Memorial Library Dedication. ROTC color guard in front of the library, May 7, 1964.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

The Library: Dedication

Dedication Ceremony

The two-day program began on Wednesday, May 6, with a special symposium on the Person in the Contemporary World, held in the library auditorium. The day ended with a performance by the New York Pro Musica Motet Choir at the Stepan Center and a University Theatre production of My Fair Lady at Washington Hall.

Although strong winds lifted the banner, exposing the tower a day ahead of time, nearly 5,000 gathered on the south lawn of the library on May 7, 1964 (Ascension Thursday) for the Dedication Ceremony and formal unveiling of the 11-story mural. The campus community, alumni, friends, as well as donors and representatives from over 200 colleges and universities and societies were present. The crowd gathered beyond the rectangular reflecting pool, which sits in front of the courtyard of the library.

The mural, a beautiful stone mosaic, stood before them, the larger-than-life, gleaming gray and white-clothed resurrected Christ in front of the cross, with golden halo, his arms outstretched to the sky, and his hands extended as though giving a blessing. Encircling him, a procession of 50 saints and scholars of distinct periods, from Old Testament figures, including King David (the only one other than Christ named in the mural), to ancient classicists, to the apostles and Christians of the early Church and beyond.

The mural represents Christ, the Apostles, and individuals from the Byzantine Era, the Renaissance Era, the Eastern World, Prophets of the Old Testament, the Medieval Era, Ancient Classic Cultures, the Age of Science and Exploration, and Christians of the Early Church. There are young and aged, simply and ornately dressed, all miniatures beside the towering Christ.

The mural is a portrayal of the following verses from the first book of John:

In the beginning was the Word:
the word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him.
And that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.

(1 John 1:1-5)

Light shines on and emanates from Christ, touching the various groups. And light beams cut across the image from different angles. What appears from a distance as a simple, monochromatic work, more closely reveals a beautiful variety of earth tones, solid and multi-colored stones pieced together, mostly browns and grays, with accents of varying hues of yellow, orange, green, and blue. Pieces of Brazilian gold granite, which make up Christ's halo as well as other ornamental details, such as crowns, scepters, and David's lyre, glisten in the sun. According to Pioneer Magazine, Sheets' idea in designing the piece was that "changing sunlight and atmospheric conditions would create a constantly shifting visual impression of the mural as rays of light beam on the granite." Smooth curves soften the largely angular figures. And delicate lines chiseled into the granite create additional detail.

Memorial Library exterior with reflecting pool, c. 1980s.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

The ideal vantage point according to Sheets is the spot just beyond the reflecting pool, where a plaque stands. The three-part plaque names the donors, Mr. and Mrs. Howard V. Phalin, and includes a diagram and key, and an essay by Father Charles E. Sheedy, C.S.C., who had been asked by Father Hesburgh to explain the mural.

From the symbol of all Christianity, the cross, emerges the figure of Christ, the greatest of teachers. He, the Word of Life. The only begotten of the Father was from the beginning, with Father and Holy Spirit, in eternal divine life. Became man of the Blessed Virgin, He was seen and looked upon by human eyes and His voice was heard upon the earth. Loving ears listened to His words, and minds were inspired to remember and to note them down, and the ineffable New Testament took shape: the deeds and words of Christ, the primary document of Christian wisdom, the word of life, and of life-giving truth.

With Him in spirit are gathered the saints, the scholars, the scribes, and the teachers stretching through time, who have dedicated themselves to the preservation of truth, the Word of Life, and the preparation of men's minds to receive the truth. Their knowledge, their thoughts, their written word, which through the ages have illuminated and enriched the understanding of their own and succeeding generations, is the treasure house of knowledge housed within the walls of this structure.

The natural richness and subtlety of the stone, as well as its permanence, make it a fitting material to emphasize the grandeur, complexity, and timelessness of man's search for the truth. The truth, which is serenely and eternally possessed in the divine Person of the Word.

Memorial Library Dedication Mass, May 7, 1964.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

A solemn Mass was celebrated following the formal unveiling of the mural. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant (Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals) and Albert Cardinal Meyer (Archbishop of Chicago), presided along with Father Hesburgh and several Holy Cross priests. The Notre Dame Concert Band, Glee Club, and Moreau Seminary Choir provided music for the Mass. And a special blessing from Pope Paul VI, addressed to Father Hesburgh, was read. In part it said:

To Our beloved son, Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President of the University of Notre Dame, . . .

We pray that this additional repository of wisdom and knowledge may serve as a valuable instrument in the pursuit of truth and the defense and development of faith. . . .

. . . We invoke upon the University of Notre Dame an abundance of illuminating Divine graces.

Pope Paul VI

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., standing in front of the Hesburgh Library, April 7, 1987.
Source: University of Notre Dame Archives.

The third highlight of the day was an academic convocation on the library mall, at which 25 men and women received honorary doctorates, including the artist Millard Sheets. The South Bend Tribune hailed this Ascension Thursday as "one of the proudest days in the history of the University of Notre Dame."

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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