Our Lady is on The Dome!
Due to delays, the rededication of the "New Notre Dame" planned for September 8, 1879, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, was postponed. A solemn High Mass was celebrated on that day instead, at the beginning of the school session, less than five months after the fire. Rev. W. Corby, President of the University, addressed some eloquent words of instruction and wisdom to the students:
Education without religion or moral training, is a very dangerous thing. It is like a sharp tool in the hands of an infant. The tools in themselves are good, fit for use by those who know how to handle them, but destructive to those who know not how to use them -- even death dealing, at times, to the infant. So education without moral training is one of the most dangerous instruments used by the enemy of man's salvation for a greater destruction -- death to the souls of men.
Every day we read of crimes, . . . not committed by the uneducated only; no, but by those who had received an education above the common, but devoid of moral training. . . . While these men's intellects were well trained, the heart and the morals were neglected. . . . It is time for the educators of the country to take this matter into consideration. The sooner they do, the sooner we may look for a nation of citizens whose lives will be an example of truth, honor, justice, and all that makes men noble. It must therefore be the aim of all true educators to develop the moral as well as the mental faculties in those committed to their charge.(25)
Cecelia Kintz, a daughter of Peter Kintz II, was the mother of Carmelita Roemer, who was the mother of Mary Roemer and James A. Roemer, Director of Community Relations at the University of Notre Dame, and grandmother of Jim's son, Congressman Tim Roemer. In contacting him, I discovered that indeed the story of helping to build the Grotto had been passed down on his side of the family as well. Mary Roemer, even remembers hearing a story of how the statue of Our Lady was brought by wagon from the train station pulled by a team of 6 or 8 white horses. "Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn't it?" she said. She told me it was just a long ago remembrance and she had no way of knowing where it came from. Yet it's a story that could easily have been true. The statue could have been transported from the train station by wagon and such a momentous ceremonial occasion at the time might have warranted a team of all white horses.
I found no confirmation of her story, in the Scholastic or other archival sources. However, I did find an amusing anecdote about an uncompromising Father Sorin and his vision of Our Lady atop a Golden Dome in an unpublished manuscript written by Rev. J. W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., the first Father Cavanaugh to become President of the University:
When the council repeatedly refused Sorin the Dome and Our Lady, Father Sorin rose and with a fine blend of dignity and indignation gathered up his breviary and his pajamas, or whatever was used for pajamas in those days, and started to St. Mary's. Over there just off the regular parlor was a small room called by the irreverent the "Puppy-hole," in which Father Sorin often retired to recite his office without distraction. Father Sorin took up his post there and remained for two weeks like Achilles skulking in his tent, declaring that never would he return to Notre Dame until he was allowed to carry out his plans for the big dome carved with a beautiful figure of Our Lady.(26)
In desperation the members of the council decided that they had better yield. A committee was sent to St. Mary's with their hats in their hands to beg Father Sorin to return, assuring him he could have his dome.
There will be those, of course, who will find something less than perfect in the religious attitude of Father Sorin throughout this episode. It is fair enough that they should have their opinion. Others will marvel at what seems to be the uncompromising spirit, the hardheadedness, the obstinacy of a man, whose great role of a founder and builder of a college in a wilderness must have been a reasonable compromise. Whoever looks at the beautiful campus now and considers how different the whole thing would appear without the dome will hesitate to entertain either suggestion. The truth is that the dome upon the Administration building assembles all the other buildings on the campus around it and contributes to each a dignity which, otherwise, it would not possess.(27)
Signor Gregori was the artist who painted the interior of Sacred Heart Church. He also painted the inner Dome and the murals on the main floor of the administration building.
Following are interesting firsthand descriptions of Sorin's "beautiful figure of Our Lady" when it was placed on the dome of the administration building.
The work of raising the statue to its present position was skillfully accomplished by Mr. Alexander Staples, of standpipe fame,(28) who engineered putting it on the Dome. It took two days. It was donated by students and faculty of St. Mary's College under the direction of Mother Angela. The 1879, the Scholastic published a description of the proposed statue:
We have received a description of the proposed statue of our Lady which is to adorn the new University, and which the young lady graduates(29) of St. Mary's Academy generously proposed themselves to contribute as their crowning gift to Notre Dame. The model of the statue is that adopted by our late Holy Father, Pope Pius IX, in 1854, on the occasion of the solemn proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception [erected by Pius IX in front of the Propaganda College in Piazza di Spagna in Rome]. The material will be of highly polished bronze, sixteen feet in height, the crescent with the serpent beneath, and a starry crown above. Nine of the stars will be seen over and on either side of the head. By day the statue itself and its circle of stars will glitter in the sunlight, an object of beauty for miles around; and by night the nine stars will be lit with the electric light, and thus be a beacon of beauty from a still further distance. As the head will be 186 feet above the earth [sources vary on this, 197 feet seems to be the correct figure](30), it is evident that the jets of light will be seen by night all over the neighboring city and for a great distance on the various railroads entering here.
The young ladies of St. Mary's have therefore undertaken a beautiful task, a labor of love, in thus placing our Lady's statue in mid-air, as Michael Angelo placed the faultless Grecian temple above St. Peter's, a thing of beauty to rest and shine there, a joy forever. May their labor of love be rewarded, here, with the success of the object which they have in view, and afterwards with the sweet memory of the noble deed which they have accomplished, and may our Blessed Lady look upon them with her brightest smiles when, as the shades of night come on, her beautiful statue lights up the landscape of Notre Dame and St. Mary's!(31)
Marion McCandless in her book Family Portraits reports on the year the St. Mary's Alumnae Association was founded, in 1879:
Its immediate object is raising funds for obtaining a large statue for Notre Dame, to replace the one destroyed when the college burned down . . . . A more fitting tribute of gratitude for graces she has bestowed, than the noble statue in her honor, made to crown the fine edifice erected under her patronage and for the Christian education of youth, couldn't be found.(32)
She then mentions the fact that this first project proposed by them was accomplished only in part by the alumnae. It is not clear from surviving records if others at St. Mary's made up the difference or whether Sorin obtained the rest from other sources.
Pope Pius IX, proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in Rome, on Dec. 8, 1854. It is interesting to note that five months later, on April 24, 1855, the Academy of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception,(33) which later became known as St. Mary's, was established. It was reputed to be a dogma unknown to the unschooled Bernadette when she first saw the apparition of the Virgin Mary at the Lourdes Grotto on February 11, 1858. Yet she said that "the beautiful lady said to her, 'I am the Immaculate Conception.'"
In 1883, the Scholastic described in detail the placing of the statue on the Dome:
The great event of the past week was the placing of the colossal statue of the Blessed Virgin on the Dome of the University. As is well known, since it was first brought to Notre Dame in the summer of 1880 [August 14, 1880], the statue has been adorning the front porch of the main building, and awaiting the time when its pedestal -- the Dome -- would be completed. As announced in the Scholastic, a short time ago, the exterior work of the Dome was finished, and everything was ready for the statue. On last Monday afternoon, the statue was lowered from the front porch and brought to the rear of the College. There it was allowed to remain until the apparatus necessary for raising it to the summit of the Dome could be prepared. Everything was ready by Wednesday noon and that afternoon, slowly but surely, the grand figure ascended to the roof of the College. On Thursday work was resumed, and at length, at five o'clock p.m., amid the ringing of bells, the statue was seen to rest firmly and securely on its grand pedestal.
The statue is the work of the late Mr. Giovanni Meli, of Chicago, and is the largest of its kind in the United States. Its stands sixteen feet in height and weights 4,400 lbs.
'The statue is on the Dome!' was the general exclamation, last Thursday night. Few and simple were the words, yet they contained a wealth of meaning. They announced the accomplishment of long-cherished desires of the heart, the filling up of a void long too open at Notre Dame, the crowning act in the public expression of honor to her under whose patronage this Home of Religion and Science is placed.
Notre Dame -- 'Our Lady.' These two short words speak volumes in explanation and praise of the motive which has led to the erection of this glorious monument to the Mother of God . . . . More than three years have glided by since Notre Dame passed through its fiery ordeal, and the time was well employed in preparing for the erection of a monument which would be, as far as loving hearts and willing hands could make it, a fitting expression of gratitude, and the most glorious of its kind in the country.
And now these desires are realized. Today this grand statue, so familiar to the visitor and student at Notre Dame, stands upon her magnificent throne, and, with extended arms, gives the assurance of the continued protection of her whom it represents.(34)
A Sister friend recently explained the significance of the extended arms. She said they indicated that she was the "Keeper of God's Graces" being bestowed upon us.
Following is an added interesting description of the Dome and the statue from another source:
The golden dome was finished on September 26, 1883. The following month the statue of Our Lady weighing 4,400 pounds was hoisted, on a trough by block and tackle, to its throne 207 feet [sic] above the earth. One year later her crown and crescent were electrically illuminated thus making Notre Dame the first college to use such lights. Edison had discovered the incandescent globe on October 21, 1879 after spending two years testing over 6,000 substances and spending $100,000 in search of the proper filament. It is said that the Notre Dame statue of Our Lady became also the first airplane beacon light visible in five states.(35)
A picture of the "circle of electric lights crowning her head and the moon at her feet" appears in the first Notre Dame yearbook, the 1906 Dome. A poem from the same era describes Our Lady's crown and crescent, "emblazoned in a halo of Electric Glory":
Night comes and sets thy beacon in the skies|
A woman starry-crowned, with starry eyes,
That watch forever with a solace meet,
Above the glimmering moon beneath her feet.(36)
When floodlights were introduced that would adequately illuminate the statue, the crown and crescent were removed and Our Lady was forever to be seen as she is today, aglow with light.
The Dome and statue were accomplished in 1883, a year later the crown and crescent were added, and three years later, in 1886, the Dome and Statue were gilded for the first time. In Father John W. Cavanaugh's unpublished manuscript, he also describes the reception Sorin received when he announced the gilding of the Dome and the Statue:
Later, in 1886, Father Sorin decided that at last his old dream might be completely realized by the gilding of the Dome. A gift of two thousand dollars made this possible and the happiness of the founder was complete.
I remember hearing him make the announcement at commencement from the stage of Washington Hall. There were many, of course, who turned up their noses at this also. It was another extravagant bit of pious sentimentality on the part of the old man, they said. The truth is it was cheaper than paint . . . and lasts longer. To put up the scaffolding alone for one painting of the dome would cost five hundred dollars. Paint would have to be renewed every few years. As a matter of fact, the gold leaf on the dome lasts from fifteen to twenty years and it is considerably cheaper than paint would be. Thus, once more, was the dream of the aged peer justified by the rude figures of commerce.(37)
In the archival copy of Howard's, A Brief History of Notre Dame du Lac, an early history of the campus, I discovered that Professor James Edwards,who was on campus at the time, had placed several annotations correcting and amending its pages. A note in the front of the book signed by him confirmed these knowledgeable additions. Had I not left my own library copy at home, and being in need of it, I would not have discovered Prof. Edwards scribbled notes in the margins of the copy in the University Archives. One penciled note, in particular, opposite Howard's description of the dome, provided a piece of information not commonly known:
The dome, as is well known, is surmounted by a colossal statue of the Blessed Virgin illuminated by an electric crown and crescent. The gold for the gilding of the dome was contributed by a devout client of Our Lady.(38)
The name he penciled in the margin as the devout client was, Mary Phalen, who was Mother Angela's mother. It was one of Mrs. Phalen's last gifts, one among many. Mother Angela Gillespie died March 4, 1887, her mother followed her in death six months later on December 10, 1887. Mrs. Phelan also financed Washington Hall which is still used as a music and entertainment center.
There's an interesting parallel to Father Sorin's dream of having a golden lady on a golden dome dedicated to Our Lady. It would never have occurred to me had I not happened upon this excerpt from an October 1884 issue of the Scholastic which refers to the Statue of Liberty, then nearing its completion, and destined to be placed in the New York Harbor two years later:
It may perhaps seem strange to some that we should make any attempt at enthusiasm about the erection of a simple statue. But let us consider for a moment what an enthusiasm is there not spreading throughout the United States . . . in regard to the placing of the statue of 'Liberty' enlightening the world' -- in the New York Harbor. We grant there is a reason for it and a good one. It is because . . . the prevailing idea among the masses of our countrymen is that they realize the benefit of a free government and are willing to do anything that may give fitting expression to their sentiments. Should it then seem strange, that we here at Notre Dame, imbued . . . with Christian sentiments, and recognizing unmistakable evidences of the intervention and protection of the Mother of the world's Redeemer -- should be just as enthusiastic about any outward expression of homage and gratitude towards her?(39)
A study of my research notes detailing Sorin's many trips to France revealed some interesting correlations. Father Sorin arrived in France in December of 1875, a month after the official fund-raising campaign for the Statue of Liberty, which was to be presented to the United States by France to commemorate its Independence. One end of the hall where the banquet was held displayed a huge illuminated painting of the statue as it would appear at night in New York harbor. It had been the dream of its designer since 1871. The French-born Sorin, who returned to France almost yearly, would have to have known about it and might have been a part of this banquet had his ship not been disabled at sea delaying his arrival a month.
Though the estimated cost of the Statue of Liberty, $250,000, was pledged that evening, with construction difficulties and delays, it ended up costing $400,000. It was the topic of worldwide interest until it was completed eleven years later on May 21, 1884. It was shipped to the United States in 1885 where it awaited its dedication upon the completion of its pedestal.(40)
Reading about the struggle to create the Statue of Liberty, reminded me of Sorin's own words after the sad destruction of the main building by fire in 1879. They express that same kind of indomitable spirit that never gives up:
The fire was my fault, he concluded. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me I dreamed too small a dream. Tomorrow we will build it bigger and, when it is built, we will put a gold dome on top with a golden statue of the Mother of God so that everyone who comes this way will know to whom we owe whatever great future this place has.(41)
Could Father Sorin's even bigger dream have been fueled by the colossal dream of another Frenchman, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, who wouldn't give up on his dream? Sorin being Sorin it certainly seemed likely. And typically Sorin, his Lady graced the Dome and was dedicated three years earlier in September of 1883. Its final gilding occurred on September 22, 1886 a month before the Statue of Liberty was dedicated on October 28, 1886.
As the Lady in the Harbor has become The Light of Liberty, the personification of America; the Lady on the Golden Dome has become The Light of Faith, the personification of Notre Dame.
In 1884, Father Sorin envisions the completion of his dream which was finally accomplished in 1886, he died seven years later:
The exterior of the beautiful Dome of Notre Dame is now finished, thank God! and not a dollar expended on it will ever be regretted. It is the grand feature of the place -- one of the chief ornaments of the West. But, beautiful as it looks, it is scarcely anything compared to what it will soon be, when covered, as originally intended, with the heavy and imperishable gilding of the purest gold which will reflect magically through the day the rays of the sun, and at night turn darkness into bright light, from the electric crown of twelve stars with which the whole figure of the Blessed Virgin is to be clothed, typifying the prophecy:
And there appeared a great wonder in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars (Apoc., xii, 1). What a beautiful sight! -- one that has never been seen in this country.(42)
The Scholastic reports another approval: "Signor Gregori who is quite familiar with the best domes in the world is delighted with the new Dome of Notre Dame."(43)
Eighty five years later, the first black and white close-up I have ever seen of the statue of Our Lady on the Dome, appeared in a 1991 Notre Dame Dome Yearbook.(44) It was taken by Brother Bombardier. Two years later, in the 1993 Dome,(45) another beautiful close-up photograph appeared, this time in color, the first color close-up in all the Dome yearbooks which I'd previously gone through page by page. The intricate folds, the delicately modeled face and the exquisite drapery of her gown, with the crescent moon and the serpent visible at her feet were recorded close-up by Bill Mowle. It is something one could only have guessed at before in viewing it at a distance from the ground. It is a beautiful statue and a most unusual photograph.
Another brief poem in the Scholastic celebrates her glowing image:
Silent she stands, Our Lady of the Light|
Whose mercy keeps a watch upon the waters;
Over our hearts, by day or dreamy night,
May she hold sway, Fairest of Daughters.(46)
Once again, history has proven what a visionary Sorin turned out to be. In his, The University of Notre Dame, A Dome of Learning, Tom Schlereth speaks of how Sorin envisioned the Lady on the Dome as early as 1844 when he wrote:
When this school, Our Lady's school, grows a bit more, I shall raise her aloft so that, without asking, all men shall know why we have succeeded here. To that lovely Lady, raised high on a dome, a Golden Dome, men may look and find the answer.(47)
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