Biography of Father Sorin published by Notre Dame Press

by Dennis Brown

“Edward Sorin,” a 792-page biography of the Holy Cross priest who founded the University of Notre Dame, has been published by Notre Dame Press.

Written by Rev. Marvin O’Connell, professor emeritus of history at Notre Dame, the book honors Sorin’s legacy with a combination of “blunt honesty and fraternal esteem,” according to a review in Library Journal. “This encyclopedic work is both engaging and academic and destined to be the definitive work on Edward Sorin.”p. Born in the west of France in 1814, Father Sorin was 28 years old when the Congregation of Holy Cross offered him a parcel of land in north-central Indiana that had been purchased by Rev. Stephen Badin, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States, and left in trust to the Bishop of Vincennes for anyone who would found a school on the site.p. Father Sorin’s original land grant of several hundred acres was the site of an early mission to Native Americans, but included only three small buildings in need of repair. Accompanied by seven Brothers of St. Joseph (later the Holy Cross Brothers), Father Sorin arrived in November 1842 and called the fledgling school, in his mother tongue, L’Universite de Notre Dame du Lac (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). Notre Dame was officially chartered by special act of the Indiana legislature on Jan. 15, 1844.p. In fact, the early Notre Dame was a university in name only. It encompassed religious novitiates, preparatory and grade schools and a manual labor school, but its classical collegiate curriculum never attracted more than a dozen students a year in the early decades.p. Despite these humble academic beginnings, Notre Dame from its founding enjoyed two significant advantages. First, its establishing coincided with the great opening of the American Midwest by railroads and canals and with the great antebellum immigration, largely of Catholics, from Europe. The University’s second, and even greater, advantage was the character of its founder, Father Sorin, whose overarching vision of a great American Catholic university in the tradition of the great Medieval universities has inspired Notre Dame’s growth over its entire history.p. “So confident was he in his own powers, so sure of the ultimate righteousness of his goals, so deep his faith that God and the Virgin Mary had summoned him to America to accomplish this great work, that no obstacle could confound him,” Father O’Connell writes. “He was capable of duplicity, pettiness, and even ruthlessness. But for sheer courage, and for the serene determination that courage gives birth to, he was hard to match.”p. When a catastrophic fire destroyed most of the University in 1879, Father Sorin vowed to rebuild his life’s work. Curricular, pedagogical and research components were expanded and enhanced to the point that, upon Father Sorin’s death in 1893, the foundation was firmly set for the growth of what has become the world’s leading Catholic university and one of the nation’s top 20 institutions of higher learning.p. A native of Minneapolis, Father O’Connell studied philosophy and history at Saint Paul Seminary and was ordained a priest for the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis before receiving a doctoral degree in history from Notre Dame in 1959. He taught history at the University of Saint Thomas from 1958-72, when he joined the Notre Dame faculty. At Notre Dame he served as chair of the history department from 1974-80, and from 1993-95 he directed the University’s undergraduate program in London.p. Father O’Connell’s previous books include “Thomas Stapleton and the Counter Reformation”; “The Oxford Conspirators: A History of the Oxford Movement, 1833-1845”; “The Counter Reformation, 1559-1610”; “John Ireland and the American Catholic Church”; “Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart”; and “Critics on Trial: An Introduction to the Catholic Modernist Crisis.”

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