The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Century-old statue protects College

Alicia Smith | Monday, September 29, 2008

In front of Augusta Hall on Saint Mary’s College campus stands a statue of Saint Michael the Archangel.

“It’s a very impressive statue,” said Saint Mary’s Archive Director John Kovach.

According to a 1906 narrative written by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, St. Michael was placed on its pedestal in that year.

Kovach said that the statue was built on May 5, 1906. This date marked the fifty-year anniversary of Saint Mary’s at its present site, he said. The statue still stands in its original location watching over the Sisters of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Hall, he said.

The statue appeared in the June 1906 edition of the Saint Mary’s Chimes. According to Chimes, the statue is “of Italian workmanship, is of white marble, and is nine feet high; the massive pedestal on which it rests is of granite.”

According to a monetary record from the sisters’ narrative, the statue was first thought of after “Exhibition Hall known as St. Michael’s Chapel” was set on fire. After the fire, a statue was promised to St. Michael with all of the buildings placed under his care, the narrative said.

According to the Chimes, “The Great Archangel is one of St. Mary’s special patrons and his protection is invoked against fire and pestilence.” Funds were collected for the statue as early as 1880, according to a monetary record from the sisters’ narrative.

The present statue is surrounded by lights, which read, “Who is like unto God.” The “crimson lights” were first lit on September 14, 1906, the narrative said. According to Kovach, the lights were lit during the blessing.

“The light on St. Michael had always been on since the statue was dedicated. At some point in time there were some financial difficulties for either the college or the congregation, so the decision was made to turn the lights off,” Kovach said. “The very first night that the lights were off there was this fire in a barn [on campus]. Once that happened, the decision was made that whatever happens, the lights above St. Michael need to always be on.”

Saint Mary’s junior Mia Cipperoni said, “I think there’s truth in the story. I think when you try to take away from what God is trying to let you see and what you learn everyday, he will punish you in a way.”

Since that point in time the lights above the statue have always remained lit, kovech. “It’s a very beautiful statue, and the story is very interesting to know and share with future generations,” said Saint Mary’s freshman Jordan Bartrom.

According to a document written by Sister M. Campion Kuhn provided by Sister Kathryn Callahan, Records Director with the Congregation, “There were other nearly miraculous occasions.”

Each occasion serves to prove that St. Michael watches over the sisters and students of Saint Mary’s and continues to protect them from fire incidents, according to the document. The document serves to explain the sisters’ devotion to St. Michael.

During the summer of 1961, Sister Redempta smelled a burning scent in the kitchen of Saint Mary’s Convent. Both the Notre Dame Fire Department and the South Bend Fire Department responded.

After searching, no source of fire was found. The Notre Dame Fire Department continued searching and found that the beams above the stoves were blackened and charred. The ceiling would have collapsed and fallen on the floor where the Sisters lived had this not been discovered.

Another occasion was on April 2, 1953. Flames and smoke were seen in the chemistry lab in Holy Cross Hall. Miraculously, the fire did not spread beyond the chemistry room, although there was noticeable smoke damage throughout the building.

In 1995 smoke was found in the south half of Augusta Hall. All of the Sisters were safely evacuated and fire was prevented.

The statue remains standing today to protect Saint Mary’s students, as well as the Sisters of the Holy Cross, the document said.

“The fact that it has such a long standing tie to St. Mary’s College, and to see that there’s still interest in the statue I think is pretty neat,” said Kovach.