OLL Blog – Farewell to a Friend of Books

Manoel de Oliveira Lima offered to bequeath his library to Catholic University in a letter to the University's Rector in 1916
Letter from Manoel de Oliveira Lima to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, Rio de Janeiro, 10/12/1916. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, The Catholic University of America.

Today marks the 92nd anniversary of the passing of Manoel de Oliveira Lima. The Brazilian diplomat and world renowned scholar had moved permanently to the United States with his wife Flora de Oliveira Lima to fulfill a dream. They arrived in 1921, settling in the nation’s capital with one main goal in mind : organizing his colossal personal library of approximately 40.000 volumes at the Catholic University of America (CUA). The donation of this treasure trove of books, manuscripts, maps, photographs, works of art and memorabilia was formalized in 1916 in a letter sent to University’s rector Bishop Thomas J. Shahan. The Board of Trustees promptly accepted the donation and agreed to the conditions imposed: Dr. Lima himself would be the librarian in charge, the collection should bear his name, and it was never to be dispersed or incorporated in the university’s general library. 

Ever since his retirement from the diplomatic service in 1913, Dr. Lima was planning to devote the rest of his life to become a full time scholar. He had travelled extensively, lecturing in the United States in 1912 after teaching a course in Stanford. In the fall of 1915, he had the honor to be invited by Harvard University to be the first occupant of the newly created Chair of Latin American History and Economy, which he accepted. Returning to Brazil in 1916, the Oliveira Limas had to patiently wait for safer travel conditions and ended up staying in their hometown of Recife in Brazil during World War I. 

Our Professorial Corner, The Harvard Illustrated Magazine. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Illustrated, v.17 (1915-1916), p. 87.

Boxes filled with books were shipped  straight to the CUA campus not only from Brazil but also from London and Brussels, the last locations of the diplomatic residencies in Europe. The organization of the library took longer than Dr. Lima and his wife expected. The extenuating work took a toll on his already fragile health and they went for a health-related trip to Europe in 1923. A tireless scholar, Lima found time to give a series of lectures to inaugurate the Chair of Brazilian Studies at the University of Lisbon before heading to Karlsbad, a famous spa town. The time spent in Lisbon, where he grew up and was educated, and the treatments at the sanatorium were reinvigorating, but more work awaited him back home. 

J. De Siqueira Coutinho, Manoel de Oliveira Lima, Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, Fr Bernard A. McKenna, Ruth Holmes at the Oliveira Lima Library on the 3rd floor of McMahon Hall. The Oliveira Lima Library, The Catholic University of America.

Upon his return, Dr. Lima was appointed Associate Professor of International Law in the School of Canon Law at Catholic University. He took great pleasure in lecturing and advising students while simultaneously focusing on the organizational work of the library, however his health continued to deteriorate. With the support of his wife and the librarian Ruth Holmes, he finally opened the Oliveira Lima Library to the public in 1924. The custom-made wooden shelves occupied rooms on the third floor of McMahon Hall while construction of Mullen Library was on the way. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Lima did not live to see his library installed in the space he had selected in the new building. On March 24, 1928, the founder of the Oliveira Lima Library passed away in his home in Washington DC. Bishop Shahan celebrated the Requiem mass at the Shrine, during which he described the late Professor as ”one of the foremost men of letters of the time”  and a “pioneer in the work of establishing Pan American amity and universal peace”.  (The Tower, Wednesday, March 28, 1928, p. 1 ).

Manoel de Oliveira Lima was buried at the Mount Olivet Cemetery in Washington DC. Per his instructions, his epitaph in Portuguese says only “Aqui jaz um amigo dos livros” (“Here Lies a Friend of Books” in English). 

Mount Olivet Cemetery, Washington D.C.
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