In memoriam: Notre Dame Hesburgh Trustee Ernestine Raclin

Author: Dennis Brown

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It was 1905 when young Ernest Morris, an orphan with very few resources, came to then-University of Notre Dame President Rev. John W. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., seeking financial assistance to attend law school. He received a $100 loan and was accepted for legal studies.

After graduating, he went on to a career in law and finance, founding in 1917 what evolved into the Associates Investment Co. of America, a pioneer of automobile financing for the common man that grew into one of the most successful diversified finance companies in the country. He never forgot Father Cavanaugh’s generosity and, just a year before his death in May 1951, he and his wife, Ella, made a $1 million gift to Notre Dame for the construction of a full-service, on-campus hotel — the Morris Inn.

That spirit of generosity was passed down to his daughter Ernestine, who served for many years on Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees. She died on Thursday (July 13) in South Bend at age 95.

“Ernie has been a pivotal leader in the wider South Bend community, a wise and steady presence on Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees and a transformative benefactor to the University,” the University’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said. “She has also been a dear friend to me and many, and, while we grieve her passing, we celebrate a life well-lived. My prayers and those of the entire Notre Dame community are with her family and friends.”

Raised in South Bend, Raclin attended Briarcliff College in New York and Saint Mary’s College. She was married to O.C. Carmichael, also a Notre Dame Trustee who passed away in 1976, and the late Robert Raclin, both of whom joined her in numerous philanthropic and service endeavors.

The chair emerita of the board of 1st Source Corp. and 1st Source Bank of South Bend, Raclin was one of the first women elected to Notre Dame’s Board of Trustees (1976) and the first woman to run a major University fundraising campaign. She became a Trustee Emerita in 1998 and a Hesburgh Trustee in 2019.

In 2011, Raclin, the Carmichael Foundation and members of her family made a lead gift for the renovation of the Morris Inn, a project that was completed two years later.

“Our family has a long and deep emotional bond with the University and with the Morris Inn,” Raclin said at the time. “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.”

Most recently, she and her daughter and son-in-law, Carmen and Chris Murphy, made possible the construction of a new community asset, the Raclin Murphy Museum of Art. Located on the south side of the Notre Dame campus, it is scheduled to open this fall.

She and her family were also instrumental in the construction of Raclin-Carmichael Hall, located adjacent to the campus and home to the University’s W.M. Keck Center for Transgene Research and the Indiana University School of Medicine-South Bend.

Raclin was equally generous in the local community supporting many worthy causes, including the Center for Hospice Care in Mishawaka and Indiana University South Bend’s School of the Arts, which bears her name. She was a founding member of WNIT and Stanley Clark School; served as a director for the United Way of America, the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce; and chaired the board of Project Future, an economic development agency for the region. She also served on the advisory board of Indiana University South Bend, and as a trustee of the Indiana University Foundation and Converse College, a Spartanburg, South Carolina, institution at which Carmichael served as president.

Notre Dame bestowed an honorary degree on Raclin in 1978 for her extraordinary leadership and service. She also received honorary degrees from Converse, Purdue University, Indiana State University, Vincennes University, the University of Southern Indiana, Saint Mary’s College and Indiana University.

She is survived by her four children and their spouses and families and four step children and their spouses and families: Carmi and Chris Murphy, Kathy and “Crom” Carmichael, Tina and Andy Nickle, and Cathy and Clark Carmichael; sixteen grandchildren: Chris, Sean, Kelly, Kevin, Conor, Dillon, Mike, Shelley, Olivia, Garrett, Allison, Blake, Whitney, Reid, Kristen, and Spencer, and 23 great grandchildren. The Raclin family: Jonathan and Kathryne, Jeannie and Bob Oddy, Nannette and Grier and Linda, and their children and grandchildren.

There will be a visitation at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday (July 18) at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Notre Dame. This will be followed by a prayer service and celebration of life at 3:30 p.m.