Built in 1831 as the headquarters for French missionaries working in northern Indiana, the Log Chapel was the first building on what is now Notre Dame’s campus. Fr. Sorin received the Log Chapel, along with the rest of the campus property, when he arrived in 1842. This one-room cabin with an attic served all of Notre Dame’s needs during its first year.
The current Log Chapel is a 1906 reproduction; the original burned down in 1856. Fr. Stephen Badin—the first priest ordained in the United States—donated the land for Notre Dame, helped build the original Log Chapel, and is now buried beneath the replica.
As I reflect on the Log Chapel, I think about all of the clergy, students, administrators, and visitors who have set foot inside and become part of its rich history. Since its inception as the center of operations for the missionaries working in this region, its purpose has been one of prayer, reflection, and welcome. For decades, it has provided a setting for Masses, First Reconciliations, and First Holy Communions for Notre Dame community members. Despite the many chapels on campus, the Log Chapel is one of only two places where the sacrament of Baptism is celebrated, and that distinction marked the beginning of my personal connection to the Log Chapel.
In the late winter of 1996, I was welcomed into the Church as my family and other guests crowded around the baptismal font in the Log Chapel. The events of that day were preserved on video, and I’ve been able to witness the many moments of joy shared by the guests, as well as moments of gravity when my parents and godparents pronounced the baptismal vows on my behalf (I was, after all, an infant!).
I’ve been fortunate to witness many other Baptisms in the Log Chapel since then, primarily those of my nieces and nephews. I’m always struck by the intimacy created in this small house of worship. The community that gathers there to celebrate the sacraments is bonded by the closeness of the physical space, the proximity to the altar and to one another, and as a result is compelled to enter more deeply into the mysteries of the faith unfolding before them.
Unlike many of the dorms, administrative buildings, and lecture halls on campus, the Log Chapel has not been updated to match the grandeur of other buildings. It has not had new, “state-of-the-art” technology installed. Its small stature and humble appearance continue to reflect its original construction, even after the 1906 reproduction was built. As the campus landscape has evolved around it and the pace of the world we live in has quickened over time, the Log Chapel stands resolute and unchanged in its mission, a tribute to the earliest days of the University.
There is a parallel here, I think, to how we are called to witness to the faith as Christians. We should not draw attention to ourselves or seek worldly accolades for our Christian behavior (see Matthew 6:6), but rather remain steadfast and humble, seeking always to let the light of Christ shine through us. And so we have the Log Chapel, an unassuming building tucked away by St. Mary’s Lake in which countless professions of faith have been given over the years, to remind us of that call.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made
by passing through some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Only God could say
what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit
of believing that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
as a pilgrim on earth and today on this campus,
I carry with me the missionary spirit of your Church.
Help me to trust that you will work
through my humble efforts and enable me
to be a sign and instrument of your presence here on earth.
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