Posts with the tag: John K Mullen of Denver Memorial Library

The Archivist’s Nook: Commencement Firsts

Last year marked the first time that The Catholic University of America celebrated commencement virtually; this year’s commencement, to take place in-person with social distancing at FedEx Field, will mark the first time the ceremony has ever been held away from campus. This blog post will run through some other notable firsts in the University’s commencement history.

The earliest commencement exercises on record took place in the Assembly Room of McMahon Hall, which was constructed between 1892 and 1895 (shortly after the University first opened in 1889 with the completion of Caldwell Hall). By the early 1920s the commencement ceremony was being held in the gymnasium (today’s Crough Center), a practice that would endure for decades.

Built in 1918, the gymnasium was one of many campus construction projects initiated by Rector Thomas Shahan. The lower image shows the interior decorated for a commencement ceremony, ca. 1950. Both from Photo Collection, Box 35, Folder 7.

In his excellent pictorial history of Catholic University (2010, Arcadia), Robert P. Malesky notes: “Many large-scale special events took place in the gym, from the 50th anniversary celebration in 1939 to rock concerts in the 1960s and an address from Pope John Paul II in 1979” (p. 67). Conspicuously absent from his list of “large-scale special events,” however, are the annual commencement exercises—an omission that would probably dishearten the 1923 Commencement Week Committee, which, on the front page of The Tower, pleaded with students and alumni to COMMENCE COMING TO COMMENCEMENT. The Committee felt that “a Commencement Week combining the dignity of academic exercises with the delight of social and of athletic events serves as a sort of epitome of University life,” and lamented that CatholicU, though “still pretty young,” had yet to sow the seeds of a “mighty tradition” like that of “the ‘Proms’ of American Universities, the ‘Commemoration’ of Oxford, [or] the ‘May Week’ of Cambridge” (see “Commencement Week,” The Tower, April 13, 1923). Hoping to rectify that and to entice more people to attend the end-of-year festivities, the Committee added a Senior Ball to the program.

1933 witnessed a “Historic Commencement” at which the sitting President of the United States, FDR, was a guest of honor. (Granted, CatholicU has an extensive history with our country’s chief executives.) According to the Catholic University Bulletin, “a new attendance record was set by the five thousand who attempted to secure admission to the University Gymnasium, [but] the audience that witnessed the affair was not to be compared with the vast radio audience of ten million people to whom the commencement exercises were brought” (July 1933, Vol. 1, No. 5, p. 1). Upon receiving his honorary Doctor of Laws, FDR offered the following unscripted remarks.

The 1962 commencement ceremony was “the first held outdoors.”

1962 marked the first time that commencement was held outdoors, against the backdrop of the recently-completed Pangborn Hall. In a Tower article hyperbolically titled From Hell to Heaven, one student celebrated the improvement in venue—ridiculing the idea of “columns of robed students receiving their diplomas here beneath the basketball nets.” Sadly for him, though, it would be a few more years before others came to feel as strongly as he did that the gym was appropriate (only) for “basketball, volleyball, crab soccer, effervescent cheerleaders, and 1-2-3-4 calisthenics.” The 1965 commencement exercises (at which then-President LBJ delivered the address!) were the last to be held in the gym. (Incidentally, two days earlier, he had also given the commencement address at Howard University.)

1966 marked the triumphant return to outdoor commencement exercises. This time, the ceremony took place in front of Mullen Library.

Graduates pictured in front of Mullen Library in 1967, the year after commencement was first held in this location. From Photo Collection, Box 61, Folder 4.

Although the University Mall has remained the traditional venue for the annual commencement exercises, in 1973 the ceremony did an about-face.

1973 marked the first time that commencement was held on the East Portico of the National Shrine. From Photo Collection, Box 61, Folder 5.
In 1977, rain drove the commencement celebrants into the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine.

Since then, except in extreme circumstances—such as those of 1977 (not to mention those of the past two years)—commencement has been held on the East Portico of the National Shrine. (In 1977, rain drove the commencement celebrants into the Great Upper Church of the National Shrine. A few days later, then-President of the University Clarence C. Walton, the first lay person to lead the University, wrote to the Assistant Director of the Shrine to thank him for “the thoughtfulness and the help [he] provided when, as escapees from rain clouds, the Shrine became our graduation home.” Walton was also sensitive to all the effort that went into setting up and breaking down the unused chairs.)

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 1895 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 lib-archives@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

New Online Exhibit on the Construction of Mullen Library

Construction of Additions to Mullen Library, 1957
Construction of rear additions to Mullen Library, 1957

The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives has created a new online exhibit on the history of the construction of the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library at CUA. Special thanks to GLP Katherine Santa Ana for her work on this project.

To view the exhibit, go to cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory.