Marvin R. O’Connell
This sweeping volume offers the definitive account of the life and labors of Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame. Born in the west of France in 1814, Sorin was ordained in 1838 and joined the newly founded Congregation of Holy Cross shortly thereafter. In 1841, Father Sorin, along with six Holy Cross brothers, was sent to establish a mission in Indiana. After a year’s service in the Vincennes diocese’s fledgling parochial schools, Sorin was offered a tract of land in the diocese’s northernmost section—on the condition that a college be situated there. Father Sorin and his companions arrived at the lakeside property, located near the south bend of the St. Joseph River, in November 1842.
The next year, the state of Indiana granted a charter to what Sorin proudly and reverently called the University of Notre Dame du Lac. In its early days, Father Sorin’s “university” was composed of a few log shacks and a handful of half-educated brothers, only a few of whom could speak English. There was no money and hardly any students.
But Father Sorin, by sheer willpower, was determined that his university would prosper. Marvin O’Connell writes, “So confident was he in his own powers, so sure of the ultimate righteousness of his goals, so deep his faith that God and the Virgin Mary had summoned him to America to accomplish this great work, that no obstacle could confound him. He was capable of duplicity, pettiness, and even ruthlessness. But for sheer courage, and for the serene determination that courage gives birth to, he was hard to match.”
Little by little, Notre Dame evolved in its curriculum and pedagogical standards. At the same time, another evolution was taking place. Sorin came to America as a missionary first and an educator second. What began in Sorin’s mind as an institution that could monetarily support the work of the Holy Cross mission, instead took center stage in a way that Sorin could never have anticipated.
Flexible as always though, he readily adapted to this changing reality and began the development of the Notre Dame we know today. Basic to Father Sorin’s success in this regard was his willingness to give free rein to gifted colleagues—men more intellectually sophisticated than himself—and his intuitive understanding of, and growing love for, the unique character of American culture.
Edward Sorin is a lively, colorful history of the man who overcame great odds to found and grow one of the world’s premier Catholic institutions of higher learning.
MARVIN R. O’CONNELL is professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame and author of numerous books, including John Ireland and the American Catholic Church and Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart.
“Fr. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., brought the Congregation of Holy Cross—priests, brothers, and sisters—to the United States in the 1840s, founded the University of Notre Dame, and served as his international community’s Superior General for the last twenty-five years of his life. In this scholarly, absorbing, and well-written biography, Fr. Marvin O’Connell brings to life the extraordinary labors and accomplishments of this dedicated missionary, educator, builder, controversial administrator, and widely influential American churchman.” —Thomas Blantz, C.S.C., University of Notre Dame
“Marvin O’Connell’s mastery of the sources, his critical but sympathetic insight, and his extraordinary gifts as a stylist, bring us face to face with one of the true giants of American Catholic history. Founding the University of Notre Dame and guiding its survival for half a century was Edward Sorin’s crowning achievement. But to be fully understood it must be seen against the background of spiritual crises, conflicts of interest, and clashes of personality set forth so vividly in this book. It is a fascinating story, magnificently told.” —J. Philip Gleason, University of Notre Dame
“An against the odds tale of how Sorin came to found one of the world’s premier Catholic institutions of higher learning.” — Publishers Weekly
“A skilled biographer and professor emeritus of history at Notre Dame, O’Connell honors the legacy of Edward Sorin with blunt honesty and fraternal esteem. Sorin was given the task of creating a college, and in a short 800 pages the reader enters into the world of 19th-century Catholicism and experiences Sorin’s challenges and joys as he faced this daunting goal. This encyclopedic work is both engaging and academic and destined to be the definitive work on Edward Sorin.” — Library Journal
“Magisterial … [Sorin] was a man composed of equal parts St. Paul and Tom Sawyer.” — Wall Street Journal
“Father Marvin R. O’Connell gives the life of this amazing man its due in this definitive biography that at times reads more like an adventure.” — Notre Dame Magazine
“History in Indiana captured in detail.” — Indianapolis Star
“Edward Sorin has long enjoyed a somewhat mythical status among Notre Dame alumni and many American Holy Cross religious. O’Connell’s biography at times dispels the myth and at other times grounds it in evidence." — America
“The satisfying story O’Connell weaves of the obstacles Sorin overcame to secure the survival of his college . . . is the result of some painstaking research, an ear for effective anecdotes, and a palpable emotional attachment to the consequences of Sorin’s efforts. This biography is a history of Notre Dame that has nothing to do with football, and that, all by itself, is reason enough to check it out.” — Virginia Quarterly Review
“To say that I liked the book is the understatement of the year. O’Connell has a gift for synthesizing details and supplying sufficiently succinct background information to enable the reader to understand such necessary factors as the French Revolution and its effect on nineteenth century France and the Church in that country; the differing impact that the Revolution had on the families of Sorin and Moreau; the contrasts in seminary training of both men and the resulting spirituality of each one; the nature of the American Church; the ‘disobedience’ of Sorin and of Moreau. . . . ” — Holy Cross History
“This work will surely stand as Sorin’s definitive biography.” — H-Net: Humanities and Social Science Reviews OnLine
“Tracing the astonishing career of this remarkable man has produced not only a definitive biography but a model of how good history should be written. [H]is well crafted, sympathetic narrative is a terrific read. . . . O’Connell’s magnificent biography, priced reasonably, is a treasure.” — Catholic Library World
“This is a great book, extremely well written, about a great man who made an enormous difference.” — Theological Studies
“The thirty chapters of this book are thoroughly researched and beautifully crafted with rhapsodic descriptions of the place, complex character development and a fine sense of pacing. It reads like a good novel.” — American Historical Review
“Anyone interested in the origins of the University of Notre Dame will cherish this excellent biography of Fr. Edward Sorin. Edward Sorin can be highly recommended. It deserves a place of honor in any well-stocked library.” — Cistercian Studies Quarterly
“O’Connell’s theme is the tug-of-war between two complex personalities, Sorin the obstinate aristocrat and Moreau the quarrelsome peasant. This approach is instructive because their competition serves as a paradigm for a larger issue in American history: the struggle of European institutions—in this case, a religious congregation—to adapt to the American environment. It is an old story, but one to which an important chapter has been added by this excellent biography.” — The Journal of American History
“O’Connell is one of the finest story-tellers of our day, with a craftsman’s handling of the language. This work is a fine tribute to Sorin, to the university which he founded, and to the many fine men and women associated with Holy Cross over the years.” — Catholic Historical Review
“This work is well written, blending historical facts with delightful stories and the humor of human foibles.” — Catholic Southwest
“With the precision of a calligrapher and the lyrical voice of a librettist, Notre Dame professor emeritus Marvin R. O’Connell has crafted a monumental biography . . . of Edward Sorin. O’Connell’s biography is a respectful and balanced account of a preeminent nineteenth-century Catholic churchman. The student of higher education will find much of interest here in the anecdotal accounts of Notre Dame’s development under Sorin’s leadership. . . . " — History of Education Quarterly