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Father Sorin, Founder

As this portion of the tour begins, you should be standing in front of the statue of Father Sorin that faces the quad in front of the Golden Dome.

Narration by Fr. Nate Wills, C.S.C.

The University’s name, Notre Dame, is a French phrase that means “Our Lady,” Notre Dame. It might seem odd that a school known for its Irish roots has a French name, but the reason for this juxtaposition rests in the figure of our founder, a missionary priest from France named Father Edward Sorin. When he arrived here on a cold November day in 1842, he looked over the nearby lake, which was covered with clean, white snow. The scene reminded him of the purity of Mary, the Mother of God, and he named the institution after her: Notre Dame du Lac—Our Lady of the Lake.

Immediately upon his arrival, Sorin wrote home to his superiors in France: “Once again in our life, we felt that Providence had been good to us, and we blessed God with all our hearts… This college will be one of the most powerful means of doing good in this country.”

Everything about Notre Dame began with this vision and spirit of Father Edward Sorin. The statue before you depicts him as an older man, but he was only 28 years old when he arrived here in 1842 from France, along with seven Holy Cross brothers.

At that time, the area where you are standing was in the wilderness of the American frontier. The only shelter that awaited Father Sorin and those first brothers was a dilapidated log cabin that had served as a center for missionary activity in this region. Though he spoke little English when he arrived, Father Sorin had extraordinary hope, which grounded him in the conviction that God had inspired this undertaking and would see it through.

In that first year, Father Sorin and those Holy Cross brothers erected two buildings—a church and a school building. From the beginning, Father Sorin saw Notre Dame as a place where the intellect and faith worked together and enriched one another. This has always been Notre Dame’s ideal: to be a great university—a place for the exchange of ideas and knowledge—and to be a great Catholic institution with a mission to make God known, loved, and served. Today, Notre Dame stands among the nation’s top 20 institutions of higher learning and the pre-eminent Catholic university. The international character of Notre Dame -- as seen in its founder and composition of immigrants in its first 100 years -- is reflected today through the 75 percent of students who study abroad in 25 countries worldwide.

The architecture of campus still reveals the pursuit of excellence in the life of the mind and in the life of faith. The two most prominent buildings for miles remain the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, whose steeple is the highest point on campus, and the Main Building with the Golden Dome, under which people have lived and worked, taught and studied for over 150 years. You can also see this pursuit in the figure of Father Sorin, himself, who stands before you. In one hand, he holds a cross. In the other, a book for study.