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Thursday, May 23, 2024
The Observer

A most meaningful meander

As I step outside after completing a strenuous day of classes, I feel the frigid wind take my breath away in a way that has become all too common.  As I hurriedly struggle to get my gloves on, I see that the sun has decided to make an unprecedented appearance and the sky is illuminated with a beautiful blue tone. With a feeling reminiscent of a dog unleashed, I instinctually decide to take the long way home to my dorm.  

My snow-blown shuffle takes me past the scenic monuments of campus as the late afternoon light begins to reflect over the ice peaking out under the snow on Saint Mary’s Lake.  As the path curves, I come to my desired detour and gaze upon the bronze plaque overlooking the solidly frozen lake.     

Tucked between Bond Hall and Old College stands the Founder’s Monument dedicated to Father Sorin and the seven French priests that traveled with him across the vast Atlantic.  The rusted green statue and the weathered plaque lack the golden shimmer that marks the dome and the grotto candles flame.  While the countless other iconic spots on campus literally and figuratively tower over the Founder’s Monument, I believe this hideaway is the heart of Notre Dame. 

Approaching the bronze plaque that marks the center of the memorial, I stand and read it with arms crossed to the lake, the perfect backdrop.  The plaque bears the letter that Father Sorin penned to his superior, Father Moreau (of the First Year Experience), back in France that announced the foundation of the University of Notre Dame.    

In between the lines of this famous letter lie the details that make Notre Dame such a special place.  Father Sorin discusses the excitement that he and his fellow priests had, “Though it was quite cold, we went to the very end of the lake and like children, came back fascinated with the marvelous beauties of our new home.”  I find this spot so meaningful because it reminds me that just like those priests in 1842, Notre Dame is a place where I am surrounded by people who share that childlike passion about life. 

The Founder’s Monument is a potent reminder to me that even in the daunting hunt to change the world, it is important to take my time and appreciate the details in my life.  Whether it is late-night Lafun Taco Bell banter, the 10 p.m. Basilica playing of the Alma Mater, or the Saint Mary’s Lake frozen over, there is so much beauty in our daily lives.            

Across one of the final lines of the plaque, there is a section that stands apart from the rest.  A careful eye can find it from the way it seems to slightly gleam gold from an unusual amount of wear to it.  This line expounds Father Sorin’s prediction for the future of the University of Notre Dame, “Before long, it will develop on a large scale... It will be one of the most powerful means for good in this country.”   

This is the section of the letter that I have come to hold as my personal creed and at every passing of the plaque, I gently rub my thumb over this section.  While it may sound cliche, I want to be the manifestation of that force for good that Father Sorin envisioned all of those years ago.

This single line is what I believe makes the University of Notre Dame such a unique institution.  The men and women who attend our university will be a force for good for the rest of their lives, even if it is in the smallest ways.  The Golden Dome is an iconic landmark that beckons people to Notre Dame from far and wide, but this humble memorial is where the magic of the university truly lies.   

Looking back, I cannot remember how or when I first stumbled upon this sacred place, but it quickly became a spot I told everyone about and was exuberantly proud to know it existed.  I have found myself giddily speed-walking by it on the way to the library with my Airpods in and my steps bouncing to the crescendos of the Rudy Main Title on Spotify.  However, in different moments, I have gone to the memorial with my head in my hands and a heavy heart not knowing where else to turn.  

I vividly remember one of my earliest trips to the Founder’s Monument during my first year at Notre Dame and how I came to this spot riddled with confusion and doubt.  I sat on the benches that encircled the spot and in the afternoon’s fading sun I listened to the geese down by the lake. In the distance, I heard a faint echoing that gradually grew louder.  I soon realized that my thoughts had been interwoven into the practicing sounds of the Notre Dame Marching Band.  In an instant with the striking up of the fight song and the setting sun, I had just the inkling of a feeling that I could call Notre Dame home.    

To me it seems like I rarely head to the Founder’s Memorial of my own accord, but rather my feet seem to follow some long-forgotten call and lead me there when I need a reminder of why I am at Notre Dame.  Just as I am here today, my meander from my daily walk has led me to a spot I know like the back of my hand.            

As I gaze upon the lake, on this frigid February afternoon, I am filled with the same child-like glee that Sorin and his company experienced that early December day in 1842. As I can feel my toes freezing in the same spot that Sorin stood, I slowly move my thumb across my favorite worn line of the plaque in my way of praying that I will make those words true.    

Jack Sirianni is a sophomore studying political science, journalism and public policy.  He is a proud Michigander who appreciates jamming to Pete Seeger, scouring eBay for vintage Notre Dame paraphernalia and collecting stickers from everywhere he goes.  On campus, Jack can often be seen by the Founder’s Monument or in the line for Southwest Salad.  For your favorite tidbits of knowledge or any other musings, his inbox is always open at jsirian2@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.