Posts with the tag: Mullen Library

The Archivist’s Nook: The Stories Behind Three Busts at Mullen Library

If you’ve been in the campus library this semester, you may have noticed that many of the museum pieces on display were quietly christened in recent weeks.

But since a four-by-six inch exhibit label can only accommodate so much information, the following is meant to give you a glimpse of the proverbial iceberg—of which each little white rectangle is only the tip.

 

ONE: JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING

The photographs at the top and left (from about 1960) show the bust of John Lancaster Spalding in its original location. A November 17, 1935 article in The Peoria Register reports, “The bust will be placed in a niche opposite the main entrance of the Mullen library building […] Frederick V. Murphy, professor of architecture at the university and designer of the Mullen library, assisted in the plan for placing the Carrara marble bust.” The photo at right shows the location of the bust today, in the corridor near the reference room.
John Lancaster Spalding (1840-1916) was one of the masterminds behind The Catholic University of America. A strong advocate of parochial schools, he played a decisive role in securing funds for the establishment of a national Catholic university in the United States—persuading the twenty-one-year-old heiress Mary Gwendolen Caldwell (1863-1909) to pledge $300,000 to the cause.

The bust of Spalding once gleamed in the niche where the smaller, darker bust of John K. Mullen has since been installed (apparently against the wishes of Spalding’s donor). Describing his intentions for the donation, Spalding’s nephew specifically requested on July 4th, 1935 that the University “place the bust in the niche in the library, there to remain.”

The prominent placement of the bust was important to the proud people of Peoria, where Spalding was appointed first bishop in 1876. Concerned that “[m]any priests have at different times and places commented on the fact that there is no memorial to him [Spalding] to be found in any of the main buildings of the University,” Spalding’s nephew—the Rev. Martin J. Spalding (1891-1960) of Chillicothe, Illinois—pulled some strings. Waiting around for the fireworks to start, he hatched the following plan in the same July 4th letter:

I have a brother, Mr. John L. Spalding, of Chicago, who for over thirty years has been connected with the Daprato Statuary Co. of Chicago, New York, Montreal, and Pietrasanta, Italy. With him I took up the matter of the cost of a life-size bust. […] Upon his death, my Most Reverend Uncle willed to Spalding Council, Knights of Columbus, in Peoria, the bust of himself and of which I know that he approved. The bust […] would be an exact copy of the one in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Peoria and made of Bianco P. Carrara marble. […] [It] would be made in Italy from a cast taken in Peoria.

Thanks to Sister Lea Stefancova (at the Archives and Museums of the Diocese of Peoria), we’ve established that the Spalding Council bust (from which CUA’s bust was copied) was executed by the Italian-born sculptor Leopold Bracony in 1900.

P.S. The Spaldings were fond of family names. The donor’s brother (with the Daprato Statuary connection) seems to have been named after John Lancaster Spalding. Meanwhile, the donor, Martin J. Spalding, was presumably named after his uncle’s uncle: Archbishop of Baltimore Martin J. Spalding (1810-1872), who in 1834 became the first American to earn a doctorate in theology.

 

TWO: JOHN K. MULLEN OF DENVER

The white whale of my exhibit label project, the bronze likeness of the library’s namesake—John K. Mullen of Denver (1847-1929)—has proven to be a paradoxical alloy of the obvious and the obscure.

The bronze bust of John K. Mullen of Denver (1847-1929), inscribed Fisher Leys with the date 8/29/27. Inscription photo credit: Shane MacDonald.

First, a little insight into my process. As I set about drafting each exhibit label, my first stop was always our internal museum collection database. In the case of the Mullen bust, though, the data fields for the donor, maker, date of gift, and date of execution had all been left blank. My next stop was the hard file—the physical folder with paper records, shelved in the climate-controlled closed stacks of Aquinas Hall. Oftentimes, the hard file will yield details (usually in the form of newspaper clippings or correspondence) which may not have been germane to the catalog record, but which nevertheless lend perspective. Not so with Mullen. Ironically, the hard file contained only the print-out of the electronic database record (with the same four blank fields) and some photographs of the bust in its current location.

So I went back to the source. Upon closer inspection of the bust—with flashlights—my colleague and I found that the underside of Mullen’s right shoulder bears the following inscription:

Fisher Leys
8/29/27

What seemed like a breakthrough, however, petered into a dead end—or a mostly dead end. Thanks to local historian Robert Malesky, we have a new lead on the sculptor; we have reason to believe she was a woman by the name of Eleanora Fisher Leys. According to Malesky, Leys also sculpted a bronze bust of Herbert Hoover around 1928. Census records—listing her occupation as “sculptress”—indicate that Mrs. Eleanora Leys (née Fisher) was born around 1905, which means she would have only been about 22 years old when she was working on the busts of Mullen and Hoover. She died in 1995, according to the Social Security Death Index.

Although we might assume the acquisition of the bust coincided with the construction of the new library (between 1925 and 1928)—especially since the date inscribed on the bust falls within that time frame—I haven’t found any records to support that assumption. Yet.

 

THREE: DANTE

With the Dante bust, we have the exact inverse of the predicament with the John K. Mullen bust; in this case, the donor and the date of the gift are well-documented, but clues as to the maker and the date of execution are mired in a series of coincidences.

The distinctive two-tone bust of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was presented to CUA on April 14, 1931 by the Italian club then on campus, Il Circolo Italiano.

The bust of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) features two types of marble; the clothing is rendered in a greyish-greenish variegated marble, while the skin of Dante’s gaunt face is rendered in white marble.

According to the April 2, 1930 issue of CUA’s student newspaper, The Tower, the same Italian club gave away a bust of Dante the year before; that bust was presented to Director of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra Maestro Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) on March 25, 1930, during Georgetown University’s Founders Day celebration. The Tower article continues:

Following the reception, the members of the Il Circolo, through their Secretary, Mr. John Del Vecchio, presented to Signor Toscanini a beautiful Italian marble bust of Dante, executed by the prominent Florentine sculptor, Carlo Romanelli.

This coincidence has led some at CUA to speculate that our bust of Dante was also sculpted by Carlo Romanelli. Some online sources indicate that Carlo Alfred Romanelli (1872-1947) was the son of Italian sculptor Raffaello Romanelli (1856-1928); he studied with his father and with Augusto Rivalta at the Royal Academy of Art. According to the Smithsonian Institution Research Information System (SIRIS), Raffaello Romanelli sculpted the bust of Dante on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan.

Today, Il Circolo Italiano survives through its “daughter organization,” The Italian Cultural Society of Washington, D.C. (ICS). In an April 2007 issue of the ICS’s paper, Poche Parole, then-president Mr. Luigi De Luca mentions the “gift of a beautiful bust of Dante Alighieri.” He says, “Thanks to that gift, Dante keeps me company during my studies of Ancient Greek on the third floor of the John Mullen of Denver Library.”

The Archivist’s Nook: Curating the Catechism

This week’s post is guest-authored by Mikkaela Bailey is a PhD student at CUA studying medieval history with special interests in women’s history, public history, and digital humanities. You can find her on Twitter: @mikkaela_bailey

Curation is a long, detailed conversation between individuals, offices, texts, and objects, as students from Catholic University’s History and Public Life class learned this semester.

It’s easy to evaluate an exhibit and poke holes in the choices made by its organizers. It’s far more difficult than I imagined to craft an exhibit.

With most of the logistics arranged long in advance by our professor for the class History and Public Life, Dr. Maria Mazzenga, our job as a class was focused on assembling and advertising the physical exhibit itself.

The first thing we had to do was break up the objects into thematic categories so we could decide what should be included in our display. Then, we had to plan how to best demonstrate the common themes between them and also establish continuity in the display. After that, we had to craft captions and marketing materials that communicated why our visitors should care about our work and choose to come see it.

We used minimal materials to set up the exhibit. Aside from the items featured, we added captions and some text as well as stands for the books and weights to keep the books open for display.

One of the ideas about organizing the books rested on the idea that the Eucharist is a central and essential element of the catechism and one’s first Communion is an important life event. Since our audience is likely to be heavily Catholic, there is resonance with their own experiences in the exhibit here. This thematic approach connected well with the objects in the exhibit, and inspiration flowed from that idea as we assembled catechisms aimed at children and teens in the same display case. One thematic element of change over time was the implementation of more children’s catechetical education as the age for first Communion shifted from around 13 to around 7 years of age.

The caption writing process was difficult, and you can see unique touches from the students who collaborated on them. We divided them between ourselves, working in groups of two or three to write them.

But, there were still two more cases to fill and many more objects to consider. In the first case, which we actually finished last, we installed the oldest books, including a Latin catechism from 1566. These 16th and 18th century books were connected by the vernacular languages in which they were printed. Printing educational materials in the vernacular was a very important emphasis of the Tridentine Catechisms, so grouping these non-English catechisms gave emphasis to the importance of the catechism worldwide, outside our own framework, and outside the Latin-based world of the church.

The central case features several interesting pieces, but it also provides context for the cases flanking it. This is where we chose to place the bulk of our textual engagement through questions we are asking the audience and a QR code linked to the digital exhibit.

A sneak peek at the finished display cases that will be on exhibit for the next few weeks!

At the end of this process, I am so thankful for teammates who were engaged from the beginning and expressed great passion for this project. I shudder to think of undertaking something like this alone! In fact, looking at the finished product, I feel as though no idea I had for the display was totally my own and I think almost every decision made was by committee. From the marketing materials to the captions and display case arrangements, this exhibit was completely collaborative and has benefitted from open communication and easy acceptance of constructive criticism. In public history, I think all of these qualities are essential for a successful, cohesive exhibit. This experience has been the highlight of my first semester as a PhD student at CUA!

This is an “insider’s perspective” of what it was like to arrange the items in the case while my co-curators directed me from outside the case. We had a challenging time arranging many of the items and it took a lot of collaboration to put it together.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Paradox of Uniformity – Catechisms in Rare Books and Special Collections

The Rare Books Collection at The Catholic University of America contains many treasures among its 70,000 volumes, ranging from medieval documents to first editions of twentieth century authors. Among these are nearly 300 Catholic catechetical texts: written works containing summaries of the beliefs of the Catholic faith compiled as teaching tools.

“A Catechism for Pastors by Decree of the Council of Trent in 1566,” also known as “The Catechism of the Council of Trent,” or the “Tridentine Catechism,” was first published in 1566. This is Rare Books and Special Collections’ oldest catechism.

In one sense, these texts, which span from 1566 to the 1980s, are remarkably similar. The Catholic catechism has contained the same several parts for nearly 500 years: The Apostles Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, discussion of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Reconciliation, the Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, Extreme Unction), and the Lord’s Prayer. But there were slight tweaks to the catechism over time. For example, as Berard Marthaler points outs, a “medieval fascination with numbers” caused theologian Hugh St. Victor to organize doctrine into units of seven as a mnemonic device. Hence, catechetical teaching of the time featured doctrine organized into units of seven: the seven capital sins, seven petitions to in the Lord’s Prayer, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven Beatitudes, and seven virtues.[1]

“Catholic Anecdotes; or, the Catechism in Examples” (New York: 1873) by Mrs. J. Sadlier, also known as Mary Anne Sadlier. Two of the Sadlier family, Denis and James, migrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 1830s and began publishing Catholic inspirational works. Mary Anne, (also an Irish Immigrant) and James married, and Mary Anne went on to publish more than 60 works related to Catholic devotional life. This volume is comprised of various stories underscoring devotion to Catholicism, but it also contains catechetical material, and is an example of how the basic teachings were sometimes merged with supporting texts.

By the Tridentine Era, so called for the Council of Trent that took place 1545-1563, a basic formula for the catechism was issued by the Council. This was partly due to the rise of Protestantism in Europe in the sixteenth century, but also due to a desire to teach the fundamentals of the faith on a regular basis using a uniform text. The Tridentine Catechism issued by the Council of Trent in 1566 contained the basics of the modern catechism: Apostles Creed, seven sacraments, Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

 

 

 

 

 

This “Illustrated Catechism” published by the Confraternity of the Christian Doctrine in 1944 aimed at educating younger children in Catholic teaching.

The uniform content of most of the catechisms produced after 1566, however, did not mean they would all look exactly the same. Coinciding with the rise of the printing press in Europe, the catechism could be reproduced in multiple languages, and with a variety of designs.

By the twentieth century, Pius X (Pope from 1903-1914) turned his attention to improving catechetical instruction once again, and emphasized greater uniformity in such instruction, and instruction in the sacraments at younger ages. Certainly, this would be more feasible as literacy spread throughout the Christian world, and as small, portable catechisms became easier to produce. The catechisms, uniform as they are in general content, reflect the cultures and trends from which they emerged.

This image from The Visualized Catechism published by the Trinity Guild in 1947 uses a more unusual style of graphic illustration—stick people—but again, it covers the same basic material.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The catechisms can be viewed by appointment; email: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu or call 202-319-5065.

 

 

 

[1] Berard Marthaler, Catechesis: “A Semantic Evolution”? Liturgical Ministry 18 (Winter 2009), 1-10, 4.

The Archivist’s Nook: Protecting the Faithful – Knights of Malta at Catholic University

Popular image of the Knights Hospitallers as valiant warriors, courtesy of YouTube, 2019.

The Knights of Malta were among the earliest military or chivalric orders, founded as the Knights Hospitallers[1] in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for and protect pilgrims in the Christian Holy Land. After the fall of the Crusader States in 1291, the Knights were in Cyprus, then on the Isle of Rhodes, which they stubbornly defended until ejected by the Turks in 1522.  Strategically located near Sicily, the island of Malta was given in 1530 to the Knights by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. They were based there until driven out by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798.  The British expelled the French and ruled Malta until granting independence in 1964. The Knights were fragmented after the French expulsion with a complicated constitutional history. Centered in Rome in the twenty-first century they are widely recognized as a sovereign entity in international law, maintaining diplomatic relations with over 100 countries and with a permanent observer mission at the United Nations. The Order has over 13,000 members and employs over 40,000 medical personnel assisted by over 80,000 volunteers worldwide, regardless of distinction, to assist sick, homeless, and otherwise distressed persons.

Goussancourt, Mathieu de. Le martyrologe des Chevaliers de S. lean de Hiervsalem, dits de Malte. Contenant levrs eloges, armes, blasons, preuves de chevalerie,and descente genealogique de la pluspart des maisons illustres de l 1Europe. Avec la svitte des grands-maistres, cardinaux •••Et le catalogue de toutes les commanderies du mesme Ordre ••• Paris, Simeon Piget, 1654. A book devoted to fallen Knights. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Foster W. Stearns (1881-1956) was a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Amherst College, Harvard University, and Boston College. He was a librarian at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and State Librarian for Massachusetts prior to military service in World War I. Thereafter, he worked for the U.S. State Department until 1924 when he returned to librarianship at Holy Cross College, Worcester, Massachusetts. He served as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1939-1944, was also a Privy Chamberlain of Sword and Cape to Pope Pius XI, and a Knight of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. His collection, donated to Catholic University in 1955, covers over 800 years of history from the founding of the Order in Jerusalem in the 12th century, containing two hundred eighty one items described in a 1955 catalog by Rev. Oliver Kapsner, O.S.B.[2] Materials include Order statues and early papal privileges, member lists, chronologies, and histories of the Order as well as of Rhodes and Malta. As an addendum to the Stearns Collection, Catholic University added nearly one hundred additional items, such as maps and periodicals, via gift and purchase.

The Carol Saliba Family Collection was gifted to CUA in 1999 by Dr. N. Alex Saliba of Louisville, Kentucky, a retired physician born in Malta. He inherited this collection of letters and documents from his father, Carol, a longtime Commander of the St. John Ambulance Brigade of Malta (an English branch of the Order). The Saliba Collection consists of one hundred forty two manuscripts, including autograph[3] letters and documents, both originals and copies, primarily from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries. The material has a focus on the Order’s internal affairs as well as their involvement in European politics, especially the Napoleonic era when they lost Malta and were unable to elect a Grand Master. Included are Maltese stamps and coins, memorabilia of Carol’s service in the Ambulance Brigade, and a seventeenth century water color of the flag and coat of arms of the Order.

Re-engraving of the map originally published by Nicolás de Fer;  printed post 1732, when Mattaeus Seutter became imperial geographer under Emperor Charles VI. Catholic University Malta Collection.

Most of the Foster Stearns collection is cataloged and both collections were the focus of the 2015-2016 collaborative digitization project with the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Access to original Malta and Order materials at The Catholic University of America is by appointment only, please contact lib-rarebooks@cua.edu. For more on CUA Rare Books in general please see the earlier blog post by my colleague, Shane MacDonald.

[1] Officially the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (Latin: Supremus Militaris Ordo Hospitalarius Sancti Ioannis Hierosolymitani Rhodiensis et Melitensis), commonly known as the Order of Malta.

[2] Oliver L. Kapsner, O.S.B. A Catalog of the Foster Streans Collection on the Sovereign Military Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Called, of Malta. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Library, 1955.

[3] In this case, meaning original, handwritten documents.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: The Provenance and Providence of a Public Historian

This semester, we said goodbye to Dr. Timothy Meagher, University Archivist and Curator of the American Catholic History Collection at The Catholic University of America. In addition to his service as University Archivist, Meagher was Associate Professor with the Catholic University History Department, where he regularly taught Irish-American and immigration history. Though we will miss him at the Archives, we know he will be happily plugging away at his magnum opus in his “retirement”: a comprehensive history of Irish America.

Provenance is a word archivists love. It refers to the origin of a collection of archival materials, yes, but embedded in those origins is identity. For this reason, archivists use provenance as an organizing principle for their records and collections. In other words, we try to maintain and organize materials as faithfully as we can to the intention of the original creator and/or organizer of the collection, in order to preserve the integrity and identity of the collection itself.

Dr. Timothy Meagher at his desk when the University Archives was still in the Mullen Library Building. A generous grant from NCSSS Professor Dorothy Mohler enabled a move to a larger facility in Aquinas Hall, which Meagher and then Assistant Archivist W. J. Shepherd oversaw.

Meagher’s own origins are manifest in his career. Certainly, his own Irish and Catholic ancestry inspired his study of Irish America. But he also occupied a unique position as both an academic historian and a public one.  While completing his Ph.D. in history at Brown University in the early 1980s, he taught history in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. But after four years, that job ended and he found himself unemployed. “There were no historian jobs,” he says of the time. So he improvised. There was a position as Assistant Archivist at the Archdiocese of Boston Archives. “Jim O’Toole was there, a historian himself getting a Ph.D. from Boston College.” The two formed a lasting friendship, with O’Toole becoming a prominent scholar of both archival practice and American Catholicism and who in fact, has served on our archives’ advisory board since its inception in 2002. For Meagher’s part, he saw that there were potentially multiple uses for the skills of a historian.

A 2003 photo of Meagher and Dr. Yuki Yamazaki, a former history student at Catholic University and employee of the Archives, examine an artifact from our collections, a Japanese anti-Christian edict dated from 1682.
Archivist’s favorite: Meagher especially appreciates these vestments worn by Archbishop John Carroll. Ordained in 1790, Carroll was the first bishop and archbishop in the United States. The vestments date to ca. 1750-1800.

In the late 1980s, Meagher made his way from Boston to Washington, D.C., where he had years earlier graduated with his Bachelor’s in History from Georgetown University. His interest in public history was now heightened by both his work in archives and a concurrent rejuvenation in the museum field, especially in the area of exhibition and public programming. He speaks fondly of his work with the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he served as Program Officer until accepting his post at Catholic University. The NEH required those who worked in public history institutions to work directly with relevant scholars in the academy, “we had historians and museum people coming in and evaluating the quality of the exhibits we funded—there were some great conversations.”

Having spent seven years making humanities scholarship accessible to broader audiences, Meagher decided it was time to move on. He was particularly interested in the museum collection at the University Archives when he began working here in 1997. From the start, his primary mission was using the archival materials in our collections to teach history to a variety of audiences. “There was a move within the Catholic Church at that point to save material culture.” At the time, few in the field of Catholic archives knew much about preserving sacred objects, so Meagher organized the Saving Sacred Things conference in 1999 to address the matter.

In 2018, the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives received the American Catholic Historical Association’s (ACHA) Distinguished Service Award. From left, ACHA President Father Richard Gribble, Meagher, Reference Archivist Shane MacDonald, and Education Archivist Maria Mazzenga attend that year’s annual meeting to receive the award.

Drawing from his experiences working with professionals in a range of cultural institutions, Meagher expanded the Archives’ outreach and educational programming dramatically. “I was aware that there were other places doing public outreach in archives. I knew people at NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] and other places who put together educational packets using their archival materials.” So he worked with staff and teachers to put together packets related to a variety of aspects of Catholic history for Catholic high school students with materials from our archive. These formed the basis of the now fully digital American Catholic History Classroom an online education site featuring hundreds of digital documents, photos, and teaching resources. “We were trying to teach young people how historians solve historical problems. To look at source material and figure out what happened. We tried to do it with this material related specifically to Catholic life. No one else was doing it on a broad basis. A whole dimension of American life, we wanted to fill it with good history. Our collections lend themselves to understanding national Catholic history.”

Today, the Archives’ outreach and educational programming is thriving.  Thank you, Professor Meagher!

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Cataloging the Library’s History

Postcard depiction of the Mullen Library, 1920s.

“Library Too Heavy! Will Sink in 10,000 Years!” exclaimed a tongue-in-cheek Tower article from 1927, calling on all students to help relocate the library building to a more stable location. The Library the article was referring to was the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, then under construction. With its marble and limestone edifice and ability to hold one million volumes, the students were perhaps only half-joking when they stated that it may sink! For Catholic University students of the time were used to a far more humble library.

For nearly a century, Mullen Library has been a hub of campus life, so it may be hard to imagine a time when it was not a fixture on the campus. While the Library as an institution – and not just its current building – has existed since the day the University welcomed its first students, it has not always possessed such a beautiful home all to itself.

First located in the basement of Caldwell Hall (then called Divinity Hall), the Library started life humbly. But as the University expanded, so did the need of its students and faculty for books. It quickly outgrew its Caldwell offices and relocated to the ground floor of McMahon Hall in 1908. But even with this move, the Library was finding itself continuing to encounter issues with space.  By the early 1920s, the University Librarian Joseph Schneider was storing excess books in the basement of the gym. Fortunately, a new chapter in the Library’s history was about to begin.

The Caldwell Library, 1896 (L); McMahon Library, 1917 (R). Which location would you prefer to study in?

In 1921, the founder of the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company, John K. Mullen, provided a donation of $500,000 to construct a new home for the Library. A committee was organized in 1924 to select the designs for the building, with construction beginning in 1925. The building itself would open during the fall of 1928.

The construction of this new central library fit in with the fourth rector Thomas J. Shahan’s vision for Catholic University. Known as the “Builder Rector,” under Shahan’s tenure (1909-1928), the University experienced an explosion of construction, including Graduate Hall (now O’Connell), Maloney Hall, Salve Regina, the gymnasium (today’s Crough Hall), and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Murphy & Olmsted architectural rendering of Mullen Library, 1924.

Murphy & Olmsted Architects was selected to design the new library Frederick Vernon Murphy – the “Murphy” in the firm’s title – was the first professor of Catholic University’s Department of Architecture. Starting at Catholic in 1911, Murphy would become the unofficial “University Architect” in helping make Shahan’s vision a reality. He had lent his expertise to the design of all the buildings mentioned above, save the Shrine!

The new Library building would be constructed of Kentucky limestone and Massachusetts granite, with concrete work performed the prolific John J. Earley. The Library’s cornerstone was laid on April 22, 1925. The ceremony included introductory remarks by Shahan, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, and Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday. Emphasizing Shahan’s monumental vision for the campus – and the new library’s role in it – Guilday drew attention to the symbolic alignment of the library with the National Shrine, then also under construction:

“The sun going down to rest in the evening casts across the greensward of our campus a last ray of splendor that falls athwart two buildings…At one end of this golden axis is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception now being raised to the glory of the Blessed Mother of God by her loving children of the United States, and at the other, this enduring monument.”

Photo reads, “Crypt of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, D.C., Oct. 27, 1925.” The construction of Mullen Library can be seen in the distance on the right.

While originally planned with wings for the stacks, funding issues necessitated the building be opened in 1928 with only the front and central portions and the basement levels complete. The additional wings were not completed until 1958, three decades after the library first opened its doors. Interestingly, this project was part of a second wave of construction blossoming on campus, including McGivney, Pangborn, McCort-Ward, and additions to Caldwell and Curley Halls.

It is best we bookend this post with the original 1927 Tower article. While Mullen Library would not open for another year, the students were already playfully reflecting on its promise of alleviating the space and storage issues of the long-standing library facilities. While an elaborate parody piece, it showed that the students wished to see this palace to knowledge survive for 10,000 years, even if it meant they had to carry it across campus to more secure spot!

Special thanks to Katherine Santa Ana, for her research on the topic of this blog. Read more about the construction and early history of Mullen Library here: https://cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory/construction

The Archivist’s Nook: Introducing Students to Rare Books

Stacks of the Clementine Library. I would best describe its scent as warm and toasty.

Think back to the last book you read. How old was it? Were the pages brittle or waxy, thick or thin? How did the cover and pages feel in your hands? Was there a smell to the book – freshly printed or a musty odor? Did the book catch the eye with its cover, type, or images? Did it make a sound when opened – a crisp snap of a never-before-opened spine or the dull groan of well-worn binding? Was picking up this book an experience of all the senses?

While we certainly do not taste our books, there is no way to avoid having an otherwise full sensory experience when entering Rare Books and Special Collections. Contained within its stacks are 70,000 volumes, spanning 10 centuries. The collection includes a wide range of materials from medieval legal texts and early modern musical pieces to twentieth century textbooks and first edition novels. The aroma and sights immediately catch one’s attention, and the feel and sound of each book as you open it offers a reminder of its age.

This past academic year, the Archives staff has been assisting in Rare Books. In addition to answering reference questions and exploring the materials contained within its stacks, we have hosted three classes in the space. Each class came from a distinct program and reviewed different materials with varying learning goals in mind. Much as we are whenever a class comes to handle archival documents for the first time, we were excited to provide the students with their potential first experience of accessing rare books.

Tafsīr wāsiʻ ʻalá al-taʻlīm al-Masīhī (Translation of a Catechism for Confession and Communion), 1770.

In the fall, we hosted students from the School of Theology and Religious Studies as part of a “History and Theory of Catechetics” course. During their visit, the students were able to work with dozens of catechisms spanning several continents, numerous languages, and six centuries. Tapping into the collections of sixteenth-century folios and assorted Catholic theological and lay devotional publications, we were able to create an evolutionary display of catechisms from the fifteenth century to the present. Among the highlights were an Arabic catechism from 1770, a Navajo catechism from 1937, and a series of pocket catechisms from the nineteenth century. Supplementing this collection with materials from the Archives, we were able to bring the students from the Council of Trent to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

As the new semester began in the cold of January, our staff prepared to host another visiting class, this time from the School of Philosophy. Entitled “Before Printing: The Establishment and Transmission of Ancient and Medieval Texts,” the course’s professor wished to expose her students to the physicality of the manuscripts they would study over the coming months. From our medieval manuscript and incunabula collections, we provided several Thomistic philosophical and theological treatises. Through a partnership with the Semitics/ICOR Library, the class was also able to review Arabic philosophical texts. While the students would primarily continue to work with facsimiles and digital copies of manuscripts this semester, having that initial opportunity for a full sensory experience is key to both contextualizing the sources and eliciting excitement.

Lectionarium, ca. 1200 (MS 158). Some of the volumes have intricate bindings and clasps, added by much later owners. This particular binding is seen in numerous manuscripts in our collections.

My own first exposure to manuscripts was in Rare Books at Catholic University. Working with a medieval copy of Gratian’s Decretum as part of a class project helped me appreciate the beauty and wonder of these texts, and solidified my excitement for curation and historical research. I would never have guessed I would be helping provide access to these same materials years later!

Finally, our most recent academic visitors came as part of a Greek and Latin course, “Latin Paleography.” In addition to two codicology workshops held in Rare Books, the students will each work closely with a medieval manuscript in our collections to create a catalog entry. The manuscripts held by the University are thus providing valuable tools for the students to better understand the materiality and scribal norms of the medieval written word.

In addition to its strengths in Catholic history, Rare Books contains several unique collections, including a Malta collection, the Clementine Library, the Connolly Irish Collection, the Richard N. Foley Modern English Collection, its American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories Collection, and much more.

Book of Hours, ca. 1460 (MS. 136b)

Fundamentally, the collection’s value to the Catholic University community and broader scholarly world lies in its ability to provide students and scholars with opportunities to connect with the history of the written word as well as the contexts and ideas provided by each text. Plus, as the class visits illustrate, it is a wonderful source of collaboration for its sister special collections on campus!

For more information on Rare Books, see: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/rare-books/index.html

Questions may be addressed to: lib-rarebooks@cua.edu