$15 million gift to fund Morris Inn renovation

Author: William G. Gilroy

A $15 million gift by longtime University of Notre Dame supporter Ernestine Raclin, The Carmichael Foundation, and her family to the “Spirit of Notre Dame” campaign will fund a major renovation and expansion of the Morris Inn, the full-service, on-campus hotel that was constructed nearly 60 years ago with a gift from her parents, the late Ernest M. and Ella L. Morris.

The Morris Inn was dedicated in May 1952. The renovation and expansion project is expected to begin in late summer 2012, with most of the construction intended to be completed by fall 2013.

Rendering of Morris Inn renovation

Raclin has a distinguished record of service in the public and private sectors. A devoted supporter of higher education, she is a Trustee Emerita of Notre Dame.

“The generosity of Ernestine and her family is legendary, both for Notre Dame and in our community, and we are tremendously appreciative of their latest expression of that generosity,” said Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., University president. “This gift will enable us to continue to welcome alumni and visitors in the warm, welcoming style that we always hope is one of Notre Dame’s distinguishing characteristics.”

Upon making his gift, Ernest Morris envisioned the Morris Inn as Notre Dame’s “window to the world.” He served as a member and chair of the University’s Associate Board of Lay Trustees and played a prominent role in a number of fund-raising campaigns for the University. Following his lead, both Ernestine and her late husband, “Mike” O. C. Carmichael Jr., chaired major capital campaigns for Notre Dame.

“The Morris Inn has served as a focus of hospitality over the years for alumni, parents, campus visitors and a host of distinguished University guests,” said Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who began his 35-year tenure as Notre Dame’s president the same year the Morris Inn opened. “Ernestine’s gift ensures that the inn will continue to be a shining tribute to Ernie and Ella Morris’ loyalty and generosity to Notre Dame.”

The Morris family, benefactors of Notre Dame on several occasions and prominent in lay leadership roles, considered their $1 million gift a gesture of appreciation for the education in law Ernest Morris received in the early 1900s.

An orphan, without funds, and a member of the Presbyterian faith, Morris appealed for assistance in 1905 to then-Notre Dame President Rev. John W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. He received a $100 loan and was accepted for legal studies. Upon his graduation, he went on to a career in law and finance, founding in 1917 what evolved into the Associates Investment Corporation of America.

Ernest Morris died in May 1951 and never saw completion of the inn. His wife, Ella, who served as chair of Notre Dame’s Women’s Advisory Council, died in 1969.

“Our family has a long and deep emotional bond with the University and with the Morris Inn,” Raclin said. “We are very pleased to have an opportunity to deepen this association and to help ensure that the inn continues to play a prominent role in the life of the University. The Morris Inn has long been a treasure, not just for the Notre Dame community, but for all of Michiana. It is where the community and the campus meet.”

Highlights of the renovation and expansion project include:
• An increase from 92 to approximately 138 guestrooms, and an increase in the average room size from 240 square feet to 360 square feet;
• A completely renovated lobby and the relocation of Leahy’s Pub to a more prominent location within a much larger casual dining facility;
• A 300-seat ballroom, to be constructed at the north end of the building, and three private dining rooms, which will be located along an expansion to the east side of the building;
• Replacement of the building’s 60-year old plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical system infrastructure;
• The building’s design and construction will seek LEED Silver certification;
• The finished building will be more than 130,000 square feet compared to 72,000 currently;
• A new outdoor courtyard on the west side of the building;
• A covered driveway at the lobby entrance;
• An expansion of the adjacent parking lot, with valet service offered at peak times;
• Sorin’s restaurant will remain and is not included in the renovation.

The inn may close for some duration during the renovation to facilitate construction.

The “Spirit of Notre Dame” campaign raised $2.014 billion in the seven-year span that ended June 30 — 134 percent of its $1.5 billion goal. The fund-raising effort was the largest in the history of Catholic higher education, surpassing the $1.061 billion raised in the University’s “Generations” campaign that ended in December 2000.