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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 54  | Chapter Index

Chapter 55: 1870-1872

On Commencement Day, 1870, the roll counted one hundred and twenty-two boys and twenty-eight seminarians. There were four graduates among them, two who afterwards reached distinction in the faculty, Michael Haves and John O'Brien. Reginald Jenkins took the honors of the graduating class and the valedictory. The other honor men were Henry Churchill Semple, Thomas J. McTighe, John B. Head, James McCullough, Joseph G. Stewart, Robert H. Huguet.

Charles Brute’ de Remur, Vicaire of Dol de Bretagne in the Department of He et Vilaine, wrote this year to Dr. McCaffrey, asking for details of the life of his grand-uncle, our Father Brute. Charles tells how his cousin, a Benedictine named Jaussions, had come to this country, and visited this place as well as Vincennes, and collected material, but " had died when about returning to France. All his notes were destroyed in a fire at Vincennes."In reference to this, Father Oster, pastor of Vincennes, wrote December 5, 1907, that he had ransacked the house and found absolutely no trace of any papers of this monk, but that the alleged fire never occurred. He quotes Prof. Edwards, of Notre Dame, however, as saying that Bishop de St. Palais had at one time burnt a lot of papers as rubbish, and that the professor had carried to Notre Dame "some papers regarding Brute." The nature of the burnt papers "remains a mystery."

On July 8, 1870, the President was authorized to take six months' recreation, and a thousand dollars was given to help him do so.

On September 12th, Rev. John A. Watterson, a future president, was offered the chair of Elementary Moral Theology. He had been ordained in '67.

August 8, 1870, Father John Shanahan died in New York, the first missionary priest to go forth, in 1823, from the Mountain. He labored at Utica, and was there when the flotilla bearing Governor Clinton passed on the newly-opened Erie Canal, which was illuminated by blazing tar-barrels. They had left Buffalo on Wednesday morning and arrived in Utica Sunday noon. They carried water from Lake Erie and spilt it into the Atlantic at Sandy Hook. Father Shanahan naturally contracted the habit of traveling, and worked toward the last in California, but became blind and died in New York.

At the Commencement, June 28, 1871, the roll showed one hundred and twenty-nine boys and twenty-nine seminarians. Seven were graduated, and the honors of the collegiate classes were given to Henry C. Semple, Thomas J. McTighe, John B. Head, Jerome B. McTighe, Francis C. McGirr, Owen O'Brien, and W. L. Lemonnier. Charles J. Reddy was the valedictorian.

In the Old Church on the Hill hung an ancient crucifix (now in the chapel) given to Dr. McCaffrey about 1840 at Warrenton, Va., where he had preached a dedicatory sermon. Over the head of this figure the light of the setting sun entered and produced a deep effect on pious worshipers, who realized the truth of the overarching inscription: "Lord, I have loved the beauty of Thy house and the place where Thy glory dwelleth."

The Catoctin Clarion, July 9, 1871, has a legend to the following effect: "It is whispered among the boys at Mount St. Mark's that once a poor, weary stranger had been seen for some days wandering about the College and the Convent, those homes of learning and piety where the turbulent spirits of boyhood in the one are led heavenward under the invocation of the Virgin's name, and the giddy imaginings of girlhood in the other are guided into peaceful paths under the patronage of St. Joseph.

Right Rev. Richard Gilmour, D.D. Bishop of Cleveland

"The stranger had also been seen straying through the long grass of the Mountain graveyard as if in search of some treasure buried beneath its waves of green ; again he had been watched along the path leading to the Virgin's Grotto, a shrine up the mountain side, where a statue of her who is called Refuge of Sinners stood with hands outstretched to welcome weary souls. There he lay prostrate for hours while the eddying winds swept heaps of October leaves over his motionless form as if to hide him from the sight of men.

"He zealously shunned all intercourse with the people of the village or the students, and avoided all opportunities of being addressed by the pitying priests who marked his haggard mien and wretched garb.

"One morning as a procession of boys wound slowly up to the Mountain Church, carrying on their breasts the symbols which betokened the high privilege they were soon to enjoy of being admitted to the Table of the Lord, the poor stranger was seen to follow, as though intent upon entering the sacred edifice; but, drawing back irresolutely as the bays passed in, he fled up the path towards the lonely Grotto.

"Perhaps many an earnest prayer was lifted for him that day, perhaps he was remembered in the Memento far the Living when the minister of God's mercy stood before His altar of sacrifice and love. But the story runs that in the afternoon of that bright day, just as the sun was setting, he was seen moving toward the doorway of the Church. At last he crossed the threshold and hurried with a strange, wild look towards the silent altar. The sanctuary lamp burnt steadily though dim, and the old Spanish crucifix enfolded in the growing gloom showed the dead Christ white and real-like. A look of almost defiant pleasure stole across the stranger's face, while a scornful smile gathered around his lips as he gazed at the helpless figure whose wounds, to him, were dropping with unavailing blood. Suddenly, above the bowed head of the crucified, a fierce glow spread its crimson stain upon the white ceiling of the wall. He raised his hands appealingly, but the liquid luster smote the trembling palms. He dropped his arms, but the crimson stream poured full upon his breast. He started to his feet, but his whole frame seemed flooded in a tide of blood. With a fearful shriek he sprang from the denouncing vision, rushed frantically along the silent nave and fell at last before a priest whose pitying heart had led him after the conscience-stricken sinner in the church. Here at the feet of one who has the power to bind and loose, the stranger told his fearful tale of suffering and sin, and offered up his life as atonement for the one that he had taken.

"The tradition of the College then relates how he went out of the church as the sun disappeared behind the mountain and slowly went his way towards the Grotto. The rising moon found him prostrate on the dead leaves at the statue's feet, but as the eastern sun flung its beam over the lovely shrine, the haggard face looked up towards the sky, while a roseate tender glow flooded all nature with its gleam, lighted up, as with a halo, his raised appealing hands, and then in a mist of golden light the stranger passed down the mountain side into the peaceful valley, to return no more.

"But when a few months later the College fathers bade the students remember in their prayers a poor criminal who having voluntarily given himself up to justice, and thereby restored liberty and life to one accused wrongfully of his own dark sin, was to suffer the death penalty that day at set of sun in one of the distant cities of the state, the ever sympathetic hearts of boyhood recalled the wayward stranger. But most vivid was the recollection and most earnest were the supplications there in the lonely Grotto all shrouded with the dead October leaves, where the sweet face of her who is called the Help of Christians seemed to look with pity on her clients, and in the Church before the Crucifix, above whose head still lay the crimson cloud, but in the center of which there palpitated a softer flush which touched all beholders as tho' a trembling heart was there appealing for God's mercy and men's prayers.

"Thus ends the American legend, beautiful with the memory of October leaves, and touching in its recollections of the grand old Mountain Church. How eloquently and how solemnly that light over the altar spoke to the young worshipers of God's mercy to poor repentant sinners; and how their elders realized with grateful hearts how small sometimes are the means He deigns to use to bring the prodigal son once more to His loving arms!"

Prof. Beleke after teaching at the Mountain for twenty-five years had established in Chicago a costly and flourishing College. With its outbuildings, library, etc., it was destroyed in the great fire this year.

Dr. McCaffrey being absent from the College in Jane, Father John McCloskey, the Vice-President, writes him Jane 15,1872:

"Rev. and dear Friend: Between the great Mechanicstown (Thurmont) Fair and the examination which followed immediately, I have been kept so busy that I could not write.

"The Fair was a complete success, but another day would have used me up. Just imagine Anthony McBride, whom I drafted into the service, and myself reaching the College between 2 and 3 o'c. in the morning during the whole week! [This fair was probably to pay for the Church there. An oil portrait of Father John was raffled at this Cur; it was taken to Ohio and found its way back to the Collegein 1907.]

"The examinations are pretty well ahead ; but the preparations for the grand finale are beginning to stare us in the face and make us anxious about our position. Wfll you be with us? We all hope you will: but should the state of your health make it doubtful, let us know; and if I am to try to fill your place on the 26th, I would like you to give me an idea of what I am to say about your absence we still cherish the hope that you will be with us on that day. . ."

The facts are that on April 26, 1872, Dr. McCaffrey, on account of failing health, had resigned the office he had held since March 17, 1838, but this resignation was not to be announced till commencement. It was resolved that the resignation be accepted, but that he was to be considered a member of the Council and of the house; his room to be kept for him always, and this to be still his home. His usual salary of a thousand dollars was continued and the grant previously made of a thousand dollars was confirmed, and the "Council hopes that he will not hesitate to draw for this or a further amount as occasion may require."

On June 3, Rev. W. J. Hill entered the Faculty as Professor of Mathematics, and on Nov. 22, Rev. John McCloskey was elected President, Treasurer and Prefect of Studies; Father McMurdie, Vice-president and Father Watterson, Secretary.

At the Commencement in June '72 there were six graduates, out of one hundred forty boys and thirty-two seminarians. The valedictorian was Thomas M. Compton, and the honors went to Thomas J. McTighe, John B. Head, Francis C. McGirr, Isaac H. Stauffer, John J. Negrotto, Thomas F. Reilly, Elton G. Zimmermann.

Dr. McCaffrey now became "President Emeritus, "and Father John, a resident of the College from 1830, when he entered it a boy of thirteen, and it’s a Vice-President and Treasurer since 1840, now was in a position to carry out his ideas, and, the historian says," speedily infused a new life and spirit into the institution," enforcing also attention to dress, carriage and general deportment.

Our readers will be pleased with some reminiscences of a grad. of '72, himself one of the most loving and lovable as well as brilliant of the sons of Alma Mater. We select some paragraphs from a letter to the Mountaineer.

"It really seems but a little while, however, since I first dropped into college life, making a disgraceful entree by falling out of the rickety old contrivance then known as the Gettysburg stage, after a bitterly cold ride of thirteen miles over that never-to-be-forgotten trail, in March, 1868.

"The first evening we went into supper to indulge in that indescribable concoction of old Hyson then fashionable with the cook. I can smell it yet. After grace, Fenian received the customary manual applause. I could not make it out, and asked him (he had my ' loaf) what it was all about. He said, "About you, of course; why won't you get up and make your bow?" I did so at once, and the uproar can be imagined but not described. My coach laughed over my discomfiture till the tears rolled down his cheeks. . . .

"I will briefly sketch the College as it was then and for some years after, in order that readers of the Mountaineer, who are of a complaining temper, may have some food for thought.

"The buildings were about as they are now in the general make-up. The poor old log 'White House' on the front terrace was occupied, in the basement by the ‘gunjer shop.' shoe shop and carpenter shop; on the first floor, by the college office and stationery department and one of the priests; on the second floor, by several professors and the vice-president; and on the top floor, by a battalion of College supernumeraries, among them, I believe, Lee Spalding. A billiard-room was an abomination not to be thought of. The reading-room was only half its present length, the front half being the 'jug room.' The present box-rooms underneath were the ' big' and ' little' play rooms, and were kept clear of all such impedimenta as are to be found there now. In those days the recipient of a box from home either disposed of it at once with the help of his friends, or had to mount guard over it, and even then a 'flying wedge' would be put in motion to his undoing and the annihilation of his box.

Rev. John McCloskey D.D. Eighth and Tenth President

"The bowling-alley was back of the study hall, and, while by no means in a state of innocuous desuetude, was hardly to be considered a prize-winner for elegance. I understood it had been constructed about twelve years before by a carpenter who was afflicted with strabismus and used a home made level, laying the boards flat wise. The balls were of a misfit and the pins a disreputable and disorderly set. It required genuine skill to make good scores on that alley, but very handsome totals were made daily, and the alley was in good demand on cold days. . . .

"The winters were very cold, the mercury frequently going many degrees below zero, and snow lying for many weeks without a thaw. The study hall had one large stove, and the class-room passage one small stove situated in its middle. Each play-room had one old-fashioned egg-stove. The dormitory was bleak and cold, no carpet nor rugs, no stove of any kind, and two oil lamps. Cold as language can be, it is not chilly enough to describe the hardships we endured in those essentials of education the study hall, class-room and dormitory. Most of the boys had the old-time men's-shawls, which they wore in study and class, and at night folded several times and laid over the bed-clothes. I can truthfully say to the boys now at the dear old place, that they have a soft snap in respect to comforts and privileges, compared to the hardships of those days.

"The gymnasium was a roomy affair, composed of a few instruments of torture out in the open air on the front terrace, roofed over in later years. A flying horse, trapeze, two pairs of rings, a pair of shoulder poles, two ladders, a pair of parallel-bars, and a few unmatched dumb-bells constituted the outfit. I designed a few additions which, after much persistence, were ordered and finally constructed. The old open-air gymnasium was the source of a vast amount of jolly fun. All sorts of matches were made and decided sometimes on their merits, but not unfrequently by a test of capacity for the production of gore, with a warm handshake for the windup.

"I shall never forget an exploit of my own on the tan-bark. One vacation I witnessed a gymnastic exhibition; and when I saw a double somersault thrown from a trapeze, I determined I would learn the trick when I got back to the Mountain. Day after day I went to the Gymnasium ; day after day I would work up a tremendous swing on the trapeze, and day after day I quit because I positively could not let go of the bar when I got up to the dizzy level necessary for the double turn. Thus all September passed.

"Finally in October a fresh lot of bark was spread, and I took courage and foolishly made public my intention to do or die the following Sunday, before dinner. The day and the hour came around; I was on the spot and so were thirty or forty of the boys. I swung up and up to almost a level and stopped again to think, to the disgust of the whole crowd. I must do it somehow, but how? It is one of those tricks one cannot learn by degrees, for there is no comfortable spot to alight on between one complete turn and two. Well, up I went again. The boys began an exasperating sort of rhythmic groaning, keeping time to the swings of the trapeze. At last with a tremendous wriggle I let go. I have never been quite sure whether I turned eleven or thirteen times before hitting. My chum assured me I turned exactly one and thirty-nine one-hundredths time, and therein lay disaster. My nose ploughed up the tan-bark in realistic fashion, and I was earned to the fountain to cool off, and thence to the infirmary. That was about twenty years ago, and to this day I hare not mastered the double turn. One real earnest trial was enough.

"As to privileges in those days, they were unknown. The use of tobacco was positively prohibited. The whole corps of prefects and teachers seemed to resolve itself into a detective bureau. It was bad policy, I think, but there h was; and not a day passed but some one was punished. A hundred lines of Virgil to memorize by Thursday was a terrible burden to a boy booked for a ball match that day, for unless he could recite correctly he had to remain in 'jug' all day. A thousand lines of ancient history to write was a very common penalty. And these rules were for all alike, not being relaxed for even the grown men attending the College. Still greater disaster often befell, for tobacco was contraband, and its discovery in whatever form was immediately followed by confiscation.

"The lower terrace was 'out of bounds;' so was the back upper terrace. Raids were constantly being attempted. Deficiency appropriations would be made by a party of boys, one selected as raider, and for weeks would he watch for the opportunity to slip down to Mrs. Burke's, and then, harder yet, to steer his cargo into haven without being wrecked and looted. Scylla and Charybdis would have no terrors for our raiders of those days.

"Besides bowling and hand-ball, our games were baseball and 'shinny,' according to season. All practice games of ball were on the terrace, and in fact most match games. There was little inducement to go to the field. For two years we had an open space at a distance straight out from the College of more than a mile. Later we had a fallow field a furlong nearer, but not fit to play in. We had no real encouragement from the Faculty of the College.

"All sports were looked upon as obstacles to learning, and were in consequence frowned upon. They were not openly condemned, it is true, but there was no approval, no incitement to excellence; and yet I often think that because of that very fact and the perversity of human nature, more enthusiasm existed among the players than would have been the case under a liberal and fostering regime. And that very enthusiasm, with the incessant practice it engendered, gave us many fine ball players.

"The first year a costume was permitted we were a sight. Knee breeches would not be tolerated, and we had to appear the day after ' Exi' in Baltimore in a clumsy country-bumpkin rig of long trousers. The contrast with our opponents' neat suits was mortifying, and we were unmercifully guyed.

"Occasionally a fad would spring up for some special amusement, live a few weeks of feverish existence and then die out. 'Marbles' was one of these. Sometimes the center ring for marble stakes, and again, ' holes' for bare knuckle stakes. On a cold day, in a six or eight-handed game, the unfortunate loser had a hard time of it. One year marble playing took this form. We would stand on the back porch and shoot up at a knot-hole, the idea being to make a bull's-eye. I believe that knot-hole is visible to-day ; and unless the interior of the structure has been looted years ago, it must contain a motley treasure of marbles, 'glassies,' 'white-alleys,' 'blood-alleys,' etc.

"A weekly episode of those times was the charge of the gunjer brigade. We all had the princely credit of fifteen cents per week, but it was all according to the modern principles of the ''country store." We could not get the cash, but we would take it out in trade at the College delicatessen establishment, wherein were arranged once a week a limited assortment composed of 'gunjers' (ginger cakes) and beautiful barber-pole candy. Like Wanamaker's, it was a one-price store, positively no rebates or discounts, and no goods taken back. Talk about your teams 'lining up' nowadays ! It is nothing to what then occurred every Friday on the tap of the four o'clock bell. The line formed with a rash, extending away out on the terrace; the head of the line would pass in his hat to the majestic goddess who presided, indicated his choice as ' ten gunjers and five candy,' or whatever else his palate craved, receive back his hat and then religiously go through the ordeal which awaited all alike. Custom had somehow gradually crystallized a mere courtesy into a law unwritten, but binding in an extraordinary degree. The handful of cakes and candy had to be carried down the line and held in passing for each boy to help himself if he chose. Of course none ever did so, except in the case of an intimate friend's being pressed to take some, but the pilgrimage was made regularly. Now and then a hungry fellow would make off out of reach of the line, or a selfish boy would pass down the line on a trot, holding his hat, but his train was usually an express which made no stops. Occasionally some chap would get obstreperous near the head of the line or try to dodge in ahead. Instantly would come the cry, ' pass him down,' and the whole would at once bear a hand, and his initial velocity would be forcibly maintained till he shot past the end to make n new start. After this weekly distribution supreme contentment spread her wings over the College for a full half hour, and the blissful silence was disturbed only by the ravenous munching of the gunjers and the crunching of toothsome sticks. Once or twice in my time, the gunjer shop was burglarized and cakes and candy disappeared. Whether these disasters were precipitated by college boys or tramps, 'I dinna ken, but hae me doots.'

"It must be remembered that privileges were so seldom granted that when they fell to our lot we had a keen appreciation of them, and I believe the enjoyment was proportionately intense. For example, in the refectory we very seldom got ' talk,' except occasionally at Sunday breakfast and Thursday dinner. Let any pretence for talk arise, such as a stranger at the table, a first snow storm, special news from the outer world, or any of a dozen possible reasons, and every neck in the refectory would be craned for the signal to the reader to 'come down.' What a jolly meal then always followed! Growls from the grumblers were unheard and satisfaction reigned supreme.

"Another privilege was that granted the brass band on Christmas. We were quietly aroused about three o'clock in the morning, got up, dressed and washed, got our instruments, and then tip-toed up to the dormitory door, where, at the signal from good old Dr. Dielman, we thundered forth the glorious strains of the 'Adeste Fideles.' This was always a thrilling scene, and aroused boundless enthusiasm. After prayers in the study hall, we repeated. Then came the march up the hill to Christmas Mass, at which the band played 'Adeste' several times. It can be easily understood that the band was pretty dry by that time. After reaching the terrace we would get a call to Father McCloskey's room in the White House, where, after an elaborate speech of compliment and welcome, and after listening to the same old jokes about blowing our own horn and wetting our whistles, we got each a mug of alleged eggnog. The egg was there certainly, and the nutmeg and the water, but the eggnog was undiscoverable. Colonel Blank, of Kentucky, would have considered it an attempt to assassinate him in cold blood. But we enjoyed the situation because it was a privilege, and the word in those days was magical.

"But since those days of comparative severity a new spirit has been infused into the College a belief in the wisdom of making boys comfortable, a strong and hearty encouragement to athletic sports, a liberality in according personal privileges ; and this spirit allowed to sway the college destinies through its present Faculty for a few years longer will, with the substantial help surely to be given, place the dear old Mountain at last on the pinnacle which has always been in sight but now only coming within reach.

"With steam heat, electric light, and a modem gymnasium, the traditional glories of the days before the war will be hers again and more. For with all these changes comes a softening influence over the stubborn spirit of the rebellious and discontented, harmony takes the place of turbulence and discord, the compulsory student becomes unknown, and the whole term is occupied in a peaceful but enthusiastic contest for the honors of the College honors in physical as well as mental and moral rank and excellence.

"Thomas McTighe '72."

Dec. 5, 1370. During High Mass a fire broke oat an the roof of the Old Church on the Hill, and Prof. Lagarde and Thomas Metighe '72 had the delightful task, envied by all the students, of extinguishing it with water brought all the way from the Grotto. While some volunteers were poking at the stovepipe orifice from below, "Tom" tore away shingles from above and poured the water down on his helpers within, to their great discomfort but to the intense amusement of the boys.

Rev. Richard Gilmour '50 became Bishop of Cleveland, April 14, 1872.

While these things were passing at the Mountain, there died, January 23, 1873, at St. Louis, Rev. John F. McGerry, C. M., third President of the College. He was also first President of the New York College at Nyack, and later pastor in Rochester, X. Y. In 1840 he joined the Lazarists, who were commencing at the Barrens, Mo. Father McGerry was born in Maryland, November 17, 1796, of Revolutionary stock.

The name of Thomas Fitzgerald, of Brooklyn, N. Y., who was destined to do great service to the College, appears among the prefects of 1872-3.

Chapter 56 | Chapter Index

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