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The Story of Notre Dame


The Story of Notre Dame

Nov 25 1942

[As published in The Notre Dame Alumnus, December 1942]


This radio play was written by Professor Richard Sullivan, a faculty member of the Department of English, at the University of Notre Dame. It was broadcast over a nation-wide NBC hookup on Wednesday night November 25, from 10:30 to 11:00, Central War Time.


MUSIC: (Full, then down as background.)

ANNOUNCER: On this eve of Thanksgiving, The University of Notre Dame, celebrating the one hundredth year of its founding, presents--

NARRATOR: The Story of Notre Dame! 

MUSIC: (Up full, then cut.)

A hundred years have ended. Tonight we remember the beginning, the meagre, strange beginning, of a story full of the hope and courage of America--

SOUND: (wind, low as background.

You hear that wind? Listen.

SOUND: (wind, up, then occasionally low through following.)

It's blowing now the way it blew the day the schooner Iowa sailed into port at New York a hundred and one years ago, September 13, 1841. That was a Thursday, like tomorrow. The master of the Iowa was Captain Pell. Among the passengers were Father Edward Sorin and six Religious Brothers. They had crossed the Atlantic that summer from France.

SOUND: (wind; water; creaking of oars.)

You hear the sound of oars in water? Late that Thursday afternoon Father Sorin was rowed ashore in a small boat. And Sorin did something when he got ashore that men had done before him and men have done since-- He knelt and

SORIN: (deep voice, softly, slight French accent)

I kiss the earth of America. 

MUSIC: (Up.)

And now, my Brothers, 

We have work to do!

MUSIC: (Up. Softly, background.)

NARRATOR: Yes, they had work to do.

A month later these seven were a thousand miles deep in this American continent. They were at Vincennes, in Indiana. There's a lot I could tell you about Vincennes-- They were there a year. But the real thing is that while they were there, and before they got there, even before they'd left the old world for the new one, Sorin had kept one purpose clear-- They had work to do: they were going to start a college. He didn't know where and he didn't know when, but they were going to do it. When time and place came he knew he would know how. It took that year to find the place. In the fall of forty-two the Bishop of Vincennes gave them some land on a couple of little lakes up in the elbow bend of the St. Joe River in the northern part of Indiana. Winter came early and fierce that year. The trip was two hundred-sixty miles. They went by ox and by horse, fording slush and crossing ice, fighting the snow and the iron cold, and on the eleventh day,

MUSIC: (up slightly, accelerated.)

the twenty-sixth of November, 1842--a hundred years ago, tomorrow, then, at ten o'clock in the morning. Father Sorin and his Brothers in religion--crossed the St. Joe River on blue-white ice and came to--

MUSIC: (cut.)

SORIN: (softly--slight French accent) 

Notre Dahm du Lac! Everything frozen, and yet--it is all so beautiful. . . I think we all feel like little children-- We would like to run along the shore of the lake, in spite of the cold!

NARRATOR: That was what Father Sorin said. Not words made up for a radio program, but his words. A little while later that morning he and his companions gathered in the old mission chapel that was set back from the shores of St. Mary's lake--

SORIN (softly)

Holy Mother of God--Notre Dahm du lac--with my Brothers and myself, I present to thee now at this moment all those generous souls whom Heaven shall be pleased to call round me on this spot and all who shall come after me.

MUSIC: (up very brief; cut.)

NARRATOR: --and all who shall come after him. A handful of men in the snow--Today there are 3000 students in residence at Notre Dame. And those who have come after Sorin have come from every one of the forty-eight states of our Union--from Alaska and Canada and Brazil, from the Canal Zone and China, from Mexico and Peru, the Hawaiian Islands and West Africa-- Other places too--say the six continents and the seven seas have all sent men to Notre Dame--that gives you the idea. . . . A handful of men in the snow.


But between then and now--struggle and strain, fervor and fever, death and growth between then and now.


VOICE: (cutting in sharp

The malaria!

NARRATOR: Yes, the malaria. Between 1852 and '56, at the worst time of all a third of the community--priests, Brothers, and nuns--died of malaria.


VOICE (cutting in) The Civil War!

NARRATOR: I'm not forgetting--that was the first war for Notre Dame.

SOUND: (distant galloping.)

The governor of Indiana sent a courier to the campus, appealing for help, nurses and chaplains. The nuns went as nurses, and Notre Dame sent more chaplains to the Union Armies than any other community or diocese in the country.


VOICE: Father Corby at Gettysburg!

NARRATOR: Yes . . . that's a story to remember.

SOUND: (Low crowd noises distant rumble of cannon)

Four o'clock in the afternoon of July 2, 1863. The battle of Gettysburg has already begun.

SOUND: (Low distant rumbling as background to following:)

Father William Corby of Notre Dame, now chaplain to the famous Irish Brigade, stands on a great black rock in the midst of Union soldiers--

CORBY: Men, I need not remind you of the high and sacred nature of your trust, and of the noble object for which you fight. I have proposed to your commander that before going into battle I give to all of you a general absolution.

SOUND: (Crowd murmurs.)

CORBY: This is intended--in so far as it can be--not only for our brigade but for all, North and South, who are susceptible to it--

SOUND: (Distant rumble.

and who this day are about to appear before their Judge. 

SOUND: (Distant scattered burst of rifle fire, distant rumble of cannons. Crowd murmurs, shuffling sounds. Then hush.)

NARRATOR (softly): They're all kneeling-- 

SOUND: (Distant scattered bursts of rifle fire. Distant rumble of cannon. Then, up close, crowd murmurs, shuffling sounds. Then hush.)

NARRATOR: (softly) They're all kneeling. Catholics and non-Catholics. The priest high on the rock is raising his right hand over them.

CORBY: "Dominus Noster Jesus Christus vos absolvat, et ego auctoritate ipsius, vos absolvo ab omni vinculo (murmuring now) excommunicationis et interdicti in quantum possum et vos indigetis (clearly) deinde ego absolve vos, a peccatis vestris,

SOUND: (Sharp rattle of rifles, off.)

in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.

SOUND: (Boom of cannon, off.


MUSIC: (low but gathering strength and intensity.)

NARRATOR: There is so much to remember. Hours of days and men and the rolling years.

VOICES: The fire!

NARRATOR: April 23, 1879, in its thirty-seventh year, Notre Dame burned to the ground. Listen!

SOUND: (Low crackling as background.)

It's eleven o'clock on an April morning. Bright sun, clear sky, and a spring-sweet wind.

SOUND: (crackle of flames close up.)

VOICE: (in distance) College on fire! 

VOICE: (closer, higher pitch) College on fire!

SOUND: (crowd cries; crackling.

VOICES: (rising pitch) Fire!



SOUND: (crowd and crackling, continued as background to following.)

NARRATOR: (low excited voice) You can see it now, it's on the east side of the dome of the college building. Grey-black smoke. The wind takes it away. Quick sharp tongues of flame. They look mean. They look white against the blue sky, yellow-white and mean. Against the smoke they're red. And they're spreading! It's a pitch roof! You can't see the flame now for smoke. You can't see the roof now for red fire! They're carrying water.

SOUND: (Background crackling, many footsteps hurrying.)

Priests and Brothers and teachers and students, they're running with buckets and tubs of water. Wait! Hey! What's that? Two students just ran by with a glass case of stuffed animals. They're bringing out books and trunks, and desks. There goes a boy with a framed painting as big as he is! They say the water pipes have burst. That's why they're carrying water.

SOUND: (Crash of timber; crackling.)

What? What's that?--They tell me two students are trapped up there where the fire's worst. I don't know. . . .

SOUND: (crash of timber.

Whew! It's getting hot here, you can feel the heat fifty yards away. And the smoke--it makes your eyes water.

What? I can't hear you! 


Those boys who were trapped are out safe. They jumped through a burnt floor to the story below--

SOUND: (Crash, loud crackling louder.)

Ah! The dome! The dome has fallen! That was the dome falling, that crash you heard. Oh, it's no use now. It's too late. All they can do is try to save other buildings now. Wind's from the south-west blowing away from the church, so that ought to be safe. But the college-- All they can hope for is to save the other buildings.

SOUND: (Fire roar up loud to climax. Then out.)

The college is gone!

MUSIC: (Up softly. Continued as background.)

Yes, it took the fire three hours that April day to wreck the work of thirty-seven years. At nightfall Notre Dame was a heap of smoking rubble. The night air smelled of ashes. Father Sorin was away. They were almost afraid to send him word. He was sixty-six now, they didn't know how he'd stand the shock. But they sent a message, and he came back . . . home. I wish I could make you see the man. Straight, white-bearded, patriarchal, he came to the ruins of his "Notre Dahm du lac." Nobody can say how he felt. But you know what he did. He called the community together in the church--the only building left--and standing on the altar steps he told them, very calmly and confidently, with his faith and his resolution running through his words like electricity through a tense wire--he told them that a new Notre Dame would be open to students that fall. He had built before and he'd build again.

MUSIC: (cut.

SORIN: (Slight accent) If it were all gone I should not give up! 

NARRATOR: That was how he ended. And if they went into the church that day as beaten men they came out as builders, conscious of hands to work with, ready to rake and sift and clear, raise beams and set stone, lay brick and spread plaster. Out of the dark ashes that summer rose the new Notre Dame, open to students that fall.

MUSIC: (Swelling and prolonged, about 30 seconds. Then cut.)

NARRATOR: The new Notre Dame. A university sharing in the life and adding to the life of America. 

How am I going to tell you about Notre Dame, so that right now, tonight, you listening in will get an idea of its constant sharing and contributing? What would you like to know? What's pertinent right now, tonight? Would you like to see past and present come together? See what Notre Dame has done in the past that is still living now, on this eve of Thanksgiving, 1942?

VOICE 1: Planes! 

VOICE 2: Radio! 

VOICE 3: Rubber!

NARRATOR: Yes. Planes, radio, and rubber. Things of today. Well . . . .

VOICE (Sharply): In the 1880's Professor Albert Zahm was experimenting at Notre Dame with gliders launched from the roof of Science Hall and landing in Brownson campus, at Notre Dame. Zahm built the first wind tunnel. His pioneer contributions to the science of aeronautics were acknowledged by the Wright brothers, who followed him and by still later pioneers.

NARRATOR: There are some good stories about Albert Zahm. The night he strapped wings on an assistant and hoisted him up by rope and tackle in the big two-storied foyer of Science Hall and there twirled him round and round--and when the caretaker next morning found footsteps running sidewards twenty feet up on the dusty wall--he thought ghosts had been walking! But I guess I'm taking up time with stories--

VOICE (Sharply): In the 1890's Professor Jerome Green, after four years of experimentation with wireless, duplicated Marconi's famous achievement within a month, at Notre Dame. There were technical differences in the methods. But the results were identical.

NARRATOR: The first wireless message in America was sent by Jerome Green from the church tower at Notre Dame to a receiving set at St. Mary's College a couple of miles away.

VOICE (Sharply): Back in the 1920's working in the chemistry laboratories at Notre Dame, Father Julius Nieuwland discovered his formula for synthetic rubber. His was the basic work of pioneering. Later developments, based on his formula, have led to the production today of a Synthetic vital to America.

NARRATOR: Back in 1912 Father Nieuwland had a laboratory assistant named Knute Kenneth Rockne. He later became well-known in another field. -- But you see what I mean now: The past at Notre Dame contributing to the present. And it has not been just planes, radio, and rubber, or the dozen other things I could talk about. No-- Most of all--and I feel proud looking back and saying this--most of all it has been men!

MUSIC: (up softly as background.

It was men in 1917. Something over twenty-two hundred Notre Dame men in uniform.

MUSIC: (continues as background.

The two bronze tablets at the east door of Sacred Heart Church list the names of the Notre Dame war-dead of 1917 and '18. The inscription over that door reads:

VOICE: "God, Country, Notre Dame. In glory everlasting."

NARRATOR: And the windows there, lead-ribbed, stained glass, rich with sun, ruby-colored and deep blue, are windows of the warrior Saints, Michael and Joan of Arc.

MUSIC: (up briefly, then cut.

SOUND: (occasional low rumbling of heavy guns as background through following.)

There was the time Father Matt Walsh, Vice President of the University, in France as a chaplain, looked up and down the trenches at night for an enlisted man who had quit school at Notre Dame just before commencement of his senior year, without waiting for a diploma.

WALSH: Dan!--Oh, Dan McGlynn! 

MCGLYNN: Father Walsh!

WALSH: I've been looking for you. 

MCGLYNN: It's good to see you! 

WALSH: Dan, they want men for officers training at once-- They need them badly. I told them about you. 

MCGLYNN: But Father, they want college graduates. 

WALSH: You finished your work at Notre Dame. 

MCGLYNN: But I've no diploma, no degree! 

WALSH: We'll have them mail the diploma from home, Dan. And as to the degree-- (slowly) By virtue of the authority vested in me as vice-president of the University of Notre Dame du lac, and in the absence of the president and the rest of the faculty I here and now confer upon you, Daniel McGlynn, the degree of bachelor of laws.

MUSIC: (up loud. Then cut.

NARRATOR: Stories of men and of Notre Dame. The 1920's now, when some people first began to think about Notre Dame as the place where the football teams came from--

SOUND: (Crowd sounds; cheering.

MUSIC: (Dim background of Victory March.)

The Four Horsemen, the National Champions, Coach Rockne--

MUSIC: (Cut.)

SOUND: (Cut.

Rockne . . . Everybody knows his story, and knowing it, knows something of Notre Dame.

SOUND: (Distant sound of plane motor, idling, getting louder as hurried footsteps sound over it.)

VOICE: Just in time, Mr. Rockne. They're ready to take off.

SOUND: (Door click, roar of plane motor, gradually diminishing, as in distance. Plane sound off. Phone bell. Pause. Phone bell. Click of receiver.)

VOICE: (slight Irish brogue) Hello. . . . Yes . . . This is Notre Dame. Whom do you want? . . . 

What?--You're sure? Yes. . . .

SOUND: (Click of phone receiver.

The plane crashed. Rockne's--dead!

SOUND: (Babble of voices, breaking off.)

MUSIC: (for each of following and swelling up louder again immediately.)

VOICE: Did you hear about--? 


VOICE: It's just a rumor! 


VOICE: It's on the radio! It's in the paper! Rockne's dead!


VOICE: Rockne?--dead?


SOUND: (Babble loud and confused, rising. Then cut.)

MUSIC: (Up softly.

NARRATOR: That was on March 31, 1931. On April 5 Father Charles O'Donnell, then president of the University, preached Rock's funeral sermon.

MUSIC: (Swelling, then cut.

O'DONNELL: What was the secret of his irresistible appeal to all sorts and conditions of men? I think, supremely, he loved his neighbor, his fellowman, with genuine, deep love, giving himself, spending himself like water, not for himself but for others. And once again in his case, most illustriously is verified the Christian paradox--he has cast away to keep, he has lost his life to find it. This is not death but immortality. O Mother of God and Mother of God's men, we give him into thy keeping. Mary, gate of Heaven, open to receive him. Mary, Morning Star, shine upon his sea. Mary of Notre Dame, take him unto thy House of Gold. Our Life, our Sweetness, and our Hope, we lay him in thy bosom.

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord--

CROWD VOICES: And let perpetual light shine upon him.

MUSIC: (Up, swelling and prolonged. Then cut.)

NARRATOR: Yes . . . And that just about brings the story--the way I'm telling it, with gaps and jumps--the full way round. Poverty and malaria, fire and war, death and growth. The hundred and first year is starting. A hundred years-- It's a long enough time to celebrate gratefully. But if looking back over it and feeling the good warm human pride that's natural looking back, you then do what those men did a hundred years ago, if you look ahead, as they did, to the other years, the coming ones, 1952, 1982, 2042, well, then time grows meaningful, somehow, and Notre Dame's first hundred years grow meaningful, because -- Today Notre Dame is not just a university with all the v-programs and reserve corps and war training classes for civilians that go today with Universities. It is also a United States Naval training base. Twelve hundred fifty future officers of the Navy are today in training on the campus of Notre Dame under Captain Henry P. Burnett. Listen.

SOUND: (Marching feet) "Hup-2-3-4! Hup! -2-3-4!" "Halt!" (Cut marching.)

That's one part of Notre Dame today. The Notre Dame that Father Sorin founded on the earth of midwestern America.

SOUND: (Footsteps, hurrying.

STUDENT A (groaning) These eight o'clock classes!

STUDENT B: We'll be late again. The bell's due.

STUDENT A: Come on. We'll take the side door.

STUDENT B: He'll throw a quiz today, sure.

SOUND: (Rattle of door.

STUDENT B: What's the matter? 

STUDENT A: Door's locked. 

STUDENT B: Push it. It sticks sometimes.

SOUND: (Rattle of door.)

STUDENT A: (grunting): Uh-uh.

SOUND: (Distant bell, like phone bell.)

STUDENT B: Oh-oh, there's the eight o'clock bell. We're late!

STUDENT A: It was never locked before. We've gone in this way other mornings when we were late!

STUDENT B: Can you see anybody inside? 

STUDENT A: No. . . . Wait! Yes! There's a watchman in there! He's coming to the door! 

STUDENT B: A watchman? What? 

STUDENT A: I don't know what--

SOUND: (Door click.

WATCHMAN: All right fellows--looking for somebody? 

STUDENT A: We just want to get in! 

STUDENT B: We're due at an eight o'clock class! 

STUDENT A: Thanks for opening--

WATCHMAN: Sorry. You'll have to go round to the front door. 

STUDENT A: But we always use this-- 

STUDENT B: We're late! 

WATCHMAN: This door is locked from now on. Have you a pass to get in? Government research going on down in the basement lab.

STUDENT A: War research? 

WATCHMAN: That's right. 

STUDENT B: Come on, we have to get going!

SOUND: (Footsteps, running, fading off.)

NARRATOR: Yes . . . That's another part of Notre Dame today. The campus, which is the same as it always was, yet is not quite the same as it always was. There are some doors which do not open now, but they will open again. And there are other doors, new ones, which have opened wide. Over 800 adults, men and women, are enrolled right now in Notre Dame's war training program, for civilians. They were meeting tonight, those classes. They've been over now for about an hour. Some of the people in them aren't even home yet, because they come to Notre Dame from within a radius of about thirty miles.

VOICE: General Aeronautics! Tool and Die Design! Metallurgy!

NARRATOR: Those are some of the courses taught. Twenty-six in all, with double sections of some subjects.

MAN-A: I'm taking Electric Motors and Controls, myself. Seems queer, for an office-worker!

MAN-B: This Industrial Math--that's what I signed up for. It's the biggest class they have.

MAN-C: No--Personnel Administration is the biggest. That's the one I'm in! 

MAN-D: My wife and I both signed up for Engineering Drawing. Seems kind of funny to us to be both in school together, after so many years. 

MUSIC: (Up as background.)

NARRATOR: And that's another part of Notre Dame today, as it starts its hundred and first year.

And there are still other things to tell you-- There are no bronze tablets on the church door yet for this war's dead. But there is a scroll in the vestibule, and the list of names there is growing, to grief but to glory.

MUSIC: (Up softly background.

And there is another Notre Dame today--it's hard for me to explain this but you'll see what I mean. 

Another Notre Dame not here on the campus but everywhere, in far places, on islands and mainlands, in snow and in sand, by sea and by sky, wherever on the round world its men are in battle--students, alumni, chaplains, professors -- three thousand in uniform, now, tonight -- "generous souls who shall come after me," Father Sorin called them once in anticipation--wherever its men are tonight in service of God and of country, Notre Dame is there too, tonight. This point in space has spread into human hearts. I could tell you more, but you see what I mean about Notre Dame.

MUSIC: (Up to close.)