Verlin Miller ‘64 is a custom craftsman whose work makes a grand impression all over the University of Notre Dame campus. For the past 30 years, Verlin has produced more than 300 custom doors at Notre Dame, including the doors to the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, which serves as the University church and the mother church for the Congregation of the Holy Cross in the United States.
Verlin’s work with Notre Dame began in the late 1990s when a friend at a local lumber yard asked him to replace a few doors at St. Paul’s Methodist Church. This led to connections with door distributors working for contractors at Notre Dame.After replacing a few doors there, he was encouraged to bid on replacing the Basilica doors.
Verlin, who produced the Basilica doors in his home-based shop, said, “The doors were probably my biggest challenge and a highlight of my work. The doors are made of walnut and are ten feet tall, four feet wide, and three inches thick.”
After working on those doors, his name and reputation were established at Notre Dame. As he worked at Notre Dame and the adjacent St. Mary’s College, he pondered how the doors he created opened into chapels and other sacred places, “I see my work as a spiritual practice because I know the people who enter through these doors will be using the space for worship. In making these doors, I see my craftsmanship as an extension of the welcome to worship.”
Verlin grew up on a dairy farm and wanted to become an engineer with General Motors when he was young. During his two years at Bethany, he remembers having great teachers. The three with profound influence were Dean Hartman (math and physics); Delmar Miller (English), who nurtured his love of reading; and Leonard Gross (Bible). Though Verlin did not study woodworking in school, his interest began shortly after college. Verlin graduated from Goshen College with an English degree and then headed to seminary, where he remembers telling seminary friends, “I think I want to be a cabinet maker.”
Dissatisfied with options for making cabinets locally, he worked with a carpenter, building custom residential homes, which greatly developed his craftsmanship. During this time following seminary, he also lived in a communal home connected with the Fellowship of Hope in Elkhart, Indiana. As the congregation and its outreach ministry grew, they needed assistance renovating additional homes in the neighborhood. So Verlin began leading a crew of remodelers who eventually became Hope Builders. Hope Builders worked on community and private renovation jobs in the Elkhart area at that time and still exists now under new management.
Verlin is retired and is no longer taking new jobs, but is still working in his shop. “I have a few projects to work on and some things for my home.” In his retirement, he was honored by the University of Notre Dame in a short video celebrating his work. You can view the video at https://stories.nd.edu/stories/verlin-miller-the-door-maker-of-notre-dame/.