I am glad to place this collection where it will be of so much benefit to students of history, yet I must confess I feel as if I were bidding good bye to friends who have become very dear to me…I have grown to love them for the many hours of pleasure they have afforded me.
-Msgr. Arthur Connolly to Rector Bp. Thomas Shahan, April 25, 1917
Anyone who spends time in the Catholic University Special Collections will soon become acquainted with the names of consequential donors and collectors. Ranging from Fr. James Magner and James Cardinal Gibbons to Mercedes McCambridge and Dorothy Mohler, there are several patrons whose legacies ripple through our collections and the campus. Few of these donors span the full scope of our collections, with their bequeathed items in the museum, rare books, and archives. But one Boston-area priest’s influence is present in the stacks of the archives and rare books, as well as in the paintings and sculptures displayed around campus – Msgr. Arthur T. Connolly (1853-1933).
Born December 2, 1853 in Waltham, Massachusetts, Connolly was the son of Irish immigrants. He was a product of public schools and later attended Boston College then St. Charles College in Ellicott City, Maryland. From there, he would go on to study theology at the Grand Seminar in Montreal, Quebec. On December 21, 1876, Bishop Édouard-Charles Fabre ordained Connolly to the Catholic priesthood. (He would be given the title Monsignor in 1926.)
Relocating back to his native Boston, Connolly would remain a lifelong parish priest. His longest tenure was as the inaugural rector for the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Jamaica Plains neighborhood in Boston, serving from 1892 until his retirement in 1931. But beyond serving his parish community, Connolly was an avid collector and traveler. On multiple trips to Europe and South America, he acquired numerous books and art objects. Of particular note was his collecting of ivory artwork, religious manuscripts and incunabula, and Irish history and early American publications.
But beyond merely collecting, Connolly was a generous benefactor. His love of knowledge was only surpassed by his love of libraries! From 1916-1932, Connolly served as a Trustee of the Boston Public Library, acting as the Library’s Board President from 1923-24 and 1927-28. (There is even a branch of the Boston Public Library named after him to this day.) His engagement was not limited to his local libraries, as he donated thousands of volumes to his alma mater, Boston College. And in 1915-16, Connolly began the first of many generous donations to Catholic University.
This first shipment to the University focused predominantly on books intended for the general reference stacks in the campus libraries. A second wave of materials arrived in 1918, which included medieval manuscripts, early printed incunabula, and chromolithographic prints as well as Renaissance-era artwork sculpted from ivory. Over the next 15 years, Connolly continued to send books, art, and papers to campus. By the time of his passing in 1933, the Connolly Library – as it was called at the time – had amassed approximately 16,000 titles located in its own designated spaces in McMahon Hall and Mullen Library. Among the many, many special collections that existed in the Library from the 1890s until the 1960s, Connolly’s stood out as among the largest and most eclectic.
In the early 1960s, these many collections would be reviewed and combined into the present Rare Books Library, which today is part of the broader Catholic University Special Collections. The Connolly Library remains a significant part of the collection, and his legacy can be seen by all visitors to Rare Books and campus. Researchers often encounter his handwritten notes and personalized bookplate in medieval manuscripts and early printed works, while visitors to campus may see one of the many donated sculptures or paintings he donated displayed in an office.
Today, there are thousands of unique theological, historical, and literary works in the stacks from Connolly. These include 30 medieval manuscripts, 11 incunabula, and over a dozen pieces of art displayed around campus.
Connolly passed away on November 10, 1933. As a beloved local figure, his funeral would see over 3,000 people in attendance, including delegates from the Catholic Archdiocese and City of Boston. His legacy continues in the many collections he donated to his home city’s institutions, as well as to the Catholic University community.
To learn more about our rare books and museum collections, please visit our website: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/archives/index.html
Questions can also be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to the Boston Public Library and Catholic University Special Collections for providing documentation on Connolly’s life and collections.