The Library: Reveal

The Opening

Although still requiring final touches, such as some interior furnishings and outside landscaping (and famous Word of Life mural), Memorial Library opened its doors at the beginning of the academic year, September 18, 1963. Most of the library was accessible at that point, except for three floors of the tower, which were left untouched and would sit unfurnished until there were enough books to fill them. Father Hesburgh said in 1982, at a time when the library had well over one million volumes, "I won't rest, or I probably won't be around when that happens, but I'd like to see it all full." In fact he did live to see it reach 2 million volumes, by the library's 30th anniversary, about ten years later.

The new Memorial Library had an open floor plan, with a large basement and first floor, and even larger second floor, creating an overhang supported by columns around the exterior of the ground floor. Fewer interior walls meant there could be open stacks for greater accessibility to books and a convenient card catalog, the precursor of the online catalog. The first two floors were designed as the College Library for mostly undergraduate use, and eleven floors above as the Research Tower for graduate students and researchers. Areas of the library not taken up by the stacks or seating, contained smaller reading rooms, offices, and conference rooms for faculty and staff, and groups of semi-private study carrels for students. The library also included an auditorium, typing room, Audio Learning Center with cutting-edge equipment, rare book room, Medieval Institute, Soviet and Eastern European Studies Center, Jacques Maritain Center, and the University Archives.

The interior of the Research Tower was largely brick and concrete, but rich oak, walnut, and polished, dark gray marble adorned the first two floors. Comfortable seating and central air system made for a pleasant, welcoming atmosphere conducive to study. The exterior of the first floor and its columns were covered in a tweed granite. The entire second floor was wrapped in a "multi-colored" buff brick, the warm tone found throughout campus. The 11 stories above were covered in a buff Mankato stone. Notre Dame Geologist, Erhard Winkler, described the stone used as "coarsely mottled and very porous with color variations ranging from buff to ochre brown." The 14th floor, which houses the penthouse for the president's use, is slightly narrower than the rest of the tower and is part large, precast concrete panels and part glass.

Two men in the penthouse lounge of Memorial Library, February 1964.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

Memorial Library interior shortly before its opening, 1963.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

Twenty simple drawings symbolizing Christ were engraved in much of the tweed granite surrounding the ground floor and painted gold. The artist, Warren Mossman, of Ellerbe and Co., who had designed the library, drew from the book Symbols of Christ, by Damasus Winzen, O.S.B. (1955). Winzen explains in the introduction to his book:

All the symbols explained in these pages represent the fullness of the salvation wrought by Christ. They are not limited to one particular aspect of the Lord's work. They comprehend the whole history of redemption, joining the beginning to the end. - binding together into a marvelous unity both the Old and the New Testament. - They embrace death and life, humility and glory.

The symbols were meant to complement the mural of Christ to adorn the south side of the tower.

Word of Life Mural

Well before Memorial Library was built, Father Hesburgh had been inspired by a very different library while on a trip to Mexico. He visited the Central Library of the National Autonomous University (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, or UNAM), which was built about a decade before Memorial Library opened its doors. It was a smaller scale library, square and modern, covered in mosaic tile work, which depicted the ancient pagan past of its country. In 1910, UNAM split from the Church and became a public university in the name of academic freedom, whereas Father Hesburgh was convinced that Notre Dame's Catholic identity would not hinder academic freedom, but complement it. Father Hesburgh wanted to create something to counterbalance the mosaic in Mexico, and so conceived of the Word of Life mural.

Around the time the library plans were being drawn, Father Hesburgh shared his vision of a mural with Ellerbe and Co., which commissioned a gifted artist they had worked with before, Millard Sheets, of Claremont, California. The idea was that a massive mural would cover 11 stories of the tower above the library's main entrance.

In an interview, Sheets explained:

What they asked me to do was to suggest in a great processional the idea of a never-ending line of great scholars, thinkers, and teachers-saints that represented the best that man has recorded, and which are found represented in a library. The thought was that the various periods that are suggested in the theme have unfolded in the continuous process of one generation giving to the next. I put Christ at the top with the disciples to suggest that He is the great teacher-that is really the thematic idea.

Father Hesburgh pointed out in a speech years later,

It didn't take much encouragement to inspire Millard to share the vision. Artists are people of vision, and Millard was a wonderful artist in many media. ... I shared my concept with him knowing that we needed something spectacular to take this enormous building in the middle of a prairie in northern Indiana and not have it look like a grain elevator.

Sheets was skilled, indeed, in many areas. He was an architect and award-winning artist in a variety of media, including oil and watercolor, a talented muralist who had worked with paint, mosaic, and stained glass. He traveled and produced art all over the world. He mentioned at one point, speaking of creating the mural for the library, "It's one of the most exciting challenges an artist has ever had." He saw this work as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he could not pass up. Former students of his from Scripps College and Chouinard would assist with the work; however, "all designs, explanatory sketches, and working guides are the product of Sheets' own hand."

Workers, including Mrs. Hertel, compare cast panels and stone samples for the Word of Life Mural for Memorial Library, c. 1962.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

As Sheets began planning and taking into consideration the climate in the Midwest and widely varying temperatures, he and the engineers on the project agreed that granite would be the ideal material for the mural. With the help of the Cold Spring Granite Company of Minnesota, Sheets spent over a year researching the various granites available around the world. He and his team gathered 143 stones from sixteen countries (including Europe and North and South America). Sheets researched saints and scholars in different periods throughout history, as well as each particular era's dress in order to accurately portray them in the mural. His daughter, Rev. Carolyn Sheets Owen Towle, spoke of him in 2003 as "a thorough student of history for every mural project, believing that the object of his work was as much to teach as to inspire."

According to Pioneer Magazine, "By selecting different color shades and textures and by applying different types of finishes on the stone, the artist has been able to obtain a 'palette' and 171 muted color effects." Sheets sketched the mural on paper and then painted it using over 100 small granite samples of varying colors and finishes as a guide. He then used a projector to paint a full-size cartoon on paper in ten-foot sections, which he brought to Notre Dame for approval. Father Joyce, as director of the project, suggested they would need to stretch out the entire 132 ft x 65 ft cartoon on the ground and view from above. So, they arranged the sections of paper on a large, grassy field on campus and Father Joyce and Millard Sheets proceeded to carefully climb the nearby 90-foot water tower. The cold, winter wind and icy steps made for a challenging ascent, but they made it to the peak, only to discover they couldn't see the mural below and had to gingerly slide down the rounded tower to view it. Sheets' daughter, who had heard the story as a child, quipped, "I've always imagined that this must have been the world's most instantly approved project of art."

Once Sheets had approval to move forward, the Cold Spring Granite Company began cutting the stone into the many different shapes and sizes (from a few inches in diameter to several feet), nearly 7,000 pieces, all of varying thicknesses. Sheets even encouraged the company to attempt the unproven method of cutting granite on a curve (in which they succeeded). When the pieces were cut and fit together, facing down over a large, reversed cartoon, holes were drilled in the back and steel dowels were cemented in place. The arranged stones were grouped in large sections, which were then covered in a plastic material and then six inches of poured concrete. The plastic was placed between the granite and concrete in order to allow expansion and contraction in varying temperatures without affecting the stone. When set, the sections were turned over and grouted, and additional details were chiseled into the stone. Each finished concrete section was hoisted up the face of the library and secured against the Mankato stone with metal bolts and iron braces, but the process was concealed from curious onlookers. A large banner hung over the scaffolding during the work and then the finished product in order to save the big reveal for the library dedication day in May of 1964.

I.A. O'Shaughnessy

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about I.A. O'Shaughnessy's generosity


I have a million stories about O'Shaughnessy. I could write a book on him. He was one of a kind, you know. Once gone, you'll never replace him. He didn't care about money.

Another time, as I started to say, when he was at the Morris Inn, he said, "What are you up to now?" I said, "I'm trying to get a library built." I remember we left the Morris Inn and I was driving down Notre Dame Avenue towards the Dome. He said, "Where are you going to put it?" I said, "Over there," and I pointed to where the library is. He said, "What's it going to cost?" I said, "About twelve and a half million, I hope." He said, "How much money do you have towards it?" I said, "I don't have anything right now, but we've got to have it. We're going to build it. And I'm hopeful to get three or four million ... We hope to get three or four million from the Ford Foundation and eight million from this next drive and that ought to take care of it. But at the moment I'm bare-back." He said, "Well, you ought to have something you can start with. I'll give you a million dollars. Whenever it's the most propitious time to announce it so you can get other people to come along, let me know and I'll send you the money." I said, "I.A., haven't you done enough? You've done so many things for us here, and I don't want you to think you're in a shell game." He said, "Oh, I know I'm in a shell game with you guys, but it doesn't bother me. I'll use my own shells." He was that kind of a fellow. He told me once, and this perhaps summarizes him better than anybody else, he said, "You know, it's only money. If an angel appeared to me tonight and said 'Your twenty-fifth granddaughter is (the Lewis one) sick, and she won't get better unless you give up your house in Florida, your house in St. Paul, your airplane, your yacht, she won't get better.'" He said, "I wouldn't hesitate five seconds. I'd give them all up. I was the youngest of thirteen children, and I started with nothing. I was pretty lucky and worked hard." And he said, "It's only money, and it's only good if you give it away for good purposes."

A Great Act of Faith

Excerpt from Fr. Hesburgh's Oral History Interviews
Fr. Hesburgh talks about paying for the new library


That library we began, you know, with no money at all. We built a twelve-and-a-half-million-dollar building, and the day we dedicated it, it was paid for. Part of alumni money from the campaign and part the Ford money.

Were people in the Order nervous about that?

About what?

About the twelve-and-a-half-million-dollar project beginning without money in the bank.

Yeah, everybody was nervous. I was nervous, but I had a feeling at that point that we were going to do it. And I had a feeling I could be sure of the four million dollars, and I had a feeling Ned Joyce would get us through some way or other and Jim Frick also. It was a great act of faith. But if you ask me, it's the most central building we've ever built at Notre Dame outside of the church. And I had nothing to do with that-that was 1870. I think Notre Dame is a different kind of school today because of that library. I told the Ford Foundation that we kept figures. There were-don't hold me to these figures because I've already admitted to some inaccuracy. But they're ball-park figures. I think there was something like 25 thousand students a month that went to the old library, which is now the architecture building. The first month the new library was opened up, there was 330 thousand students passed in and out of the portals during that month and it kept growing. They tell me even today sometimes it's hard to get a seat there at night, and there are three thousand places to sit down for undergrads.




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