History of Notre Dame: August Lemonnier, A Forgotten Man, Part One

History of Notre Dame: August Lemonnier, A Forgotten Man, Part One

I graduated in 2009 from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in History. As a senior, I felt I had a fairly good grasp of the history of Notre Dame. That was, until I took my senior thesis class with Father Blantz: The History of Notre Dame.

It opened my eyes to an entirely new, exciting side of a university that helped to shape me into the man I am now. Over the next seveal blog posts, I would like to share excerpts from my thesis paper in hopes that you take the time to research other topics, eras, and people within the rich history of Notre Dame. I say time and again that the people at Notre Dame make it the place it is. I hope to find this true as well. Without further ado, please let me introduce you to Father Auguste Lemonnier: A Forgotten Man.

“What pleasant picture arises at the sound of his name even the word itself is musical, and thus emblematic of the beautiful character it represents. What a gracious presence, what kindness, what ease, what exquisite taste, what goodness! In him met most perfectly the priest, the scholar and the gentleman. But he was even more than this: he was an artist in the broadest sense of the word, having a true appreciation for music, poetry, painting, landscape gardening and general scenic effect; molding in nature with the hand of art, he would have made Notre Dame as charming as the Pincian gardens. He was besides a most genial companion, possessed of a delicate and ready wit and never failing of good humor. It is not surprising that the beauty of his character, and his social disposition, should have won for him and for Notre Dame hosts of friends: and such was the variety of his information, the largeness of his understanding, and the purity and integrity of his life, that those who were once drawn within the circle of his friendship remained his fast friends forever. With men generally there is a wide distinction between acquaintances and friends, but with Father Lemonnier there was no such distinction; to know him was to love him: his acquaintances looked upon him as a near and dear friend..."

(Scholastic, November 7, 1874 pg. 72)

It is with great respect and admiration that I am writing this humble presentation of such a great man. It is hard to put into words, what others have already so eloquently done, the great accomplishments and legacy that Father Auguste Lemonnier has left on the University of Notre Dame. Not only was he a great educator and president, but most importantly, he was a great person. He devoted his entire being to bettering the many young men that attended the university and continually building up positive relationships with the students and faculty that were present during his short tenure.
Leaders with humility recognize that they are no better or worse than other members of the team. A humble leader is not self-effacing but rather tries to elevate everyone. It is extremely important not to measure the success of Father Lemonnier’s life on how long he was president or even the amount of change he brought about, rather it is most important to look at that him, determine what others thought about the life he lived and the amount of people that he touched. The most striking and poignant anecdote that I could come up with about Father Lemonnier was not how may medals he won or how many prizes he claimed, rather it was the love and respect that he gained from everyone he came in contact with and the fact that there was not one negative word said about Father Lemonnier.

Auguste Lemonnier was born on April 11, 1839 in Anhuille, France. He was born Auguste Lemonnier-Dobourg but dropped the Dobourg after coming to the United States. At the age of nineteen, he began his studies at the College of Precigne in Mans, France. After the completion of his studies seven years later, he decided to study law. He went to France for two years and studied law there. In 1857, at the age of 28, he joined his brother Louis at the Theological Seminary at Mans for a year. During this year, his uncle, Father Edward Sorin, persuaded him to come to America. Sorin was on his so called "tour of duty" at this time when he visited with Lemonnier.

With the death of his mother, he considered going to Paris for a foreign missions project. Sorin however, intervenes and sends Lemonnier to Rome to study theology at Roman College. He entered the Congregation of Holy Cross in October of 1860. Before completing his obligations he was summoned to Notre Dame in 1861 by Father Sorin. In February of 1861 he travelled to Notre Dame, where he completed his seminary studies. His brother came along too, but it was said that he was too French and could not make the transiition (Scholastic 1872-73(201) VI). Auguste, on the other hand, was very well-liked and was considered to be adaptive, especially in terms of Americanizing himself. This trait became very important in his rise through the ranks at Notre Dame.He was ordained a priest on November 4, 1863.

His rise among the administration at Notre Dame was unprecedented again due to his likability and suavity. In November, 1863, shortly after his ordination, he was named Prefect of Discipline, an office he held until 1865 when he was named Prefect of Religion. While the Prefect of Discipline he built a great reputation with the student in his dealings with them and this laid the groundwork for how well-liked he would become in his later years as president. This was due in large part to his ability to adapting himself to the differences of the many different kinds of persons with whom he came into contact. Fairness means dealing with others consistently and justly. A leader must check all the facts and hear everyone out before passing judgment. He must avoid leaping to conclusions based on incomplete evidence. Honest dealings, predictable reactions, well-controlled emotions, and an absence of harsh outbursts are all signs of integrity. A leader who is centered in integrity will be more approachable by followers. Also, when people feel they that are being treated fairly, they reward a leader with loyalty and dedication which is exactly what Father Lemonnier built while the Prefect of Discipline.
He became vice-president of the university in 1866 and remained in that office for six years. In 1872 he was named president of the university, the position he held until his unexpected death on October 29, 1874 at the young age of thirty-five. His unexpected death raises questions of what all he could have accomplished if he had lived a longer life. It is safe to say that his legacy has been felt even until this day. Joseph A. Lyons said of Father Lemonnier,

"It is seldom that Nature unites in one of the polished gentleman, the scholarly professor, the religious teacher and correct business man as she did in our deceased friend. Such men are very few in the world, too few indeed, not to be sadly, regretfully missed and mourned, when death closes their career. Peace to Father Lemonnier's ashes"

(South Bend Tribune, October 30, 1874 Obituary)

During his tenure as both president and vice-president, Father Lemonnier sought to strengthen the university's curriculum by adding more courses and faculty in math and the sciences. He began the university library, which was originally housed in a building named for him, the Lemonnier Library. Beyond his contributions, however, his legacy can best be summed up by the love and respect that he gained from everyone that knew him, especially the students at Notre Dame. He was a part of what the students were doing and wanted them to know he was there for them. For example, he held a boat race called the Regatta. "At the appointed hour the crews moved out of house, rowed slowly over to their respective starting posts, the stake-boat, in which were Rev. Father Lemonnier, Rev. Father Murray, Gen'l Dodge and Prof. Baasen, who had proceeded them and were prepared to give the signal...At length, Rev. Father Lemonnier gave the signal for them to start, and the oars began to ply, amidst the applause of the spectators" (Scholastic June 25, 1873).

He did not want to be a distant figure at the university and made sure to stay very involved. He was the director of thespian society, head of the boating club, attended concerts at Washington Hall, and was the director of the literary and debating club. There are countless other stories involving Father Lemonnier and the love he shared for his student body and their welfare. He issued a statement after an incident involving several of his students and drinking alcohol which ended terribly.

“Permit me to avail myself of the publicity of your columns to inform all persons engaged in the sale of liquor in the city of South Bend and vicinity, that I shall prosecute those who shall hereafter sell or give liquor or any other intoxicating drink to anyone of the students of the college, and that I will have any such persons punished with the heaviest penalties of the law”

(Scholastic 1873-74(317) VII)

He took a personal responsibility for all of his students and when one was threatened or there was a problem, he did all he could to support and fight for them.
Some would think that being Sorin's nephew, Lemonnier would have gotten preferential treatment but this was not so. Lemonnier never took advantage of the relationship with his nephew. Lemonnier knew that Father Sorin was the center of life at Notre Dame and made sure to respect that at all times. It was said that Father Sorin stayed somewhat away-that he didn’t want people misinterpreting the relationship he had with Father Lemonnier in anyway and therefore hurt Father Lemonnier's leadership position. Father Sorin, after Father Lemonnier's death, said

"With my habitual fears of the dangers of nepotism, I never left him [Lemonnier] a chance to benefit by our relationship; it never stood against him in mind, and often proved to him a loss"

(Arthur Hope, CSC: Notre Dame: One Hundred Years, pp.162)

For all the respect and reverie that Father Sorin had from his collogues and students, Father Lemonnier, in his own way, was as well loved. In comparison of Sorin and Lemonnier, Sorin was said to be stern, bold, and dictate while Lemonnier was described as full of integrity, amiable, modest, suggest, and meek. Integrity is the integration of outward actions and inner values. A person of integrity is the same on the outside and on the inside.. A great leader, like Father Lemonnier, must have the trust of followers and therefore must display integrity.Lemonnier's character was exactly what Notre Dame needed. He encapsulated the true idea of a "Notre Dame Man."

Thank you for taking the time to go back in time with me and learn about a person that you hopefully wont forget. Please check back soon for another Notre Dame history lesson with me!

Stay Sharp!


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