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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Observer

Notre Dame launches year-long commemoration of Fr. Sorin's bicentennial

Fr. Edward Sorin’s legacy at Notre Dame is so profound that his 200th birthday celebration will last right up until the day he would have turned 201.

On Feb. 6, the University launched a year-long celebration of its founder, with a Mass celebrated in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and 19th-century French cuisine served in South Dining Hall. Chuck Lamphier, lead advisor for the Office of Mission Engagement and Church Affairs, said the events planned for the bicentennial celebration are intended to help students understand Sorin’s lasting legacy.

“We all stand in that legacy, and all of us who are part of the Notre Dame community are part of that,” he said. “Understanding Fr. Sorin and what he wanted to do is an important part of being at this university.”

The majority of the celebration will center on the feast date of Sorin’s patron saint, Edward the Confessor, on Oct. 13. Lamphier said this decision was made to respect Sorin’s own wishes.

“When Sorin himself was alive, he discouraged the students of the University from celebrating his birthday. He didn’t want to bring attention to himself,” Lamphier said. “He did allow the students to celebrate on the day of St. Edward the Confessor.

“We were faced with a dilemma, because what we’re celebrating is his 200th birthday, but we wanted to do so in a way that really honored him. And, it would be a lost opportunity to celebrate his bicentennial on one day. This gives us the chance to do it over a couple months, and the two dates are nice bookends.”

Members of the Notre Dame community would send handmade greeting cards to Fr. Edward Sorin for Founder’s Day, celebrateed annually on Oct. 13. This card, from Eleanor C. Donnelly, dates from 1890.
Members of the Notre Dame community would send handmade greeting cards to Fr. Edward Sorin for Founder’s Day, celebrateed annually on Oct. 13. This card, from Eleanor C. Donnelly, dates from 1890.
Fr. Robert Loughery, rector of Sorin College, said Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on his hall’s namesake’s birthday. This community celebration of Mass was the most obvious way to mark the occasion, Lamphier said.

“In commemorating Fr. Sorin, we knew that we had to celebrate the Eucharist in Mass, which was so central to his spirituality,” he said. “We wanted to gather the campus community in the Basilica to celebrate his legacy in the way he would have. He’d have said Mass in that building, too.”

Also on Feb. 6, the dining halls served authentic 19th-century French cuisine, including poulet sauté chasseur (chicken sauté, hunter style), matelote a la mariner (fish stew) and estouffade á la provencale (braised beef pot roast). Lamphier said the meal’s purpose was to engage undergraduate students in the celebration, and there’s no better way to do that than the dining hall.”

“The staff at Food Services were just terrific and willing to design a meal much like what Fr. Sorin would have had himself,” Lamphier said.

Lamphier said groups across campus already have events lined up for the fall to continue the celebration.

“The University Archives is launching a major effort to digitize Fr. Sorin’s papers so they can be more available to scholars and researchers,” he said. “They’re launching a new website they hope to have completed by October. The library will also be displaying Fr. Sorin’s artifacts in the concourse.”

The Institute for Church Life will sponsor a lecture in the fall by theology professor John Cavadini about Sorin’s spirituality and how that is shown in the way Sorin designed the Basilica, Lamphier said. The Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism will also host a lecture about missionaries in the United States in the 19th century, including, but not limited to, Sorin.

Lamphier also said because Sorin was an educator at heart, the Alliance for Catholic Education at Notre Dame will host a lecture to explore how Sorin’s zeal for education can inspire today’s educators. Campus Ministry’s annual preached retreat will focus on Sorin’s spirituality, as well.

Beyond the specific events to celebrate the bicentennial anniversary, Lamphier said students will be encouraged to visit Sorin’s burial site on campus in the Congregation of Holy Cross cemetery.

“When I think of Fr. Sorin’s legacy at Notre Dame, I think of that letter he wrote to Fr. Basil Moreau just after he arrived here, when he said that Notre Dame would be a means for good in this country,” he said. “As Notre Dame has grown, it has become exactly that. You can see it in the students that we graduate, the research done here and the service that students undertake.”

Although Sorin was French by birth, Lamphier said many of his goals for the University reflect his understanding that it should be a “distinctly American institution.”

“He understood that the United States was going to be a great superpower and an important place for the growth of the Church,” he said. “And he wanted Notre Dame to be not just a great Catholic center, but an outstanding university, the best university of its time.

“I’d encourage students to participate in the events, but also to spend a bit of time at the Basilica or at the Log Chapel to realize that a great American figure was here within this community. Sometimes, we should take a minute to stand in awe of that.”

For more information about specific events and plans, see