The University of Notre Dame

The Sorin Cadets circa 1880

Over 100 years of Traditions

The military tradition is strong at the University of Notre Dame, dating to 1858. "Our town was enlivened on Wednesday morning," reported the South Bend Forum during that period, "by a parade through the streets of the Notre Dame Continental Cadets, a military company composed of the students of the University. Their drilling, maneuvers and marching made a fine impression. Their patriotism is highly commendable."

In that praise lies the first appeal of military training to Notre Dame's administrators and students. The discipline of drilling, uniforms and obedience to command seemed a natural and valuable adjunct to the academic and spiritual discipline the University required. "That's just what those fellows need, a touch of army discipline," cheered University President Father John Cavanaugh as World War I military drills began on campus. Equally attractive to a community - students, faculty and administrators - largely composed of immigrants or their children was the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism, their right to the name "American." Praising the 89 Holy Cross sisters who left Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College to serve as nurses during the Civil War, Archbishop John Ireland said, "Few things in the past half-century were done to break down more effectively anti-Catholic prejudice."

For 60 years prior to 1918, military training was compulsory for most Notre Dame students. The Minims, students in the elementary school program housed in St. Edward's Hall, were organized as the Sorin Cadets, who wore navy blue uniforms, shouldered miniature Remington rifles, and drilled for two hours a week on the grounds of what is now the North Quad. Beginning with the Continental Cadets and the Washington Cadets, older Notre Dame students were organized in later years as the Notre Dame Zouaves and the Hoynes Light Guards, commanded by William J. "Colonel" Hoynes, a Civil War veteran (though a colonel on by appointment of his students) and a legendary figure in the development of the Notre Dame Law School. Later Still, retired army veterans including West Point educated Captain Stogsdall, Color Sergeant Herring and Sergeant George Campbell directed campus military training (as an infantry captain after leaving the University, Campbell was later killed in action in 1918 in the Argonne forest).

These campus corps, of course, were little more than comic opera contingents, but each time war came, student and Holy Cross religious eagerly entered the ranks. The Civil War made a legend of Father William Corby for his dramatic granting of absolution to the Irish Brigade as they prepared to join the battle of Gettysburg. With the death of former student John Shillington in the explosion aboard the battleship Maine in 1898, Notre Dame had a personal stake in the Spanish-American War and a campus monument (located in front of Pasquerilla Center).

The coming of World War I - and a national draft of young men - marked a fundamental change in the nature of military training at Notre Dame. Without a military program on campus during the war, enrollment and revenue were doomed to fall, perhaps low enough to threaten the University's viability. With a military program, however, the University would be assured of enrollment, government subsidies for the program, even government rental of campus facilities. In short, practicality as well as patriotism argued for the military presence. When the University's first application for a program was declined by cause its existing training was judged inadequate, Father Cavanaugh reacted with anger and consternation. Finally, in September 1918 the University received a contract for a Students' Army Training Corps (SATC) enrolling more than 700 students.

As in the past, Notre Dame students and faculty alike answered the call to arms in the "war to end all wars." Eight priests enlisted as chaplains and, in the tradition of Father Corby, two of the eight, Father Walsh and Father Charles O'Donnell, would become presidents of the University. Because war had been declared in April, seniors in good academic standing were allowed to enlist and still be awarded their degrees in June. In all, 2200 students entered the uniformed services, and 46 were killed in action. The dead are memorialized at the east entrance to the Sacred Heart Basilica beneath the chiseled motto, "God, Country, Notre Dame."

The modern military era at Notre Dame was the product of World War II. On campus it was to become known the "occupation." In September of 1941, three months prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps became the University's first ROTC detachment. The Army declined President Hugh O'Donnell's offer of facilities. The Navy expanded its presence with the Midshipmen's School and the V-12 Program, which began in 1943 and included the United States Marines. By mid-war, civilian undergraduates totaled only about 250 students who were housed in Sorin and St. Edward's Halls; the remainder of the campus was given over to the training of naval officers.

Thomas J. Schlereth, historian and professor of American Studies at Notre Dame, has written,"The war years inextricably changed Notre Dame. Contracts came from government research. A speedup cafeteria system in the South Dining Hall replaced the form of family-style dining, feeding twice as many men in half the time, with much less than half the former intimacy and civility. The public 'caf' overflowed with military brass, WAVES, and recruits whose campus stay often extended only months rather than the usual four years. Vacation periods were abbreviated, classes accelerated, semesters shortened, and one year there was no Christmas holiday. Women appeared all over the previously all-male, semi-cloistered campus, replacing undergraduates who formerly had done part-time jobs in offices, dining halls, laboratories, and the library. Sentries patrolled the campus perimeters at night; long blue, white and khaki lines tramped the quadrangles by day."

An estimated 12,000 officers completed their training at Notre Dame between 1942 and 1946. Many of them undoubtedly became casualties of war, as did 333 students and alumni. Each day during the war, Mass was offered on campus for the growing list of University connected casualties. At the same time, in installations and battlefields around the world, 25 Holy Cross priests serving as chaplains were administering the sacraments.

At war's end the bulk of the military presence was removed from Notre Dame, but ROTC had come to stay. In 1947, within months of the birth of the Air Force as a separate uniformed service, an Air Force ROTC detachment was established on campus. The Army returned in 1951.

In October of 1986, detachments from all three ROTC units assembled in formation for the dedication of a new campus monument, the Clarke Memorial Fountain. Designed by architects Philip Johnson and Notre Dame alumnus John Burgee, the memorial's limestone columns honor the University's dead in World War II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam. Among those honored by this memorial are First Lieutenant Patrick M. Dixon, class of 1967, who was decorated five times for heroism while serving in Vietnam, and in honor of his memory an award is given annually to a member of Notre Dame's Army ROTC unit. Also honored is James E. Pavlicek, Junior, class of 1965, who was awarded the Air Medal, two Distinguished Flying Cross Medals for heroism in Vietnam and was a posthumous awardee of the 1987 Rev. William Corby, CSC, Award, presented for distinguished service by the Notre Dame Alumni Association.

ROTC has flourished at Notre Dame since the Vietnam War. Each unit has been recognized as among the best in the nation by its respective uniformed service. In 1971 Ensign Canice Lyn Kelly of Notre Dame became the first woman to receive a commission into the Regular Navy through the ROTC scholarship program. The Naval ROTC program has commissioned more naval officers in the past 15 years than any other institution save the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.

Today, Notre Dame continues to commission men and women into our country's time honored tradition of the United States Army.