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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 58 | Chapter Index

Chapter 59: Life in the Seminary

Young men desirous of entering the seminary are admitted into the College on their own application, endorsed by their pastor or other priest testifying to their probable vocation, and live for one, two or more years as boys among the boys. When they have shown a genuine call and the character desirable in a Mountain ecclesiastic, they are, on renewed application, transferred to the seminary, donning the cassock and subject to the discipline and enjoying the comparative freedom of their new state. They occupy a distinct building, have different hours for rising and retiring, attend meditation, Mass in their own chapel, and other spiritual exercises daily and weekly, but while collegians go to the same classes with the boys and are there treated precisely as these are. However, they all have the privilege and even the duty of taking out bands of from two to nine boys for a walk, the names of the party to be handed invariably to the prefects; they keep order in the boys' study-halls and dormitories, and some of them teach various classes. They are supposed, however, to cultivate the society of their cloth, and have their own exclusive recreation grounds. They can go out two or more together, but are obliged, as we said, to go with a band of boys if the latter call for it, and their times of recreation are the same as those of the boys. Hence seminarians cannot go on any trips or excursions distinct from those of their lay companions, in whose sports they join and are supposed to encourage. Their only domestic celebration is a gaudeamus on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which the priests attend and which takes place after the boys are safe in bed. They do not compete for class honors, being presumed to have certain advantages over the boys, but can contend for special prizes, while in recitations no favors are shown them, nay, more is expected from their cloth.

Rev. John O'Brien

The teaching feature has the advantage of strengthening the minds of the clerical candidates, for we never learn perfectly till we begin to teach; and they show no inferiority to young men whose entire time is devoted to their studies; while the self-discipline involved in the practice as well as the knowledge of young manhood acquired in the class and on the walks and in the other departments of the house, builds up a character very valuable in the diocesan ministry, which makes our young priests to be sought after by pastors who are not themselves children of the Mountain. As to teaching, the III Plenary Council, paragraph 201, says that seminarians "should be trained to teach sacred history as well as the catechism"; while the Superintendent of Catholic public schools in Philadelphia in his report for 1903 says that "young priests ought to be trained in teaching generally so as to know how to care for schools." As St. Francis Xavier amongst the Indians cried out, ''Give me Belgians," so American pastors with young men to look after say, " Send me a Mountaineer." "I have no trouble in looking after the boys," said one of our presidents to the Chronicler. "There's Nó; he could run a diocese." Nó was the first prefect, and in his second year of theology. The Chronicler met a Mountaineer who counted forty-four years of priesthood : every day he visited every class in the vast schools he had built, directing easily the twenty-seven sisters, and sixteen hundred children, and in addition taught there three hours daily himself. The annalist met another Mountaineer who had filled the prefectship for several years. He was an assistant in a parish, but taught Greek, Latin and English every school day for the eight years that had passed since his ordination, and this without compulsion or compensation. These be samples. In the course of this history we have seen the colleges founded by Mountain priests on the model "shown on the Mountain" the American College in Rome; St. Mary's, Bardstown, and Preston Park in Kentucky; Nyack, Watertown, Fordham, Richmond; the Athenaeum and St. Mary's of the West, Cincinnati; Wilmington; St. Gabriel's, Vincennes; Calvert College, New Windsor, Maryland; Prof. Beleke's College in Chicago; Bishop Portier's colleges in New Orleans and Mobile; Seton Hall was organized on our plan, and St. Paul secured a priest and a seminarian as president and prefect respectively from the Mountain. The Naval Medical School at Washington must be added to this list, while the initiative to the establishment of Fordham University was given by a Mountaineer.

The training of the Mountaineer is hard, to be sure, and, as some put it, "he is always between the hammer of the Faculty and the anvil of the boys"; but those that stand it come out men amongst and above men, ready to take hold and help the pastor where he most needs help. The life is hard, as all seminary life is; but the mountain air and personal freedom do much, and the consciousness that the clerical members of the Faculty with whom they are fellows live it also gives self-respect, courage and perseverance. The natural result is love for the Mountain, every priest ordained here feeling that some stones in the building are of his laying, that his sweat has gone into the cement. Jacob loved Rachel all the more for his seven and again seven years of labor, and the Mountain priest loves the College because she gave him opportunity to show his gratitude by his work and to look her frankly in the face and say: "Did I not respond to your kindness, and make return for what you did for me, mother?" And she gladly answers: "You did, my son, you did. God bless you! Come home frequently. I'm always glad to see you."

The Mountain system of intermingling of clerical candidates with lay boys has shown other good results. The lay boys with us, however, do not wear the cassock as at Capua, nor follow the same discipline as at Ghent. The record of our lay graduates as Catholics has often attracted favorable notice, and vocations do not seem to suffer by the fact that the toga is in file with the braccae. The regular orders receive an occasional recruit from here, and in the decade before 1908 one hundred and three out of the one hundred and fifty graduates entered the seminary. "Boys sometimes go to college with vocations and lose them there," said a venerable Mountain prelate; "they come here without them, as I did, and they find them here." Archbishop Bayley in his "Memoirs of Brute," p. 45, telling how the students of theology acted as prefects and assisted as teachers in the institution, says that the system differing from that prescribed by the Council of Trent " is liable to some objections; it interferes no doubt with that exact ecclesiastical training which is justly considered of so much importance. Still, independent even of its economical character, it has many advantages, especially for those who are to exercise the holy ministry in a new country where churches have to be built and everything formed. The discipline of teaching and governing boys creates habits most useful under the peculiar difficulties to which a priest is exposed in a country like this. Under such a system, however, it is of the greatest importance that the superior of the seminary should be much more than a mere professor of theology. He should be one fitted to keep before those under his charge the living image of a faithful priest, and capable of forming them to such habits of ecclesiastical virtue as will protect them against the distracting influences of their present duties, as well as the more worldly influences to which they will be exposed in after life. Such a superior in the true sense of the word was Father Brute." All the priests in our seminary have been for some time engaged in missionary work.

Said Very Rev. John M. Codori, in an address delivered at the centennial banquet:

"There is a condition or policy existing at the Mountain which is truly unique. It is the harmonious intermingling under certain circumstances of cleric and lay students. They may sit in the lecture hall at a given hour as classmates and then relations change from classmates to the disciplinarian and subjects respectively. They may meet in friendly rivalry on the athletic field or in social intercourse on the terrace, but the student is ever conscious in his association with the cleric that there is a strongly drawn line of demarcation, and that familiarity will be summarily discountenanced and proper respect demanded.

"These considerations are never lost sight of and as the cleric advances in dignity by reason of the orders received the lay student's respect and reverence increase proportionately.

"It is an improved system of military life without military externals ; the cassock of the young levite in place of the chevrons of the young officer.

"The seminarian having received his Bachelor's degree, which qualifies him to teach in any high school in the country, is, if his aptitude permits, placed in charge of classes or studies with such judicious foresight and regard to his special work that instead of hindering they help his professional preparation by supplying him with impulses to continue and perfect his college career. They furnish him with new and valuable sidelights on his theological studies, give him a sense of responsibility which is of priceless value in the development of character, and also afford him practical experience in the management of men, which will bean inestimable asset when he comes to direct a parish, or the feeder of a parish, the parochial school.

"Bishop Amherst, of England, has said: 'Priests always found a decided advantage to have worked with those who were to form part of the flock. They worked much more smoothly and friction was much less in evidence.'

"This is one of the small colleges which are beginning to be loved for the enemies the larger ones have made where the man teaches as well as the professor; where character sits in the doctor's chair and walks the campus as well as rare intellectuality; where the amenities and charities of life are displayed before the eyes of the student as well as the dictates of discipline; where modernism and other fitful vagaries are as alien to the seminary as professionalism to the college.

' 'Here the attraction, the tendency is upwards, not downwards. The seminarians direct and dominate the students; the clergy direct and dominate the seminarians. The process works smoothly and effectively for the simple reason which our founders must have seen and appreciated that there is no disturbing influence at hand, no danger or distraction to mar the healthy interplay of those benign forces excepting Emmitsburg and its magnificent railway.

"Cardinal Pole some centuries ago established this system in England to knit together the clergy and laity who had been rent asunder by the violence of tyrannical kings.

"Cardinal Manning said that it is an ideal system of Catholic higher education.

"Cardinal Gibbons has not only encouraged and supported the authorities of the College by the lively and substantial interest he has evinced in its welfare, but he has shown his practical appreciation by recommending his relatives to make their collegiate studies here.

"In the last ten years out of one hundred and fifty graduates, one hundred and three entered the seminary and were later ordained, excepting those yet in course. Accordingly, it is not a dictate of invidious comparison, but an impulse of historical truth, that bids me to say that there is no other college in this country perhaps that gives a larger percentage of its graduates to the Sanctuary.

"Do you wish to know the measure of success her collegians have attained ? ' Ex uno disce omnes.' Read the history of her sons' achievements in this State of Maryland alone, as portrayed by our Dr. Watterson in his address to the graduates a few years ago.

"Do you wish to know what the Mountain priests have done? Then read the history of the Catholic Church in the United States during the last century."

Our system must of necessity have been general in the country in early days, and, as we saw in their university at St. Louis in 1838, seven Jesuit scholastics were employed as assistant tutors while they pursued the study of divinity. As to association of clerics with laymen, Arnold's "English Literature," ch. 3, tells how Cardinal Pole in a synod held in 1555 ordered that " lay scholars of respectable parentage should be admitted and supported together with theological students" in all cathedral schools. This mingling of lay boys with clerical aspirants and teaching by the latter were the rule at Ushaw, Old Hall, Oscott, etc., successors in England of Cardinal Alien's famous Douay in France. Cardinal Vaughan favored the association of the two classes. The present Archbishop Bourne, of Westminster, wrote a pamphlet against the mingling, but lately (1905) brought back to St. Edmund's College the theological students transferred elsewhere in 1869 by his second predecessor.

A few years ago Rt. Rev. Edward P. Alien, Bishop of Mobile, then President of our College, while on a visit to Europe had occasion to attend in audience upon His Holiness, Pope Leo XIII, and upon His Eminence, the late Cardinal Manning, as well. Both very kindly and earnestly inquired of him concerning the character of the institution over which he presided and the methods of study and discipline in vogue. Dr. Alien, who was thoroughly conversant with the workings of the College, in which he had been brought up, with the principles, too, upon which its methods are founded, gave such an account as seemed highly to please and interest his illustrious auditors, for both expressed their satisfaction and gratification at the results, which they alike acknowledged to be the evident outcome of a system peculiarly adapted to the conditions existing in the United States, no less than in England, where it has been adopted with equally happy returns. In proof of which the following excerpt from the London Tablet of November 11, 1897, is offered :

" The students of St. Bede's College, Manchester, England, recently presented to His Eminence, Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster, a congratulatory address on the occasion of his jubilee anniversary, to which he responded in part:

'... I do not infrequently meet men who have been educated at St. Bede's and am always pleased to feel that they have a good claim upon my acquaintance and good will. I am glad to learn from many witnesses that St. Bede's College is doing a good work. The happy mixture of the clerical and lay element will be its strength. In this country, and especially now that the Church is entering into a new phase of contact with the people of England, it is more than ever important that the Catholic laity and clergy should know each other and work together in all that concerns their common religious interests. This happy combination and mutual confidence are fruits of early education in common. I am, therefore, always pleased when I hear that there is a large proportion of the lay as well as the clerical at our great diocesan colleges, such as Ushaw, Old Hall and St. Bede's. The advantages of such a union are well divided, and each would be the poorer and weaker without them.'"

This is a very hearty commendation of the plan upon which Mt. St. Mary's is operated. It is a reasonable plea, and the force of the arguments which it hints at rather than advances applies equally well to the conditions which now almost everywhere are found in the United States.

The present rector of Old Hall wrote to the Chronicler, Jan. 29, 1906, that he himself had teaching of boys to do when a cleric at Oscott, another old school, and it was this training doubtless which prepared the distinguished prelate for the place he now fills as head of this college, as well as of the adjoining seminary of the great diocese of Westminster, Saint Edmund's.

The seminarians at the Mountain attend solemn Mass and Vespers with the rest of the community on Sundays, but have daily Mass in their own private oratory. In the refectory they are placed in charge of the various tables and are expected to observe and to require appropriate behavior. Some of them pay cash for their board and tuition, others render services as prefects or teachers instead. Some are sent by bishops, others begin their career independently, and seek affiliation later, being indebted to no diocese for their education. The seminarians make a retreat of eight days before the opening of school in September, after which orders below priesthood are conferred, but the regular ordination of priests takes place the day before Commencement. As to the course of studies, it has always been in accord with the canons and the practice of the best seminaries, and as far as the Faculty was concerned, the rule of four years' theology was insisted upon long before the Third Plenary Council made it obligatory.

Serving at table by students is an immemorial custom at the Mountain. On Holy Thursday the President serves with the usual band of boys; next day the Vice-president; then the other priests and lay members of the Faculty in turn ; then the seminarians. There are several bands of servers, each headed by a member of the graduating or junior class, who chooses his associates, all volunteers. The effect of this custom in promoting and demonstrating Christian equality, brotherhood and intimacy is very apparent, and has much to do with the family spirit and affection for the College so characteristic of Mountaineers.

Reading at table was abandoned, except at certain times, such as during retreat, about 1897, the cause assigned being that physicians opposed the practice. The boys have no voice in selecting their table mentor, but can form bands for walks, of not less than two nor more than nine, and choose what seminarian they please to take them out. Thus no student in the senior department is ever obliged to go out walking except with companions of his own choosing, and a teacher whom he prefers; but at the same time, a note for each band, with the names of its leader and all its other members, has to be deposited with the prefect whenever such parties leave the " bounds," so that the whereabouts of every student is always and instantly discoverable.

In the numbers of the London Tablet for June, July and August, 1908, will be found references to the educational system at Ushaw and St. Wilfred's, England, The Bishops of Newport and Northampton, with other clergymen and the editor of the Tablet, spoke of its advantages, while Pius X, whose Secretary of State, Cardinal Merry del Val, was educated at Ushaw, wrote a very warm letter of date July 8, 1908, in which he acknowledged this fact, praised the solid work of Ushaw, and auguring for it a still more glorious future, bestowed on "all who have raised it to its eminent position the Apostolic benediction." We shall see further on how the same Pope complimented Mount Saint Mary's.

On the 4th of February, 1874, Andrew H. Baker, former president of Calvert College, New Windsor. Md., was engaged for the session at "from four to five hundred dollars," and Rev. John O'Brien, M. A., became a member of the Council.

Feb. 12. Dr. Pabisch, rector of Mt. St. Mary's of the West, wrote proposing the introduction of AJzog's Church History instead of Darras's, which was then in use.

Bp. Elder, writing from Natchez, Oct. 9, ]874, to his old teacher, Dr. McCaffrey, refers to the latter's translation of the Adoro Te. playfully calling him "king" and hopes "Your Majesty" is enjoying the "right royal month of October"; asks whether any steps have been taken towards a "Convention, or at least a union by correspondence among our houses of education," and praises in particular the grammar issued by the Irish Christian Brothers, "who have turned out such brilliant newspaper men." It was not till twenty-five years after that the "convention" he speaks of took place and developed in 1907 into the "Catholic Educational Association."

Chapter 60 | Chapter Index


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