"...And when this school has grown a bit more, I will raise her aloft, so that men will know, without asking, why we have succeeded here. To that Lovely Lady, raised high on a dome, a golden dome, men may look and find the answer."
                                                               --Rev. Edward F. Sorin, C.S.C.

The following description of the history of this statue of the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception is from a fascinating book called A Dome of Learning by Thomas J. Schlereth. [Available at the Notre Dame bookstore]

W.J. Edbrooke's [the architect of the Main Building] Notre Dame dome drawing's also concluded with a woman's statue. There was no doubt who she would be: the Virgin Mary as the Immaculate Conception. Several reasons account for this. The American Catholic hierarchy had, in their first Council of Baltimore (1846) chosen Mary, under this title, as the spiritual patron of the United States. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was officially proclaimed eight years later by Pope Pius IX. Finally, Mary, under the title of the Immaculate Conception, had been Edward Sorin's idea for the statue placed atop the Main Building.

The new statue would be larger, taller, more beautiful -- a icon that would simultaneously symbolize three of his passionate allegiances: to America, To Rome, and to the Virgin. Moreover, he knew the perfect model; he had walked by it many times in the past 20 years. Where? Rome's Piazza di Spagna, where on September 8, 1857, Pius IX had unveiled a monument to the Immaculate Conception. Sorin decided he would duplicate the papal sculpture by placing it not on a free-standing Corinthian column but upon a gigantic dome gilded with gold.  The Virgin would terminate a vertical building feature whose statistics he would never tire of reciting or reprinting:
a) basement to roof = 78 feet
b) height of dome = 91 feet, 6 inches
c) height of pedestal = 11 feet, 6 inches
d) statue height = 16 feet
-Total height = 197 feet.

Although Sorin and Edbrooke planned for the dome and statue from the beginning, the iron framed, wood-clad dome was not finished until 1882. The cast-iron, 4,400 pound, 16-foot statue, purchased largely from the bequests from Mother Angela Gillespie's Holy Cross sisters, women students and alumnae of Saint Mary's Academy, was completed by a Chicago artist, Giovanni Meli, by July 1880. While the dome itself was under construction, the statue stood for several years on the Main Building's front porch roof.

Sorin wanted it to stand on a pedestal of gold. The Holy Cross community's Council of Administration for Notre Dame argued that a dome gilded with gold was too extravagant an outlay of funds; there were many other more practical and necessary expenses. Sorin remained unconvinced. One council member proposed: Why not paint it as had been done with the previous Main Building's done? Sorin scoffed. The debate and the deadlock continued. By 1886 Sorin decided on another approach. As the Superior General of the Holy Cross community, he could assume the chair at any community or University councils or committee meetings. This he did with the council that refused to appropriate funds for the gold. He then requested to be designated as the council's chairman; the council so voted. Thereafter he deliberately absented himself from the council's weekly (Tuesday) meeting, taking up temporary residence at Saint Mary's across the road. The council assembled but could not legally convene without its chairman. University and community business came to a halt. This scenario acted itself out Tuesday after Tuesday until, finally, University president Rev. Thomas E. Walsh, C.S.C., a Sorin protege, collected the council in a rump session and gathered enough votes in favor of the gilding. A delegation was dispatched to tell Sorin at St. Mary's of this decision; he gave them audience, courteously acknowledged their message and bid them adieu. By that afternoon he returned to Notre Dame, convened the council, took a vote and had his gold.

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