Guided by Our Lady, the University of Notre Dame has the honor and responsibility of consecrating itself without reserve to the cause of truth.
The University of Notre Dame began late on the bitterly cold afternoon of November 26, 1842, when a 28-year-old French priest, Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C., and seven companions, all of them members of the recently established Congregation of Holy Cross, took possession of 524 snow-covered acres that the Bishop of Vincennes had given them in the Indiana mission fields. They had been sent by Blessed Basil Moreau, C.S.C., to establish a school to expand the work of education and evangelization to which the order had committed itself. Father Sorin named his fledging school in honor of Our Lady, in his native tongue, L’Université de Notre Dame du Lac (The University of Our Lady of the Lake). On January 15, 1844, the University was thus officially chartered by the Indiana legislature.
Since its founding, the University’s aspiration to be at the center of Catholic intellectual life—to be a bellwether institution in the pursuit of truth and knowledge, while remaining guided and elevated by the moral imperatives of the Catholic faith—has been fundamental to the school’s mission. The statutes of the University explicate, “the essential character of the University as a Catholic institution of higher learning shall at all times be maintained… [and] the University retain in perpetuity its identity as such an institution.”
On August 15, 1990, His Holiness Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education entitled Ex corde Ecclesiae. Adopted by the Catholic Bishops of the United States in November 1999, the apostolic constitution described the identity and mission of Catholic colleges and universities and provided general norms to help fulfill its vision. According to Ex corde Ecclesiae, every Catholic university, to be truly Catholic, must have the following characteristics:
- a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such;
- a continued reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;
- fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;
- an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life.
The University of Notre Dame strives at all times to ensure that its Catholic character informs its endeavors and that it remains faithful to the pope’s vision of a truly Catholic educational institution. As such, let us reflect upon the three main and distinct dimensions of the University’s work that arise from this Catholic mission:
- the nature of the education offered to students;
- the kinds of research, discussions, debates, and inquiries that take place at the University;
- and service to the Catholic Church in a manner appropriate for a university.