Every year in late August, freshmen converge upon Notre Dame’s campus in South Bend, Indiana, rushing from one freshman orientation event to the next. During the many dances, activities, and the Orientation Mass, a certain phrase resonates throughout the campus: “the Notre Dame family.” This one phrase, which has a slightly different meaning for each student and alum, is a distinctive element of the University of Notre Dame.
The phrase “Notre Dame family” embodies three of the main characteristics of Notre Dame: community, tradition, and Catholic heritage.
The campus setting makes it easy to foster a close-knit community. With its tree-lined paths and two lakes, the 1,250-acre campus seems to be isolated from the rest of the world. The university is located ninety miles east of Chicago and has more than 135 buildings on campus. The dorms in particular are an integral part of the campus and enhance the feeling of community. Seventy-six percent of students live on campus, and most remain on campus for three or four years.
The school’s Catholic roots are a vital part of life at the university. Even the buildings on campus, such as Sacred Heart Basilica, the Grotto, and “Touchdown Jesus” on the side of the library, demonstrate the Catholic character and influence at the school. Eighty-four percent of students are Catholic, and the Catholic nature of the school is emphasized in all aspects of life at the university, including classes. In fact, one of the main social activities of the week for dorm residents and off-campus students is Sunday night mass in the dorm chapels.
The university can trace its roots back more than 165 years to when Fr. Sorin and his fellow Holy Cross religious brothers founded l’Université de Notre Dame du lac (Our Lady of the Lake) in three small log buildings. The campus has grown significantly since that time, but the strong desire to educate students in the classroom and beyond remains. By the time freshmen reach graduation day, they will realize that they are part of a unique group that extends beyond South Bend.
The plethora of activities, programs, and facilities on campus allows students to create their own experience while at the university. As the phrase “Notre Dame family” has a different connotation for each student and graduate, so does the “Notre Dame experience.” Although the school encourages students to be involved in all aspects of university life, students can choose if they want to focus more on academics, service, student government, or the arts. It is the same for social activities, where there is something for everyone. The spirit of students and graduates proves that there is something special about the place. All in all, it is the last lines of the alma mater that truly summarize how its students and graduates feel about the school: “And our hearts forever, Love thee, Notre Dame.”