Corby Hall rebuilt for new century of Holy Cross presence at Notre Dame
Maybe it’s fitting that the rebuilt Corby Hall can’t yet throw open its doors to welcome the Notre Dame community in a spirit of hospitality that is currently limited by a pandemic.
“We built a space that will allow us to be welcoming to the University community,” said Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C., the religious superior of the Holy Cross Community at Notre Dame. “We plan to offer that kind of hospitality as soon as we are able to.”
The original yellow-brick structure was built in 1895 for the celebration of the University’s Golden Jubilee Commencement, which should have occurred two years earlier. The celebration of Notre Dame’s origin was postponed due to the death of founder Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., and two other prominent priests.
Corby Hall was meant to house priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Father Sorin’s religious order. Yet guests at the jubilee were its first occupants, and by 1899 the religious order made way for Notre Dame’s growing student body. Football coach Knute Rockne was one of the hall’s famous residents.
“It is primarily a place for us to come together as brothers, but we also want this place to be very open and fully integrated into the University community.”-Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C.
It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that the congregation regained possession of Corby Hall and faced the challenge of renovating a building designed before electricity and indoor plumbing. It became a functional community home even though many of the load-bearing walls couldn’t be knocked down. Former president Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., and executive vice president Rev. Edmund Joyce, C.S.C., both lived in Corby Hall for more than 50 years.
The same problems resurfaced two years ago when a gift from Father Hesburgh’s niece, Mary Flaherty, and her husband, Jay Flaherty, allowed for a new Corby Hall in the same location. Father Dowd said a renovation would have slapped on a Band-Aid, while the teardown and rebuild enabled a modern design to fit the needs of the Holy Cross community for the next 150 years. Congregation members moved back home in early July.
“It really is our community center, where we pray and eat together,” said Father Dowd, who also teaches political science and serves as assistant provost for internationalization. “The core of our common life as priests and brothers in Holy Cross is here in Corby.
“It is primarily a place for us to come together as brothers, but we also want this place to be very open and fully integrated into the University community.”
Most of the 60 or so Holy Cross religious at Notre Dame live in residence halls. But some younger men, focused on completing their graduate studies, and older ones who are still very active in ministry on campus also live full-time in Corby Hall. There are 27 private suites on the second and third floors — each with a simple bedroom, sitting room and bathroom — as well as six guest rooms for visitors.
The size and exterior of the building, including the hallmark statue of the Blessed Virgin in an alcove at its front-top center, provide continuity. It again has a wide front porch with rocking chairs. The statue of its namesake, Rev. William Corby, C.S.C., moved during the two years of construction, is back on the front lawn, still frozen in the act of giving general absolution to the Irish Brigade and other soldiers before the Battle of Gettysburg. An identical statue stands at the Pennsylvania battlefield.
But the interior, and the green space around the building, are considerably changed. Most noticeable outside may be the large patio in the back that now looks over the landmark sycamore tree, older than the University itself, to a beautiful view of the lake.
Inside, the first floor includes the Holy Spirit Chapel, with tall blue windows that feature Blessed Basil Moreau, the congregation’s founder, and St. André Bessette, its first saint. Private meeting rooms for spiritual discussions or personal meetings are available. A small library houses religious books and a section for volumes written by congregation members. The Sorin Room, used for larger social gatherings, opens onto the side porch.
Large windows bring in plenty of natural light. The old window-unit air conditioners are gone in the new building, which earned environmental certification for its sustainable design and operation. There are two elevators and handicapped accessible rooms.
Downstairs, a formal Flaherty Dining Room is used for dinners, while a smaller area serves breakfast and lunch. Updates include a new laundry room, bike storage, and maybe most importantly, a 30-space underground garage. This feature increases the green space around the building and adds to the safety of the community, allowing some of the older members to stay longer.
“Behind the old Corby Hall there was a parking lot that sloped down,” Father Dowd said. “It was pretty treacherous. We actually had a few men take some spills back there in the winter weather.”
The younger religious also appreciate a new lounge and a much-improved workout room.
“It’s designed for the next generation, especially the way the common space is set up,” said Rev. Aaron Michka, C.S.C., a faculty fellow in the Institute for Advanced Study who is living in Corby while finishing his doctoral dissertation in anthropology. “It’s a great place for those who are in the dorms to relax.”
Throughout the building, there are mementos of the history of the Congregation of Holy Cross. On one wall are two of Father Sorin’s walking sticks and the oxen yoke from the wagon that carried the possessions of the founder and six religious brothers on their historic trip from Vincennes to South Bend in 1842. Two 19th-century safe doors adorn the passage to the garage, complete with original lettering. Father Sorin used the safes, originally in the Presbytery, to house separate vaults for congregation and University money in the days before banks.
Corby Hall still connects directly to the back of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, an easy access for priests celebrating Mass there. Corby, the Grotto and the Presbytery building sit on a parcel of land owned by the Father Edward Sorin Trust, controlled by the congregation rather than the University.
Blessed Basil Moreau founded the Congregation of Holy Cross in 1837 in Sainte-Croix, France, near Le Mans. Five years later, at his behest, Father Sorin founded Notre Dame. Holy Cross is an apostolic religious congregation composed of brothers and priests who work as educators in the faith in schools, parishes and other works of missionary outreach and social justice.
“You can’t understand Notre Dame unless you understand Holy Cross, who are today, as they have been since 1842, the anchor of Notre Dame’s mission.”-Chuck Lamphier
Internationally, the Congregation of Holy Cross consists of more than 1,200 perpetually professed religious brothers and religious priests in 16 countries. In addition to Notre Dame, the United States Province of Holy Cross has three other institutions of higher learning in the United States — King’s College, Stonehill College and the University of Portland; 13 parishes in the United States; and parishes, schools and health and social ministries in East Africa, Mexico and South America.
Chuck Lamphier, executive director of ecumenical and church affairs at Notre Dame, said the community of priests and brothers living on campus is one of the University’s most unique features.
“They are faculty, administrators, staff; they minister in residence halls, on basketball courts and in chapels,” he said. “You can’t understand Notre Dame unless you understand Holy Cross, who are today, as they have been since 1842, the anchor of Notre Dame’s mission.”