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Zahm House rector explores history, traditions of dorm

| Friday, September 28, 2018

Editor’s note: This article is one in a series profiling the dorms. Previous articles have covered dorms built before Zahm House.

Built in 1937, Zahm House is hailed by its residents as the one of the most tightly-knit communities on campus.

The dorm is named after Fr. John Zahm, a Notre Dame graduate, researcher and Notre Dame vice president. Among the 180 students who live there, the residential hall is affectionately called Zahm House rather than by its official name of Zahm Hall.

“In the official books for Notre Dame, it’s Zahm Hall,” Fr. Matt Hovde, the rector of Zahm Hall, said. “The guys who live here will call it because of the familial sense they’re trying to cultivate. … This is actually supposed to be a brotherhood. The sense of the familial community here that guys are really trying to claim ownership of [is] more than a place that they pass through.”

During World War II, when the University was facing a lack of students and a lack of funding, Zahm functioned as a barracks for the Naval Academy. The residence hall was reserved exclusively for naval officers. When the war ended, however, the building returned to housing Notre Dame students.

Zahm tradition holds that the dorm formed its identity back when students were allowed to choose their residence halls on a yearly basis, based on their grades. Zahm was among the least desirable, the story says, so it housed those with lower grades, thus garnering a reputation as a more carefree dorm.

“I don’t think [the story] is actually true, but it is propagated out there,” Hovde said. “It was one of the newer ones, so it doesn’t quite fit.”

The Zahm mascot is a moose, though the various interhall teams sport different names, including “Zahm-bies,” the Rabbit Bats, Fear and Pain. According to Zahm tradition, the mascot came to be associated with Zahm after two students asked to take it from the trash of a Canadian ski lodge set to go out of business.

“So [the students] couldn’t go skiing, but they did come back with a moose head, and they hung it up in the basement and it’s been there ever since,” Hovde said.

Community service is the focus of Zahm House’s signature events: every fall the men of Zahm host a Halloween party for children with chronic illness, and every spring they plan and execute a carnival for the students and families at the Robinson Community Learning Center, a community learning center located in South Bend. Many Zahm residents volunteer at the center throughout the year and develop relationships with the staff, Hovde said.

“We realized two years ago that we did nothing for students, so last year and the year before … we’re looking at Zahm-A-Palooza for an event, which is basically those things we do for the students in South Bend but available for Notre Dame students,” Hovde said.

For Hovde, the best part about being the rector of Zahm is the students and the community they cultivate within the hall.

“I think any rector would say [the best part] is the students,” Hovde said. “They want to do stuff with each other, and I think it’s really laudable that they want to celebrate each other. I think [they] deal with a little bit of a stigma being in Zahm, but I think it’s something that contributes to the closeness that guys get here. They wear a little bit of a badge of pride … My role as rector isn’t ever trying to create a sense of community, but to prune it [and] to cultivate what they are already doing … I’m a fan of Zahm.”

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