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

The Story Behind Fr. Corby’s “Favor Granted” at the Lourdes Grotto in France

More than a month of concentrated effort going over other files at the Province Archives, the University Archives and the Saint Mary’s Congregational Archives produced my evidence, a folder an inch thick, filled with photocopied letters. It was the kind of evidence hidden away in boxes and overlooked through the years that every researcher seeks to prove historic conclusions.

The emotions expressed in these letters -- the anguished sentiments shared -- along with the frequent annotations in their margins, “destroy this letter,” convinced me that the people who exchanged these letters were eyewitnesses to an historic event worthy of remembrance by both the University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. This tense ongoing situation extended over more than six years during which time Father Sorin died. Undoubtedly, these years had been filled with so many painful memories for all concerned that when it was over, it was deemed better left forgotten. Within the span of a few years many of those involved had passed away and it soon became past history.

Fr. Corby, who was Provincial at the time, expressed so well -- in a single pithy phrase in one of those letters -- the dilemma facing the University from 1889 to 1895. It suggested that he had already experienced more anxious moments than he cared to count and he was now waiting for the other shoe to fall. In more than one letter, he spoke of a crisis faced by the University and its community of priests, Brothers and Sisters, and ended another letter with, “I feel like a hen on hot ashes.”

The significance of its final outcome viewed in retrospect makes 1896 -- the year the Notre Dame Grotto was built -- memorable for both Notre Dame and Saint Maryís for very different reasons. Leaving the story behind these worrisome events untold, would be to overlook the unfinished good that has evolved since and continues to be actualized today.

Fr. Sorin himself was well acquainted with the negative and sorrowful aspects of life since more than one crisis on campus, this one included, was of his own making. His own words spoken years before these events took place fit so well this forgotten story I am about to tell, that I feel Sorin would have given his wholehearted permission to share them:

Father Wm. Corby, the Provincial during Fr. Sorinís declining years, was a witness to all that had transpired before and after his demise. Yet, Corby could not have foreseen the impending controversy that was about to engulf the University and its religious community, nor the years of anxiety it would cause him and many other high ranking members of the community, a controversy that threatened to jeopardize the future relationship between Notre Dame and St. Maryís, its sister school.

Father Sorin’s golden jubilee was celebrated in royal splendor in 1888 but he was getting noticeably older. In 1891 he went to Europe and the Holy Land. He continued to write his inspiring circular letters but his health was worsening. During his last declining years a weakened Father Sorin was no longer able to impose his iron will on the community he had founded. Unbeknown to him, a problematic situation he had put on a back burner had been simmering for years and was about to come to a rolling boil at a time when Sorin was least able to deal with the aftermath of another of his adventurous and unauthorized decisions.

Two publications in the Hesburgh Library stacks supplied the details lacking in the letters to explain how and why this crisis occurred between the two schools. Both publications touch on the events before and during these crucial six years in the history of both institutions but neither one addresses the eleventh hour circumstances or its final outcome. It has been an untold story until now, over a century later.

The first of these publications, a pamphlet titled, The Sisters of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame, was written in 1958 by Fr. Arthur J. Hope to honor the Sisters upon the occasion of their departure from Notre Dame to take up permanent residence at Saint Maryís. Father Hope also wrote Notre Dame, 100 Years in 1948.

The Sisters of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame

Fr. Hope describes the lives of the Sisters at Notre Dame in these excerpts from his booklet, The Sisters of the Holy Cross at Notre Dame (pp 2-6). It was written 63 years after this event occurred. He recounts the early relationship between Father Sorin and the Sisters with good natured humor. No one could have described Fr. Sorinís indefatigable personality and his boundless energy better while still enumerating his flaws.

Father Hope explains that when “these ‘pious women’ [the Sisters] came to America in 1843, they were not religious at all. Fr. Moreau, [the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross in France], sent with them the request that Father Sorin should try to get some Episcopal recognition for them from the Bishop of Vincennes, Monseigneur de la Hailandiere, [which] he met with ready acceptance.” Father Hope gives his version of Sorin’s part in the conflict:

It was Fr. Sorin who said, “There are moments when a vigorous stand upsets the enemy!” The enemy to Sorin was fire, pestilence, lack of funds, and anyone who didnít want to do things his way. He also said, “You can only do good by risking it.” And risk it he did on many occasions this being yet another such occasion.

Fr. Hope goes on to explain:

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