The Archivist’s Nook: Irish Love Letters from English Prisons

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa (center). From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

“Moll my Love, why don’t you write to me every day? You know it pleases me to get your letters. Did you know the desire I used to have to hear from you before we were married, and did you know how little that desire has weakened you would write to me every day. After these times are passed it is possible they may leave us unable to write to each other.”

So wrote Irish Fenian leader Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa to his wife Mary Jane (“Moll” to him) while confined in an English prison. O’Donovan Rossa and several other Fenian leaders – including James Stephens, John O’Leary, and  Thomas Clarke Luby – were arrested by the British government and charged with treason in 1865. Their poor treatment while imprisoned was immortalized in his book “O’Donovan Rossa’s Prison Life: Six Years in Six English Prisons” in 1874.

Mary Jane and O’Donovan Rossa were married only a year when he was arrested, and their first child together was born 7 months afterwards. O’Donovan Rossa was by no means a model prisoner, and often lost letter and visiting privileges as a result. Mary Jane and their infant son were not permitted to visit until almost a year after the arrest, when little James was three months old. She sent a photograph of herself and the baby, which O’Donovan Rossa never received. After it was returned to her with a note explaining photographs were not permitted, she composed a poem:

Letter excerpt. Richmond Prison, September 25, 1865. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.

Was it much to ask them, Baby,
These rough menials of the Queen,
Was it much to ask to give him
This poor picture, form and mien,
Of the wife he loved, the little soul
He never yet had seen?

Here at the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives, the prison letters of O’Donovan Rossa to Mary Jane are full of longing and love, but also share details of his case and plans for her future. In a letter dated September 25, 1865, O’Donovan Rossa encouraged his wife to pawn his watch and chain to  fund her passage to America. She did, and made something of a sensation on a speaking tour describing the suffering of the Fenian prisoners and reading her nationalist poetry.

August 9, 1870, O’Donovan Rossa wrote a letter laying out his plan to give evidence before the Commission looking into his case. As he worried Mary Jane would not approve of this decision, he explained “I would not leave it in the gentlemen’s power to say that any refusal to give evidence was proof that the statements could not be substantiated.” Both Rossa and his wife had lost much of their hope that he would be released; as he wrote “I am really pleased Moll that you are so strong, that that sickness of expectation + hope deferred is left you, and that you have made up your mind for the worst, for it is only thus that you can act for the best.”

However, in 1870, O’Donovan Rossa and many other Fenians were pardoned with the understanding they could not return to England or Ireland for the remainder of their sentences. In a letter of December 28, 1870, before he knew exactly when he would be released, O’Donovan Rossa wrote one last tender note to his wife:

“I wish that these lines may find you well. Settle down for a few days or it may be a few weeks, but settle so to be ready to start up immediately, since you are willing to remarry one who has nothing to offer you but increased love.”

Jeremiah and Mary Jane “Moll” O’Donovan Rossa would go on to America together and had a total of thirteen children. Their descendants still live in the United States today.

Per the instructions, “The Convict’s writing to be confined to the ruled lines of these two pages,” but O’Donovan Rossa was often in trouble for writing too small and too much on his allocated prison paper. From the Fenian Brotherhood Records and O’Donovan Rossa Personal Papers.
Mary Jane O’Donovan Rossa. From Fáilte Romhat.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: A Very Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner

In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.
In 1972, Rev. Magner’s Christmas card transports us all the way to Jerusalem.

In the history of The Catholic University of America, two priests are truly larger than life:  Father Gilbert V. Hartke (1907-1986) and Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Both men served the University community for decades: 28 years for Magner and 37 years for Hartke. Best known for running CUA’s theater program, CUA’s playhouse still bears Father Hartke’s name today, while Rev. Magner was renown on campus for leading world wide tours to such far flung places as Mexico, India, and even behind the Iron Curtain.

“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.
“May the joys of Christmas shine brightly for you throughout the New Year.” Signed Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1967.

Nothing makes these big personalities more human and relatable than the several dozen Christmas cards they’ve left behind. Rev. Magner meticulously kept track of the names and addresses of each person he sent a Christmas card to every year. Here at the Archives, we have many copies of his personal cards from the 1940s to the early 1970s. His cards have a somewhat trademark style drawing on his adventures abroad; they usually involve a solo shot of this well-traveled priest in an exotic location. Some of our favorites include Japan, Costa Rica, Alaska, Jerusalem, and Ireland.

Although show-biz priest Fr. Hartke did not create signature personal Christmas cards, he certainly received them! He received not just one, but a total of five White House Christmas cards from then President Lyndon B. Johnson and First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson. These large, gold framed Christmas prints showing White House winter scenes remain part of the Archive’s museum collection today.

Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!
Merry Christmas to our High Flying Friend!

While we were unable to locate a presidential Christmas card among Rev. Magner’s papers, he did get three impressive hand drawn cards from a devoted pair of ladies. Whoever they were, Helen and Betty really captured something of Rev. Magner’s glamorous, jet setting lifestyle. In one card, a Hawaiian shirt clad Magner climbs into an old fashioned cocktail while another depicts a fez wearing Magner flying a magic carpet and simultaneously smoking hookah.

Judging by their Christmas cards, these two priests effortlessly lead interesting and adventurous lives. These ephemeral items give a glimpse into the personal lives of two men who redefined their roles as priests and did great things for Catholic University in the process. Whether making and receiving Christmas cards or living life to the fullest, each of these men did it in their own memorable way. Merry Christmas from the Fathers Hartke and Magner!

The Archivist’s Nook: Social Media from the Stacks

Social media can be a powerful tool for libraries, archives, and museums to create a branded, collaborative online presence. But where to begin? Before diving head first into the latest social media trends, cultural heritage institutions must first ask several questions, such as: What are we hoping to achieve by using social media? Who will be creating the content? Who is our intended audience? Nina Simon, author of Museum 2.0 blog and The Participatory Museum, presents three simple steps to crafting a basic social media plan:

Part 1. Define your goals.
Part 2. Define your resources and boundaries.
Part 3. Develop the ideas and explain the plan.¹

Know your hashtags and your audience! Instagram post from @CUAarchives
Know your hashtags and your audience! Instagram post from @CUAarchives

Start with the basics of who you are and what you want to achieve. For example, the Australian Museum first defined their social media strategy in 2009 after participating in a staff wide workshop, where they developed a vision statement: “To inspire the exploration of nature and cultures through sharing; engaging; building relationships and influencing, while adapting our organizational culture”². Goals could include reaching new audiences and encouraging the growth of online communities around your institution.

Next, evaluate what resources are needed to achieve these goals. Understandably, short-staffed institutions often find themselves overwhelmed at the prospect of maintaining a vibrant social media profile. Here at the American Catholic Research Center and University Archives, we each take turns writing posts for this blog. This not only distributes the workload, but also creates a variety of content and perspectives! There are also many resources and articles available online that give great recommendations and tips to make the most of what you have. Here are just a few:

Once you have a few ideas, it is now time to develop them further and write them down. The Australian Museum utilized a simple blog post to present the main findings of their workshop. Through a clearly articulated strategy, museums are able to explain to the entire staff as well as stakeholders the value of participating in social media.

Here at the Archives, knowing the potential audiences for this blog and how to reach them plays an important role in our social media plan. With about 400 personal papers and organizational records, 100 University records collections, and 5,000 museum objects, we have a range of material that appeals to many different groups. Our blog post content reflects this diversity, as we address topics not only relating to CUA’s history, but to labor leaders, the World Wars, comic books, library science, and much more! We pinpoint the audience most likely to appreciate a particular blog post – whether that be the CUA community, particular dioceses located around the country, or other DC area archives – and market the blog directly to them. This could be by tagging potentially interested institutions on Twitter or Instagram, adding relevant hashtags, emailing directly or via a listserv, and whatever else we can think of!

Showcase anniversaries and other dates important to your institution. Twitter post from @CUAarchives
Showcase anniversaries and other dates important to your institution. Twitter post from @CUAarchives

As the Museum Assessment Program’s Social Media Handbook explains, “Starting social media can be overwhelming, but remember that at its heart, social media is not actually about technology. Rather, it’s all about conversation and story telling. If you have a good story to share, people will want to listen and respond.” Museums, archives, and libraries have moved towards a new identity: one of dialogue, collaboration, and community. Social media plays a key role in portraying this identity, as cultural heritage institutions around the world create new narratives and two-way conversations with their audiences. By carefully evaluating their goals and resources, even the smallest archive can utilize social media to give their institution a face and personality to share with the world online.

Peruse our own social media content here:


¹Simon, N. (2009, June 9). How to develop a (small-scale) social media plan. [Blog Post]. Museum 2.0. Retrieved from http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/2009/06/how-to-develop-small-scale-social-media.html

²Kelly, L. (2009, Nov. 19). The museum’s social media strategy. [Blog Post]. Australian Museum. Retrieved from http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/museullaneous/the-museums-social-media-strategy

The Archivist’s Nook: A Labor of Love – Lantern Slides of T.V. Powderly

“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11
“Railroad Train” Lantern Slide #11

A treasure trove of almost 2,000 lantern slides belonging to labor leader Terence Vincent Powderly (1849-1924) resides in our Archive. These transparent glass slides, also referred to as “magic” lantern slides, are an eclectic mix of images taken by amateur photographer Powderly as well as commercially produced images he purchased. As a native of Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Powderly incorporated many images of creeks and mountains of the keystone state – as well as the occasional coal mine – into the collection. True to his roots as a leader of the Knights of Labor, many images of industrial technology are included, especially of locomotives. There are monuments and works of art from around the world, as well as personal portraits of the Powderly family at their home in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington D.C.

Short History of Lantern Slides

To get a handle on this collection, we first look to the history of the lantern slide format and how it was used. Photographic lantern slides appeared about a decade after the invention of photography in the mid-1800s, although projectable hand painted images existed long before. At about 3.25 x 4 inches, lantern slides are physically made up of a negative printed onto a sheet of glass as a positive, transparent image. The image could then be painstakingly hand colored or matted to achieve the desired effect. Next, an additional sheet of glass was placed over the transparency, creating a glass “sandwich” to protect the surface of the photograph. Finally, the two sheets of glass were taped together, and could be inserted into a magic lantern for projection and viewing.

Lantern slides were used for two purposes: entertainment and education. The primary purpose of our USCCB Lantern Slide Collection was educational, as they accompanied presentations detailing the National Catholic Welfare Conference’s work with veterans of the First and Second World Wars in the United States. The diversity and sheer number of slides in Powderly’s collection suggest he used his slides both for entertainment and educational purposes depending on the setting. While the family portraits could have been used as the equivalent of “family home videos,” the images of industry could have been part of his work with the Knights of Labor.

These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!
These original lantern slide boxes are a little worse for wear!

Additional information on the history of lantern slides:

Taking Inventory

At some point prior to the arrival of the slides at the Archives in 2009, someone attempted to reorder the collection into simple thematic groups, such as “Stone Monuments,” “D.C. and World” and “People.” In the archival world, “respect des fonds” (preserving the original order of a group of records), is an important and fundamental principle. Often, the original order shows relationships and provides insight into how the records were accessed and used. Presumably, Powderly had his own numbered list so he could easily keep track of his collection. Since we do not have this original master list, we will be reconstructing it as we process this large collection. Going through each of the slides, we will record basic information such as the slide number and title. This is also a good time to take note of any damage the slides might have sustained.

“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817
“American Group, Albert Memorial, London” Lantern Slide #817

Rehousing

After completing the list, if we find it is more valuable for researchers to have the slides in the original order, we will reorganize them to match Powderly’s original intent. When handling the slides, we wear powder-free nitrile gloves to protect the images from fingerprints and hand oils.  During this phase, we will also remove the slides from their crumbling containers and place them in archival, acid free boxes. Before doing so, each lantern slide will be carefully enfolded in a four-flap envelope to protect the surface of the image. Lantern slides are surprisingly heavy, so we place no more than 70 slides in a small box. Even then, these boxes are like bricks! As of this writing, we are a little under half way through rehousing the slides.

Additional information on the housing of lantern slides:

Digitizing

Once a collection is organized and rehoused, the next question is to determine whether or not to digitize. Some questions to ask before choosing to digitize could include: Are these materials unique? Will digitization promote access to these materials? Will digitization help preserve the collection? In our case, digitization is not a high priority as many of the same images have already been scanned from prints available through the Terence Vincent Powderly Photographic Prints Digital Collection. However, should we choose to pursue digitization, many wonderful resources are available online to guide us through the process.

“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917
“Trinity College, D.C.” Lantern Slide #917

Additional information on the digitization of lantern slides:

Last Thoughts

Lantern slides are an interesting format with a rich history and a few special concerns, such as sensitivity to light, fragility, heavy weight, and need of specific housing materials. By taking a systematic approach to the various steps of the project, our large collection belonging to Terence Vincent Powderly will continue to be organized and rehoused as time and resources permit. For additional information about the life and times of amateur photographer, slide maker, labor leader, and former mayor of Scranton T.V. Powderly, check out the finding aid of his manuscript collection.

The Archivist’s Nook: Best of the Museum Collection on Campus

Ivory Triptych Date of Gift: 1917 Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109
Ivory Triptych
Date of Gift: 1917
Location: McMahon Hall – Room 109

Here at the Archives, keeping track of the many museum worthy art objects on The Catholic University of America campus is perhaps one of our lesser known duties. While we have written extensively about the history of the museum collection as well as several specific objects in the collection, we have long wanted to take you on a grand tour of the “Best of the Museum Collection on Campus.” It was difficult to narrow down which stops to include on this tour as there are so many treasures to find, but we selected a few of our favorites!

We’ll start at the second oldest campus building, McMahon Hall, which was dedicated in 1889 by Cardinal James Gibbons. Walking inside the foyer, one of the most iconic museum pieces at CUA is hard to miss: the heroic statue of Pope Leo XIII seated on a throne. Crowned with a tiara, the Holy Father is raising his hand in a gesture of blessing. The gift of Joseph F. Loubat, the statue was made from Carrarra marble by Guiseppi Luchetti. This statue was famous in its day; Theodore Roosevelt himself rode over to pay it a visit! In front of this imposing, 12 foot tall statue is a massive marble table, a more recently acquired museum piece whose fascinating history is told in a previous blog post.

St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues Date of Gift: 1959 Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery
St. Paul and Madonna and Child Statues
Date of Gift: 1959
Location: Mullen Library – May Gallery

Now it’s time to make your way down the hall to room 109, the School of Arts and Sciences. In the main seating area, you’ll find a large ivory relief triptych depicting multiple Gospel scenes. Given to CUA in 1917 by Arthur Connolly, this work of art was completed in 17th century France. Ivory triptychs are rarely found at this scale, this one is unusual for its large size. Among the stories of the life of Christ told through the carved panels, you’ll find many Gothic motifs, such as elaborately carved pointed arches.

Our next stop is Caldwell Hall, the oldest building on campus. Walking through the front doors, you’ll ascend the sweeping staircase and enter Caldwell Chapel. An entire museum piece in its own right, this chapel is also home to seventeen, “Munich style” stained glass windows completed by the Royal Bavarian Art Institute between 1888 and 1890. Exiting the chapel, walk down the hall to room 111. This inconspicuous classroom is home to one of a pair of paintings given to the university in 1961 by Antony Pisani. This 126 inch long oil painting depicts the “Hunting of the Meleager,” a heroic legend of Meleager, Atalanta, Jason, and others hunting the Calydonian boar. This painting and its pair, “Dance of Nymphs” located in the third floor hallway of Caldwell, correspond to two famous paintings by Nicolas Poussin: “The Hunt of Meleager” of the Prado and “Dance in Honor of Priapus” of the Sao Paulo Museu de Arte.

Our last stop in Caldwell is on the first floor, in room 100. Known as the Monsignor Stephen P. Happel Room, this space is home to a large oil painting attributed to the Spanish Baroque artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Donated in 1926, this painting was originally thought to depict St. Francis of Assisi carrying a cross. However, in recent years we have come to believe it may be San Diego de Alcala, as Saint Francis is usually shown as an older, bearded man.

“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting Date of Gift: 1961 Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway
“Dance of the Nymphs” Oil Painting
Date of Gift: 1961
Location: Caldwell Hall – 3rd Floor Hallway

Let’s end our museum tour in the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library. While this library is home to many statues and works of art, we’ll highlight just two in the May Gallery of the first floor. This gallery displays two French Gothic wood statues on either side of the fireplace. On the left, you’ll find a late 14th century statue of St. Paul, donated by a Miss Jesse Jebiley. On the right is a 13th century Madonna and Child, donated by Frederick Jambes. They make a wonderful pair to finish off our tour with!

For any questions about the museum collection, send us an email at archives@mail.lib.cua.edu. For an easy to print list of all the items mentioned in this post, follow the link: Best of the Museum on Campus List

The Archivist’s Nook: The World is My Parish – James Magner

MagnerAd_1958
Advertisement for tour through Mexico and Guatemala, 1958.

One particular character looms large at the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: the Rev. Msgr. James Magner (1901-1995). Born in Illinois, he attended Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary, was ordained in 1926 and completed his higher education in Rome at the Urban College of the Propaganda Fidei and the Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Magner joined The Catholic University of America community in 1940, where he held many roles over the years including Assistant Secretary Treasurer, Director of the University Press, and Vice Rector for Business and Finance, as well as occasionally lectured. Retiring in 1968, he gave 28 years of service to the University.

That short biography fails to encompass the wide-ranging interests and hobbies of this unique – dare I say quirky – priest. An avid traveler and collector, the Archives received his estate in 1995, including many museum objects brought back from abroad. As Magner explained in his memoirs, “Travel has been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have regarded it, not merely as a holiday or change from my regular occupations, but really an opportunity to broaden and deepen my knowledge of the world and its people.” His lifelong love of travel began in the 1930s, as he explored Mexico. In the 1940s, Magner began organizing and leading seminar group tours of Mexico for Catholic University students. Today, the Archive’s Magner Museum Collection includes over one hundred Pre-Columbian objects brought back from Mexico and several other Central and South American countries, a selection of which are currently on display in the Archive’s reading room.

A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.
A page from James Magner’s collection of Soviet stamps.

In the 1950s, Magner expanded his travels and tours to all over the world. In July of 1951, he conducted a world tour utilizing the latest exciting development in commercial travel: the airplane. As he explains in his memoir My Faces & Places Volume II, 1929-1953:

“I undertook this tour around the world by air, as something of a stunt, but it turned out to be one of the most exciting and educational experiences in my life. It was like a review of the history of the great cultures of the world compressed into a page. I truly felt that I have gone Jules Verne one better.”

Upon his return, Magner gave a lecture, “Around the World in Forty Days”, on his experience. This lecture gives a tantalizing glimpse into the politics and headlines of the time, including the rising tensions in Palestine and between Pakistan and India.

Riding an elephant in India, 1978.
Riding an elephant in India, 1978.

By the 1960s, Magner had added quite the roster of countries to his summer tours, including many under the sway of the Soviet Union. Magner had personally been traveling within the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc since 1956. When asked why he made these daring trips, he explained he wanted to see for himself what was going on behind the Iron Curtain. These excursions occurred largely without incident, with one exception. Prior to his 1965 tour of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, the Polish consular office initially declined to give Magner a visa. According to Magner, “apparently they feared that I might be on a secret mission or wondered why a Catholic priest had to go with the group.”

James Magner, priest, scholar, collector, traveler, and university administrator, retired to West Palm Beach, Florida in 1968. Not one to sit ideally by even if retired, he served two parishes in the area as a visiting priest, wrote his memoirs, and continued to amass a collection of books, art and artifacts. December 30, 1994, Rev. Msgr Magner passed away at the ripe old age of 93. He shared his experiences abroad not only with those he brought on his tours, but also the many attendees of his lectures where he often shared films of his travels. His legacy lives on at the Archives through his personal papers and museum objects as well as his donation of the historically significant Iturbide-Kearney Family Collection. On The Catholic University of America campus, a building bears his name in the Centennial Village residential community.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Montana Missionary – His Life and Teeth

E.W.J. Lindesmith
E.W.J. Lindesmith

Since 1982, the Knights of Columbus Museum of New Haven, Connecticut has told the story of their fraternal organization’s history and Catholic heritage through the display of art and artifacts. From April 9th through September 18th of 2016, visitors can view “Mission of Faith: The Coming of the Gospel to America,” an exhibit featuring the missionaries who explored and evangelized the North American continent. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives here at The Catholic University of America contributed several objects to this exhibit, including mission tiles painted by the Sisters of Mercy in mid-19th century California, as well as items belonging to the intrepid Reverend Eli Washington John Lindesmith (1827 – 1922), a missionary and military chaplain stationed in the late 19th century at Fort Keogh, Montana. Check out the previous blog post, Sisters of Mercy Mission Tiles, for more details on the history and travels of our California mission artifacts.

This exhibit at the Knights of Columbus Museum gives us the opportunity to take a look at one of the Archives’ most dynamic and verbose characters, E.W.J. Lindesmith. As our History of the Museum Collection explains, he collected objects from the Sioux and Cheyenne, as well as preserved artifacts from his own life as a chaplain to soldiers of the Indian Wars (from altar stones and altar cards to his own extracted teeth!). With an eye to the future, he meticulously recorded his own stories and reflections to accompany each object.

Some of Lindesmith’s teeth and the Colgate & Co. Shaving Stick canister he saved them in.
Some of Lindesmith’s teeth and the Colgate & Co. Shaving Stick canister he saved them in.

One broken slate altar stone, currently on loan to the Knights of Columbus Museum exhibit, was given to Lindesmith by another Montana missionary. Why save a fragmented stone with a travel stained and ripped cover? According to Lindesmith:

“This stone was carried over many thousands of miles among whites, indians, soldiers, trappers, miners, explorers, and frontiersmen of every kind, on cars, boats, stages, and even muleback, and often afoot through almost impenetrable mountains, bluffs, coulees, rooks, canyons, forests, badlands, prairie and over rivers without bridges. — at all hours by day and night — not knowing at what minute they might fall into the hands of road agents or hostile indians by mistake.”

His reasoning for saving his pulled teeth is a bit briefer, but to the point: “I want to show the dentists some of their good work and some of their bad work.”

Perhaps the objects carried by Lindesmith for the longest time are his altar cards. These three simple cards are memory aids placed on the altar during mass for easy reference to prayers. Purchased in 1855, Lindesmith used them to practice celebrating mass as a seminary student and went on to utilize them for fifty-two years on all of his mission stations. Noting their stained and time-worn appearance, he explained: “Long ago I could have got better cards, but these were handy and I was attached to them and would not exchange them for the best that could be got.”

One the altar cards Lindesmith carried for fifty two years.
One the altar cards Lindesmith carried for fifty two years.

More of Lindesmith’s writings can be found in our digital exhibit showcasing his sermon notes on topics ranging from temperance to women’s rights, while additional biographic information is available in the finding aid to his personal papers. Through participating in the Knights of Columbus Museum’s exhibit, we hope to give a broader audience a glimpse into the vibrant life of this missionary, military chaplain, and frontiersman through the objects he carried.

The Archivist’s Nook: Sisters of Mercy Mission Tiles

Painted pear tree stump from Mission San Rafael
Painted pear tree stump from Mission San Rafael

“I very much fear they will not reach Washington whole, for they are extra brittle from age and exposure” wrote Sister Mary B. Russell (1834 – 1912), the leader of the Sisters of Mercy in California, in a letter dated May 10th 1893.  Sister Mary was referring to twenty-three large roof tiles that the Sisters of Mercy of San Francisco, California shipped to the fledgling CUA for inclusion in their archaeological museum. Sister Mary might well be surprised that twenty-two of her tiles still survive today, 123 years later!

These roof tiles are precious. Each one came from a different Spanish mission in California, all of which were established by Franciscan priests between 1769 and 1833. Each tile was painted by a Sister of Mercy pupil with an image of the mission from which it came, and almost all bear the Sister of Mercy red seal, “to testify to their authenticity,” as Sister Mary explained.

Sister Mary Baptist Russell
Sister Mary Baptist Russell

When Sister Mary was unable to obtain a tile for the Mission of San Rafael, she instead sent a stump from one of the pear trees planted there by the Franciscans. Painted with the image of the tree it came from, the stump is inscribed: “Pear trees, 100 years old, 3 feet in diameter and 65 ft. high; planted by Franciscan fathers at Mission of San Rafael. Cut down in 1891 to make way for the Odd Fellows’ Building.” That building, or lodge, of the Order of Odd Fellows burned down in the 1950’s. However, that stump can still be found in the museum collection of the Archives.

Some of the tiles are no longer with The Catholic University of America, but have gone on to be displayed across the United States. In 2005, the Sisters of Mercy based in Auburn, California reached out to the Archives to request a loan of the tiles for display in the traveling exhibit: “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in California.” Nine of the tiles remain with them on long-term loan, and the Mission San Luis Rey tile from San Diego can be viewed on the exhibit’s website. In 2014, another nine of the tiles were given to the Mercy Heritage Center in Belmont, North Carolina for eventual display in their 3,000 square foot exhibition space (which was still being built at the time). It seems fitting that over 100 years after Sister Mary B. Russell generously gave these tiles to The Catholic University of America, the University can return the favor by sharing these cultural artifacts with the Sisters of Mercy today.

Mission San Miguel tile
Mission San Miguel tile

Here at the Archives, we still have four tiles depicting Mission San Miguel, Mission Santa Clara, Mission San Gabriel, and Mission San Buenaventura. Mission San Miguel is currently on display in our Archives Reading Room in Aquinas 101. Stop by soon though, as by mid-March this tile will be on temporary loan to the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut for the upcoming exhibit “Mission of Faith: The Coming of the Gospel to America.”

In Sister Mary B. Russell’s letter of 1893, she practically explains that if the tiles are “smashed entirely” en route to CUA, they can be “pieced with plaster of Paris.” All but one of the tiles has survived to the 21st century. It is impressive to reflect on the longevity of these tiles, the miles they’ve traveled, and the people who have seen them since they were first painted by Sister Mary’s pupils in mid 19th century California.

The Archivist’s Nook: Historic Stained Glass of Caldwell Chapel

Page from the original 1888 contract between Rt. Rev. John J. Keane and the Benzinger Brothers with the proposed window layout. [source: Office of the President/Rector Papers, ACUA]
Page from the original 1888 contract between Rt. Rev. John J. Keane and the Benzinger Brothers with the proposed window layout. [source: Office of the President/Rector Papers, ACUA]
On the 2nd of October, 1888, the first rector of the Catholic University of America signed a contract to purchase seventeen stained glass windows from the Benzinger Brothers, acting as agents of the Royal Bavarian Art Institute, F.X. Zettler of Munich, for $4,950, payable at installation. The agreement signed by the Rt. Rev. John J. Keane explicitly requested “the drawing of the figures to show in every line boldness of design and beauty and majesty of feature and form,” with the central Pentecost window to be “especially a masterpiece.” Before signing the agreement, Keane added—in his own slightly messy hand—the stipulation that the Royal Bavarian Art Institute would continually revise their cartoons, or large format drawings of the proposed windows, until he found the results satisfactory.

Saint Paul
Saint Paul

This purchase was one common to many Christian communities at the time, as the art of stained glass was experiencing a revival in mid to late 19th century Munich under the patronage of both King Ludwig I and King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Franz Xavier Zettler, the creator of the Caldwell stained glass windows, established his company in the 1870s. F.X. Zettler’s “Munich Style” windows became popular across the United States and can be found in St. Martin of Tours Church of Louisville, Kentucky and the Cathedral of Saint Andrew of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as at Catholic University. Windows like these would have been seen by the most well-known of American stained glass artisans, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and could have encouraged his own experiments in the medium. The Royal Bavarian Art Institute of F.X. Zettler still exists today in Germany as Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc. Check out Gail Tierney’s 1999 article “Franz Mayer and Company and Zettler Studios” for more information on the company’s history. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Historic Stained Glass of Caldwell Chapel”