26 November 1842

The University of Notre Dame is founded.

The University of Notre Dame was founded on November 26, 1842 by Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who was also its first president, as an all-male institution on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes. Today, many Holy Cross priests continue to work for the university, including as its president. Notre Dame rose to national prominence in the early 1900s for its Fighting Irish football team, especially under the guidance of the legendary coach Knute Rockne. Major improvements to the university occurred during the administration of Rev. Theodore Hesburgh between 1952 and 1987 as Hesburgh’s administration greatly increased the university’s resources, academic programs, and reputation and first enrolled women undergraduates in 1972.

Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C., founder
In 1839 bishop of Vincennes, Right Rev. Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière, had contacted Rev. Basil Moreau, C.S.C., founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and expressed to him his concern over the lack of Catholic education in his diocese and pleaded for Moreau to send his a priest and four brothers to set up a school. When enough funds were raised, Moreau chose a young and energetic priest Rev. Edward Sorin to lead the effort. Accompanied by six brothers, Fr. Sorin left Le Havre, France on August 8, 1841, on the ship the Iowa, and arrived in New York on September 13, 1841, where they were met by Samuel Byerley, a merchant of New York, on the request of Bishop de la Hailandiere; the party was also hosted by Bishop John Dubois. On the third day, they set out for Indiana. They passed through Albany and in Buffalo they took a ferry though Lake Erie and reached Toledo, Ohio, and reached Bishop Hailandière in Vincennes on October 8. Bishop De la Hailandiere gave Sorin and his brothers possession of the church of St Peter and its annexed farm in Montgomery, Indiana. The lack of funds and the harsh winter made life in the farm difficult, especially since the men were all French and not experts in American farming; the situation was made worse by the tense relationship between Fr. Sorin and Bishop Hailandière, who often disagreed on financial issues.

In the early months of 1842, Fr. Sorin started to conceive the idea of founding a college, although one was already present in Vincennes. Initially, Fr. Sorin thought of founding the college there in St Peters, but he met the opposition of the bishop who lamented that this was not in the original plans and it conflicted with the existence of St. Gabriel’s college. However, the bishops also stated that he was not against a founding of a college elsewhere, provided that this effort would not prevent him his Brothers from accomplishing their education duties. Near the end of October the bishop offered Sorin certain lands at the furthermost limits of the diocese, in the virtually unsettled area of northern Indiana, just a few miles from the southern boundary of the state of Michigan. These 524 acres of land had been bought in 1830 by Rev. Stephen Badin, the first priest ordained on the United States, who had come to the area invited by chief Leopold Pokagon to administer the mission of St. Maries des Lacs to the Potawatomi tribe. When Rev. Badin changed his plans, he sold the land to Bishop Simon Bruté, who passed it on to his successor Bishop Hailandiere, who now offered it to Rev. Sorin, on the condition that he build a college within two year.

After some deliberation, Father Sorin accepted the land and the challenge, on the bishop’s condition that he would found a college in two years.