Former residents, rectors reflect
Assistant News Editor
A father brought his family to the shore of St. Mary's Lake one fall morning, intent on showing them the building where he spent his four years at Notre Dame. Thinking he had lost his way, he sheepishly asked a passing student for directions to his former residence hall.
He left that day without pictures of his old dorm, his old room, and his old hangouts, but rather with a picture of a barren field and a marble monument that marked the 1990 demolition of his former home, Holy Cross Hall.
Birth of a hall
In 1885, the Brothers of the Holy Cross constructed the St. Aloysius Scholasticate, a high school seminary, on the raised area between the lakes. Four years later, it was rechristened with name the it would retain for over 100 years: Holy Cross Hall. Among the residents of the seminary was University president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh.
In 1967, Notre Dame leased the "building across the lake" from the Brothers of the Holy Cross to serve as a men's residence hall.
"The new students that moved into Holy Cross in 1967 were very free-thinking. They were into protesting the Vietnam War and into the peace movement, so they liked the setting and the fact that they had their own environment," said Pete LaFleur, who was the last president of the hall.
Holy Cross developed a reputation for being a close-knit community on the fringe of Notre Dame's residence life — a reputation enhanced by its secluded location between the lakes.
"When you consider how close the other residence halls are to each other and to the dining halls ... we had the sense that we were lost and forgotten in the woods out there," said Bill Kirk, assistant vice president for Residence Life. Kirk was a former resident of the hall and served as rector of Holy Cross during its last year of operation.
"The dorm was as close to a fraternity that this place has ever had," said LaFleur.
Long before Breen-Phillips became informally known as the Pigs, Holy Cross proudly bore the name "Hogs." Though the source of the name isn't certain, many speculate it derives from the amount of mud that Holy Cross students would track into the dining hall from their walk along the lake.
The fields that gave Holy Cross its trademark seclusion also provided a venue for many of the dorm's most popular events. One such event, Hog Bowl, raised money for the homeless by hosting a tournament for each dorm's section football championship team.
Another famous event, HogStock, took place during AnTostal 1990. The day-long music festival, reminiscent of Woodstock, was somewhat of a "last hurrah" for dorm residents.
"We just wanted to have a lot of cool events that last semester just to celebrate the last semester," said LaFleur.
In 1991, a similar event, HogStock II, was held on the former location of the dorm.
St. Mary's Lake also played an important role in many Holy Cross traditions.
"There was this idea of having to cross the lake in the middle of winter. We used to have contests to see who would cross the ice last before the thaw," said Kirk, recalling memories as a freshman in Holy Cross.
Even the walk itself contributed to the spirit of the hall.
"You had a lot of unique sensory experiences walking out there," said LaFleur.
One hundred years of annexes and renovations gave the building an eccentric architecture, as well as some surprising room designs. Holy Cross had a six man, an eight man, and the largest of all campus dorm rooms: the Nine.
The building also had two third floors, called Third New and Third Old. To get from Third New to Third Old, one had to descend to the second floor and then ascend on the other side.
"It was always classic because you'd have people [in Third New] looking for parties in the Nine, which was in Third Old," said LaFleur.
The rich century-old history also brought with it a host of structural problems. The owners of the building, the Brothers of the Holy Cross, were faced with the decision to either renovate Holy Cross Hall or tear it down.
"All four years that I was there, there was always the rumor that it was going to happen," said LaFleur.
In 1986 the University announced that Holy Cross would be closed in May 1988. Overcrowding in campus housing, however, gave the residents a two-year stay of execution, postponing the date to May 1990.
"It just sort of happened," said LaFleur. "In that respect, those of us that were seniors felt really fortunate that we were able to be there four years."
Holy Cross did not accept first year students during the '89-'90 school year. Instead, approximately 50 transfer students filled the empty spaces, giving them a chance to live on campus when they might otherwise have had to spend the year off campus.
"It was neat for the transfer students, because back then when you transferred in, it was hard to get housing," said LaFleur.
"The reason it was finally torn down was the that hall wasn't worth being repaired. There were problems with the windows, problems with the boiler and the heating system," said Father Pat Sullivan, who spent 10 years in the dorm as assistant rector and rector.
Kirk remembers being woken by early-rising students demanding that he turn on the hot water, which was controlled by an old mechanism in an outhouse.
"I had to learn how to fire up this big boiler in this other building," Kirk said. "It was just a really old building."
Yearly renovations have prevented any buildings from falling into the same disrepair that Holy Cross did.
"I don't think we'll ever let a hall get into that shape again," Kirk said.
Unlike Grace and Flanner Halls, which closed in 1996 and 1997, Holy Cross had no clear successor hall.
"The guys from Holy Cross ended up getting scattered around," Kirk said.
Students staying on campus first went through a "dorm pick" before attending room picks in their future residence halls. For the most part, students were able to move to dorms in small blocks, such that a small group of friends would be able to live in the same hall. Grace Hall took in the largest amount of Holy Cross refugees.
"I think one whole floor or section in Grace was [from Holy Cross]," Kirk said.
LaFleur was unaware of any notifications in the alumni magazines that Holy Cross had been torn down. Many returning alumni found out the hard way.
"A lot of people came back the next football seasons bringing their families up the path, and that's how they found out it was gone," LaFleur said.
Perhaps the most compelling reminder of Holy Cross is the asphalt path — the "Walk" — that leads from the shore of the lake to the crest of the hill, right up to where the front door once stood.
"Generations of Notre Dame students and seminarians lived there," Kirk said. "There was a lot of history in that hall that went away. It disappeared."
The structure was demolished during the summer of 1990.
"I remember going over there when it was being demolished. That was pretty emotional. I remember walking among the rubble, standing in spots thinking, `This is where so-and-so happened' or `This is where food sales was,'" Kirk said. "It was neat to walk among the rubble. ... I remember grabbing a brick from the rubble pile."
"Some people may not be able to relate, but we had a strong attachment to the place that we lived," said LaFleur, adding that he spent the night before graduation chiseling bricks from the side of Holy Cross. "It's weird to look over and not see it there."
Today, two stone markers — the 1889 cornerstone and a historical head stone — near the shore of the lake celebrate the memory of Holy Cross Hall.
Engraved on the back of the larger stone are two small hogs, proving that beyond the destruction of their dorm, the spirit of Holy Cross Hall lives on.
"It was totally like a family atmosphere. Those things are always going to be memories you have. You can't take away the friendships and the good times we had," LaFleur said. "[Holy Cross] is the spirit, not the building."
All News Stories for Friday, October 1, 1999