In its early days, Notre Dame marked Independence Day with an on-campus celebration in conjunction with the end of the academic year. Accounts of two of the commemorations, found in Rev. Arthur Hope, C.S.C.’s retrospective “Notre Dame — 100 Years,” describe a fledgling campus community that nonetheless put its best foot forward to mark the holiday. In 1845, University founder Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., invited prominent citizens from around the area to attend a ceremony that featured a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a play and a speech from a University administrator (probably Father Sorin himself). The event went so well that it became an annual tradition, with townspeople from nearby South Bend and Mishawaka looking to Notre Dame for their Fourth of July entertainment, Hope writes.

No such community-wide celebrations take place on campus today, but evidence of the connection Father Sorin felt to his adopted homeland has reverberated through the generations. Here are some of the ways Notre Dame has expressed its patriotism through commemorations, structures and programs.

Vice President Richard Nixon receiving the Patriot of the Year Award from Senior Class President Richard Corbett, with Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., 1960.

The Patriot Award

In the mid-1950s, the University established the Patriot of the Year Award, presented to someone “who exemplifies the American ideals of justice, personal integrity and service to country.”

The award was conferred during annual events taking place to mark George Washington’s birthday. (The University held such events for more than 120 years after its founding; Father Sorin admired the political career of Washington.) Honorees include Sen. John F. Kennedy, Vice President Richard Nixon and comedian Bob Hope. Both the Washington Day exercises and the Patriot of the Year Award ceased around 1970.

Basilica of the Sacred Heart exterior World War I Memorial door. Ttwo strong eagles supporting a shield bearing the university seal and it is surmounted by the Chi and Rho of Christ’s monogram: The eagles carry in their claws a ribbon which reads 'God, Country, Notre Dame.'

God, Country, Notre Dame

The famous east entrance to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a memorial to those who lost their lives during World War I. Originally envisioned to list the names of the 2,500 students, faculty and alumni who served, the tablets on either side of the door instead list the 56 who paid the ultimate price in the war effort. The entrance was dedicated on Memorial Day 1924. Two future presidents of the University served as chaplains during the war: Rev. Matthew Walsh, C.S.C., and Rev. Charles O’Donnell, C.S.C.

The memorial is (unofficially) one of the three most-photographed spots on campus. Each year, many ROTC officers receive their commissions in front of the memorial.

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, blesses an American flag at a Mass with several other people.

Blessing of the Flag

Each Commencement Mass, University president Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., blesses a flag that will fly over campus over the course of the coming year. The blessing is intended to be a reminder of the principles it stands for: life, liberty and justice for all.

The Blue Angels fly over Notre Dame Stadium, packed full of fans, before the Navy game, 2013.


There are many other visible symbols of Notre Dame’s connection to the military on campus, and also a tradition renewed regularly on home football game days. Military jets often perform a ceremonial flyover during the singing of the national anthem, adding excitement to the game day atmosphere and also providing valuable training time for pilots. Military pilots are required to record a number of training flight hours to maintain proficiency, and flyovers provide opportunities to fulfill those requirements.

Washington Hall interior, c1890s. A painting of Washington is hung above the stage.

Washington Hall

Built in 1881 after the fire that destroyed much of the campus, the building bears the name of the nation’s founding father per Father Sorin’s aforementioned admiration. Upon completion, a painting of Washington was placed above center stage. Washington Hall sits on Main Quad, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

A black and white collage including American presidents, University presidents, surround Notre Dame's golden dome. There are two red stripes and one blue stripe with three stars in the background.

Presidential Visits

Notre Dame has a long-standing relationship with the nation’s highest public office. More U.S. presidents have spoken at the University’s commencement ceremonies than any other higher education institution outside of the service academies. But the visits were not always tied to delivering a commencement speech. The University has welcomed the country’s top leader for a wide array of occasions.

Read the story: Hail to the Chief