When Rev. Charles O’Donnell, C.S.C., assumed the presidency of the University in 1928, he sought to bring to campus guest lecturers who could help elevate Notre Dame’s academic reputation. One such invitation was extended to Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton of England. It was, in some ways, an obvious choice: At the time, Chesterton was the most famous Catholic writer in the world.
G.K. Chesterton and Notre Dame
A look at the relationship between the great Catholic intellectual, G.K. Chesterton, and the University of Notre Dame
G.K. Chesterton spent the month of October 1930 on campus as a visiting professor. He relished the opportunity. Chesterton attended the dedication of Notre Dame Stadium and watched the Fighting Irish rout the Naval Academy by a score of 26–2. He would reportedly spend long hours in Sorin Hall, discussing literature over basement-brewed ale (it was the time of prohibition).
Chesterton lectured inside Washington Hall on Victorian history and literature, always leaving his audience spellbound. He made an impression not only with his command of the subject matter but also with his style. Chesterton would ascend the stage, take a few minutes to fish his notes out of his pocket, and then completely disregard them for the next hour. He would speak mostly extemporaneously, and never failed to make his audience laugh and think.
He felt a warm welcome on campus and a kinship with the place and its people. So when a collection of Chesterton’s belongings was in need of a new home, Notre Dame seemed to be a logical choice. The collection of books, manuscripts, art, and personal effects was in the care of Aidan Mackey, a centenarian who knew people in Chesterton’s inner circle, including Dorothy Collins, Chesterton’s personal secretary.
The collection is now housed at the London Global Gateway, where it was dedicated in October 2022. Since then, a steady rotation of scholars has come to gain insight into the man whose impact continues to reverberate around the world. Just as Chesterton lent his intellect to the burgeoning campus in 1930, so now do his things add a new scholarly dimension to Notre Dame’s presence in Europe.