August 12, 2016

Archdiocesan pilgrimage to Notre Dame provides ‘reality of being connected’

Pilgrims from central and southern Indiana kneel in prayer in front of the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto at the University of Notre Dame during an archdiocesan pilgrimage on July 19. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Pilgrims from central and southern Indiana kneel in prayer in front of the Our Lady of Lourdes grotto at the University of Notre Dame during an archdiocesan pilgrimage on July 19. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

NOTRE DAME, Ind.—It is said to have been a bitterly cold day on Nov. 26, 1842, when Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin arrived on the 524 acres in northern Indiana he’d been given by the bishop of the Vincennes Diocese to start a Catholic institute of higher learning.

Aware of only one of the two lakes on the property due to the snow, the French priest decided to name the school “L’Université Notre Dame du Lac”—the University of Our Lady of the Lake.

In a letter to his superior, Father Sorin wrote that he envisioned a college that “cannot fail to succeed. Before long, it will develop on a large scale. It will be one of the most powerful means for good in this country.”

Almost 175 years later on July 19, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin and 51 other pilgrims from central and southern Indiana stood on the spot where Father Sorin named what is now the internationally acclaimed University of Notre Dame. (Related: See a photo gallery from the pilgrimage)

It is known for its academic rigor, its successful alumni, and of course for its football team.

But the university as a pilgrimage site?

Absolutely, says Archbishop Tobin. (Watch the archbishop explain why in a video here)

“A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place,” he explained to the pilgrims on the bus ride to northern Indiana. “It’s a place where we go to pray and worship. It’s a place where we can enter into connection with lots of pilgrims before us. …

“I think today is a day for us to experience the reality of being connected. We leave our homes, and we experience a deeper connection with Father Sorin, who arrived at Notre Dame and began in a very bitter winter the institution there.”

To mark the day as holy, the pilgrimage began with a tour of the university’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart, whose doors are among those designated as doors of mercy during the Holy Year of Mercy. Construction on the basilica was started in 1870, replacing the first church on the campus. It was finally completed and consecrated in 1888, although the first Mass was held there in 1875 and the church was in continuous use thereafter.

Not part of that first Mass was the magnificent, high altar. Before being installed at the basilica, the multi-tiered, French-made altar was displayed at the Centennial Philadelphia Exposition in 1876, winning first prize for design.

For many members of the pilgrimage, the day’s highlight was Mass at the basilica, with Archbishop Tobin as the principle celebrant, accompanied by 17 concelebrants.

“Just being in the basilica for Mass, it was powerful,” said Mary Burk of St. Michael Parish in Brookville. “The church was packed. On a Tuesday? That’s great!”

Theresa Blevins of St. Mary Parish in Jennings County agreed.

“The Mass was so beautiful,” she said. “I’ve never seen so many priests up on the altar.”

She also appreciated the statues and art in the basilica. Luigi Gregori, who had been painter-in-residence at the Vatican, agreed to come to Notre Dame for three years to paint murals on the walls and ceiling of the basilica. Fifty-six murals, 14 Stations of the Cross and 17 years later, Gregori was finished. He also painted murals of Christopher Columbus and other areas within Notre Dame’s Main Building.

With its golden dome, the Main Building is probably the most known of the university’s structures. Its existence is a testament to the iron will of Father Sorin and his declaration that the university “cannot fail to succeed.”

The structure was just what its name suggests—the main building where virtually the entire university was originally housed.

As recounted by a student tour guide, the building was destroyed by a fire in April of 1879. Many thought it was the end of the university, but Father Sorin vowed that the building would be completed for students to return for the fall semester in four months’ time. Through his determination, as well as donations and the herculean effort of 300 men working every day for four months, he held true to his promise.

The dome came later. Adorned with a 19-foot, two-ton statue of the Blessed Mother for whom the university is named, the dome is covered in eight ounces of nearly 24-karat gold leaf. When the dome is touched-up about every 10 years, said the tour guide, flakes of its gold are mixed in with the paint for the football team’s helmets. They are also mixed with the gold used for the diploma seals, “allowing us to take part of the dome with us,” the guide said.

Other stops on the campus tour/pilgrimage included a replica of the log cabin where Father Sorin and his six companion Holy Cross brothers first lived; a one-seventh scale model of the grotto at Lourdes, France; and a view of Hesburgh Library’s “touchdown Jesus” mural, so named for the position of Christ’s raised arms as visible in the background behind one of the end zones of the university’s football stadium. The mural actually depicts Christ and the “saints of learning,” and is officially called “Word of Life.”

Archbishop Tobin noted that the archdiocese is more connected with Notre Dame than just via the Catholic faith.

He mentioned how several of the archdiocesan schools benefit from the university’s Alliance for Catholic Education—or ACE—teachers.

“The alliance takes students who are interested in doing graduate work in education and provides that education in return for a contribution of teaching, usually in a difficult or marginalized area,” the archbishop explained. “Our relationship with ACE is going to intensify this year as they take a new and very serious responsibility for the five Mother Theodore Guerin Catholic Academies within the city of Indianapolis.”

A number of the principals in the archdiocese have attended the university’s Remick Leadership Program to become better administrators, specifically of Catholic schools, he said. And many parishes and schools have interns of Notre Dame’s Echo program—a two-year service-learning program preparing faith formation leaders in the Church.

Archbishop Tobin also gave credit to the university’s Center for Social Concerns. The center hosted an Indiana Catholic Poverty Summit in April 2013. Out of that summit came “Poverty at the Crossroads: The Church’s Response to Poverty in Indiana,” a pastoral letter by the five bishops of Indiana.

The archbishop acknowledged that there were many among the pilgrims who had their own connections to Notre Dame, either as alumni or as parents of graduates.

Katherine and Norbert Krapf of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis were among those with degrees from the university. Both earned advanced degrees from Notre Dame in the 1960s.

They also earned each other’s love and trust for life there.

“It was the fall of 1968,” Katherine recalls. “We met in the library. There was a place down in the basement of the library [with vending machines] called The Pit. … Usually it was full, but the day that I went down, we were the only two people in the room, so we had to meet!”

The Krapfs were married in the Lady Chapel of the basilica, and celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary in June.

The pilgrimage provided a good opportunity for them to “reflect on the past, to recall where we were in our lives when we met, and where we are now,” said Katherine.

“Whenever you come back to a place you’ve been before, there are always memories and associations,” Norbert said in agreement. “And it’s relaxing to do it with someone else driving!”

Unlike the Krapfs, Burk’s friend Patty Meyer of St. Michael Parish in Brookville had never been to Notre Dame.

“I always wanted to go,” said Meyer. “[Seeing Notre Dame] was on my bucket list.”

When she read about the pilgrimage in The Criterion, she invited Burk to join her.

Though raised Catholic, Burk had fallen away from the faith for many years. Her faith was recently renewed through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

“As a kid, I learned what I learned [about the faith] because I had to,” she said. “And now it’s because I want to. That [program] made my faith a lot stronger.

“I’m glad [Patty] asked me to come. I’ve been [to Notre Dame] for a football game before, but this was very different.”

Like Meyer, Cindy Redmon of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville had never been to the university.

“I’ve always wanted to see the campus, and [also] to have some quiet time, some still time,” she said of her reasons for joining the pilgrimage.

The experience was all she hoped for.

“It was a beautiful day, just perfect,” she said. †

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