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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 31 | Chapter Index

Chapter 32: 1838

Of all those within the College enclosure who, after the excitement of that 17th of March, sought the soothing of "Tired nature's sweet restorer, balmy sleep," there were two hearts at least that knew happiness as a blessed companion: he who, weary with the useless struggle, had resigned his task, and he who, now succeeding to it, and being called to guide the course of his Alma Mater, laid no uncertain hand upon the helm. John McCaffrey, the new President "ambitious Mac," as Cardinal McCloskey called him was no ordinary man, and won only the hearts of those who could appreciate his character and who drew him to reveal to them its gentle shades. He was stern yet tender, seemingly harsh yet devoted to the best interest of the boys. He was extremely positive and never concealed his opinion, even when he condemned President Purcell as well as President Butler, who however did not apparently try to have him retired from the College, of which, as Abp. Elder says in his funeral oration, he was even then the chief force. Says John Mitchell, '38: "McCaffrey was called 'Sleepy John.' He was very determined, and never raised his voice, but he looked it. I considered him a great man. His voice was a silvery voice, but I tell you what he said had more force than if others spoke with thunder. He was adapted to be chief of police or chief of detectives. He would have been a great military man." Glad to find a substitute in the pulpit, or to be relieved from the singing of High Mass, nothing could induce Father McCaffrey to give up his catechism class on Sunday afternoon, and, rain or shine, the hour of two o'clock p. m. saw him wending his way up the mountain-path to the church. And the children of his class loved him. His visits to the sick were marked by a gentleness and thoughtfulness which those who were regarded as less stern lacked. How often do we note these compensations in character! As an orator he was not excelled even by the silver-tongued Hughes; as a scholar he stood in the foremost rank. Yet jolly, affectionate, genial "Father Tom," his brother, carried all hearts in his wake. The following hymn, so exultant in its loving worship of the sweet patroness of the Mountain, reads like a veritable inspiration and is one of many from the pen of President John McCaffrey:

Rev. John McCaffrey

Hail to the Mistress of the skies, The Queen of Seraphs bright; Our hope in gloom, Maria rise And guide us into light'. O Star of ocean's wave!

While o'er life's sea we darkly glide, And fear and grief prevail, Illume our course, our pathway guide, And cheer us as we sail, O Star of ocean's wave!

On thee we turn our weeping eyes When round us dangers start, Then let thy radiant beams arise, And light and cheer each heart, O Star of ocean's wave!

Tien o'er life's sea we'll calmly steer, Unto the port of rest, Where thy bright beams shall ever cheer And shine upon the blest, O Star of ocean's wave!

He also arranged the words of the second chapter of St. Luke's gospel from the eighth to the fourteenth verses, in metrical shape to be set to music. It is a favorite Christmas hymn:

"There were shepherds abiding in the field " . . .

We give in this book some other specimens of his pen-work. Like Socrates, however, he taught rather by conversation than by systematic, labored, polished writing. And yet the little he has left in prose shows what he might have done in this department. He seldom displayed any sense of humor, except when amused in the company of intimate friends, and then sometimes by showing he did not know what they were laughing at.

Archbishop Eccleston retained the Rev. Mr. Butler as his private secretary for two years after the latter left the College. His wish, however, always was to be a missionary, and at the end of that time he went to Cincinnati and was made parish priest at Hamilton, Butler Co., Ohio. When the diocese of Covington was erected with Rt. Rev. George A. Carrell as bishop, he joined his old friend, received the appointment of Vicar-General and died in that office in 1869, a few weeks after the Bishop. Before leaving the College he wrote out the following memoranda of his administration:

"In order to afford to the gentlemen of the Council of Mount St. Mary's the means of forming a just estimate of the character and effects of the administration of its interests, during the four years of my presidency, it is necessary in the first place to look back with candor upon the state of the Institution when left by my predecessor. This is done without any desire to reflect upon his management or for the purpose of building up a claim for approbation of my own government, and may be best done by referring to the letters of distant friends, to the records of the official transactions of that time by the Mt. Rev. Archbp. and the Council of the house, and especially by regarding the evidence afforded by the schedule drawn up in half a day from memory and written by my predecessor. From the hasty and imperfect schedule of its debts given on that occasion in the handwriting of the then President, you will see that even by that imperfect document, drawn from memory in a few hours, without the possibility of referring to books or accounts of others against us, that a debt of $53,000 is acknowledged and that a few large omissions were immediately found which raised the amount of debt over $56,000, and from the large number of due bills bearing interest for small sums the amount should be fairly estimated at $60,000.

In comparing the state of the establishment four years ago with its present condition, it should be remembered that

1st. We have a satisfactory Charter of Incorporation in place of the dangerous and imperfect and embarrassing ones under which we were before obliged to act. 2nd. We have gained what was never before granted an ecclesiastical character for the Seminary and a permanent pledge of protection from the Archbishop. The limited time for the permission to teach Theology had been fixed at eighteen months from the end of my predecessor's official term. 3rd. The number of Seminarians has increased from seventeen to thirty. Four years ago there were but three in the class of theology in 1833 two divines in 1834 three divines. 4th. In February, 1834, there were eighty boys in the College. In June, 1834, there were one hundred and five. And ever since the number has varied from that upwards to one hundred and thirty-one. It is now one hundred and ten. 5th. The credit of the house is much better in a commercial way. 6th. Its reputation as a College better. 7th. It pays per annum less interest $400.00. 8th. It is insured for $15,000.

Then he goes on to enumerate all the improvements made about the place, one thousand volumes added to the library, the decrease of four hundred dollars a year in interest, etc. The altering of the old stone wash-house into a chapel cost eight hundred dollars; the barn (torn down in 1906) one thousand dollars, etc. So that the credit of the College had increased or its debt decreased, during the Butler administration, about seven thousand dollars notwithstanding the improvements which cost in all seventeen thousand dollars.

Many congratulated Father McCaffrey and the Mountain on his accession. The "disunion" would now be a thing of the past. Although the Baltimore House, as shown by their letter of April 18, 1838, felt the departure of the brothers McCaffrey who had taught there, still they admitted that "M. John McCaffrey was necessary to prevent the Mountain from falling to pieces," and while he was almost necessary" to themselves, they felt that in such an emergency the sacrifice should be made. "However, they could not let Thomas go just then, and in fact considered it almost offensive to ask them." Thomas came back to the Mountain, however, this same month.

Brute’ wrote a holy and delightful letter, April 20,1838, rejoicing with Father McCaffrey and the latter's father on his ordination. "'Altaria tua, Domine virtutum!' Ah! the beautiful hymns you made for First Communion, and tears ran from every eye!" He goes on to speak of the Mountaineers in New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans, St. Louis and Mobile, and of the sisters who had come to Vincennes from Emmitsburg.

Ex-President Butler still held the Virginia property in fee simple and individually, and wrote from Baltimore May 2, 1838, proposing to transfer title. He asked for catalogues to distribute. "You must ever feel assured of my cordial good will personally and of my lasting and unchanging zeal for the Mountain. Please send my alarm-clock. The habits of the city folks are rather late and the neighborhood of the Cathedral very quiet until seven or eight o'clock, so that I need it."

Brute’ wrote again, May 27, 1838, in most enthusiastic and inspiriting style: "Your load of debts the same nearly! Well, it might have been increased. But you could drag it along twenty or thirty years without any more breaking than the Bank of England or Biddle (a Baltimore banker). Our stock is better than theirs, even on earth. The Mountain forever! Drunk standing and nine cheers in a full glass of

'That purest of best, and best of pure waters.'

We have good water also, and use it, and having no such high visitors to receive, we want no sideboard, no decanters, no purple or yellow thing in them."

Abp. Eccleston, writing June 15, 1838, announcing his coming for the Commencement, is "most grateful to Heaven for the blessings it lavishes upon your invaluable establishment."

During the vacation Messrs. Edward O'Neill and Francis Coyle left for Lefargeville, N. Y. (about three hundred miles from the metropolis), where Bishop Dubois had established a new seminary, under the priests of the Mission, and John McCloskey, future President, became First Prefect at the Mountain.

Brute' wrote again, August 15, 1838, requesting that his library, which he had, on request, allowed to remain for a few years at the Mountain, should now be sent to Vincennes, "his holy spouse her dower." He speaks of "Michigan City, four years ago only a few houses and now growing so fast. Our Catholic Indians so good and obliged to go west of the Mississippi." Then the holy man goes on to say that the College might take certain of his books in payment for the clerics trained there for Vincennes, as he is "very short of money," and goes on to show that he might be considered to have some claim on the Mountain. During my twenty years and more there I had neither salary nor pocket-money."I procured from Charles X of France six hundred dollars, and then four hundred through M. de Lamennais and others. I gave the students, I can say, more than a thousand or twelve hundred theologies, &c. I always paid my own traveling expenses, freight of books, &c. The loan of my library for these last four years ought to pay what I owe for those students." [These gifts from the French king may or may not be those referred to by Mrs. Sumter. See Chap, xxviii.]

President McCaffrey was dangerously ill during the fall of 1838, and Brute' writes, Oct. 13, expressing joy at learning of his recovery. He goes on to regret that "not on the Mountain is my grave marked; not those paths around mine; not M. Gegan's nor M. Andre's land; not Dr. Shorb at the last pulse; not the shake of neighboring bones, Duhamel, Lynch, &c., &c. However, what matters 'dummodo consummem cursum meum'? M. Plunkett has set out for the Illinois Canal, Joliet, &c., 250 miles, where the laborers are dying of malignant fever and the other priest could not attend them all; nineteen died in three days. I was exceedingly prostrated myself when I returned from Bardstown, a tour of more than nine hundred miles, as I had gone the whole northern round."

On November 29 he writes that he had sent M. Hailandiere to France for more priests and M. Vabret to New Orleans on account of his lungs. He himself had a relapse. There was great difficulty in distinguishing Brute's books, more than half of which had not his name, and the anxiety for them troubled him somewhat.

It seems that Father McCaffrey wanted him to pay cash for the Vincennes students, three in number, who had been for less than a year at the Mountain, and who were to be paid for in books and service at the sisters, etc., and the Bishop finally writes, Dec. 12, 1838: "Simply send me the bill." At the same time, besides what he had already told of his claim, he recalls other sums of money paid by himself: one hundred and fifty dollars to Baltimore for the first students sent thither from the Mountain; six hundred paid directly to St. Sulpice for those who went to France directly from the Mountain, and who did such valiant service for their alma mater, besides the expenses of their journey which he collected from friends; "my journey to France for the Mountain in 1824 I paid myself; I gave Dubois seventeen hundred dollars, reserving the right to take back three hundred if I left the College, or it was broken up, but I never asked for the money and left it to the College, and accepted only the clothing, like the other missionaries, whom we always clothed on their departure. "Tis true we gave Dubois two hundred dollars besides his clothes. I served twenty years and more without any salary; drank water and walked, having ability, to spare stage-fare; never made Niagara or other travel, though I have often wished to visit Montreal's old library and archives. We had sent above sixty seventy, more priests, I think to the different dioceses, most of them educated without any money of the bishops. Now I have rejoiced such long years in its admirable services for all our dioceses, and shall I not to my death rejoice the same, glad even that, able to pay my bill, I shall have cast this last mite in its ever needy, poor treasury ; for needy I found it, needy I left it, and though not my fault, I cannot find it ill that my children (so do I say, humbly, and may I be allowed especially from 1826 to 1834) rely on my answering, as I did the claims of a full pay in cash 'non enim thesaurizant filii parentibus, sed parentes filiis' only do I the more claim their kind prayers my health nearly as bad this December as the last."

Books were very much prized in those days evidently, and there is always much objection to removing them from a library once they are placed on its shelves. We quote from Brute 's letters however merely to reveal the fact of his heroic self-sacrifice and glorious life in connection with the College. The reader will recall 2nd Corinthians, XI.

Because the Mother deserves recognition for the deeds of her children, we transfer to this history a brief record of the labors of another typical Mountaineer, George Elder who died Sept. 28th, 1838.


"The Rev. George A. M. Elder was born in Washington now Marion county, Kentucky, in the year 1793. His parents enjoyed a moderate competence and were full of zeal for the Catholic faith. His mother was a convert. They spared no pains to make a good impression on the tender minds of their children, and to rear them in the knowledge and practice of Christian virtue. The young George gave early evidences of piety, and of that amiable disposition which characterized him throughout life. He manifested, from his most tender childhood, an ardent thirst for learning, and gave indication of a wish to study for the Church a wish his parents did everything in their power to foster by giving him every opportunity to cultivate his mind in the few schools with which Kentucky was 25 blessed at that early day. At the age of about eighteen, he was sent to the flourishing College of Emmitsburg, Maryland, June 3, 1811, and remained there for several years, prosecuting his classical studies in order to qualify himself for entering on the study of theology. There, too, he became acquainted with Father William Byrne, with whom he formed that intimate Christian friendship which continued throughout life, and which even death could not sever. The regulation at that time required that students should go for divinity studies to the theological seminary of St. Mary's Baltimore conducted by the Sulpicians, and in this institution, he completed with credit his theological course; then returning to Kentucky, where he was soon after rejoined by his friend who had been there also his associate. As we have already seen, both were raised to the priesthood by Bishop David in the new cathedral of St. Joseph's, on the same day, the 18th of September, 1819. Soon after his ordination, the subject of our notice entered upon the active duties of the holy ministry in the congregation attached to the Cathedral of St. Joseph's, where he labored with great zeal and efficiency for several years. The Diocesan seminary had already been removed to Bardstown; and like other clergymen living in this town, the Rev. Mr. Elder resided at the seminary recently erected, and ate at the same table with the seminarians and the two Rt. Rev. Bishops.

"The people of Bardstown had long expressed a wish to have a school established there for the education of their children. The good Bishop Flaget now resolved to comply with this wish; and selected Mr. Elder to be the founder and first President of the infant establishment. As no buildings had as yet been erected for the purpose, the school, composed at first entirely of day-scholars, was opened in the basement story of the theological seminary. The seminarians assisted the Rev. President in the duties of the school, which was numerously attended, and thus, about the year 1820, were laid the humble foundations of St. Joseph's College. Its cradle was the cellar of the seminary. The number of scholars daily increasing, the President determined with the approval of the Bishop, to undertake the erection of a separate building for the College; so the south wing of St. Joseph's College was soon put up, and paid for chiefly from the proceeds of the day school. Boarders were now received and the institution was soon filled to overflowing; its success surpassing the most sanguine expectations of its projectors. The number of boarders was soon afterwards (in May, 1825) greatly increased, by fifty-four young men brought up to it from the South by the Rev. M. Martial, a special friend of Bishop Flaget. This was the commencement of that southern patronage, which was destined to render the institution so flourishing in after days; and also, on the subsequent heavy pecuniary derangement of the south, to bring upon it, as upon his Alma Mater, so great an amount of pecuniary embarrassment and responsibility. The increasing patronage of the College soon rendered necessary the erection of new buildings for the accommodation of the students. The north wing, and subsequently the front, or main college edifice, were rapidly put up. The President spared no labor to promote the welfare and prosperity of the institution, which was soon incorporated by the Legislature of Kentucky, and becoming one of the most flourishing colleges of the west, educated many youths of the most distinguished families in the Western and Southern States. The accomplished manners and amiable character of the Rev. Mr. Elder, gave him a peculiar facility for the management of youth. He secured the esteem and won the hearts of all under his charge. The esteem, love, and confidence of both parents and children did much to enlarge the patronage, and to secure the permanent prosperity of the institution. The chief and, perhaps, the only fault he had, as President, was on the amiable side a too great mildness and indulgence in enforcing discipline, for being of Maryland stock, Fatti Maschi, Parole Femmine was still his motto. The Rev. Mr. Elder continued his labors in connection with St. Joseph's College for nearly the whole of the last twenty years of his life. For only two or three years was this occupation changed for the active duties of the mission in Scott county and throughout the central portion of Kentucky. On his retirement from the College the office of President was discharged with great vigor and success by the Rev. I. A. Reynolds, the present distinguished Bishop of Charleston. Upon the resignation of the presidency by the Rev. Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Elder was induced again to accept the office, which he continued to hold till his death. His health was, however, already beginning to decline under the weight of his heavy and long-continued labors, and received an additional shock from the exposure and fatigue which accompanied and followed the disastrous burning of the main college building on the 25th of January, 1837. He never recovered from this blow, which not only went to his heart, but also greatly impaired his already feeble constitution. For many years he had been subject to a violent palpitation of the heart, a disease which had been probably caused by over-exertion while a student at Emmitsburg. Each year it exhibited symptoms more and more alarming, and at length, in combination with fever, it caused his death on the 28th day of September, 1838 the forty-fifth year of his age and the twentieth of his priesthood."Note the enemy fire which attacked the Mountain, Nyack, N. Y., St. Mary's and Bardstown, Kentucky.

It will have been remarked how, on the 19th of March, 1838, Father John McCaffrey signed himself "S. S." There is no further allusion or explanation to his presumed membership of the Society of St. Sulpice.

Dr. McCaffrey and his contemporaries used to tell of the celebration at St. Mary's Seminary of the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, November 21, when the Archbishop first renewed his sacerdotal vows before the Blessed Sacrament and then received those of every member of the community, from the oldest to the youngest. A Solemn High Mass opened the sublime function, a sermon on the Priest hood being preached thereat, and the consecration followed, in which the words used were those first uttered by the candidate for Tonsure: "Dominus pars haereditatis meae et calicis mei: Tu es qui restitues haereditatem meam mihi." We do not read of this ceremony's being used at the Mountain, but priests from the latter occasionally accepted the courteous invitation of the gentlemen of St. Sulpice and took part therein, and do so to the present day.

Chapter 33 | Chapter Index

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