanfield or Mrs. "Ex-Mayor Miller" would perform on the piano. At dusk, they prepared to leave. As they drove off in their carriages, Father Sorin had someone play on the chimes in the church tower. Yes, he would show these good friends what a gentleman he could be![24]

Those who were afraid that the great fire might undermine Father Sorin's health, feared in vain. During the two or three years that followed that catastrophe, it was frequently noted how he had seemed rather to regain his youthful vigor. When he sang Mass in the church, his deep voice seemed richer and stronger than it had been for years.[25] Nor were his travels abated. On June 3, 1882, he returned from France, after his fortieth voyage across the ocean. And it was probably the first time that there was no one at the station to meet him. When he got off the train at South Bend at two o'clock in the morning, there wasn't even a horse and buggy in sight. Nothing daunted, the old man set off as in pioneer days and walked the two miles to the college. To his repeated knocking, a sleepy, chagrined, but happy religious opened the door.[26] The dawn was just breaking. Father Sorin went to the church and celebrated Mass.

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