Cave of Candles
Notre Dame Legends and Lore / by Dorothy V. Corson

Photo by Robert Ringel ©
The Heart of the Notre Dame Campus

German Missionary’s Diary Describes Michiana in 1840s Before Sorin’s Arrival

Every archival treasure needs a reason to surface, and the author’s interest in Indians on campus before the arrival of Father Sorin, the founder of the University of Notre , was that reason. The presence of a huge sycamore on the Grotto lawn -- reputed to have been there in Indian times -- prompted a side search to establish its age by looking for any information associated with Indians on campus in the university archives.

In the midst of my grotto research, Peter Lysy, one of the university’s archivists, ran across a transcription of the diary while filing something else and kept it out for me to look at. As a result of that good fortune, a German Missionary’s diary written before Sorin’s arrival describes in detail the original log chapel at Notre Dame which also served as his lodging. The diary also describes an Indian baptism in St. Mary’s Lake, a visit with Mrs. Coquillard and the missionary’s walk to Bertrand, Michigan.

The above portions of the diary about Notre Dame are detailed in A Cave of Candles, Chapter 22a,“An Archival Treasure.” The segments that follow are from the last portion of his diary dealing with Michiana -- upper Indiana and lower Michigan. In these last two segments he describes the general Michiana area in this case, St. Joseph Valley and Bertrand, Michigan. This first segment describes the lay of the land in 1840-41 and the role the men like Alexis Coquillard, an Indian Trader, played in developing the town of South Bend, as one of the founders.

The second segment, “A Walk to Bertrand,” describes the high hopes and hard times and illnesses the settlers had endured and were still enduring during the time the missionary visited Bertrand, which occurred a year or two before Sorin’s arrival at St. Mary of the Lake in November of 1942. The University of Notre Dame and its faculty and students would go through this same “trial by fire” during an epidemic of Cholera that swept the region in the 1850s.

This archival gem surfaced after being hidden away in a file for 30 years. Lysy found it just in time to be included in my A Cave of Candles manuscript. How this diary wound up in the archives is another interesting story. In 1972, the Indiana Historical Society was cataloging some of its materials. It was then that Caroline Dunn, the historical society’s librarian at the time, discovered a book written by an unidentified German missionary priest.

The 296-page book recounted his travels through Canada, New England and the Midwest -- including his experiences in the Michiana area. Dunn, asked if the Notre Dame archives had a copy. The missionary’s description of the Interior of the original “mission house located at St. Mary of the Lake” and its surroundings speaks for itself. This area would eventually become the site of the University of Notre Dame.

The diary was translated from German by Erik Dix, an archivist at the University of Notre Dame Archives. Readers may find some of the terms and the writer’s viewpoint, which was common more than 150 years ago, objectionable.

In the first of the two last segments of the German Missionary’s diary he speaks of Alexis Coquillard, the fur trader, and co-founder of South Bend who tells him of the restless life led by many of the men of his day who traded with the Indians:

Alexis Coquillard, Indian Trader

Old Convent and School, St. Mary’s Academy -- Bertrand, Michigan

In “A Walk to Bertrand, Mich., ca. 1840,” the German missionary speaks of his visit to Bertrand and how he was sent there from Detroit to “celebrate Easter” in the mother tongue of the Germans living in the vicinity. Their district priest was unable to speak German. In this segment, he gives an account of his walk to Bertrand, Michigan, and the people he met before the Sisters of the Holy Cross founded their school there. With the assistance of Father Sorin, St. Mary’s Academy was later moved from Bertrand to Notre Dame, Indiana where it was destined to become Saint Mary’s College.

Joseph Bertrand -- Founder of Bertrand, Michigan

A Walk to Bertrand: Immigrants Face Test of Disease as Well as Cultivating Land

This is the last segment about Bertrand from the German missionary’s diary. Here he speaks of the people he met in Bertrand, south of Niles, and the sermon he gave in the mother tongue of the German settler who had waited many years for the arrival of a German missionary. All that is left now of the once-thriving town of Bertrand is the house that was part of the old convent where St. Mary’s Academy was founded, the foundation of the little brick church, and its neglected cemetery.

Photo Provided by Fort St. Joseph Museum
St. Mary’s Church and Cemetery in better times -- circa 1840

At Bertrand, Missionary Priest Performs Mass for German immigrants and Indians

Dorothy V. Corson
April 5, 2003

*Skizzen aus Nord-Amerika (Augsburg 1845), description of the Michiana Area, ca. 1840, Indians of North America Printed Material (PP0T) University of Notre Dame Archives. English translation by Erik Dix, archivist at the University of Notre Dame Archives

Continue for more photographs of Bertrand and a Link to the rest of the German Missionary’s Diary

St. Mary’s Neglected Church was Torn Down and sold for bricks in 1912

Photo provided by Mary Jo McCammon
Squire Daniel C. Higbee owner of Higbee Inn and Postmaster of Bertrand for 50 Years

The Old Higbee Inn owned by Squire Daniel C. Higbee

An extraordinary detailed description of Badin’s original Indian Chapel and its surroundings was penned by this same German Missionary in the form a transcribed journal of letters to his European Doctor friend during a stay at Badin’s original Log Chapel in 1840.

Photo by Robert F. Ringel ©
Old College, The Dome, Log Chapel and Basilica

He describes in vivid detail, the Log Chapel interior, the Indians camped at the lake, the services he held for them, and the baptism of a newborn Indian baby in St. Mary’s lake in this excerpt from his diary:

-- German missionary’s description of his stay
in the Log Chapel in 1840.

For more photographs, and excerpts from his diary, go to A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto, Chapter 22a -- An Archival Treasure.