September 8, 1879 - School session resumes following the Great Fire

Earlier in the year of 1879, a fire broke out in the main building of campus. At this point in the University's history, the main building consisted of the core of campus. (Check out a picture of the six story building on the University archives site) Inside were the library, dormitories, dining rooms, class rooms, offices and many more rooms integral to running a full time boarding school. If this wasn't a significant loss itself, four nearby buildings also were consumed in the blaze; the infirmary being one of them. Thankfully, the Basilica was spared and Fr. Corby, President at the time, gathered everyone inside and took charge, especially with Fr. Sorin in Montreal at the time. He explained how the students would need to be sent home but upon returning in September would be treated to a bigger and better Notre Dame. Fr. Corby definitely delivered on his promise.

Over the next four and a half months, the University would be rebuilt. Fr. Sorin remarked "If it were ALL gone, I should not give up!" which energized everyone involved to rebuild. The comments made by Fr. Sorin and Fr. Corby together created the legend of Fr. Sorin saying "I did not build it big enough."

As the new school year began in September, fittingly on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, less than five months after the destruction a little over 300 students had enrolled. This number included the college students, prep students and minims. Notre Dame was much more than just a college at its founding. Pupils would arrive at the school when they were five or six and stay through completion of a Bachelor's degree. The requirements to enter the Law School were to be 18 years of age and have a letter of good moral character. Those between the ages of six and thirteen were called Minims. Many of the students were also involved in military training, which their uniforms reflected at the time.

The new Main Building had many improvements over the old building. Lights were gas powered, heat was produced by steam (no more would one Brother have to tend a fire all day long) and indoor plumbing with both hot and cold water was brought in. This new building, the third main building, is core of the Main Building we know today. At the time of the school opening, there was no dome and no statue on top yet. As the opening year mass was held that night, President Fr. Corby addressed those gathered and Notre Dame was officially reopened. The online book The Spirit of Notre Dame by Dorothy V. Corson contains excerpts of his speech that night.

Notre Dame A Portrait of History

If you want to learn more about the early years at Notre Dame, particularly the first 100 years of its founding, then try and find a copy of the book "Notre Dame: 100 Years" by Arthur J. Hope, C.S.C.. It is out of print and can only be found second hand but makes a great addition to any library. If all else fails, the University Archives has a digital version on their website, which is available here To see pictures of the fire and the new building construction, get a copy of "The University of Notre Dame: A Portrait of Its History and Campus" by historian Thomas J. Schlereth (pictured right). Both books contain many pictures from the University Archives and are well worth the flip through. (P.S. If anyone connected with the University Archives can grant us permission to use images on our site, it would be a great benefit for us both.)

Keywords: father corby, great fire, minims, law school, father sorin, basilica, main building

Posted On: 2011-09-08 03:15:00 by IrishTrpt07


      Were you there? Have more to add? Leave a comment and let us know!

   Posted By: Manae at 2012-02-29 14:02:08[#2]
I aedtnted the Navy/Notre Dame game in Dublin, Ireland in 1996 (legendary Croke Park) with a contigent of my host Dubliners while on a business trip. I had no horse in the race (I am a Duke guy), but I found myself swelling with pride as I explained to the "true" Irish that these two American institutions represented all that was right about American college sports; and, indeed, America itself. The Dubliners were polite, but confused as to the import of the game (and the rules!) to the few US fans who aedtnted. They laughed awkwardly, but graciously at the Notre Dame mascot and the kilts that several ND fans wore. My hosts thought I may have been a bit Guiness-infected as I cheered for BOTH teams. It was a cross-cultural sports comedy fiasco. Alas, I believe that the American Irish won the game (54-27?); and I laughed so hard when the Dublin paper covered the game the following morning with the lead sub-tag: "The Americans have confused their kilts with their Celts." LOL!!!! Great post, John.
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   Posted By: John Clark at 2011-09-08 19:26:55[#1]
I had professor Schlereth in undergrad. He's a Notre Dame guy and his book is definitely an awesome read.
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