Cave of Candles
Notre Dame's Grotto / by Dorothy V. Corson

Fr. John O'Hara, A Spiritual Presence

In the 1920s and early 1930s under the direction of Father John F. O'Hara the Grotto became a spiritual rendezvous for the student body and Father O'Hara became a great inspiration to students.

Father Hope in his book, Notre Dame -- One Hundred Years, describes Father John F. O'Hara, later Cardinal Archbishop O'Hara, as a superb Prefect of Religion, an office he exercised without interruption from 1918 until he was made president in 1934. He explained his duties as Prefect.

The Prefect of Religion is without any disciplinary authority. He cannot suspend or expel students, he cannot punish them. He has no authority in strictly scholastic problems. His work lies in the hearts and minds of the students. He acts as the guide and counselor of their conscience. And the students know this. There is, about his office, all the secrecy and sanctity of the confessional. So the students are more ready to listen to his advice and his encouragement.(220)

Father O'Hara had notes, which later evolved into daily religious bulletins, put under the doors of students to remind them to come to the Grotto to pray. Students called them letters from God. In one of those bulletins dated, June 1, 1925, Father John O'Hara leaves one of his reminders.

A year ago Ralph Adams Cram [who later designed the South Dining Hall] stated that the grotto is the best piece of art at Notre Dame. Aside from its artistic value, many a student has found it the most inspiring place on the grounds. If you neglected it during the month of the Blessed Virgin, you still have a week in which to learn its beauties and its inspiration. Drop down there after Holy Communion: call again before you go to bed at night. Stand back far enough to see the dome and statue towering over it; then approach and kneel before the statue. The girlish figure in white built this school. On your knees thank the Blessed Virgin for Notre Dame. The old boys who amount to something want to visit the grotto when they come back here; you will in your own good time if you learn its secret while you are here.(221)

Rev. Eugene P. Burke, C.S.C. describes the Grotto during those times:

Fairly large groups visited the Grotto in the spring and early summer before retiring for the night. They could be found there in little knots on their way to and from class and frequently in the month of May in the evening as many as a thousand to fifteen hundred gathered at the foot of Our Lady of Lourdes to sing a few hymns and recite the Salve Regina.

Our Lady on the dome has looked down on the activities of the campus and has been an inspiration and source of encouragement to thousands of students and professors who have lifted their eyes heavenward as they passed over the network of pathways on the campus.

The new college building erected in 1865 was crowned with a small dome and statue of the Mother of God, a new autograph of Notre Dame's faith in Mary. Notre Dame, its spirit and life were but the reflection of its devotion to the Lady on the Dome. The same spirit and devotion to the Mother of God which marked its beginning and has overshadowed it with blessings through all its years.

How far this little candle lighted in the snowy wastes of Lac Ste. Marie over a hundred years ago throws its light.(222)

In an essay in his book Reflections in the Dome, Edward Fischer recalls the vase of twelve red roses, placed week after week, at the foot of Cardinal Archbishop John F. O'Hara's marble tomb in Sacred Heart Church -- a token of gratitude from the class of 1928.(223)

A former security guard at the Sacred Heart Church tells the story told to him by another long-standing security guard, now retired. Workmen were preparing to place the heavy marble lid on Cardinal Archbishop John O'Hara's vault in the church when concern was expressed that someone's fingers might get pinched in the process. The decision was made to take a break for lunch in hopes that a solution would present itself. When lunch was over and they returned, the foreman had with him a square cake of ice which was split into four small pieces. One piece was placed on each corner and the heavy marble lid was put in place without difficulty. When the ice melted the task was accomplished.

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