Cave of Candles
A Cave of Candles / by Dorothy V. Corson

Chapter 5

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:

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I did find an amusing anecdote about an uncompromising Father Sorin and his vision of Our Lady atop a Golden Dome in an unpublished manuscript written by Rev.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:

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.

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:

Marion McCandless in her book Family Portraits reports on the year the St. Mary's Alumnae Association was founded, in 1879:

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:

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:

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:

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 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:

I scribbled a reference to it in my research notes and later looked it up, in a book I knew I had, that was written by a friend to commemorate the 100th anniversary celebration of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1986.

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:

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 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:

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