Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fire destroys historic building at Our Lady's University

..in Texas.

Reminiscent of the 1879 fire that destroyed our historic main building, our brethern at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio suffered a disasterous fire on Tuesday night. Hopefully God will bring that community together at the end of this academic year despite such great set backs. As Fr. Sorin would say, Perhaps they built it too small.

Classes have been called off this morning and a prayer service will be held at noon at Our Lady of the Lake University, after a fire Tuesday night left significant damage to the historic Main building. No injuries were reported, but The San Antonio Express-News described an emotional scene as students and nuns at the university watched the destruction of much of a structure that has been the historic center of campus. The newspaper’s Web site also features photographs of the scene.



Link to the photos of this tragedy

Fr. Hesburgh's account of the 1879 incident:

It was his [Sorin's] faith and his endurance and his stubborn courage and this ideal of a great institution dedicated to the mother of God that kept him moving, and move he did. He was on his 55th trip across the Atlantic trying to raise funds for this place in France when he had a terrible message. He learned that the University that he had given his life to build that had a magnificent Main Building as it does today, and he had already begun this very church and had spent many hours here offering Mass as the church began to pick up beauty through the stained glass windows and the arches above us and the beauty of the altar which he brought from Paris. But this day, everything seemed black. He came back to the spot, it was late spring, he gathered his fellow priests and nuns and brothers of Holy Cross, and they only had to walk a few steps to come into the side door of this church. The church was full of smoke, of course, being right next door to this conflagration. His whole University was there, smoking in ruins. And he gathered this little community around him and he said a rather startling thing. He said, "Brothers and sisters, this fire is my fault." And they said "Father Sorin! You were in Montreal, how could this fire have been your fault?" He said, "I came here as a very young priest, not yet 30, and I had this great dream of a great university. And I built the biggest I could, and at the same time, built right next to it, a great cathedral of Notre Dame." And he said, "My problem was that I was thinking too small. I was not enthusiastic enough about what I should build and name after notre dame, our Lady." And so he said, "We're going out there tomorrow and we're going to clean up the ruins and save what bricks we can, and we're going to make thousands and hundreds of thousands or more bricks out of the morel along the shores of the lake. And then we're going to build a building worth of our lady and crown it with her."

Well, work they did, dawn to dusk, June, July, August. Working on the scaffolding, sisters and brothers and priests and all the good citizens who came to help from South Bend. Mightily they built, and on the last day of August, the final tiles were put on the roof and they gathered here to give thanks in this church. And everybody said, "Thank God we're finished," and Sorin said, "No, we're not finished yet. We still have to put up the tower and the dome and crown that golden dome with a golden lady. And I've already ordered a replica of the wonderful statue of Our Lady on a pillar in the Piazza d'Espana in Rome." Well, they said, "You're an old fool, you know? We have worked more than humans should have to work, from dawn to dusk, day after day, seven days a week including Sunday. And yet when we finally put the roof on, you say we're not finished yet, you've got to put up some dome." He said, "Well, I'm the only one who can sign checks, and eventually the cash money is going to run out, we don't have that much of it," so he said, "I'm going to get in my horse and buggy and go across to St. Mary's. And I will be there until you come and get me. But you're not just coming to get me, you're coming to give me my golden dome and the golden statue atop it." So he did, he jumped into his buggy and went down the path to St. Mary's and the days passed and they began to get hungry and the groceries did run out, and finally they sent a delegation across to see him. And they said, "Well, you're an old fool, but we're hungry and you do have the checkbook." So they said, "We will come back and you can have your golden dome." Well, he came back readily enough and then the building was really finished, he had his golden dome, and atop it, that wonderful statue of Our Lady which looks over the Piazza in Rome, called the Immaculate Conception.

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