From celebrating a beautiful Mass in his honor to serving authentic French cuisine, the university plunged full force into a yearlong celebration of Father Edward Sorin’s birthday.
In an email to the student body, University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, highlighted some of Fr. Sorin’s most inspirational qualities: “We will celebrate his vision for Notre Dame, his ministry as a Holy Cross priest, and his zeal for building a great university. In so doing, I hope we will deepen our own commitment to making Notre Dame even more, in his words, ‘a means for good.’”
Father Bob Loughery, CSC, rector of Sorin College, echoed these sentiments in his homily for the Mass celebrating Father Sorin’s 200th birthday.
“He left work for us to do,” he reminded the congregation.
Father Loughery spoke of the tradition of rubbing the foot of the Fr. Sorin statue located in Sorin College. “We rub the foot because we are on the path,” he said, encouraging the Notre Dame family to act as “disciples on a mission” to spread Catholic teaching.
Notre Dame’s founding was part of a large effort by religious congregations to bring the Catholic faith to America. Father Sorin was one of many priests, brothers and sisters who worked tirelessly to build parishes and schools across the New World.
It was this greater effort that brought Kathleen Cummings, Professor of American Studies and Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, to learn more about Fr. Sorin.
“It amazes me—the energy and the vision that not just Fr. Sorin, but his contemporaries had…I think it’s wonderfully inspirational, not just professionally, but also personally, in my own faith life,” she stated. “We could look at his arrival as a monumental event in a much larger phenomenon of the transplantation of the European church on American soil.”
The Cushwa Center will host an event next fall looking at missionaries who traveled to the Midwest, including Fr. Sorin.
Father Jim King, CSC, Director of Campus Ministry, also noted Fr. Sorin’s work for the Congregation and for Notre Dame. Father King quoted the Holy Cross Constitution: “‘Our mission sends us across borders of every sort. Often we must make ourselves at home among more than one people or culture, reminding us again that the farther we go in giving the more we stand to receive.’”
Father King explained the connection between these words and Fr. Sorin, saying, “Even though those words were written more than 140 years after he arrived in the U.S. he was one of the first among Holy Cross religious to grasp their meaning in making a home here for himself, the seven brothers who came to Notre Dame with him, and thousands of students, faculty, and staff who have landed here since.”
Yet, as Fr. King noted, there was more to Fr. Sorin than a brave missionary and visionary.
“More importantly, he was an intensely devoted priest whose first impulse was to dedicate this institution to the Mother of God and entrust it to her care…it is devotion to our Blessed Mother that has guided us through many trials here at Notre Dame. As [Father] Ted [Hesburgh, CSC] likes to say, ‘It’s her University.’ Father Sorin thought so too, and we should never forget that,” he said.
President Emeritus of the University, Father Monk Malloy, CSC, believes that Notre Dame has not forgotten Fr. Sorin’s vision for the university: “If Sorin came back today and he looked and did a tour of the campus, he would have said, ‘I knew it all along!’” he said.
Father Malloy also commented on the “legends and lore” that have resulted from the actions of the “audacious, self-confident Sorin.” He recounted the story of the Main Building burning down and Fr. Sorin responding, “‘This is a sign from the heavens [that] we built too small.’”
During Fr. Malloy’s four undergraduate years at Notre Dame (1959-1963), his class created some legends and lore of their own regarding Fr. Sorin. It was one of Fr. Malloy’s classmates who stole the Sorin statue that is now bolted to cement in Sorin College. The statue reappeared twice during the time it was missing: once on a remotely controlled boat on one of the lakes, and once when it was lowered into a football game by a helicopter.
Perhaps these antics were not quite what Fr. Sorin had in mind with what many call his unlimited vision; one cannot deny, however, that a student with such imagination could certainly have found inspiration in the tenacity of the founder of our university.
As the university continues the year-long birthday celebration, students should remain, as Fr. Malloy described Fr. Sorin, “shrewd in taking advantage of special celebrations.” If the recent feast at the dining hall was any indication, one would be shrewd indeed to take advantage of them.
Abigail Bartels is a sophomore studying political science, theology and gender studies. Thanks to this combination, she just read a fascinating article on matriarchy in Vodou theology as shown in Brooklyn. If you’re interested in reading it, contact her at email@example.com.