Notre Dame, our Mother
Tender, strong and true,
Proudly in the heavens
Gleams thy gold and blue.
Glory’s mantle cloaks thee,
Golden is thy fame,
And our hearts forever
Praise thee, Notre Dame.
And our hearts forever
Love thee, Notre Dame.
—University of Notre Dame Alma Mater, text by Joseph Casasanta
Whether one is arriving to campus on the eve of a new semester, returning to campus as part of the daily commute, or visiting campus for the first time, when students, faculty, staff, and visitors make that turn from Angela Boulevard on to Notre Dame Avenue, all are greeted by Notre Dame’s most recognizable landmark, the Main Building. The statue of Mary perched on top of the iconic golden dome against the blue sky completes the illustration of our Alma Mater: “Proudly in the heavens gleams thy gold and blue.”
The original building on this site burned down in the spring of 1879 and, with the determination that this University would be a “powerful force for good” in the world, Fr. Sorin is said to have begun rebuilding the next day. Not defeated by the destruction in the wake of the fire, Fr. Sorin responded to the devastation with conviction, claiming, “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.” With the support of the community, the University of Notre Dame was ready to begin classes again in the fall.
The Main Building originally housed the entirety of campus. A place for faculty, staff, and students to live, learn, pray, and eat together. These threads of Notre Dame’s humble origins guided by values of faith, resiliency, residentiality, and education are still prominent throughout all of campus today. Although campus has expanded past this original crossroads, Fr. Sorin’s statue stands in front of the Main Building as he watches how this Catholic university continues to educate the minds and hearts of all students today.
Placing Mary in all her glory prominently on top of Main Building and naming this University after her demonstrates Fr. Sorin’s deep devotion to Our Lady. He entrusted this campus and all who step on these hallowed grounds to our Blessed Mother, an icon of someone who models for us what it means to hope and trust in God. Fr. Sorin was also a witness of hope throughout the many trials he encountered. Formed in the Holy Cross charism, he, like Mary, endured much sorrow and joy, but never lost faith and hope in God’s Divine Providence.
I currently live in a residence hall conveniently located on “God Quad” and throughout my day find myself crossing back and forth on the path between Mary on top of the dome and the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. In a small effort to embrace the aesthetics of this campus and turn my daily routines into prayer, I try to pause for a moment, every time I pass this central spot on campus, standing humbly with Christ before our Blessed Mother. Doing so, I turn my gaze toward Mary—sometimes to say a short prayer, other times to simply take a moment in the busyness of my day—and am consoled by her familiarity. I’ve come to know Christ in a deeper way through Mary.
Mary, the first disciple, models how we are to respond openly and courageously to God. She allowed the work of the Holy Spirit to animate her mission to bring Christ into the world, a mission full of joy and sorrow. As the mission of God became incarnate through Mary’s yes, we stand on this campus today, cloaked with her courage, to respond to God’s invitation with that same openness and grace.
Today the Main Building houses many of the upper-level administration offices. Decisions made here daily seek to promote Notre Dame’s character as a Catholic academic community searching for truth. Informed by Fr. Moreau’s vision for Catholic education, these administrators, guided by Mary’s example, find accompaniment in their mission to form the minds and hearts of all entrusted to them. When it comes time for each of us to depart down Notre Dame Avenue, with the Main Building in our rearview mirrors, educators in the Holy Cross tradition can claim with confidence that they have prepared useful citizens for society and for heaven.
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