SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - It started out as a dream and a log cabin.
It was 1842 when the Rev. Edward Sorin made his way to the snow-covered land
that now holds the University of Notre Dame. He had six brothers and a goal
to found a Catholic university and build a church.
Now, the Basilica of the Sacred Heart celebrates the 125th anniversary of
its consecration today, with a Mass for the general public at 4 p.m.,
followed by a public reception in the rotunda of the Main Building,
according to the Rev. Peter Rocca, who serves as the Basilica rector.
Rocca oversees the liturgical planning for services at the Basilica. He’s
been in the position since 1997. “It’s such an honor and a privilege to be
part of this place that’s so pivotal,” Rocca told the South Bend Tribune.
Rocca walked a guest through the Basilica, highlighting parts of its history
while standing beneath the large stained-glass windows.
“This was designated a basilica because of the historical significance,”
Rocca explained. “It’s the oldest church for the Congregation of Holy Cross
in North America. It’s from this church that hundreds upon hundreds of
priests have been ordained, that seminarians and brothers have professed
John Zack is the university sacristan, meaning he’s charged with the
physical upkeep of the campus’ chapels, including the Basilica.
He served as assistant sacristan for 16 years before becoming head sacristan
almost 10 years ago, he said.
Favorite part of the job? He’s got two. “I like getting to meet people from
all over the world, and I can honestly say that no two days are alike,” he
The Basilica saw more than 100,000 visitors last year -- just during guided
tour hours, according to Mike Fitzpatrick, tour guide coordinator. That
doesn’t include people who come for weddings, funerals or during open hours
when there are no tours scheduled.
A staff of five full-timers as well as three wedding coordinators, numerous
volunteers and student workers keep the Basilica and other campus chapels
well-cared for and stocked for services, Zack said.
Zack took time on Monday to walk a reporter and photographer around to some
of the lesser-seen spots of the Basilica, from the TV control room to the
office of the liturgical seamstress and in between.
Did you know the Basilica has its own industrial washer and dryer? It does,
in the basement. It also has a couple of smaller chapels tucked away,
including the Bishops Museum Chapel in the basement, which could seat about
a dozen for a small Mass.
All throughout the building, the meeting of old history and new renovation
is visible. Zack said the structure comes with exactly the type of repairs
you would expect of a 125-plus-year-old building.
Zack said his favorite part of campus is the Log Chapel, the replica
structure that stands at the exact spot where Sorin and his fellow travelers
arrived in 1842. “That’s where the whole university began,” Zack said.
The Basilica’s style of architecture and decoration is very much in Sorin’s
traditional taste, Rocca explained. “Father Sorin was very progressive,
especially in his educational theory. To him, it was very important that we
help people grow as individuals; that they grow spiritually, socially and
emotionally,” Rocca said. “That said, he was very traditional in his
A “Francophile,” according to Rocca, Sorin used quite a few French artisans
in the design of the Basilica, from the main altar to the stained glass.
In fact, the stained glass might well be the largest collection of
19th-century French stained glass in the world, Rocca said. With 44 large
windows featuring 114 life-size and 106 smaller images, the stained-glass
collection was designed by Frenchman Eugene Hucher, who was director of a
stained-glass window foundry overseen by a convent of Carmelite sisters.
Hucher described his stained-glass work for the building as “decoratif et
instructif” -- decorative and instructive, for non-French speakers -- to
both function as a beautiful view and a teaching tool, Rocca said.
Also decorative and instructive is the high altar. The story goes that Sorin
saw the altar in France and asked the artisan firm that built it to
construct him a copy or something similar for the church.
Also unavoidable are the murals adorning the walls. Rocca said Luigi Gregori,
who was the Vatican’s artist in residence until Sorin persuaded him to come
to Indiana, painted these images and the ones in the Main Building.
The Basilica hasn’t been left untouched. In fact, parts of the structure are
adjusted, fixed or replaced every now and then, according to Zack. Changes
include a renovation in 1968 to conform to new liturgical requirements from
the Second Vatican Council.