Even though the University of Notre Dame did not cancel classes for Founder’s Day as it did in the past, the Oct. 13 celebration of the feast of St. Edward, king and confessor, was still a festive occasion on campus Tuesday.
The University celebrated Founder’s Day with a Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart and a reception in the Coleman-Morse Center.
The feast day of St. Edward does not refer to Fr. Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame, but to his namesake, an English king.
“Fr. Sorin had a great devotion to St. Edward, after whom he was named,” Fr. Richard Warner, director of Campus Ministry, said. “When the students wanted to celebrate Fr. Sorin’s birthday, he said no, but he agreed to celebrate St. Edward’s feast day.”
Sorin’s devotion to St. Edward was legendary, Warner said.
When the University wanted to name a dorm after Sorin, he insisted that it be named after St. Edward instead. After St. Edward’s Hall was built, the University eventually named another dorm after its founder: Sorin College.
Sorin’s devotion is evident in the name he gave to the other university he founded in addition to Notre Dame: St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. St. Edward’s University also celebrates St. Edward’s feast day on Oct. 13, although for them it is a patronal feast instead of Founder’s Day.
The Founder’s Day festivities began with a Mass in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. The Notre Dame Folk choir sang, University President Fr. John Jenkins presided, seminarians of the Moreau Seminary served at the altar and at least 30 Holy Cross priests attended.
Fr. Ralph Haag, rector of St. Edward’s Hall, gave the homily.
A reception for faculty and students followed mass in the Hammes Lounge of the Coleman-Morse Center.
“Today is much simpler than Founder’s Day celebrations used to be when Father Sorin was alive,” Fr. Peter Rocca, associate director of Liturgy for Campus Ministry, said.
During Sorin’s lifetime, Rocca said the revelry began the evening of Oct. 12. The University rang out the St. Anthony bell in the Basilica, the largest bell in the United States at the time, he said.
After Mass, Rocca said a student honor guard escorted Sorin from the Basilica to Washington Hall, where a symphony orchestra concert entertained them.
Students enacted a play offering tributes to Sorin following the concert and the night finished with a fireworks display.
“Classes used to be cancelled on this day,” Jenkins said before the Mass.
“We’ve kept some traditions and not others,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
Although the celebration has been scaled back over time, Warner said the intention behind it remains the same.
“We hope to recapture the old spirit of Founder’s Day as a celebration with the University community, especially the students,” he said. “I’m so glad we have this occasion to come together and celebrate.”
Founder’s Day is also an opportunity to ask St. Edward to bless the University his namesake founded.
“Today we ask blessings on Fr. Jenkins, Fr. Sorin’s successor,” Rocca said. “And on the faculty, students and staff, on the Holy Cross priests and on the ministry here at Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s College and St. Edward’s University.”
In his homily, Haag emphasized the lessons that can be taken from the life of St. Edward, King and Confessor.
“Who was this St. Edward?” he said. “He became king of England around age 40. He didn’t seek kingship but spent his reign promoting peace, justice and harmony, so that in a very real way, King Edward ruled in the hearts of those he governed.”
His unusual title of confessor, Haag said, showed that he pointed others to something beyond himself.
“He confessed to all that he lived a life according to the Gospel,” Haag said. “He confessed that Jesus was his king.”