Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Notre Dame)

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Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Basilica of the Sacred Heart, ND - front view.jpg
Basilica looking northwest from the Main Quad
Location University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana
Country United States
Denomination Roman Catholic
Status University church
Mother church of the Congregation of Holy Cross in the United States
Consecrated August 15, 1888
Functional status Active
Architect(s) Edward Sorin, Alexis Granger
Architectural type Basilica
Style Gothic Revival
Groundbreaking 1870
Capacity 1,000
Length 275 feet (84 m)
Width 114 feet (35 m)
Height 230 feet (70 m)
Materials Brick, limestone
Bells 23 (1867)[1]
Tenor bell weight 7 long tons 0 cwt (15,700 lb or 7.1 t)
Diocese Fort Wayne–South Bend
Rector Rev. Peter D. Rocca, C.S.C.
Basilica of the Sacred Heart
Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Notre Dame) is located in Indiana
Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Notre Dame)
Location Notre Dame, Indiana
Coordinates 41°42′8.2764″N 86°14′17.4516″W / 41.702299000°N 86.238181000°W / 41.702299000; -86.238181000Coordinates: 41°42′8.2764″N 86°14′17.4516″W / 41.702299000°N 86.238181000°W / 41.702299000; -86.238181000
Built 1871-1888[2]
Architect Father Alexis Granger, Father Edward Sorin and Brother Charles Harding [2]
Architectural style Gothic Revival
Part of University of Notre Dame: Main and North Quadrangles (#78000053)
Added to NRHP May 23, 1978

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Notre Dame, Indiana, USA, is a Roman Catholic church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame, also serving as the mother church of the Congregation of Holy Cross (C.S.C.) in the United States. The neo-gothic church has 44 large stained glass windows and murals completed over a 17-year period by the Vatican painter Luigi Gregori. The basilica bell tower is 230 feet (70 m) high, making it the tallest University chapel in America.[3][4] It is a contributing building in Notre Dame's historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[5]


The first church[edit]

When Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C., established the University of Notre Dame, the community held religious services in a small log cabin built between 1842 and 1843.

Nave and vaulted ceiling

The growth of the institution required a proper church, and school leaders decided to spend $1500 to construct a new edifice. Work began on May 25, 1848, and the structure was dedicated on November 12 of the following year. The solemn consecration took place a year later, on November 11, 1849, with Bishop of Vincennes, Maurice de St. Palais presiding.[6] Father Sorin describes the first church: "The style is Greek, with rounded arches. There are three vaults and six columns which produce a very pretty effect. The tribune, which has been built for the use of the Sisters, is elliptical like the sanctuary. It is already enriched with an organ of Mr. H. Erben, and, though a little weak for the church, is one of its most precious ornaments."[7]

Shortly after the completion of the church, the university added a bell to its tower. In the spring of 1851, the wind swept tower and bell to the ground. That summer, university leaders purchased a larger bell in Cincinnati weighing 3,220 pounds (1,460 kg) and installed it in one of the church towers after it was blessed on the feast of the Assumption.

The second (and present) church[edit]

The University's needs soon outgrew the small first church and in spring of 1869 the leaders decided to build a new church dedicated to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, despite the lack of funds in the school's treasury.

Ceiling of the nave

Popular architect Patrick Keely drew the first plans which envisioned a baroque plan similar to the Church of the Gesu in Rome.[8] Because of the limited budget, the church at Notre Dame was not to be as large or as elaborate as the Roman edifice, but rather the size of the church of the same name in Montreal.[9] The original plan featured a cruciform church two hundred feet in length with three naves and a transept, a dome over the crossing, two large bell-towers, and a capacity of 2,000. The estimated cost would be around $100,000.

Fr. Sorin decided that these plans were too grandiose, and that the church could not cost more than half that sum, since at the moment they had only about $8,000 dollars at hand. In January 1870, a new architect, Mr. T. Brady from St. Louis, drew new plans for the church. It is not sure who drew the definite plans, but it is likely that also Fr. Sorin, Rev. Alexis Granger, C.S.C., and Irish-born Brother Charles Borromeo Harding, C.S.C., a hard-working, self-taught campus builder were part of the planning and building. The new church was erected in Gothic style rather than baroque, reflecting Fr. Sorin's French taste and his will to build a remarkable and striking landmark. Work on the foundations for the new church began in the spring of 1870, and the cornerstone was laid on May 31, 1871, with six bishops present, including Cincinnati Archbishop John Purcell. The building took many years to finish and underwent many changes. As soon as it was inhabitable, university leaders installed an organ and held functions and celebrations in the unfinished building. Bishop Joseph Gregory Dwenger finally consecrated the new sanctuary on August 15, 1888. In 1931, it underwent its first thorough renovation by designed by New York architect Wilfred E. Anthony.

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

In 1968, the church was renovated with the intention of bringing it in line with the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council, although some claim that renovations of this type were not mandated by the Council. The church again received a renovation 20 years later, executed by Conrad Schmitt Studios. The conservation and restoration of the historic stained glass windows, created in Le Mans, France, was one of the studio's largest single projects, with 116 windows and over 1,200 panels of glass. On January 17, 1992, Pope John Paul II raised the Church of the Sacred Heart to the status of Minor basilica. This designation is one factor in making it a popular destination for approximately 50,000 pilgrims and tourists who visit annually. From 1977 through 1997, Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois, served as rector of the basilica, before he became head of the religious community there and later Auxiliary Bishop and vicar general of The Dioceseof Fort Wayne–South Bend and later Bishop of the Diocese of Peoria, Illinois. Under his tenure, the church was elevated to a basilica.[10]


The exterior of the church is constructed of Notre Dame brick and features a bell tower with a spire and two lateral pinnacles.

World War I memorial door

World War I Memorial Door[edit]

President Rev. Matthew J. Walsh dedicated the World War I Memorial Door on Memorial Day May 30, 1924. A military field mass followed the dedication. Plans for a memorial for Notre Dame's contributions to World War I began in 1919 shortly after the Armistice. Notre Dame architects Francis Kervick and Vincent Fagan designed the work for the east transept of the basilica which was initially to commemorate all 2,500 Notre Dame affiliates who fought in the war, including future presidents Rev. Matthew J. Walsh and Rev. Charles L. O'Donnell. However, later revisions to the plan reduced it to a plaque commemorating the 46 Notre Dame students, alumni, and faculty who died in combat. The Notre Dame Service CLub and the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars collected funds for the which portal bears the inscription "God, Country, Notre Dame".[11]


The high altar is a curiously graceful object in bronze, built in shops of Froc-Robert in Paris for the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. After the Exposition, Father Sorin purchased the piece for the church.


The frescoes adorning the walls and the ceilings of the nave were painted by Vatican painter and artist in residence Luigi Gregori[12]. The ceilings are filled with a starry sky with angels, while the walls and transept are decorated with figures of saints. Gregori also painted the stations of the Cross that decorate the walls of the main nave.

Dormition of Mary window

In the Lady Chapel, Gregori painted the luminous exaltation of the Cross, where the True Cross is exalted under the motto, Spes Unica. The cross is surrounded by saints and prophets; particularly noteworthy is St. Patrick, whom Gregori added after requests from the student body to honor its Irish heritage.

The transept


The 116 stained glass windows consist of more than 1,200 individual panels and were designed and made by the Carmelite nuns in Le Mans, France. They were installed beginning in 1873, over a period of 15 years and today, are priceless, because comparable artifacts in France were destroyed during the two World Wars.

The windows depict saints, apostles, theologians, and biblical scenes and many of the figures are life-sized. A window on the north side of the west transept depicts the Sacred Heart of Jesus that inspired the Basilica's name, while another on the south side shows Father Sorin presenting the building to God.[citation needed]

Side chapels[edit]

The Basilica contains seven side chapels. The most prominent is the Lady Chapel, located behind the main altar.

Lady Chapel with Bernini Altar
Altar and apse

A Lady chapel was a common feature in medieval cathedrals and it was also inspired by the one present in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York. The main feature of the chapel is the statue of Mary. Under it, is a baroque altar believed to come from the studios of Giovanni Bernini in Rome, where Fr. Sorin saw it during one of his trips. East of the Lady Chapel are the Chapel of Holy Angels, the Baptismal Chapel, and the Holy Cross Chapel, final resting place of Cardinal John O'Hara, University President from 1934 to 1940 and the first member of the Congregation of Holy Cross named a cardinal. The Holy Cross Chapel also holds the Return of the Prodigal Son statue by Ivan Mestrovic.

East of the Lady Chapel, the Reliquary Chapel houses relics of the Twelve Apostles, a piece of the True Cross, the burial of St. Severa, and numerous other objects of veneration. Next to it is the Brother Andre Chapel, which houses a statue of Saint Andre Bessette, C.S.C., who was canonized in 2010 for his work among the needy in Montreal.

The Holy Family Chapel honors the life of St. Joseph and hosts Ivan Mestrovic's masterpiece, The Descent from the Cross or Pieta. The sculptor did the sketches for this magnificent pieta while he was a political prisoner of the Nazis. Mestrovic used his own likeness for Joseph of Arimathea. The work was exhibited at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art before going on display in the church in 1955.

Mestrovic Pieta


In April 1978, the Basilica installed a Holtkamp organ with 2,929 pipes.

The Murdy family organ

In December 2015, organ technicians began the process of moving the Holtkamp organ to a local parish, to install a new Basilica organ donated by the Murdy family. It was scheduled to be operational by Christmas 2016. The new four-manual 70-stop Murdy Family Organ contains 5,164 pipes and was designed and built by Paul Fritts & Company Organ Builders as its Opus 37. Before installation, workers had to reinforce the loft to support the larger instrument.[13][14] Bishop Daniel Jenky returned to campus to dedicate the instrument on January 20, 2017 which featured a recital by University professor and organist Craig Cramer.[15]


The basilica is the main liturgical center for the university community. Mass is held twice daily, while the university is in session, and once daily during breaks. Each weekend there are three Sunday masses celebrated for students, faculty, staff and community members. The basilica is a popular place for weddings of Notre Dame alumni, hosting several weddings each Saturday, whenever the Fighting Irish do not have a home football game. The basilica has also been the site of final professions and ordination masses for the Congregation of Holy Cross, as well as funerals for the religious community and for alumni.

The High altar

Each Sunday evening the basilica holds Solemn Vespers and a special service during Advent, known as Lessons and Carols. Stations of the Cross is celebrated each Friday during the season of Lent. At other times throughout the year, the basilica hosts special liturgies of all kinds. The Paschal Triduum is celebrated every Easter and it lasts from Holy Thursday with the celebration of the Last Supper until Easter Sunday with Vespers. These celebrations are very popular among students and local inhabitants, and Easter liturgies are always very crowded.

Located in the Crypt Church (basement level) of the basilica is Sacred Heart Parish.


The original 23 bells were installed in 1856 and make-up the oldest carillon in North America. They were made in France, and each has a name related to Mary. The final bell, which is one of the grandest in the United States, was blessed in 1888, during Father Sorin's Golden jubilee. It is named for St. Anthony of Padua, it is an immense bass bell, or bourdon, more than seven feet tall and weighing 15,400 pounds.


Since 2002, Sunday masses from the basilica have been broadcast nationwide. Special care is taken to ensure that broadcasting equipment captures the beauty of the mass without impacting the rite. Currently, the 10:00 A.M. mass is broadcast on CatholicTV, while the 11:45 A.M. mass is broadcast online at and through iTunes.



  1. ^ "Tower Bells: Notre Dame: USA–IN". Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Official Building Inventory" (PDF). Facilities Design and Operations. University of Notre Dame. 1 October 2015. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  3. ^ GmbH, Emporis. "Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Notre Dame | 127384 | EMPORIS".
  4. ^ "God and Obama at Notre Dame".
  5. ^ James T. Burtchaell (November 1976). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: University of Notre Dame Campus-Main and South Quadrangles" (PDF). Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database and National Park Service. Retrieved October 18, 2017. With seven photos from 1972-76. Map of district included with version available at National Park Service.
  6. ^ Hope, C.S.C., Arthur J. (1999). "Notre Dame — One Hundred Years: Chapter V". University of Notre Dame.
  7. ^ 16 Sorin, Chronicle, 84-85.
  8. ^ St. Joseph Valley Register, Sept. 30, 1869.
  9. ^ Lemonnier to Edwards, July 7, 1869. Lemonnier Letters. UNDA.
  10. ^ "The Most Reverend Daniel R. Jenky C.S.C: Biography". Diocese of Peoria. Retrieved October 30, 2017.
  11. ^ "World War I Memorial Door". Notre Dame Archives. May 30, 2016.
  12. ^ (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Nagy, John (Autumn 2015). "Magnum Opus". Notre Dame Magazine. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  14. ^ Morgan, Kate (7 December 2015). "Basilica of the Sacred Heart to close for next phase of organ installation". Notre Dame News. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  15. ^ Becker, Courtney (January 20, 2017). "Bishop to dedicate the Murdy Family Organ in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart". The Observer.

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