Postcard views of Notre Dame


Vintage “real photo” postcard from the 1930s.

The first collegiate residence hall at Notre Dame, Sorin Hall.

The following description of the Log Chapel is from the superb guide book, Notre Dame, the Official Campus Guide, by Damaine Vonada. It's available in the book section at:


The beehive-shaped turrets that architect Willoughby Edbrooke placed at the corners of Sorin Hall not only give this residence hall the gracious look of a French chateau but also distinguish it from all the other dormitories at Notre Dame. Its appearance, however, is just one of the things that makes this hall unique. Sorin occupies a singular place in the university's history and as a result has developed an unrivaled identity and sense of tradition. Aside from being the most storied dorm on campus, this is arguably also the proudest.


The opening of Sorin Hall in 1889 was a milestone for both Notre Dame and Catholic higher education. It marked the first time that the university had a separate dormitory building, and even more significant, it offered private rooms, which heretofore had been unheard of at a Catholic college or university. In fact, the concept of private rooms was very much a novelty in those late Victorian times, and there was considerable concern about what all that privacy might lead to once young men were liberated from the communal living conditions that were then the norm of dormitory life. The university's primary motive for building Sorin Hall had really been quite simple: the Main Building, where students from grade school to college all lived en masse, was getting too crowded. In addition, the times were changing, and one of Notre Dame's most valuable assets has always been its ability to constantly adapt and improve to meet the shifting heeds of the larger society. Progressives such as Rev. John Zahm saw private rooms for college men as one of the swells on the wave of the future. Fortunately, Father Sorin did too, and with the patriarch's approval, Notre Dame built its first residence hall.

In the planning stages, the new dormitory was called "Collegiate Hall," an obvious reference to the older students who were to have the privilege of living there. Its cornerstone was laid on May 27, 1888, the year that Father Sorin was celebrating his fiftieth anniversary as a priest. Although the students and faculty had already given him a carriage and two horses for his Golden Jubilee, they had an even better present in store for the 74-year-old priest when he turned out to bless the cornerstone. They started calling the promising new structure "Sorin Hall." This salute to Father Sorin remained unchanged until 1969, when a group of Sorin residents decided to protest the Vietnam war by seceding from the university. The Sorinites' declaration of independence was a small wooden sign on the dorm's front porch that announced the creation of "Sorin College." The rebellion fizzled, but the sign is still there. No longer a symbol of dissent, it has instead become a small vanity signifying Sorin's status as Notre Dame's oldest dorm. The university's maps may say Sorin Hall, but you will almost never hear a resident call it anything but Sorin College.

At the time of its dedication, Sorin Hall's singular architecture was described as "mixed Gothic and Roman," and it contained a chapel, the law school, quarters for rectors and bachelor professors, and some 50, quite revolutionary single rooms. Perhaps to ease the minds of skeptical parents and alumni, the rooms were reassuringly described as "large enough to encourage study, and at the same time small enough to discourage visiting." These private rooms were definitely not for everybody. In point of fact, they had to be earned, since Sorin Hall was reserved for the cream of the academic crop, and students got to select their rooms based on their academic standing. The very first student to choose a room was senior J. E. Cusack, who not only was academically at the top of his class, but also happened to be a halfback on the football team.

As it turned out, Cusack was the first of an amazing number of varsity athletes who would live in Sorin Hall. Knute Rockne and Gus Dorais, the duo who transformed football with the forward pass, lived in the dorm's underground basement, which early on was dubbed "the subway." In the 1920s, the hall housed two of the famous "Four Horsemen": quarterback Harry Stuhldreher in the "subway" and halfback Don Miller on the third floor. Three of Notre Dame's Heisman Trophy winners -Johnny Lujack, John Lattner, and Paul Hornung- roomed here. So did All-Americans Pete Demmerle, Ken MacAfee, and Dave Casper, as well as future coach Heartley "Hunk" Anderson and future athletic director Edward "Moose" Krause.

At present, Sorin Hall is occupied by a former Notre Dame basketball player from Washington, D.C., whose name now appears on the front pages far more often than it did on the sports pages during his varsity days, He is Notre Dame's president, Rev. Edward "Monk" Malloy, C.S.C., a member of the class of 1963 who holds advanced degrees in both English and theology. Since becoming head of the university in 1987, Father Malloy has overseen the development of DeBartolo Quad and West Quad as well as the renovation of many of Notre Dame's most venerable old buildings. His initiatives have also increased the number of women and minority students, bolstered Notre Dame's ties to South Bend, and produced the Colloquy for the Year 2000, a blueprint for the university's future. A professor of theology, he has a strong interest in ethics and is nationally known for his work to encourage volunteerism and community service. "Monk," as he is often called, also conducts a seminar every semester as part of Notre Dame's First Year of Studies program, He is probably the only university president in the United States who not only teaches an undergraduate class but also lives in a dorm with his students.

Father Malloy is just the latest in the long line of noteworthy teachers, priests, and mentors who have inhabited Sorin Hall. He, in fact, lives in the very room -number 141 in the northeast turret-that once belonged to the beloved Paul Fenlon, who was perhaps Notre Dame's quintessential bachelor don. The bachelor dons were unmarried professors who resided in the dormitories and, although they were laymen, had an almost religious devotion to not merely instructing but also guiding, advising, civilizing, and ultimately enlightening their students. A courtly professor of English from Blairsville, Pennsylvania, Fenlon first moved into Sorin Hall as a student during World War I, and he also lived there throughout his teaching career and on into his retirement. When Fenlon died in 1980, he had spent more than 60 years in the dormitory. Fenlon was the last of Notre Dame's dons, and the St. Thomas Aquinas chapel in Sorin Hall now contains a plaque that honors his memory.

The first of Sorin Hall's dons, Colonel William Hoynes, also lived there for decades and left his mark on the dorm. Although he had spent some time in the Union Army, his rank was strictly honorary, the result of his taking charge of a group of student cadets that came to be known as the Hoynes Light Guards. The mustachioed Hoynes was dean of the law school and a bit of a dandy, given to flowery language and fancy clothes. One morning, just as he was emerging from Sorin Hall in his full sartorial splendor, some students opened an upper-story window and dumped a bucket of water on him. The prank so outraged Hoynes that the university added a porch to the front of the hall to protect their valued professor from any future deluge. Years later, the dormitory's colorful rector, Rev. John "Pop" Parley liked to distribute the students' mail from that porch, and now it serves as an outdoor stage for the Sorinites' rollicking Talent Show, an infamous autumn evening of skits, songs, and dance that is usually held on Parents' Weekend.


Although Sorin Hall is one of Notre Dame's smallest men's dormitories, it can nonetheless claim two past university presidents: Rev. Andrew Morrissey, who was the hall's first rector and blessed the addition of its north and south wings in 1897, and Rev. John O'Hara, a future cardinal who lived there while serving as Notre Dame's prefect of religion. With the dorm's prestigious heritage and very Victorian-looking rooms, it's not surprising that Sorinites display a strong camaraderie and sense of tradition. In a nod to the movie Animal House, they call themselves the "Screamin' Otters," and one of their favorite places to howl is the high-ceilinged turret room on the southwest corner of the first floor. On week- ends, it's famous for late parties and loud music. Also on the first floor is a bronze statue of Father Sorin, and custom dictates that if Sorinites want to have good luck, they have to touch its right foot whenever they pass by. The statue has disappeared several times, presumably kidnapped by residents of rival dorms. When it vanished in the 1950s, postcards and telegrams began arriving at Notre Dame from all over the world. They were signed "Sorin" and had mischievous messages such as “Visited the Louvre today. Paris swings at night..." Other times, the statue was spotted in a rowboat on St. Mary's Lake or descending onto the campus in a helicopter. These adventures finally ended in 1983, when the statues base was weighted with concrete and fastened to the hall's floor with iron rods. Since then, Father Sorin has stayed firmly in place, assuring the proud Soronites that they will continue to enjoy the luck of the Irish.




Back to Irish Legends