History behind the Cedar Grove Cemetery on Notre Dame's campus

When you think of Notre Dame, thoughts of the Grotto or the football stadium may come to mind.

But there's another spot on campus that those of us who grew up nearby used to walk through or play in, looking at the pictures or names on the headstones.

On Friday we introduced you to an author who wrote a book about the notables buried at Cedar Grove, and Tuesday night, Just Before Six, a little history.

In South Bend for the Notre Dame-USC game, 1951 grad Jim Gillis was also here to promote his new book, The Cemetery Beneath the Golden Dome.

As a student he was always curious about Cedar Grove Cemetery but never knew a lot about it.

So finally after prodding from his wife Jane, Jim decided to write a kind of a 'who's who' at Cedar Grove Cemetery.

It turned into much more. In addition to the stories of the souls buried there, there is some history.

Like the strong connection between Notre Dame's first priests and the Potawatomi Indian Tribe who had one settlement on what would become Notre Dame's Campus.

“The Indian village of the Potawatomi's was right on the edge of Saint Mary's Lake,” says Gillis.

America's first Catholic Priest, Father Stephen Badin continued the friendship started by missionaries in the wilderness here, and taught the Indians the Catholic faith.

“There was a wonderful Indian chief of the Potawatomi Tribe and this man's name was Leopold Pokagon,” explains Gillis. “Leopold took to the Catholic faith.”

And it's a bond that continued.

“Father Badin came down and got very friendly with the Indians and built the first log cabin,” explains Gillis.

But when Father Edward Sorin came to South Bend, what would become the University of Notre Dame Du Lac, was not a college.

“He started with grade school and then went up through the grades until he reached the collegiate level,” says Gillis.

And in 1928 when Angela Blvd was widened and an Indian burial ground set up by Father Badin was discovered the burial ground was moved to Cedar Grove.

“There's one mound here in the center of Cedar Grove which shows where the Indians were brought and there's a sign there, a bronze plaque that tells about the Potawatomi Indian burial ground,” says Gillis.

If you're familiar with Notre Dame's campus you know there are two lakes, but that wasn't always the case. When a great fire destroyed the original administration building Father Sorin had an idea about what to do with the refuse.

“He said we are going to separate St. Mary's Lake and that's how St. Joseph Lake was born here on campus,” explains Gillis.

So the next time you visit Notre Dame you might want consider a walk through Cedar Grove Cemetery and ponder the history that joined the religious with the Potawatomi Indians, still a powerful force in Michiana today.

While Cedar Grove initially accepted any Catholic who wanted to be buried there, they started running out of room and now the plots are limited to employees and staff.

The new mausoleums are open to graduates who wish to be buried at Notre Dame.

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