History of the University of Notre Dame

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University of Notre Dame seal

The University of Notre Dame was founded on November 26, 1842 by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president, as an all-male institution on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. Notre Dame rose to national prominence in the early 1900s for its Fighting Irish football team, especially under the guidance of the legendary coach Knute Rockne.[1] Major improvements to the university occurred during the administration of Rev. Theodore Hesburgh between 1952 and 1987 as Hesburgh's administration greatly increased the university's resources, academic programs, and reputation and first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972.[2]


Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder

In 1839 bishop of Vincennes, Right Rev. Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière, had contacted Rev. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and expressed to him his concern over the lack of Catholic education in his diocese and pleaded for Moreau to send his a priest and four brothers to set up a school. When enough funds were raised, Moreau chose a young and energetic priest Rev. Edward Sorin to lead the effort. Accompanied by six brothers, Fr. Sorin left Le Havre, France on August 8, 1841, on the ship "the Iowa", and arrived in New York on September 13, 1841, where they were met by Samuel Byerley, a merchant of New York, on the request of Bishop de la Hailandiere; the party was also hosted by Bishop John Dubois. On the third day, they set out for Indiana. They passed though Albany and in Buffalo they took a ferry though Lake Erie and reached Toledo, OH, and reached Bishop Hailandière in Vincennes on October 8. Bishop De la Hailandiere gave Sorin and his brothers possession of the church of St Peter and its annexed farm in Montgomery, IN. The lack of funds and the harsh winter made life in the farm difficult, especially since the men were all French and not experts in American farming; the situation was made worse by the tense relationship between Fr. Sorin and Bishop Hailandière, who often disagreed on financial issues.

In the early months of 1842, Fr. Sorin started to conceive the idea of founding a college, although one was already present in Vincennes (the College of St. Gabriel, which failed soon after). Initially, Fr. Sorin thought of founding the college there in St Peters, but he met the opposition of the bishop who lamented that this was not in the original plans and it conflicted with the existence of St. Gabriel's college. However, the bishops also stated that he was not against a founding of a college elsewhere, provided that this effort would not prevent him his Brothers from accomplishing their education duties. Near the end of October the bishop offered Sorin certain lands at the furthermost limits of the diocese, in the virtually unsettled area of northern Indiana, just a few miles from the southern boundary of the state of Michigan. These 524 acres of land had been bought in 1830 by Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained on the United States, who had come to the area invited by chief Leopold Pokagon to administer the mission of St. Maries des Lacs to the Potawatomi tribe. When Rev. Badin changed his plans, he sold the land to Bishop Simon Bruté, who passed it on to his successor Bishop Hailandiere, who now offered it to Rev. Sorin, on the condition that he build a college within two year.

After some deliberation, Father Sorin accepted the land and the challenge, on the bishop's condition that he would found a college in two years.[3]

Arrival at Notre Dame[edit]

On November 16, Rev. Edward Sorin traveled to the chosen site with seven Holy Cross brothers; the rest of the community stayed in St Peters to continue the educational effort under the guide of Brother Vincent and a local priest, Fr. Chartier, as promised to the bishop. Of these seven brothers, only two were of the original colony from France, Brothers Marie (Francis Xavier), and Gatian. The other five had joined the community since its arrival at St. Peter's; these were Brothers Patrick, William, Basil, Peter (who were Irish) and Francis. On the afternoon of November 26, 1842, he reached South Bend, that at the time was a small village, where he reached the home of Alexis Coquillard, a French-American trapper who had been the first permanent white settler in the area and who was known to Bishop de la Hailandiere. That very afternoon Rev. Sorin and his Brother went to investigate the lands they were given, and found them mantled with snow, softening and mellowing the harshness of the bare winter-frozen forest, so that they were. The only buildings on campus was Rev. Stephen Badin's old Log Chapel, which had until then used as an Indian mission and a church for local Catholics, the house of the metis Charron and his wife (who served as interpreter between the priest and the Indians), and a shed.[4]

Rev. Sorin described his arrival on campus in a letter filled with joy and hope to the Superior General Rev. Basil Moreau, C.S.C.

Everything was frozen, and yet it all appeared so beautiful. The lake, particularly, with its mantle of snow, resplendent in its whiteness, was to us a symbol of the stainless purity of Our August Lady, whose name it bears; and also of the purity of soul which should characterize the new inhabitants of these beautiful shores. Our lodgings appeared to us-as indeed they are-but little different from those at St. Peter's. We made haste to inspect all the various sites on the banks of the lake which had been so highly praised. Yes, like little children, in spite of the cold, we went from one extremity to the other, perfectly enchanted with the marvelous beauties of our new abode. Oh! may this new Eden be ever the home of innocence and virtue!

— Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., Circular Letters, Part II, No 1[5]

The next day, November 27, they took formal possession of the site; this led to the confusion on the exact day of the founding of Notre Dame, whether November 26 or the 27th. Both dates were referenced as the official foundation date in later documents, and the confusion remains to this day.[6]

Early history[edit]

The task that Rev. Sorin and his Brothers had in front of them was not easy: with little money (about $370) they had to administer both to the local Indian tribes (since they inherited the mission with the land) and to the local white Catholics (who were an underrepresented minority in a largely Protestant area). and at the same time found a college in two years. At the time St. Joseph County was small (around 6,500 to 7,500 persons) and largely unsettled, with South bend barely reaching 1000 inhabitants; although in the following years it would experience substantial growth. There were about twenty Catholic families, but no Catholic churches in the area, and anti-Catholic sentiment was spread among the populace.[7]

They soon acquired two students and set about building additions to the campus. Notre Dame began as a primary and secondary school, but soon received its official college charter from the Indiana General Assembly on January 15, 1844.[8] Under the charter the school is officially named the University of Notre Dame du Lac, which means University of Our Lady of the Lake.[9] Although the university was originally only for male students, the female-only Saint Mary's College was founded by the Sisters of the Holy Cross near Notre Dame in 1844.[10] More students attended the college and the first degrees were awarded in 1849.[11] Additionally, the university was expanded with new buildings allowing more students and faculty to live, study, and eat at the university.[8]

The Old seal of the University of Notre Dame (1876-1901)

During the early years, Notre Dame faced many hardships. Fires were relatively common and often disastrous. In 1849 the Manual Labor School was completely destroyed. In 1855, the original log cabins (the one built by Fr. Badin and the one built by Fr. Sorin in 1843), which were then being used as stables, burned and the farm equipment and storehouse were destroyed.[12] In the 19th century a stream drained excess water from Saint Mary’s Lake into the Saint Joseph River. A farmer who owned the adjoining property built a dam to power a mill, and this backed up water onto the land around and between the Notre Dame lakes and created a swampland, perfect for breeding flies and mosquitoes. Rev. Sorin became convinced that the swamp was the source of malaria, cholera and typhus outbreaks that afflicted the college. In 1855, following another two disease fatalities, Sorin convinced the farmer to sell him the land with the dammed stream, but the farmer hastily left town before completing the transaction. Enraged, Sorin sent a half-dozen of his strongest religious brothers to demolish the dam by hand. The farmer quickly sealed the deal under the original agreed-upon terms. The marsh was drained, the land dried up, and the diseases disappeared.[13]

In 1857, Rev. Basil Moreau, founder and Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross, made his only visit to the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College. With each new president, new academic programs were offered and new buildings were built to accommodate these programs. The original Main Building built by Fr. Sorin just after he arrived was replaced by a larger "Main Building" in 1865, which housed the university's administration, classrooms, and dormitories. Beginning in 1873, a library collection was started by Father Lemonnier. By 1879 it had grown to ten thousand volumes that were housed in the Main Building.

The third main building, built in 1879 following the fire

Great Fire of 1879[edit]

This Main Building, and the library collection, was destroyed by a fire on April 23, 1879. The entire building was destroyed, but the nearby church was spared. The school closed immediately and students were sent home.[14] The library collection was also rebuilt and stayed housed in the new Main Building for years afterwards.[15] Around the time of the fire, a Music Hall was opened. Eventually becoming known as Washington Hall, it hosted plays and musical acts put on by the school.[16] Following the pledge made by William Corby, C.S.C., then the University's president, that Notre Dame would reopen for the fall term,[17] Father Sorin willed Notre Dame to rebuild and continue its growth. As recounted in Notre Dame: 100 Years (1942), "The sixty-five year old man walked around the ruins, and those who followed him were confounded by his attitude. Instead of bending, he stiffened. There was on his face a look of grim determination. He signaled all of them to go into the church with him."[18]


By 1880, a science program was established at the university, and a Science Hall was built in 1883. The hall housed multiple classrooms and science labs needed for early research at the university.[19] By 1890, individual residence halls were built to house the increasing number of students.[20]

Campus in 1903

William J. Hoynes (1846–1919) was dean of the law school 1883–1919, and when its new building was opened shortly after his death it was renamed in his honor.[21]

Father John Zahm (1851–1921) became the Holy Cross Provincial for the United States (1896–1906), with overall supervision of the university, He tried to transform Notre Dame into a great university, erecting buildings and added to the campus art gallery and library, and amassing what became a famous Dante collection. His term was not renewed because of fears he had expanded Notre Dame too quickly and had run the Holy Cross order into serious debt.[21]

Between the two wars[edit]

Notre Dame continued to grow over the years adding more colleges, programs, and even sports teams. By 1921, with the addition of the College of Commerce,[22] Notre Dame had grown from a small college to a university with five colleges and a professional law school.[23] The university continued to expand and add new residence halls and buildings with each subsequent president.

Second Seal of the University of Notre Dame (1901-1930)

Knute Rockne and the football team[edit]

Knute Rockne became head coach in 1918. Under Rockne, the Irish would post a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and five ties. During his 13 years the Irish won three national championships, had five undefeated seasons, won the Rose Bowl in 1925, and produced players such as George Gipp and the "Four Horsemen". Knute Rockne has the highest winning percentage (.881) in NCAA Division I/FBS football history. Rockne's offenses employed the Notre Dame Box and his defenses ran a 7–2–2 scheme. The last game Rockne coached was on December 14, 1930 when he led a group of Notre Dame all-stars against the New York Giants in New York City. The game raised funds for the Mayor's Relief Committee for the Unemployed and Needy of the city. 50,000 fans turned out to see the reunited "Four Horsemen" along with players from Rockne's other championship teams take the field against the pros.

Presidents O'Hara and Cavanaugh[edit]

Campus between 1930 and 1945 circa

Holy Cross Father John Francis O'Hara was elected vice president in 1933 and president of Notre Dame in 1934. During his tenure at Notre Dame, he brought numerous refugee intellectuals to campus; he selected Frank H. Spearman, Jeremiah D. M. Ford, Irvin Abell, and Josephine Brownson for the prestigious Laetare Medal, instituted in 1883. O'Hara strongly believed that the Fighting Irish football team could be an effective means to "acquaint the public with the ideals that dominate" Notre Dame. He wrote, "Notre Dame football is a spiritual service because it is played for the honor and glory of God and of his Blessed Mother. When St. Paul said: 'Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all for the glory of God,' he included football."[5]

The Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. served as president from 1946 to 1952. Cavanaugh’s legacy at Notre Dame in the post-war years was devoted to raising academic standards and reshaping the university administration to suit it to an enlarged educational mission and an expanded student body and stressing advanced studies and research at a time when Notre Dame quadrupled in student census, undergraduate enrollment increased by more than half, and graduate student enrollment grew fivefold. Cavanaugh also established the Lobund Institute for Animal Studies and Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute.[24] Cavanaugh also presided over the construction of the Nieuwland Science Hall, Fisher Hall, and the Morris Inn, as well as the Hall of Liberal Arts (now O'Shaughnessy Hall), made possible by a donation from I.A. O'Shaughnessy, at the time the largest ever made to an American Catholic university. Cavanaugh also established a system of advisory councils at the University, which continue today and are vital to the University's governance and development

Hesburgh era: 1952–1987[edit]

President Emeritus Hesburgh in his office at the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame

Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., (born 1917) served as president for 35 years (1952–87) of dramatic transformations. In that time the annual operating budget rose by a factor of 18 from $9.7 million to $176.6 million, and the endowment by a factor of 40 from $9 million to $350 million, and research funding by a factor of 20 from $735,000 to $15 million. Enrollment nearly doubled from 4,979 to 9,600, faculty more than doubled 389 to 950, and degrees awarded annually doubled from 1,212 to 2,500.[25]


The Grotto of the Lady of Lourdes (a replica of a Catholic holy site by the same name in France) on the Notre Dame campus is a popular site of worship and meditation.

In the mid-1960s Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College developed a co-exchange program whereby several hundred students took classes not offered at their home institution, an arrangement that added undergraduate women to a campus that already had a few women in the graduate schools. "In American college education," explained Rev. Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., Notre Dame's Dean of Arts and Letters, "certain features formerly considered advantageous and enviable are now seen as anachronistic and out of place.... In this environment of diversity, the integration of the sexes is a normal and expected aspect, replacing separatism." Reverend Thomas Blantz, C.S.C., Notre Dame's Vice President of Student Affairs, added that coeducation "opened up a whole other pool of very bright students."[26][where?][27] Two of the male residence halls were converted for the newly admitted female students that first year,[28][29] while two others were converted for the next school year.[30][31] The first female student, a transfer from St. Mary's College, graduated in 1972 with a bachelor's degree in marketing.[27]

Modern era[edit]

Malloy era: 1987–2005[edit]

In 18 years under President Edward Malloy, CSC, (1987–2005), there was a rapid growth in the school's reputation, faculty, and resources. He increased the faculty by more than 500 professors; the academic quality of the student body has improved dramatically, the average SAT score rose from 1240 to 1360; the number of minority students more than doubled; the endowment grew from $350 million to more than $3 billion; the annual operating budget rose from $177 million to more than $650 million; and annual research funding improved from $15 million to more than $70 million. Notre Dame’s most recent capital campaign raised $1.1 billion, far exceeding its goal of $767 million, and is the largest in the history of Catholic higher education.[32]

Jenkins era: 2005–present[edit]

Currently Notre Dame is led by Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, the 17th president of the university.[33] Jenkins took over the position from Rev. Edward "Monk" Malloy, CSC, on July 1, 2005.[34] In his inaugural address, Jenkins described his goals of making the university a leader in research that recognizes ethics and building the connection between faith and studies.[35]

Presidents of the university[edit]

Father William Corby (1903–10) by Samuel Murray, Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The President of the University of Notre Dame is the head of the institution and is elected by the board of Trustees.[36]

He is chosen among the priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross. The first president was the founder of the University, Rev. Edward Sorin, who came from France in 1842.[37] Many of the presidents are alumni of the University or have taught as professors.

  1. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. (1842–1865)
  2. Patrick Dillon, C.S.C. (1865–1866)
  3. William Corby, C.S.C. (1866–1872 and 1877–1881)
  4. Auguste Lemmonier, C.S.C. (1872–1874)
  5. Patrick Colovin, C.S.C. (1874–1877)
  6. Thomas E. Walsh, C.S.C. (1881–1893)
  7. Andrew Morrissey, C.S.C. (1893–1905)
  8. John W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. (1905–1919)
  9. James A. Burns, C.S.C. (1919–1922)
  10. Matthew J. Walsh, C.S.C. (1922–1928)
  11. Charles L. O’Donnell, C.S.C. (1928–1934)
  12. John Francis O’Hara, C.S.C. (1934–1940)
  13. Hugh O’Donnell, C.S.C. (1940–1946)
  14. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. (1946–1952)
  15. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. (1952–1987)
  16. Edward Malloy, C.S.C. (1987–2005)
  17. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. (2005–present)


  1. ^ "Knute "Rock" Rockne". National Football Foundation. Retrieved 2015-12-10. 
  2. ^ "The Endowment: Not Just a Pot of Gold". Archived from the original on September 23, 2015. Retrieved November 1, 2015. 
  3. ^ "Founding Information". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  4. ^ "Notre Dame - Foundations: 1.2". Archives.nd.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  5. ^ http://www.archives.nd.edu/circulars/CLP2-1842.pdf
  6. ^ "Notre Dame - Foundations: Appendix 1". Archives.nd.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  7. ^ "Notre Dame - Foundations: Notes 1.2". Archives.nd.edu. 1941-09-30. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  8. ^ a b Hope, C.S.C., Arthur J. (1979) [1948]. "IV". Notre Dame: One Hundred Years (2 ed.). Notre Dame, IN: University Press. ISBN 0-89651-501-X. 
  9. ^ Though the word Lac is singular, the university's campus actually contains two lakes. According to a legend, when Sorin arrived at the school, everything was frozen. He thought there was only one lake and named the university accordingly. Cohen, Ed (Autumn 2004). "One lake or two?". The Notre Dame Magazine. Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  10. ^ "Saint Mary's at a Glance". Saint Mary's College. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  11. ^ Hope, C.S.C., Arthur J. (1979) [1948]. "V". Notre Dame: One Hundred Years (2 ed.). Notre Dame, IN: University Press. ISBN 0-89651-501-X. 
  12. ^ "Edward Sorin & Notre Dame's Early Years | Notre Dame Archives News & Notes". Archives.nd.edu. 2014-10-13. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  13. ^ ENR/PAZ // University Communications: Web // University of Notre Dame. "One lake or two? // News // Notre Dame Magazine // University of Notre Dame". Magazine.nd.edu. Retrieved 2017-03-09. 
  14. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Main Building". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  15. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Lemmonier Library". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  16. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Washington Hall". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  17. ^ M. O'Connell, supra, p. 651
  18. ^ [1] Archived May 7, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  19. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Science Hall". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  20. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Sorin Hall". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2007-12-31. 
  21. ^ a b Marvin R. O'Connell, Edward Sorin (2001)
  22. ^ "The Story of Notre Dame: Academic Development of Notre Dame: Chapter IV – The College of Commerce". University of Notre Dame Archives. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  23. ^ "History of Notre Dame Law School". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2008-01-31. Retrieved 2007-12-15. 
  24. ^ Wolfgang Saxon, Rev. John Cavanaugh, 80, Former President of Notre Dame (Dec. 30, 1979).
  25. ^ Michael O'Brien, Hesburgh: A Biography (1998); Theodore M. Hesburgh, God, Country, Notre Dame: The Autobiography of Theodore M. Hesburgh (2000)
  26. ^ Susan L. Poulson and Loretta P. Higgins, "Gender, Coeducation, and the Transformation of Catholic Identity in American Catholic Higher Education," Catholic Historical Review 2003 89(3): 489–510, for quotes.
  27. ^ a b Sienko, Angela (October 2007). "A hardcover thank-you card". Notre Dame Magazine. Archived from the original on July 25, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  28. ^ "Badin Hall". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  29. ^ "Walsh Hall". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  30. ^ "Breen-Phillips Hall". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-11-17. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  31. ^ "Farley Hall". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  32. ^ See Biography Archived 2011-10-09 at the Wayback Machine.
  33. ^ "About Notre Dame: Officer Group Bios: Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C". University of Notre Dame. Archived from the original on 2007-11-11. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  34. ^ Heninger, Claire (May 1, 2004). "Monk moves on: Jenkins will succeed Malloy after June 2005". The Observer. Retrieved 2008-01-01. 
  35. ^ "Fr. John I. Jenkins Inaugural Address". University of Notre Dame. September 23, 2005. Archived from the original on July 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-14. 
  36. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-02-15. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  37. ^ http://www.nndb.com/people/535/000178998/