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

Author’s Personal Epilogue

Sorin and the Holy Man of Tours

Henry Lasserre in his timeless book, Our Lady of Lourdes, described his failing eyesight, his Lourdes water cure, and the Protestant who urged him to try it when he continually resisted the thought of it. Two other people in his life at the time, unknowingly, also played a role in pointing him in that direction.

Through the unusual circumstances of his cure, he was given access to the Lourdes Parish Archives and the Nevers Convent for the purpose of documenting Bernadette's story. He had the records in his hands for four years and kept finding excuses not to begin working on this project. Feeling guilty about it one day he went to confession and the priest told him (knowing nothing about his abilities or credentials) "you must begin at once." He promised he would after he completed some other item on his agenda. The stranger priest, as if from a voice on high, said, "No, now! I command you!"

He said he began that very afternoon going through the papers which had been given to him by the parish priest. Other providential interferences intervened momentarily and he was drawn to yet a third person who factored into his Bernadette experience and planted him upon the path that would make him Bernadette's official historian.


Lasserre speaks of these three men he considered witnesses and instruments of the miracle accomplished at Lourdes, France, for her future historian.

Twenty years later the three men who factored into this phenomenal experience, a Polish count, a Protestant, and a holy man became, themselves, renown in their separate worlds. The Polish Count forsook a worldly life and entered into Holy Orders becoming a Roman Prelate and Archbishop of Salamine, then Cardinal of the Holy Church. The Protestant became Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Council in France. And the last instrument, the pious old man of Tours who, by the anointing of Lasserre's eyes and his prayers before the Holy Face, "obtained his deliverance from a threatened relapse, to him was assigned a seat of honor far higher than the other two. Hardly had he slept in the peace of the just, than the voice of the people cried aloud: A Saint has gone to heaven!" His house was turned into a sanctuary and he became the Holy Man of Tours.

This same Holy Man of Tours, earlier, came to Father Sorin's rescue when problems arose with his boat passage to his New World mission which ultimately became the University of Notre Dame. Two different sources confirm the assistance Monsieur Dupont also gave Fr. Sorin:

It was no small undertaking to act as leader of the contingent of missionaries who left Le Mans on August 5, 1841. It is a detail worthy of note that Father Sorin was accompanied as far as Le Havre by a holy friend of Father Moreau, M. Dupont, the apostle of the Holy Face, a man who was called even during his lifetime "the holy man of Tours." One of his nephews was a student at the College of Saint-Croix at the time the missionaries left for Indiana. M. Dupont offered to Father Moreau the help of his contacts with the chandlers of Le Havre. It was he who arranged for the steamship tickets and other details, and who installed Father Sorin and his companions on board ship.(335)

He was to be to these missionaries, as to all he encountered, a godsend. For their passports were not in order and it was thanks to their prayers -- the blessed virgin could not resist the thousand Ave's addressed to her at the behest of Monsieur Dupont -- and to the intervention of the Holy Man of Tours that they were not obliged to return to LeMans to have them put in order.(336)

Henri Lasserre's "Dear Reader" Letter

Lasserre emphasized that all these subsequent events that led to his cure stemmed from a hurried note penned to him by his first friend the count, on October 2, the feast day of the Holy Guardian Angels.

In a fascinating second book, entitled Miracles at Lourdes, which was written in 1884, after his book about Bernadette, Lasserre explains his beliefs about how all these wonderful things -- in his life and others -- came about. It is as relevant today as it was then, in part:

Dear Reader, have you sometimes reflected on the part played by our Angel Guardian in the various circumstances of life? With what indefatigable solicitude this mysterious companion follows our steps from the cradle to the grave, from the first wail to the last sigh! . . . He concentrates his efforts toward directing our will to good, enlightening our mind, turning our steps from evil, and pointing out the true path which we see not, on account of the vexatious vicissitudes of life. Sometimes our radiant protector acts directly, giving us sudden inspirations, happy thoughts, urging us to write a letter, to say such or such a word, to take such or such a step, indifferent perhaps in themselves, but which, as he well knows, are to be the first links in a chain of secondary causes which will effect our future lives.

The happy inspiration may come to us through some friendly advice, a borrowed book, an unforeseen meeting, a journey which brings us unexpectedly to a certain place, at a certain hour, to the presence of one who will exert a salutary influence over us, etc., etc. . . .

Thus do these pure spirits labor in this world to arrest the progress of evil, to extend the reign of good. They suggest fruitful resolutions, they allure the will, and, when it violently resists, they prepare favorable opportunities; and, by a series of well-ordered events, they conduct the mortals confided to their care.

What particularly characterizes the conduct of the angels, is their concealment of their agency under natural appearances: ordinary occurrences of life, fortuitous events, accidental relations. All that these divine messengers accomplish, appears to be done of itself, so delicately do they touch the chords that lead us. Whilst acting everywhere and in everything, we perceive them not. Spiritual beings, superior to ourselves, they are invisible; we feel not their powerful encircling arms, we behold not their immense favors to us. . . . They dispose all things in silence and secrecy . . . .

When their work is accomplished, however, it sometimes happens that the harmonious unfolding of successive facts, the astonishing concurrence of many incidents to the same end, the close succession of various circumstances, the extraordinary choice of such or such individuals as instruments, the correspondence of certain dates, -- a thousand striking particulars unveil with as much clearness the secret intervention of these angelic ministers, as the regular movements of a well-disciplined army denote the presence of its general, or the plan of a dwelling betrays the hand of the workman and illustrates the skill of the architect.

To recall such truths, little known, perhaps, or forgotten, is not an idle digression. It is a torch to enlighten us on our way!(337)

Angel at the Grotto

Jaclyn Villano, like Henri Lasserre, believes in angels and answered prayers and has expressed it in this heartwarming Angel experience she recorded for a friend on November 11, 1997 in the Viewpoint Section of The Observer.

Jaclyn's Grotto story crossed my path more than a year after Grotto Stories: From the Heart of Notre Dame was published. Another fond remembrance, among the many that have made the Grotto a cave of candles. When a friend shared it with me, I called Jaclyn and complimented her on her story. I received her permission to add it to the Grotto Stories Collection already deposited in the University Archives. It was my hope that one day it might take its place in a future edition of Grotto Stories, little knowing then that my own A Cave of Candles manuscript was destined for the Internet and it would find its way out into an even wider world as an illustration of the truths in Henri Lasserre's "Dear Reader" letter penned one hundred and sixteen years ago. "Angel at the Grotto" was the first article she wrote for her new column entitled "Chicken Soup" for The Observer:

I am a firm believer in angels. I think that God uses them to perform the little miracles that help keep our faith strong. I also believe that when an angel isn't available, God expects us to step in, to be His hands and to act as angels for each other.

One of my friends wholeheartedly agrees with me. We were discussing the issue over a bowl of cereal in the dining hall one night, and that's when she shared with me a story that touched my heart and reminded me of how lucky I am to be at this place called Notre Dame. We talked for a while that night, not just about her story, but about all the other 'little miracles' that we have encountered here at ND that make it the extraordinary place that it is.

I went back to my dorm that night, still pondering our discussion. I realized that with all the controversy that has been sweeping this campus in recent weeks, it has become far too easy for stories like my friend's to go untold. This is my hope that the stories shared in this column will encourage and inspire others in the way that they have done so for me.

My friend's story takes place on a day when everything that could go wrong, did. We've all had days like these, when it seems that the world is out to get us with a vengeance. Like many of the rest of us would, my friend needed a place to go and spend some time making sense out of everything that had been happening. So she headed for the Grotto. On the way there, she asked God to send her someone to talk to and help her through the rough time she was experiencing.

My friend has no idea how long she sat at the Grotto that night. She remembers lighting a candle and kneeling to pray, but she soon became absorbed in her thoughts and lost all sense of time. She didn't even realize she had been crying until a gentle hand touched her shoulder and she heard the words, 'Hey, are you gonna be OK?'

Surprised, my friend looked up. Standing in front of her was a stranger, someone she had never seen before, peering down at her with a look of worry etched across his face. My friend was touched by the gesture of this kind stranger, and his genuine concern for her well-being. She assured him that she would be fine, and he nodded and quietly took a seat next to her. After a few minutes in silence, my friend realized that the stranger was sitting there for her, waiting for her to speak if she so desired, or to just sit in silence and know that she was not alone. My friend turned to the compassionate stranger and they began to talk. She shared with him all that had been upsetting her, as he listened patiently and without judgment.

They became good friends that night. Later, as he walked her back to the dorm, she thanked him and told him that he had answered her prayers. She had asked God for someone to help her through this, and that was exactly what she received. He smiled at her, and told her that he honestly didn't know why he had gone to the Grotto that night. He had been sitting in his room and something just told him that he needed to be there.

Stories like this one are reminders that Notre Dame is a special place, for reasons that have nothing to do with football games, or Tuesday nights at Bridget's, or even education. This campus is made special by people like the kind stranger at the Grotto, who did not hesitate to reach out to someone who was hurting and in need.

Who says that angels don't walk the earth?

The Angel Light beamed upon Jaclyn's friend by her compassionate stranger is just more proof that we all have a special gift that is ours alone to give. That same otherworldly feeling came over me in viewing this one-of-a-kind photograph of sunshine filtering through the trees at St. Mary's Lake near the Grotto. Angel Light came to mind the moment I saw it.

Your gift . . .
Is your own unique quality shared
To make another's life sunny.
Given away, it becomes priceless
Because it can't be bought with money.


I read Lasserre's second book, Miracles at Lourdes, after my journal of research was completed. I don't recall now what prompted this urge to read everything I could find in the library stacks about Lasserre and his writings. Except that I was profoundly affected by his Our Lady of Lourdes book and reading it had inspired me to leave no stone unturned in the final completion of my research. I would not have felt my mission had been accomplished if I left anything written about Lourdes, or by him, unread. And I had already learned the Hesburgh Library was unique in the number of interesting old books hidden away on its shelves. When I picked up his second book and reached his "Dear Reader" letter, I knew why this 1884 book had found its way into my hands and why I was meant to read it.

I began to apply his "Dear Reader" beliefs to the syncronicity and serendipity experiences in my eight years of research and the ongoing evolution of its outcome. From the initial search, to the present time, the significance of the ripple affect of these curious coincidences and extraordinary connections seem to be unending.

Early in my research I became known as "The Grotto Lady" by those strangers I contacted on campus who remembered my questions but couldn't remember my name. And it wasn't long before I found myself, sharing my own synergy experiences every now and then, with campus friends I had met in my comings and goings on campus. Invariably, I would receive one of their own experiences with the "unexpected" in response. Often they would be associated with the Grotto and thereby became the basis of the oral Grotto experiences I first began collecting. Now and then, even those friends at the archives and the library I've encountered in my twice weekly visits to the campus would affectionately preface their own excited happy happenstance encounters with "I've got a Dorothy for you" before enthusiastically sharing them.

So I am well aware that my good fortune in piecing together this Grotto puzzle is not a unique experience, and that the wonder of these feelings of delight at the unexpected are so personal that often they are not commonly shared in a fast paced work-a-day world. For this reason, and because "I will pass through this world but once" I feel it is important for me to share some of what I have experienced in following these creative impulses and inner promptings that have guided my eight-year search for answers.

I am hopeful that a few of my readers will follow this trail of memories to its conclusion and reach Lasserre's "message in a bottle," as relevant today as it was when he expressed it well over 100 years ago. Because he lived in the era of the writer of a favorite poem of mine, Stephen Grellet, I'm confident from the message of his own writings that he too aspired to live its philosophy wholeheartedly: "I expect to pass through this world but once; and any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I may show any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. Likewise, I too realize that I may not, ever again, have this opportunity to pass on these illustrations of the truism of his words so long hidden away on a library shelf.

And so I have chosen the following four examples -- among many that have occurred so often in my research -- that parallel the experiences Lasserre spoke of in his "Dear Reader" letter mainly because these were incidents I was not able to detail at length in my manuscript.

The first concerns the outcome of my brief encounter with Daniel "Rudy" Ruettiger and the movie Rudy. I had learned about it by chance from my research contact six months before it was announced on campus. The moment I learned the theme of the movie, the fact that the Grotto was involved, and that one of the characters in the movie was to be my friend, Fr. John J. Cavanaugh, I immediately recognized a connection between the two of them.

<< back | Notre Dame Legends and Lore | next >>