Welcome back, and - though it feels like an inaccurate term when it's 21 degrees outside - welcome to the Spring Semester 2013. Likely you have some new courses, a new schedule, some super-clean notebooks and folders recently purchased at home or from the bookstore. A new semester almost always provides a chance for a fresh beginning. Sort of like New Year's or Lent, only with an academic twist: "I will start my papers earlier than the night before they're due," "I will review my notes after class" or "I will quit checking Facebook during class."
This past Tuesday, January 15, marked the anniversary of a little-known beginning here at Notre Dame. 169 years ago Tuesday, the Indiana legislature officially chartered the university, "L'Universitad de Notre Dame du Lac," as Fr. Edward Sorin, CSC, named it in his native French, or "The University of Our Lady of the Lake." Perhaps you've already heard the famous story about Fr. Sorin's arrival in November of 1842, when he looked out over the wooded and snow-covered property from up between Corby Hall and Old College, and - thinking he saw only one lake under all that snow - dedicated Notre Dame to the care of Mary, Our Lady.
At the time of Fr. Sorin's brave (some might say improbable) beginning, the Congregation of Holy Cross, the religious order of priests who sent him from France into the "mission territory" of Indiana, was still close enough to its own beginnings that Fr. Sorin knew well the founder of the Congregation, Fr. Basil Moreau, CSC. Fr. Moreau, now called "Blessed" to signify his one-step-away-from-sainthood status, knew the Catholic Church in France needed a bold new beginning after the French Revolution. His priests, brothers and sisters tended to the re-education of the children and families in France who had been deprived of religious instruction and parish life. However, even at the same time Blessed Basil wanted to bring the faith to mission territory and - lucky for the future Notre Dame - Indiana fell squarely into that category. Fr. Sorin's five hundred acre woods and (as he would soon realize) two lakes became the site of the third Catholic university established in the United States.
The essential, inspirational influence of the Congregation of Holy Cross remains central to Notre Dame. Our beginnings are always with us in the best sense of the word, no matter how many times our campus and academic communities here welcome new students, begin new semesters, offer new majors, dedicate new buildings or open new residence halls.
Whether we are new here or have been a part of the community for many years, we can draw upon the zeal and energy of the Congregation of Holy Cross and challenge ourselves at the same time, to contribute the best of who we are to what Notre Dame will become.
This Sunday we will celebrate the Feast Day of Blessed Basil Moreau, CSC, in each of the residence halls, at the Basilica, and at Holy Cross parishes all over the world. On campus, the "Think you know Moreau?" scavenger hunt will give clue-hunters a chance to explore this place in a whole new way (here's a clue for you: sign up at campusministry.nd.edu). January is a month for the brave at Notre Dame: It's cold, dark, and sometimes knee-deep in snow. It's a time for new beginnings and re-commitment to our community, our work and our studies. But Januarys at Notre Dame have grown out of a brave legacy since they were nothing more than what Fr. Sorin's imagination could describe. As he wrote to Fr. Moreau during those very early and difficult days, "We shall not fail to find a blessing here." Now it's our turn to find the blessings and to offer our own as well.
Kate Barrett is the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Ministry in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.