New season kicks off with a lecture on Mary in the art at Notre Dame


The return of football season to Notre Dame’s campus brings with it the return of many time-honored traditions such as the player walk, steak sandwiches, and customary pre-game Friday night dining hall banana splits.  For the past five years, one of these traditions has brought the university’s Catholic identity to the spotlight on game day: Saturdays with the Saints, a lecture series featuring renowned theological thinkers speaking on those models of Christian life who have gone before us.

The first Saturdays with the Saints lecture this year featured Lawrence Cunningham, author of the popular Chapels of Notre Dame (published in 2013) and emeritus faculty in the Department of Theology.  Cunningham spoke on “Mary in the Art at Notre Dame,” emphasizing Father Sorin’s French spirituality and devotion to the Blessed Mother made manifest even in contemporary art on campus.

Cunningham referenced various types of historical art, most notably the French gothic architecture of Sorin’s time, including the 1/7 scale model of the grotto in Lourdes, France.  The Virgin atop the Golden Dome is reminiscent of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal.  A resurgence of icons on campus reflects the influence of Eastern religious art; images of the Immaculate Heart nod to Italian and German traditions.  Cunningham attributed this combination of historical pieces to the way images of Our Lady energized France and Europe at large from the twelfth century onward.

Cunningham noted one icon in particular that stood out to him as tying the past and the present together.

“This is my favorite piece of art on campus,” Cunningham smiled, pointing to the picture of the triptych Marian icon featured in O’Neill Hall.  He explained that he was impressed by the beauty of the tradition literally surrounding the icon.  Students leave cards at the icon in memory of friends who have passed away.

“There has been a rediscovery of the icon tradition in the Western Church,” he noted, presenting as another example the icon of Mary in Dillon Hall.  Students light candles in front of this icon, “honoring the tradition” of icons in a very visible way.

These images of Mary on campus span the past 200 years and also include contemporary art. These modern works of art include the Visitation sculpture outside the bookstore and the new painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Basilica.

Cunningham noted the particularly interesting manifestations of Our Lady of Sorrows, whose feast is the patronal feast of the Congregation of Holy Cross.  A traditional image of Our Lady of Sorrows graces the chapel window in Stinson-Remick Hall, while a stunning contemporary sculpture depicts Our Lady of Sorrows in a very different way in Cedar Grove Cemetery.

“It’s something to think about, the tradition of the Church,” Cunningham concluded after presenting on depictions of Our Lady from the many geographic areas of influence and historical art forms.

Cunningham’s presentation is the first of five Saturdays with the Saints lectures hosted at Notre Dame this year.  John Cavadini, director of the Institute for Church Life, emphasized the importance of Saturdays with the Saints, explaining, “Not many lecture series can claim to be an image of eternity!”  Cavadini has been involved with the series since its beginning, and his passion for the topic comes across vividly as he speaks about the inspiration behind the series. “Saints are those who stretch our imagination…the Church at Her best,” he exclaimed.

Even with such a plethora of options for topics, Cavadini focuses on one central idea for the series: “We try to feature saints that, for some reason, have risen in contemporary interest.”  As a nod to this year’s Extraordinary Synod on the Family, talks have a central theme of family and include topics such as the Holy Family in Art and the leaders of the Catholic family, the popes.

Saturdays with the Saints occurs at 10:30 a.m. every football weekend in Geddes Hall, just west of Hesburgh Library.  The next lecture on October 4 will feature Catherine Cavadini speaking on Therese of Lisieux ‘s family of saints.


Abby Bartels is a junior in Badin Hall.  She has noticed about six times as many depictions of Mary on campus compared to usual since attending this lecture.  She may be reached at