History of the University

A Place Born of Imagination and Will

The University of Notre Dame began late on the bitterly cold afternoon of November 26, 1842, when a 28-year-old French priest, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and seven companions, all of them members of the recently established Congregation of Holy Cross, took possession of 524 snow-covered acres that the Bishop of Vincennes had given them in the Indiana mission fields.

A man of lively imagination, Father Sorin named his fledgling school in honor of Our Lady, in his native tongue, “L’Université de Notre Dame du Lac” (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). On January 15, 1844, the University was thus officially chartered by the Indiana legislature.

Father Sorin’s indomitable will was best demonstrated in April of 1879 when a disastrous fire destroyed the Main Building, which housed virtually the entire University. Saying “If it were ALL gone, I should not give up,” Father Sorin employed 300 workers daily throughout the summer and rebuilt the structure that still stands today, topped by a gleaming Golden Dome.

Academics

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.

Based on the ratio studiorum used by the Jesuits at St. Louis University, this curriculum included four years of humanities, poetry, rhetoric and philosophy, plus offerings in French, German, Spanish and Italian and various forms of music and drawing.