The Golden Dome of the Main Building serves as an iconic representation of the University of Notre Dame. Whether reflecting golden rays of sunshine or outlined against a blue-gray sky, Mother Mary standing atop the dome tells “everyone who comes this way...to whom we owe whatever great future this place has” (Fr. Edward Sorin, CSC).
But, even if the Dome burnt to the ground, as it did in April of 1879, the spirit of Notre Dame would remain. The spirit of Notre Dame, of the Fighting Irish, would continue to permeate throughout campus. It would continue to animate its students, faculty, alumni, and family to be forces for good in our country and across our world. Fr. Sorin embodied this spirit, and his zeal was so infectious that the University of Notre Dame at 37 years old was marked by this trait. Fr. Corby, President of the University at the time of the fire in 1879, rallied students and faculty a few moments after the fire had been tamed and boldly proclaimed that the University would rebuild and that they would resume classes in September as usual. Writers of the Scholastic, the student newspaper at the time, wrote:
Yes, Notre Dame will be herself again in a few months, with God’s help, the untiring toil of her children, and the aid of her generous friends who have never failed her in her hour of need...Notre Dame has so grown into the life of the country that it cannot but live and flourish, notwithstanding the fire. Like a vigorous tree which has been burned to the ground, the life is still strong in the great heart beneath, and it will spring from its ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever...This building will be ready before the first of September. (http://www.archives.nd.edu/Scholastic/VOL_0012/VOL_0012_ISSUE_0034.pdf)
Reports detail that students rushed into the burning buildings to save books, furniture, pianos, and scientific equipment. Fr. Sorin, upon returning to campus and surveying the damage of his life’s work, declared:
If it were all gone, I should not give up. The fire was my fault. I came here as a young man and founded a university which I named after the Mother of God. Now she had to burn it to the ground to show me that I dreamed too small a dream. (http://faith.nd.edu/s/1210/faith/interior.aspx?sid=1210&gid=609&pgid=15963)
The spirit of Notre Dame, despite the destruction in 1879, endured. Classes did resume on schedule that next fall. The spirit of Notre Dame survived and continues to thrive because the spirit of Notre Dame is not a building, statue, athletic accomplishment, mosaic or painting. The spirit of Notre Dame lives in the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross and their apostolic zeal to make God known, loved and served. Fr. Sorin, like Bl. Moreau, possessed a burning desire to save souls. This spirit, this Holy Spirit, this zeal, lives across campus in the hearts of all those blessed enough to call Notre Dame home.
This is the spirit of Notre Dame: zeal, a fire to make God known, loved and served.
Similarly, as we continue to fight through the current crisis within our Church we must remember that the spirit of the Church, the Holy Spirit, the zeal to save souls, is not tied to a human institution. The Holy Spirit is not in St. Peter’s Basilica or the Vatican museums, the Sistine Chapel or any other earthly dwelling that could be consumed and destroyed by a fire. The Holy Spirit dwells in the hearts of the faithful. The Holy Spirit calls on, stirs up, and urges forward the true disciples of Christ and will provide the gifts and fruits to build back the Church better than it was before, springing “back from these ashes more glorious and beautiful than ever.”
As transformational Catholic school leaders, know that this Holy Spirit dwells inside of you. Unleash it. Act with apostolic zeal. Proclaim the Gospel in deed and word. Preach it to yourself if you have to. Be undignified for Christ. Lean in to the problems of your school, of our Church, and of the world, and lead. When your life’s work gets burned down, metaphorically if not literally, accept it. Trust in Providence that the Holy Spirit is leading you to something better, purifying you so that nothing but your zeal for Christ remains. Bl. Moreau assures us:
I am convinced that Providence, which has in the past done everything necessary for the development and perfection of its work, will continue to bestow on us the most abundant blessings. To insure this, we must be constantly animated by the spirit of zeal and generosity which so holy an undertaking requires. We must place all our confidence in the Lord. (Giallanza, 2014, p. xviii)
No matter the fire. No matter the damage. No matter the scandal, the wreckage, the despair.
No matter what.
Place all your confidence in the Lord.
And, with zeal, begin again.
Citation: Giallanza, J. (2010). Praying from the Heart of Holy Cross Spirituality. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.