Notre Dame’s First Irish President: Father Patrick Dillon, C.S.C. (1832-1868)

Rev. P. Dillon, second President of the University of Notre Dame, was born in the County Galway, Ireland, on the 1st of January, 1832. Immediately after his birth, he was dedicated in a special manner, by his mother, to the service of God, and entered upon his studies for the sacred ministry, while yet a mere boy. After the removal of his family to America, he continued his studies at St. Mary’s College, Chicago, Ill. He entered Notre Dame in 1856—completed his studies and was ordained priest in 1858. Even before his ordination he was appointed Steward to the University, and gained the respect of all with whom he came into contact. He was subsequently appointed President of St. Mary’s College, Chicago, and gave still further proof of his administrative talent. From St. Mary’s he was recalled to Notre Dame, where he discharged the important duties of Vice-President of the University and Principal of the Commercial Department, for nearly three years. In May, 1865, he was duly appointed President of the University and Local Superior at Notre Dame. During his presidency the College buildings were entirely remodeled and enlarged, and improvements made to the value of nearly $100,000. In August, 1866, he was summoned to France to attend a General Chapter of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and, as his fame had preceded him, he was appointed Secretary and Assistant to the Superior General, the best evidence that could have been given of the esteem in which he was held by his religious associates. In August, 1868, he returned with Very Rev. Father Sorin, who had just been appointed Superior General of the Congregation. Filial duty, which at first appeared to require but a temporary absence, eventually rendered it necessary for him to seek a dispensation from his obligations as a member of the Congregation of Holy Cross, in order to attend more freely to the sacred duties which Nature herself imposed upon him. The dispensation was given, though with much regret, by the Very Rev. Superior General, and Father Dillon immediately assumed the responsibilities of Pastor of St. Patrick’s Church, Chicago. But a disease, which had several times previously threatened his life, returned with renewed violence, and on Sunday evening, the 15th of November, 1868, he breathed his last, regretted by all who knew him, and sincerely mourned by a wide circle of personal friends, among whom the students of Notre Dame, who had learned to respect and love him, rank next to his bereaved relatives.

Joseph A. Lyons, Silver Jubilee of the University of Notre Dame, June 23rd, 1869(Chicago: E.B. Myers & Co., 1869), 75-77. 

NOTE: Despite the sobriquet “Fighting Irish,” Notre Dame was actually founded by French priests, members of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. The first president was Father Edward Sorin, C.S.C. (1814-1893).

About Pat McNamara
  • Fr. Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

    Thanks for the great post. One note: we are the Congregation of Holy Cross – there is no “the” in our name. We are named after the suburb of LeMans, France, where Fr. Moreau founded us: Sainte-Croix. (To confuse matters more, we do have a devotion to the Cross.) FYI.

  • John Michael Akers

    An informative article. Did not know about the French influence. Thanks!


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