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The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F. X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 2 | Chapter Index

Chapter 3: 1809-1810

The transfer of the students from Pigeon Hills, decided on February 8th,1809, was made after Easter on the 28th and 29th of April, that year, the names of those that came the first day being Columbkille O'Conway, John O'Connor, Taliaferro O'Connor, James Shorb (afterwards and so long " the beloved physician" of the Mountain), James Clements, John Fitzgerald, John Lilly and Jonathan Walker. Eight more came the day after. These boys were boarded at Mr. Elder's at eighty dollars a year, with five dollars extra for washing. The first intention was to continue here to bring up, in an ecclesiastical manner, the young subjects who might display any leaning for the priesthood. M. Nagot, S. S., being detained by illness in Baltimore, Father Dubois, now a Sulpician, continued in charge and began to receive new subjects from the neighborhood, among them John Hickey of Frederick, and others sent from Baltimore. The number of pupils in the following year augmented greatly; in addition to the sixteen from Pigeon Hill, before the vacation of 1809 there were from forty to fifty. The charges were at first eighty, then one hundred dollars and higher. Many pupils paid less than the advertised charges; some paid nothing; some paid in cash, some in kind; some paid by their services.

The records of the Bureau of Education, and Rees' Encyclopedia, A. D. 1809, show that Maryland at that time had, counting Georgetown, six colleges, of which three were Catholic; Tennessee, South Carolina and Pennsylvania three each; the other States fewer. What a distinction for the Catholic Colony, the Land of Sanctuary! Our college is put down as having sixty-five students (perhaps the hands, etc., were counted) and charging one hundred and twenty-five dollars a year; Harvard had one hundred and ninety and charged one hundred and twenty dollars; Yale had two hundred and ninety, charged one hundred and fifty; Princeton charged one hundred and seventy to each of its one hundred and thirty students; Dartmouth, one hundred to its one hundred and fifty.

After the transfer from Pigeon Hills, the Baltimore house proposed to pay Father Dubois an annual allowance of six hundred dollars, as it had done to M. Nagot at the Hills. There is no unquestioned record or date of this arrangement, nor have we found the date of the purchase by Father Tessier, S. S., of the Brooke farm, the cause of so much woe to the college. Subsequently to the proposed payment of this allowance of six hundred dollars, Mrs. Clotilda Phoebe Green Brooke, whose first husband was Arnold Elder, consented to give the Elder or Brooke farm to the Seminary on condition of a residence in the old homestead and an annuity. The house was a cottage situated east of the Seminary, and a lane one mile long was made to pass it from the college gate to the Frederick road. It was afterwards called La Solitude by Major Andre, professor of music, who lived there, and it stood opposite to where is now the college barn. The college was shaded by a pear tree, the seed of which Mrs. Brooke had brought from Frederick in the toe of her satin slipper, but the fruit of which was of such delicious flavor as to cause the boys to forget their sex and renew the disobedience of Eden days. The annuity was fixed at a high figure, eight hundred dollars, with privileges amounting to two hundred more. Father Dubois objected to this and wished it reduced to four hundred. However, during his absence the bargain was clinched by M. Dubourg at the higher sum. Father Duboia refused to sign the papers, but as he was only a subordinate the arrangement stood; however, as we shall see, it fell to him eventually to carry the dreadful burden of the debt.

Mrs. Brooke afterwards removed to the "Hermitage," a small cottage on the upper terrace, south of the present chapel, to enlarge which the cottage was torn down in 1895, when the college had given up charge of the parish, and the students no more climbed the hill for Mass. Thus our saintly founder was left at the very beginning crippled by debts, for he was to pay five hundred dollars of the annuity, St. Sulpice making up the other three. The yield of the farm did not cover this, and under these circumstances it became necessary to enlarge the scope of the school. Dubois was a city-bred man and, as he wrote to Bishop Carroll, Nov. 2, 1807, "didn't want to have a farm attached to the seminary, and the less concern a clergyman had for farming the better for him." He received permission to take pupils who made no profession of a desire to study for the priesthood, and for these a charge of one hundred and twenty dollars a year was made. The Seminary received constant recruits from Baltimore through his brother Sulpicians; some were able to pay the charge of one hundred dollars, others unable to pay anything, thus increasing greatly Father Dubois's responsibilities; but as the lay pupils increased also in a larger proportion, everything promised well for the infant institution. In addition to his other cares, a new claim was to be made upon the brave priest.

Mrs. Elizabeth Seton, of New York, had come to Baltimore with her young children, two boys and four girls, and a sister-in-law, being invited by M. Dubourg, S. S., to take a house (it still stands) near the Sulpician establishment and begin a school for girls. Samuel Cooper, a Virginian seaman of means, was studying for the priesthood, and offered eight thousand dollars to buy property if she would locate her new community at Emmitsburg. Father Dubourg, agreeing to this, bought the farm on which St. Joseph's is situated, the title vesting in the tenantship of Rev. William V. Dubourg, John Dubois and Samuel Cooper. Cecilia O'Conway was the first "Sister" to join Mrs. Seton, which she did in Baltimore; Maria Murphy was the second; Marianne Butler was the third; Susan Glossy the fourth. The first three were of Philadelphia, the last from New York. On the feast of St. Aloysius, June 21st, 1809, Mrs. Seton, with her sister-in-law Harriet Seton, Cecilia, her eldest daughter, who was in very delicate health, and Sister Maria Murphy, started for Emmitsburg. Here is part of her account of the journey: "Heat, dust, bad roads, streams unbridged, jolting, crowding, fatigue, and fear of freshets; partly on foot and partly in one of those huge canvas-covered, creaking wagons ("Prairie Schooners") in use among the country people of Maryland. The expense was $50. We were obliged to walk the horses all the way and walked ourselves nearly half the time (all except Cecilia); this morning four and one-half miles before breakfast. The dear patient was much amused at the procession and all the natives astonished as we went before the carriage. The dogs and pigs came out to meet us and the geese stretched their necks in mute demand to know if we were any of their sort, to which we gave assent." On the 22nd, Mother Seton and her companions came to the Mountain cot, where a few days after her two younger daughters joined her, a humble dwelling indeed, but holy and venerable in the remembrance of all who beheld it adorned with the beauty of every virtue.

The "cot" was the log house built for Father Dubois in 1805 halfway up between the college and the old church on the hill, and he and the boys now vacated it for the new comers. It is the cradle of the twin institutions, Mount St. Mary's College and St. Joseph's Academy. The ladies who occupied the two rooms were Mrs. Seton; her four daughters, Cecilia, Anna, Rebecca, and Catharine; Harriet her sister-in-law ; Maria Murphy; Eleanor and Sarah Thompson of Emmitsburg. The only non-Catholic was Harriet, who on the 22nd of July that same year left all a young woman holds dear and was received into the church. She was also the first of the band to die, falling asleep joyously December 22nd and starting with her own person the God's Acre of the Convent, although she had not joined the Order. Father Dubois became Superior of the new community, and after they took possession of their poor little farmhouse at St. Joseph's July 30th, he used to go two miles through the forest and across the creek and say Mass for them every morning at 6 o'clock. On Sundays he said a second Mass alternately at Emmitsburg and on the hill above the College. The Sisters used to attend this late service and sing the Mass, with a piano accompaniment, care for the altar, etc., Mother Seton herself coming over on Saturday to get things ready. After Mass, the Sisters and the young ladies under their charge would assemble at the Grotto on the Hill, a spot sacred in the recollections of all those who have ever visited the college. It is in a romantic part of the mountain, a little above the seminary, where nature displayed itself in all its wild and picturesque beauty. Huge rocks overgrown with moss and projecting over a ravine where a crystal stream gurgled down the hill in the midst of dense foliage and wild flowers of various hues such were the attractions that made it a favorite resort. Here, too, the hand of piety had planted the symbol of redemption, and erected the image of her who is justly styled the Help of Christians. Here would Mother Seton, before taking on the rock, known as hers, a simple repast with her little band, invoke the divine blessing by reciting the canticle of the three children, and none that heard her could ever forget the tones of that voice and the fervor of that heart, which in the midst of the wild scenery of nature called upon all creatures to bless and magnify their Creator. After Vespers they would return from the mountain to their home over Tom's creek, across which an old white horse carried them one by one. Their dinner the first Christmas Day was " smoked herrings, molasses, rye bread and coffee of roasted carrots."

Father Dubourg became Bishop of New Orleans. Samuel Cooper had been a leader in social life before entering the seminary. He was always a friend of the new community at St. Joseph's, helping them in their sore straits, and procuring a charter for their academy in January, 1817. He was pastor of Emmitsburg for nine months in 1818, and worked in various other places, but at last went to join his friend Cardinal Cheverus in Bordeaux, where he led a useful life and died in 1843. Father Dubois became, as we said, Superior of the Sisterhood, an office involving at that time the functions of confessor, director, friend, advisor and helper in every shape and form. He shared his scanty stores with them when poverty came near dispersing them. He was, as Father Brute’ used to say, "the true father of that institution from its beginning." He was their chaplain and confessor ; their rules were formed chiefly by him; he was their instructor in the spirit and institute of St. Vincent de Paul, and Bishop Carroll placed in his charge their temporal concerns. The Bishop came to see them himself on October 20th, of this year, 1809.

The log house or houses which Father Dubois had planned were not all built at once. The school, with Messrs. Smith and Monahan for assistant teachers, was conducted in the first one, containing six rooms, and this " White House," as it was called, remained standing and in use till April 11th,1901, when the last traces of it were removed. Of course it had been enlarged and modified again and again. Another log building was erected opposite, on the site of the present McCaffrey Hall, and to this a frame structure was added and subsequently at the west end, a second building of logs. In this block facing south were comprised for many years the academic halls of Mount St. Mary's College. All of these simple structures have disappeared, but the springs gush as of yore and the stream of clearest, coolest water which ran beside them from its mountain source, still ripples over the stones and its voice is as the voice of many memories.

"I come from haunts of coot and hern, I make a sudden sally, Anil sparkle out among the fern To bicker down the valley. I chatter, chatter, as I flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go. But I go on forever.'' (The stream referred to ran south of the present (1908) Music Hall, then by the old stone house now the chapel, down through the garden, now the Athletic Field, into St. Anthony's Lake. It was afterwards made to run north of the Music Hall in a ditch cut through the rock.)

From the first the boys worked with a will and with a boy's love for anything out of the routine of school-life. A clearing was made to the south by cutting away the forest trees, but for several years the stumps remained to decorate the college playground. Further south a large garden was laid out and improved and an orchard was planted. The grounds were leveled into terraces, and rocks and stones removed. Indeed the place resembled at times a labor school, when the older pupils and their teachers gathered in the harvests of the farm or were busy about the play-ground or the garden, getting them into shape. Father Dubois, however, understood how to convert all this into pastime.

Among the boys, in addition to those already named, were Felix McManus, Thomas Conner, Robert Hickey and Richard Cole. Their labors were agreeably diversified by hunts after rabbits and squirrels and reinforcing the inner boy with Peggy McIntee's doughnuts. Peggy occupied a cabin on the bank of the brook just above Plunkett's Folly, west of the Music Hall (1908), a dam built by a prefect of that name, with the assistance of seminarians and boys, and called Folly because it wouldn't hold water. This is the only "folly" found credited to the Prefect Staff in the college annals. In her old age Peggy lived in a cabin built for her by the College out in the garden.

Even had the whole mountain not been already consecrated to the Queen of Heaven, Father Dubois would have been at no loss as to the naming of his infant institute. The " Mother of fair love, of knowledge, and of holy hope," had ever been the Mistress of his affections, and to her patronage and her honor he had dedicated the humble walls. "Mount Saint Mary's!" In contemplating the beauty of the spot and its surroundings we realize the fitness of the baptism of this child of the holy founder's zeal.

"Is thy name Mary, Maiden fair? Such should, methinks, its music be; The sweetest name that mortals bear, Were best befitting thee."

In fact, Father Dubois wanted to incorporate Emmitsburg and the Mountain parish under the joint title of "Joseph and Mary."

Mr. Joseph Elder continued to be the guide, philosopher and friend of Father Dubois and his assistants, while he shared the same honors in the boyish minds with Peggy McIntee, her slave "Pomp," and an old Indian who lived on the highest portion of the Knob and who knew what good tobacco was. At the end of the fifth year the pupils numbered eighty.

Father Dubois, being now a Sulpician, would devote himself exclusively to their special work, and therefore wrote to Bishop Carroll, "How can the principal of a seminary watch over his pupils, attend their exercises, instruct them, and yet leave them whole days, sometimes whole nights in order to visit the sick, etc.? How reconcile the agitated and irregular life of the ministry with the regular exercise of the ecclesiastical education?" But this was what the pioneer had to do. Not only was he the Spiritual Father of his own and of Mother Seton's family; he was also parish priest at Emmitsburg and at the Mountain, as well as President, Procurator, Treasurer and teacher of the principal classes of the College. Afterwards, during Father Brute's absences (Father Brute, as we shall see, came later to help him), he taught the latter's theological class, as well as a Latin and one or two French classes. He attended to the details of his buildings, and superintended the farm and the general interests of the institution out of doors. While his confidence and trust in God's sweet providence was as the life of his soul, he realized the truth of the words:

"Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven. The sacred sky Gives us free scope; only doth backward pull Our slow design, when we ourselves are dull."

But being a Frenchman he was never "dull," nor idle; his faith showed itself in his works, and they praise him yet and will praise him as long as this fair mountain lifts itself out of the pleasant valley.

Father Dubois was obliged from the beginning to employ one or more salaried teachers. His best assistants were, however, soon drawn from the number of his own pupils. Among these were the Rev. Roger Smith, afterwards attached to the Cathedral in Baltimore; Rev. Nicholas Kerney of St. Patrick's, Baltimore; the Rev. Alexius Elder, of St. Mary's College, Baltimore; the Rev. John Hickey, long Superior of the Sisters of Charity and pastor of Emmitsburg; besides the Revs. George Elder and William Byrne, respectively the founders of St. Joseph's College, Bardstown, and St. Mary's College, Lebanon, Kentucky, of whom more further on will be narrated.

Dr. Clarke the biographer of the deceased bishops of the United States thus writes of this period:

"Father Dubois was peculiarly happy in his instructions to children and servants; he prepared them himself for the sacraments, and his tender and winning addresses to them when preparing them for first communion moved the tear in many an eye of the young and old. He rendered the wild, rude region which he selected for his church and college, a classic spot, a religious sanctuary, an earthly paradise."

And Dr. White in his Life of Mrs. Seton, Book 9, p. 378, "As Superior of the institution under his charge, Mr. Dubois enjoyed the highest regard and confidence." ..." In the happy results of his parental and successful administration he found a true solace and compensation under the trying and often times disheartening circumstances of his position, while he was greatly relieved in his arduous duties by the young men who were aspirants to the Sanctuary."

An alumnus "writing in the Catholic Magazine," 1846, speaks thus: "He was respected and beloved by his teachers and pupils. He was dignified without being distant; always kind and amiable, yet firm in exacting diligence and maintaining discipline. He took evident pleasure in rewarding and applauding. He always carried with him the affection and admiration of those around him." We note among the names the first year, that of Michael Egan, the nephew of the Bishop of Philadelphia, a gentle child of seven summers, the destined successor of Dubois.

Chapter Index | Chapter 4

Historical Society Note: In honor of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Grotto of Lourdes we'll be posting at least 2 new chapters every week.

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