Fr. Bob Simon has loved LEGO building blocks since he was five years old. He grew up building with them and has taken that passion with him into adulthood.
In recent years, he has completed two major LEGO builds. In 2015, he created a large replica of the Vatican, which is comprised of around 500,000 LEGO bricks. (Read about the LEGO Vatican build.) It has been exhibited in several cities in Poland as well as the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.
In 2019, when Notre Dame’s Associate Vice President for Storytelling and Engagement Jim Small called up Fr. Simon to ask if he would like to make a LEGO replica of the University’s iconic Main Building, Fr. Simon says, “It was an immediate yes.”
In fact, both the Vatican and the Main Building were the only large builds that interested Fr. Simon. He got to work.
A diocesan priest and pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish in Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania, Fr. Simon also has great love for Notre Dame. He obtained his master’s degree in liturgy here in 1996 and recalls a particularly special moment after starting his coursework.
“My ND experience was just one of the great gifts of my life,” says Fr. Simon. “My first day of that [liturgy] course, I sat on a bench between the Basilica and the Golden Dome and reflected and I’ve had a passion for the place ever since.”
The LEGO build, now situated on the first floor of McKenna Hall, “invites a closer look at the Main Building,” says Fr. Simon. It’s detailed, with small pieces used in unique ways. For example, the railings on the tops of the east and west wings are made from LEGO skeleton legs.
The Main Building replica is comprised of around 300,000 bricks, including 70,000 tan bricks mimicking the classic Notre Dame brick used in the real Main Building.
There are 45,000 “inner pieces,” says Fr. Simon, supporting the structure, and he did his best to capture the detail around the Main Building windows, replicating all 300 on the actual building. There are even blinds on the inside of each window, a classic Main Building detail.
Also an experienced iconographer, Fr. Simon used a familiar technique to apply gold leaf to pieces of the Main Building. The statue of Mary, the Mother of God, “Notre Dame” (“Our Lady”), was replicated accurately via 3D printing and Fr. Simon applied gold leaf to the statue, as well as the LEGO Golden Dome.
The entire build, which Fr. Simon worked on during many evenings and weekends, took a total of around three years. If he were able to work on it all day, Fr. Simon estimates that it would have taken around six months of concentrated work.
“I compare the process to prayer and meditation,” he says. “It’s like the Rosary in a way. While your hands are busy, your mind can be elsewhere.”
While building, Fr. Simon often contemplated the vision of Notre Dame’s founder, Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. and his aspirations for the University.
“It’s beautiful to let it speak about what he wanted,” says Fr. Simon.
The LEGO Main Building is currently on display near the east door of the first floor of McKenna Hall, which faces Notre Dame Avenue. It’s viewable Monday - Friday, from 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.