Strategic Location and Vision
Despite humble academic beginnings, Notre Dame from its founding enjoyed two significant advantages, its establishing coincided with:
- the great opening of the Midwest by railroads and canals
- the great antebellum immigration, largely of Catholics, from Europe.
“For most of the 1840s,” historian Thomas Schlereth has written, “Notre Dame was the only Catholic college of consequence with access to such cities as Toledo, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, and particularly the rapidly growing city of Chicago.”
Changes in Academics
Courses in physics and geology were added to the curriculum in 1863, and two years later the College of Science was established. In 1869 the University established the nation’s first Catholic law school, and in 1873 the first Catholic College of Engineering. Its architecture program also was the first in the U.S. under Catholic auspices, and its circulating library was the first on any American campus.
Even after a disastrous fire in 1879 destroyed the Main Building, which housed virtually the entire University, Father Sorin willed Notre Dame to rebuild and continue its growth. In 1889 Sorin Hall became Catholic higher education's first student residence with private rooms. From that day to this, residentiality and the traditions that flow from it have remained central to student life at Notre Dame, with about 80 percent of current undergraduates continuing to live on campus.