Fighting Irish: Spotlight on Notre Dame

In honor of National Catholic Schools Week, is highlighting some of the country's oldest and most well-known Catholic universities. Join us today to learn more about the University of Notre Dame.

university of notre dame

From Preparatory School to Postsecondary Powerhouse

In 1842, a French priest and seven other members of the new Congregation of Holy Cross established 'L'Université de Notre Dame du Lac' (The University of Our Lady of the Lake) on 524 acres of land in the Indiana mission fields that they had received from the Bishop of Vincennes. In January of 1884, the Indiana legislature officially chartered the university.

However, Notre Dame didn't start out as a conventional university. It had a grade school and a preparatory school, as well as education for religious novitiates. Very few people, though, actually pursued its classical college curriculum.

In the 1860s, the university started to grow. It added the College of Science as well as the United States' first Catholic law school and College of Engineering. And in 1889, Notre Dame built the first student resident hall with private rooms at a Catholic university, establishing a residential tradition that continues to the present.

It wasn't until the 1920s that Notre Dame truly began to resemble the institution it is today. The university eliminated the preparatory school, upgraded the law school and established its first endowment and board of lay advisers, demonstrating a commitment to Catholic higher education.

diverse student body

After World War II, Notre Dame grew dramatically in both size and stature, developing the reputation for academic excellence that it still enjoys. The university's leadership between 1987 and 2005 also focused strongly on diversity, significantly increasing the enrollment of both women and racial and ethnic minorities.

Now Notre Dame is consistently ranked among the top 25 colleges and universities in the country by most popular ranking systems, including The Princeton Review, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger's and Newsweek. Its colleges of business and law also typically rank in the top 25 in the nation. And the school has an excellent tradition of service; it is ranked 13th in the U.S. among medium-sized schools for producing Peace Corps volunteers.

luck of the irish

Fun Fact

The origin of Notre Dame's athletic nickname, 'The Fighting Irish,' is uncertain. Most stories claim the phrase originated as a racial slur from opponents during one of many historical football games in the late 19th or early 20th centuries. In the 1920s, the Scholastic - the official student publication - claimed the title as a proud appellation, and in 1927, university president Reverend Matthew Walsh, C.S.C., officially adopted it as the Notre Dame athletic nickname.

condie rice

Famous Graduates

The University of Notre Dame boasts a dizzying A-Z list of notable alumni, including politicians, military professionals, judges, CEOs, college presidents, musicians, journalists, surgeons and more. A few famous highlights from the group include:

  • Michael Collins (author and competitive ultra-distance runner)
  • George Dohrmann (Pulitzer-prize winning journalist)
  • Phil Donahue (former TV talk show host)
  • Robert McDonnell (governor of Virginia)
  • Brian Moynihan (CEO of Bank of America)
  • Regis Philbin (television personality)
  • Condoleeza Rice (Secretary of State under President George W. Bush)
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