Engraving regarding Father Edward Sorin and the Founding of Notre Dame in 1842.  The artist is F.X. Ackermann, who was a faculty member from 1890-1937.


The Founding


The story of Notre Dame begins in Le Mans, France, in 1840. That is when and where Blessed Basil Moreau, founder of a religious sect called the Congregation of Holy Cross, dispatched a young priest named Edward Sorin to the Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana to start a college. After spending a year in the southern part of the diocese, Fr. Sorin and seven Holy Cross brothers arrived on November 26, 1842, to a missionary outpost near South Bend, Indiana. There, they took possession of 524 snow-covered acres with two lakes.

The only shelter then standing on the site was a log chapel, which Fr. Sorin described in his journal: “an old log cabin, 24 × 40 feet, the ground floor of which answered as a room for a priest, and the story above for a chapel for the Catholics of South Bend and the neighborhood, although it was open to all the winds."

The place was meager at best, but Fr. Sorin envisioned then what he soon began to build and to call “L’Université de Notre Dame du Lac” (the University of Our Lady of the Lake), insisting that the new school would become “one of the most powerful means for good in this country."


Today’s campus is 1,261 acres on which scholarly inquiry is rigorously pursued, informed by the University’s Catholic character. Yet the impact of Notre Dame is not just felt locally or regionally. The University is a globally recognized institution that strives to bring knowledge into service of justice for the benefit of all people. True to Sorin’s vision, the University of Notre Dame continues to remain steadfast in its spiritual and intellectual traditions.


The Early Campus: Farms & Forestry

A worker on a tractor plows a Notre Dame farm field in the spring of 1924.  The Main Building and Power Plant smoke stack are in the background.


In the midst of a brutal Indiana winter, Sorin and his companions began clearing land of thick forest for a new church and a college. It was more of a boarding school in its early years, offering education to young men and boys of all ages, and in some cases, students paid tuition through labor in helping to build the college. Its remote location - the village of South Bend was about two miles south - meant the school needed to be largely self-sustaining. As a result, some of the first structures built on campus were farm buildings and a bakery to provide sustenance to the student and faculty population. A few years later, St. Mary’s College was established, and Sisters of Holy Cross farmed on land in the northern part of St. Joseph County to provide food for that institution. The farms relocated several times, and were in service (lastly at an off-campus location) until 1995.

Brett Peters, assistant director of ND-LEEF (Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility) in St. Patrick's County Park.


While the Notre Dame community is now served by an award-winning Campus Dining division, at least a portion of the old farmland is still a valuable part of the University. One of the old farm sites is now St. Patrick’s Park, where the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative conducts research at its Linked Experimental Ecosystem Facility (LEEF). LEEF is a globally unique research facility that features two ponds, streams and wetlands that are connected—an important feature when investigating issues related to environmental change. (In addition, the facility contains a live bald eagle camera.)


From Church to Basilica

Main Building and the Basilica of the Sacred Heart without a steeple, 1888.


The new church the community established held its first services in March 1843, less than five bitterly cold months after Fr. Sorin’s arrival. That structure was two stories - though the lower level ceiling was barely high enough for an adult to stand up straight. On the first floor was the chapel, and the second floor was for the Sisters who were being sent from Fr. Moreau. (Later, that arrangement was reversed.) As the community grew, this structure quickly became inadequate. A new church was constructed in 1848, this one a substantial upgrade that included a small organ and bell tower. This served as the college church until 1870, when construction on a new house of worship began. The first Mass was celebrated in 1875, and Sacred Heart Church was consecrated in 1888.

April 23, 2017; Main Quad spring 2017


In 1992, Pope John Paul II elevated the status of the church to a basilica. Today, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is the mother church for the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States, and is the spiritual center of Notre Dame. Its status as a basilica - not to mention its transcendent beauty - make it a popular destination for pilgrims and tourists alike. The Basilica is an example of Gothic Revival architecture, built in the shape of a Latin cross, 275 feet long and 114 feet wide. The top of its bell tower reaches 230 feet in the air, the highest point on campus. The inside is adorned with breathtaking murals and frescoes depicting the Stations of the Cross and lives of the saints, painted in the 1870s by Luigi Gregori, artist of the Papal Household of Blessed Pius IX and professor of art at Notre Dame. Moreover, it houses the largest collection of 19th-century French stained glass in the world. 


The First Observatory

Observatory and telescope on the roof of the Jordan Hall of Science.
Observatory exterior, c1913.


By 1866, Notre Dame had survived the Civil War and was solidifying its reputation for intellectual pursuit as well as its global profile. So it was that Rev. Joseph Carrier, C.S.C. - who had served as a chaplain with the army of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant - began to set the University’s science program on its course. He was in Paris to collect items for this endeavor when he was summoned by Emperor Napoleon III, who gifted Fr. Carrier a telescope, some seven feet long and six inches wide. South Bend papers estimated the cost at around 25,000 francs. The telescope was placed in an observatory with a revolving roof 18 feet wide.


In 2013, Notre Dame installed the Sarah L. Krizmanich telescope atop the Jordan Hall of Science. It is among the largest at a U.S. university, and allows scientists to access research-grade equipment here on campus. But that’s only part of Notre Dame’s work in space exploration. Prof. Justin Crepp is continuing work on a tool called iLocater, an ultra-precise planet-finding spectrometer that operates at infrared wavelengths. It will be the world's first diffraction-limited Doppler radial velocity instrument. Currently being designed and built in the Department of Physics at the University of Notre Dame, we aim to install iLocater at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) at the same time that NASA's TESS space mission begins science operations in 2018.


The Great Fire

Stereoscope view of the Second Main Building April 23, 1879, fire aftermath.


The current Main Building (“Golden Dome”) is actually the third iteration of Notre Dame’s central administrative facility. The first two were destroyed by fire, the latter in an infamous blaze that threatened to destroy the very future of the University.

On April 23, 1879, young students were playing in a nearby field when they spotted smoke emanating from the Main Building. The cause of the fire is unknown to this day, though many suggest it started as a result of construction work taking place on the roof. Soon, the Main Building and five surrounding structures were ablaze. Townspeople and students formed a bucket brigade to help quell the flames, but once the one-ton statue of Mary adorning the top of the building collapsed through the structure’s center, it was clear there wasn’t much to be done. Fr. Sorin was away in Montreal, Ontario at the time, and hastened back to Notre Dame to see his dream in smoldering ruins.

Aerial view of Notre Dame campus.


Sorin’s response resounds in Notre Dame lore. Famously, he gathered the University community in Sacred Heart Church and declared: “I came here as a young man and dreamed of building a great university in honor of Our Lady. 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.”

Just three years later, the current Main Building was completed, and within five years the foundations of what’s become known as “God Quad” on campus were added: Washington Hall, the Science Hall (now LaFortune Student Center), and Sorin Hall. This area today forms the spiritual and historic center of the campus.


Pioneering Flight

Engineering professor Tom Corke speaks with undergraduates at the wind tunnel at the White Field facility.
Painting depicting a glider experiment by professor Albert Francis Zahm. The painting which once hung in LaFortune Student Center now hangs in the Hessert Aerospace research building.


In 1882, an ambitious Notre Dame student named Albert Zahm built what might have been the first wind tunnel in the United States so that he could study the lift and drag of various wing shapes.

Zahm built the hand-driven contraption by removing the vibrating screens from a farmer’s winnowing blower. Two decades before the Wright brothers’ famous flight in 1903, Zahm was among the first to conclude that slender, concave surfaces shaped like a bird’s wing would make the best wings and propellers.

A true pioneer in American aeronautical engineering, Zahm would later go on to launch glider experiments from the roof of Old Science Hall (now LaFortune Student Center) as a young professor, write influential aeronautics papers on stability and flow control, and build the country’s first large wind tunnel. He was the brother of Rev. John Zahm, C.S.C., after whom a residence hall is named.

Turbomachinery Laboratory


Notre Dame’s groundbreaking research in aerodynamics continues with development of the nation’s largest quiet hypersonic wind tunnel. The apparatus will lay the groundwork for future generations of flight at speeds of Mach 6 and above. At that speed, a plane could travel from Washington, D.C. to Denver in about 15 minutes.


The Laetare Medal

Laetare Medal


The Laetare (pronounced Lay-TAH-ray) Medal is so named because its recipient is announced each year in celebration of Laetare Sunday, the fourth Sunday in Lent on the Church calendar. “Laetare,” the Latin word for “rejoice,” is the first word in the entrance antiphon of the Mass that Sunday, which ritually anticipates the celebration of Easter. The medal bears the Latin inscription, “Magna est veritas et praevalebit” (“Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail”).

Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare Medal was conceived as an American counterpart of the Golden Rose, a papal honor that antedates the 11th century. The medal has been awarded annually at Notre Dame to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”

University of Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins, C.S.C. is flanked by Laetare Medal recipients, John Boehner, former Speaker of the House and Vice President Joe Biden as they walk to the stage for the 2016 Commencement Ceremony.


The Laetare Medal is today considered the most prestigious award in American Catholicism. Its recipients include statespeople, poets, scientists, suffragettes and University leaders among many others. In 2016, the medal was awarded jointly for the first time to then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Speaker of the House John Boehner, as a symbol of the University’s promotion of civil discourse in political and social life.


The First Wireless Transmission

ND Wireless Institute research: A human head model is tested in an anechoic chamber to measure absorption of radiation from cell phone antennae.
Transmitting wire on the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, used by Jerome Green for his wireless transmission in April 1899.


In the spring of 1899, Notre Dame faculty began testing the capacities for wireless transmission on campus. They started by sending signals to and from various rooms in Science Hall (now LaFortune Student Center). They ramped up the distance, transmitting from Science Hall across the quad to Sorin Hall. Eventually, they affixed a large antenna to the front of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, some 150 feet long. They succeeded in sending a signal to St. Mary’s Academy (now St. Mary’s College), approximately a mile due west. It is the first known wireless transmission of that distance in the U.S.

ND Wireless Institute research: A human head model is tested in an anechoic chamber to measure absorption of radiation from cell phone antennae.


Notre Dame’s research into wireless communication has yielded the Notre Dame Wireless Institute within the College of Engineering. The institute focuses on technical solutions to problems of “crowds”: Crowded venues, such as stadiums where wireless systems get overwhelmed; crowded spectrum, which is the set frequencies at which radio signals travel that must be effectively shared by cellular, WiFi, broadcasting, and government use; and crowded devices, developing ways to increase mobile phone performance without emitting more radiation.


Our Compass Points South: Notre Dame and Latin America

Latin American Club 1907 1908


Near the turn of the century, Notre Dame’s enrollment grew rapidly thanks to recruitment efforts in Mexico and Latin America. The high percentage of Catholics in Latin America provided a natural connection for Notre Dame. Historians indicate that by 1905, over 10 percent of the student population came from south of the border. Recruiting materials such as pamphlets, advertisements and catalogs were translated into Spanish and circulated widely.

So significant was the University’s relationship to this part of the world that it purchased a train car to make trips to and from South Bend. Faculty including Rev. John Zahm, C.S.C., chaperoned trips between campus and Mexico City.


Notre Dame’s involvement in Latin America never diminished, but it has been reinvigorated in recent years. Last year, 37% of first year international students hailed from Latin America. In March 2016, University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. led a delegation to Chile, Argentina and Brazil to strengthen relationships with Church and academic leaders there. Fr. Jenkins took the opportunity to announce the University will be opening a Global Gateway campus in Sao Paulo.

Fr. Jenkins followed up the trip with another to Mexico several months later. At that time, amid toxic political rhetoric in the U.S. directed at Mexico and its people that Fr. Jenkins called “churlish, insulting political theater,” the University president announced the opening of a Notre Dame office in Mexico City as a first step toward expanding ties in that country.


Notre Dame in World War I

Students in the military training corps at rifle target practice in the trenches, 1915-1916.  The Founder's Monument, Log Chapel, and Old College are in the background.


In 1910, Notre Dame students began offering formal instruction on military tactics under the tutelage of retired Army Captain R.R. Stodsgall. It was required for students under 17, optional for the older students. Yet when World War I broke out, the training became much more popular and the ranks swelled.

The preparations for fighting were ubiquitous on campus. Students drilled with rifles in trenches dug near Old College and Corby Hall. In all, some 2,200 students, faculty and alumni served in the Great War, including chaplains Rev. Matthew Walsh, C.S.C. and Rev. Charles O’Donnell, C.S.C., both later University presidents.

East door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart


Plans to memorialize Notre Dame’s service in the war started several years after armistice. Original plans called for all those with Notre Dame affiliation to be honored; eventually it was narrowed to just the names of the 56 young men who died. Their names are inscribed in the edifice to the east door of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, along with the engraving “God, Country, Notre Dame.” It is arguably the second-most photographed spot on campus. Each year, many ROTC graduates choose to hold their commissioning ceremonies here. Fr. O’Donnell’s “doughboy” helmet is hung with a light fixture inside the entrance.


The Lab of Rev. Julius Nieuwland, C.S.C.

Rev. Julius Nieuwland in a chemistry laboratory with a student, 1933-1934.


While rudimentary by today’s standards, Fr. Nieuwland’s lab in the Chemistry Building (now Crowley Hall, just south of LaFortune) was the scene of a breakthrough discovery. Fr. Nieuwland successfully polymerized acetylene into divinylacetylene, a formulae which DuPont later used in developing neoprene, or synthetic rubber.

McCourtney Hall


Today’s groundbreaking research takes place across disciplines. That is the premise behind Notre Dame’s newest research building, McCourtney Hall. Researchers from two Colleges – Engineering and Science – have joined forces in McCourtney to tackle three key programmatic areas: analytical sciences and engineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering, and drug discovery. They do so in spaces intended to foster interaction during which common challenges may surface, and innovative solutions may result.


Notre Dame Stadium

Football Game - Notre Dame vs. Purdue, 1946. Aerial view of campus and the Stadium.
Football Game Scene - Notre Dame vs. Washington, 1948. Player Frank Tripucka (#8) running with the ball as Leon Hart (#82) blocks.


While advances were being made in the classroom and the laboratory, Notre Dame’s prominence in athletics was growing as well, due in part to a commitment to travel the country to play opponents. As a result, the University’s football program in particular began to enjoy a national popularity that rendered its home venue, Cartier Field, inadequate. Coach Knute Rockne petitioned University president Rev. Charles O’Donnell, C.S.C. to build a more suitable stadium for the team, and on October 4, 1930, Notre Dame Stadium opened its doors as the Fighting Irish took on Southern Methodist University. (The Irish won the game 20-14, en route to capturing the national championship that year.)

Notre Dame Stadium on a game day.


Today, Notre Dame Stadium is one of the most iconic venues in all of sports. Yet its position on campus - both geographically and institutionally - has changed. The Basilica and Main Building will always be at the heart of the campus, but the area near the stadium is heavily trafficked by students and faculty on a daily basis. As a result, the University embarked on the largest construction project in its history, building three facilities adjoined to the stadium to create a year-round hub for academic and student life.


Notre Dame in World War II

Naval V-7 Military Training Units in formation on South Quad during World War II, 1942.


As the world was plunged into global conflict once again, Notre Dame was faced with the dilemma of many of the nation’s colleges: a severe decline in enrollment due to the draft and volunteers for the war effort. Pressed to find a solution, University president Rev. Hugh O’Donnell, C.S.C. allowed the Navy to establish training programs on campus. The Navy responded with an influx of some 12,000 students over the course of the war, and cash. The action quite literally saved Notre Dame from closing its doors. Meanwhile, the University touched the war effort in other ways: An accelerator from the physics department was commissioned for use in the Manhattan Project, for example. In addition, the Navy WAVES (the Women’s Reserve V-10 training corps) arrived on campus in July 1943, though they were not officially affiliated with the University. These women worked in local naval offices and lived in a hotel in South Bend.

Notre Dame running back Theo Riddick rushes to the end zone for a touchdown as Navy Midshipmen linebacker Keegan Wetzel (48) attempts to tackle during the first quarter the 2012 Emerald Isle Classic at Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland.


Immediately after the war, the University welcomed veterans completing schooling under the G.I. Bill to campus. Many were married, so instead of dorms, they were housed in re-purposed P.O.W. barracks directly east of the Main Building. A young priest named Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., became their chaplain. The area, known as “Vetville,” was in use until 1963.

There are longer-lasting remembrances of Notre Dame’s involvement World War II. As a thank you for its help in keeping the University open, Notre Dame assured the Naval Academy it could remain on its football schedule for as long as it wishes. The matchup is an annual event to this day.

In addition, the particle research from the war period, both inside and outside of the Manhattan Project, provided a solid foundation for the beginnings of a permanent radiation chemistry program at the University.


Hesburgh and the Civil Rights Commission

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh with Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Edgar Chandler (far left), and Msgr. Robert J. Hagarty of Chicago (far right) at the Illinois Rally for Civil Rights in Chicago's Soldier Field.


Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., served as University president from 1952 to 1987. The Notre Dame of today owes a great deal of its success and prestige to the presidency of Fr. Hesburgh. He moved Notre Dame into the fore on conversations of national importance on everything from higher education to the anti-war movement to civil rights.

Fr. Hesburgh was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the newly created Civil Rights Commission in 1957. The commission was intended to terminate the South's filibuster, which was blocking civil rights legislation, especially that which regarded voting rights, from passing and becoming law.

Fr. Ted famously convened the group at Land O’ Lakes, the University’s research facility in Wisconsin. It was at this retreat that the group formed a camaraderie that is credited with breaking a stalemate on several key issues, ultimately leading to the legislation’s passage.

Members of the community hold hands and sing


Fr. Ted’s contributions to equal rights were remembered fondly at a memorial service held after his passing in 2015. Current and former statesmen, as well dignitaries from higher education and the Church, joined thousands in Purcell Pavilion to pay tribute. Former Sen. Harris Wofford (PA), University trustee Martin Rodgers, and then-President Barack Obama (appearing via recorded message) all extolled Fr. Hesburgh’s tireless devotion to civil rights and increasing diversity at Notre Dame. Mr. Obama remarked, “[Fr. Hesburgh] taught us that together, we can do incredible things we can’t do on our own.”

In June 2017, a statue commemorating Fr. Ted's famous stand with Martin Luther King, Jr. was unveiled in South Bend. The statue is inspired by a photo of Fr. Ted after he spoke at a civil rights rally in Chicago, and joined hands with King to sing "We Shall Overcome."


Notre Dame Goes Co-ed

A September Thing - Picnic and Celebration


When a proposed merger between Notre Dame and neighboring Saint Mary's College, approved by the boards of both schools, was halted in November 1971, Notre Dame continued to pursue a course toward coeducation. Under the leadership of Fr. Hesburgh, it opened its doors to women undergraduates for the first time in school history in 1972. Some 365 women were enrolled that fall semester as the initial phase of implementing coeducation at the undergraduate level (women graduate students—mostly women religious—had been attending the University for decades). Making the University coeducational raised the standards of admission as its applicant pool doubled, and the percentage of female students increased over the years.

Seven women whose scholarship and leadership are empowering change in the global community.


Currently, about 47 percent of Notre Dame students are women. Their contributions to the University in every facet cannot be overstated. Since 1972, Notre Dame has produced five female Rhodes Scholars and 19 female valedictorians. In addition, the University features a Gender Studies Program in which scholars analyze the significance of gender to all areas of human life.


The Growing Campus





The University of Notre Dame is in the midst of one of the most significant periods of construction in its history: A combined 1.4 million square feet of research, classroom, residence, and student life space is being built on campus. Many of the buildings opened for the fall semester 2016, while others are progressing rapidly. But the exciting part is what will take place inside these buildings. More than bricks and mortar, these facilities represent new venues for discovery and learning that will fuel our ongoing commitment to academic excellence and an unsurpassed student experience.

Moreover, within the current construction boom are examples of how the University is seeking to solidify its standing as a premier Catholic research institution with a broad and expanding international presence, notably McCourtney Hall, a center for interdisciplinary research in engineering and science, as well as Jenkins Hall and Nanovic Hall, which will house the Keough School for Global Affairs, Notre Dame’s first new college or school in a century. The Keough School will advance integral human development through research, policy and practice; transformative educational programs, and partnerships for global engagement.