The Very Rev. Edward Frederick Sorin, C.S.C. (1814–1893), a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, was the founder of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and of St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.
Father Sorin was born February 6, 1814, at Ahuillé, near Laval, France. His early education was directed by his mother, known for her intelligence and virtue. After completing his classical studies, his vocation for the priesthood being marked, M. Sorin entered the diocesan seminary, where he was distinguished for superior ability and exemplary life. Among his fellow students was the future Cardinal Langénieux.
Missionary to America
At the time of Father Sorin's ordination, glowing reports of missionary enterprise in foreign lands had fired afresh the hearts of French clergy, and inspired numerous vocations, not a few of which were those of future martyrs, particularly in China and Japan. It was to the first of these countries that the Abbé Sorin felt attracted; and to the end of his long life accounts of the trials and triumphs of Chinese missionaries had for him a singular fascination. He was influenced by circumstances to enroll himself in the Congregation of Holy Cross, a community of priests, brothers, and sisters lately founded at Le Mans by the Blessed Basil Moreau. The need of missionaries in the United States, so earnestly represented in letters from bishops in this country and in addresses by others who had occasion to visit Europe, was not to be disregarded by the heads of religious orders; and although France had not as yet recovered from the effects of the Revolution, she generously contributed men and means for the support and spread of American missions. Father Sorin, but recently ordained, was selected by his superiors to establish the Congregation of Holy Cross in what was then considered a remote district of the United States.
Founding of the University of Notre Dame
Accompanied by six brothers, he arrived in New York in the autumn of 1841, and immediately set out for Indiana, which was destined to be the field, the center rather, of his apostolate for upwards of half a century. After a short stay at St. Peter's in the Diocese of Vincennes, he proceeded northward with five of his confreres. At the age of 28, in the beginning of an exceptionally rigorous winter, in poverty and privation, on November 26, 1842, Sorin began the foundation of Notre Dame. Fr. Sorin and his Holy Cross brothers took possession of 524 snow-covered acres that the Bishop of Vincennes had given them in the Indiana mission fields and named his fledging school in honor of Our Lady, in his native tongue of French, “L’Université de Notre Dame du Lac” (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). Sorin, following Moreau’s example, sent out priests and brothers to found other schools and parishes throughout the United States and Canada. On Jan. 15, 1844, the Indiana legislature officially chartered the University of Notre Dame.
Father Sorin’s indomitable will was best demonstrated in 1879 when a disastrous fire destroyed the Main Building, which housed virtually the entire University. Father Sorin willed Notre Dame to rebuild and continue its growth. "I came here as a young man and dreamed of building a great university in honor of Our Lady," he said. "But I built it too small, and she had to burn it to the ground to make the point. So, tomorrow, as soon as the bricks cool, we will rebuild it, bigger and better than ever."
It is a far cry from Indiana to India; but the flourishing mission in Eastern Bengal, in charge of the Congregation of Holy Cross, owes much of its success to Father Sorin's ardent zeal and active co-operation. Thither he sent its former bishop and other priests whose services could ill be spared, together with a band of sisters, the superior of whom, a native of New York, died at her distant post, a victim of her self-sacrifice. The founding of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in the United States is rightly regarded as one of Father Sorin's most important services to religion. Under his administration and care, this community, at first a handful, has become a host, with flourishing establishments in a dozen states. During the American Civil War, thanks to Father Sorin's forethought, this sisterhood was able to furnish nearly fourscore nurses for sick and wounded soldiers on transports and in hospitals. A number of priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross, among them Fr. William Corby, C.S.C., served as chaplains at the front. Another of Father Sorin's many claims to the grateful remembrance of English-speaking Catholics is the Ave Maria Press, which he founded in 1865.
Father Sorin was elected superior-general of his order in 1868, and held this important office during the rest of his life. In recognition of his work in educational lines, the French Government conferred upon him the insignia of an Officer of Public Instruction (1888). Soon after the celebration of his sacerdotal golden jubilee (the same year), the venerable founder of Notre Dame entered upon a long period of mental and physical suffering, which closed with a peaceful and painless death of Bright's Disease at the University of Notre Dame on the eve of All Saints', October 31, 1893.
Founding of St. Edward's University
Father Sorin also founded St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. When Bishop Claude Marie Dubuis of the Diocese of Galveston learned of Mrs. Mary Doyle's intention to leave her large South Austin farm to the Catholic Church to establish an "education institution," he invited Father Sorin to Texas in 1872. Answering the bishop's invitation, Father Sorin traveled to Austin and surveyed the beauty of the surrounding hills and lakes. A year later, following Mrs. Doyle's death, he founded a Catholic school called St. Edward's Academy in honor of his patron saint, Edward the Confessor and King. In the fledgling institution's first year, 1878, three farm boys made up the student body and met for classes in a makeshift building on the old Doyle homestead. In 1885, the academy secured its charter as a college. Sorin Hall and nearby Sorin Oak — the largest oak tree in Austin — are named after him.
- Charles G. Hebermann, ed. "Sorin, Edward", Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 14. New York: Encyclopedia Press, 1913.
- Marvin R. O'Connell, Edward Sorin. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. ISBN 0-268-02759-5
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Edward Sorin". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.
- Sorin, Edward. "Chronicles of Notre Dame du Lac." John M. Toohey, translator, 1895. Online at University of Notre Dame Archives: http://archives.nd.edu/episodes/sorin/chronicle/
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