This semester one of my small projects, and by small I mean Mr. Nelson small project, which of course means very large and involved, is the house newspaper. Believe it or not I am back in the newspaper business and this time as editor. Thanks to the help of some awesome seminarians I was able to create a 16 page newspaper that is set for print on Friday. (not bad for a house with 65 guys)
Over 1/3 of the house contributed articles on everything from Lent, to a humorous gossip column, Dear Abby style section and my very own column on History. I hope you enjoy it.
Dust on the Bookshelf
by: Andrew Nelson
*** When I first got the idea to write this column, I was not sure what direction to take. I considered writing a history column about the Church in Baltimore and the United States. However, the more I began to think about it, the more I realized that we are part of something special here, something no other seminary can lay claim to. We, as the men of Saint Mary’s, are students of the oldest Catholic Seminary in the United States. We are part of a long and proud tradition that has defined the Church in the United States.
On my first official day as a seminarian, I remember being shown the library as part of the tour. My astute guide happily pointed to another building from the preaching lab window and noted that there are the “archives.” Since that day, I have been curious as to what might be in those archives. What treasures of St. Mary’s’ history might it hold? So, infused with energy and a good bit of curiosity, I presented myself to Susie in the library (who, I might add, has to be one of the nicest people in the world) and requested to visit the archives for “research.” In reality I just wanted to go exploring. The next thing I knew, Susie handed me a telephone, and a mysterious woman picked up the other end.
“Hello, Archives” she said. “How can I help you?” I froze. What now, I thought. “I would like to visit the archives.” Enthusiastically, the woman on the other end scheduled me for an appointment the next day. Just at the moment I thought I was out of the woods, she asked me what materials I would need. I froze yet again. What materials? I was not sure what to say; I wanted to see everything. Suddenly, before my eyes, my entire plan of snooping around the archives was falling apart. She had figured me out. Then, as if struck by lightning, I blurted out “the Lincoln assassination documents, of course.” She replied, “Okay, we will have them ready for you.”
The next morning after breakfast as the hour of my appointment began to approach, I realized I had no idea how to get to the Archives. I went outside and knocked on some doors of the Archives building, but there was no reply. I walked around the entire wing and found no way in. I was beginning to believe it was part of some conspiracy that Dan Brown was sure to write about. So, I made my way back to the library and presented myself to Susie. I knew if one of the nicest people in the world could not help me, no one could. She quickly explained to me that you can’t go to the archives on your own; they come for you. Suddenly my adventure was getting intriguing. As I patiently waited for the archivist to meet me in the entry of the library, I had visions of an elderly man taking me down winding staircases to a dusty basement, by candlelight, of course. Next thing I know, a young archivist was leading me to a special elevator. We got in, and she waved a CIA style I.D. card by a special reader and the suddenly the next thing I knew the elevator was moving to another level. My heart began to pound as the bell rang, and the doors opened wide. Then, before my eyes, I entered a huge room with two desks in it. On my right was a giant counter which was separating me from row upon row of stacks.
I was quietly ushered to a table where the Rector’s journal from the 1860’s waited. A careful journalist would have noticed his name, a giddy history buff instead just dove in. I quickly turned to Holy Week 1865 to discover the chilling words of the spiritual leader of St. Mary’s on the day of President Lincoln’s assassination.
“All the nation has been startled this morning by the appalling intelligence of the assassination of President Lincoln. This foul crime, which will inspire with horror every man's heart, is the greatest calamity which might befall this country. … Oui allons -(which translated, means (what next?/where do we go from here?)”
I cannot begin to imagine the fear, uncertainty and sadness that must have befallen the country that day. Upon reading further I discovered that the Seminary tolled the bells from 3:00-5:00PM that night and observed a special period of prayer. The journal indicates that the President was remembered in evening prayer. What is amazing is that the journal still indicates that little changed for the seminarian. I could not help but wonder how a seminarian’s journal might have compared. It was clear the rector was receiving a great deal of information, but one could not help but wonder how much beyond the simple facts the seminarians themselves would have known.
The President’s state funeral was held on April 19th. St. Mary’s seminarians spent that time in prayer in the chapel, wearing cassock and surplice. The bells again tolled, this time from 1:00-3:00PM, an ironically appropriate hour. On the 21st, the funeral procession made its way to Baltimore where it was welcomed by tens of thousands of Maryland residents. In fact the crowds along the funeral train route were so great that the authorities did not know what to do. People waited hours, even days, to get a glimpse and to pay their respects.
The entire seminary community attended the funeral procession when it arrived in the city. They departed St. Mary’s at 7:30AM for the Cathedral, where they waited for the procession to pass by. Several senior members of the St. Mary’s community took part in the procession itself, which lasted until a little before 2:00PM. The rector’s notes indicated that after arriving back at 2:30PM, seminarians had dinner and recreation until 5:00PM followed by an evening free of classes.
After reading through the journal, I was amazed at just how different life was back then, yet how much it was still the same. All I could hear in the back of my head was the voice of Mike Farrow saying “Gentlemen, all we have is time.” Indeed, I wondered just how true that was as I briskly thumbed, through hundreds of pages of the rector’s journal which covered decades, all the while realizing that I was covering a seminarians entire formation period with a few deft slights of the hand. I could not help but wonder how many fascinating stories, exciting tales and seminarians’ lives were at my finger tips. Before I knew it, my time was up. I gently closed the book and was escorted to the secret elevator and back to the pages of another time, another rector’s journal which likely noted Monday, February 23rd 8:00AM Sulpician Meditation, 11:30AM Mass, 5:15PM Evening prayer, warm weather… just another day in history.