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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 61 | Chapter Index

Chapter 62: 1879-1880

Grotto of Lourdes

Meanwhile Father McMurdie had gone home to England in very poor health, but reports that he feels able to teach his Senior and Junior classes. On account of not receiving a remittance he had not been able to secure his passage home, etc., and is anxious about seeming to neglect his duty.

"Since I left the College," he writes to the Treasurer, August 5,1879, "I have not received a cent of money, and I am now not only without the means of returning to it, but almost without the means of staying where I am. . . I am in a thoroughly awkward position, partly painful and partly absurd. Even if I receive enough to pay my fare home, I do not see my way clear to applying it to that purpose, unless I also receive more. ... I live in daily hope of receiving a remittance, and am in a condition of constant worry and anxiety till I have something, which I suppose I shall have before you receive this . . . .''

The following is the reply of Dr. McCloskey, dated "Feast of the Seven Dolors, September 29, 1879," but we must leave to the imagination what the gentle, shrinking, unworldly metaphysician went through meantime:

'Immediately after the receipt of your letter, I wrote you stating that in a few days I would send you a remittance, and it was only this morning in Church that it flashed on my mind that I had not done so. You may imagine my mortification and deep sorrow for this unpardonable oversight. This has been indeed a day of sorrow and humiliation for me for having thus treated one whom I have always considered my best friend. I had made all my arrangements to send to Baltimore. How or why I did not do it I cannot tell. Just at the time my mind was almost distracted with the apprehension that each hour would bring me the news of my brother's death. I cannot write more now. my grief is so great. Pardon me and believe me as ever.

"Very truly Yrs. in Xto. "Remittance by Wednesday's steamer."

The Cathedral of Baltimore had been thoroughly renovated and its sanctuary enlarged this year and Abp. Gibbons wrote with his own hand begging "the favor" of Dr. McCaffrey's presence at its reopening on Nov. 9, 1879," as your venerable name is intimately associated with the cathedral and some of its prelates."

Dec. 5. Rev. John O'Brien died today. He was buried on the hill, and his stone bears this epitaph:

Memoriae et Honobi. JOANNIS O'BRIEN Presb. Nat. Hib. Prope Ardfinnan In Tipperaria Nati. Viri Eeligione Pietate Doctrina et Traditis Posteritati Scriptis Clari Qui Magnam Ingenii Laudem Insigni Modestia Superavit. Obiit Emmitsburgi In Quo Doctoris Decurialis Munere Fungebatur Nonis Decembr. An. Rep. Sal. MDCCCLXXIX Annos Xatns XXXVIII.

Mens. IV. Dies IX.

Father O'Brien was an Irishman, born in 1841, and came to this country in his twenty-second year. Entering the College in '65 he graduated in '70, studied theology here one year, two at Overbrook, then returned and was ordained in June, '73, for Harrisburg diocese. He was Director of the Seminary after Father McMurdie, taught Latin, Mathematics, History and Liturgy, and wrote a "History of the Mass," which profited the College for many a year after his death, and does to this day.

This year saw the closing of Mt. St. Mary's of the West at Cincinnati, in consequence of Abp. Purcell's financial failure, which Abp. Elder, his quondam pupil, was commanded to remedy.

The following interesting letter referring to events of '79 was written to Mr. A. V. D. Watterson by Rev. P. L. Duffy, '75, present "Poet Priest of the South":

Charleston, S. C., October 20, 1902.

My dear Alfred: I spent a very happy day at the old Mountain recently, and memories sacred and sweet crowded upon me. Forms of other days were with me from the pike to the grotto, and voices, some of them stilled, made the terrace musical.

Sitting on the little rustic bridge over what 1 called the cave, between the old and the new grottoes, the day came back to me when reading "Lasserre on Lourdes" at spiritual reading for the boys, it occurred to me that all the conditions existed at the Mountain for a reproduction of the original grotto, and next day I started the work, that is, the collection. In a short time I was able to put the matter and the means for its accomplishment in the hands of your Bight Bev. (then Reverend) brother, under whose direction the work was completed. I think it is in material situation, proportions and construction the most exact duplicate of the original Grotto in this country.

You and I will never forget, I am sure, the impressive Corpus Christi processions, and I will always cherish the radiant memory of the first Benediction at the new Grotto on that beautiful June day in 1879.

The October Mountaineer has just reached me, and I need not tell you how cordially I greeted "Biding Along." Reference is made to it in the Alumni chat column as having been sung on the terrace. But you and I remember that its "motif' found best expression on the top of the stage to Mechanicstown (Thurmont) after:'Exi." I have sometimes thought since that the steady-paced horses must have been fittest survivals from some auxiliary corps inured to the din of battle. I have witnessed the paralyzing effects of earthquakes and cyclones on Charleston. Perhaps our vocal explosions stopped the growth of Mechanicstown.

About Dr. Kenny's "Genevieve." A few years ago 1 heard it sung in a far-off corner of this State by one who had never heard of its gifted author.

Sincerely yours, (REV.) P. L. Duffy.

Rudolph Deppen, '81, writes eloquently of one of the scenes at the Holy Grotto:

Three Generations of Walshs, Cumberland, Md.

"The evening was perfect in every detail. The sun had already dipped behind the ridge beyond the grotto. Not a breath of air stirred the old forest sentinels, above which arched the deep blue dome, rivaled only by the skies of the city of the 'violet crown.' Only the mountain brook, separating the old from the new grotto, with its age-old song, mellowed the deep silence above and around us, telling a story typical of her in whose honor we assembled, with its crystal stream over its precipitous, rock-strewn course vividly portraying the life of the Virgin Mother.

"The clergy and the seminarians' choir took their places, Father McMurdie stepped into the vestibule of the shrine and began in his low voice, which in itself was not pleasing, but gradually seeming to absorb and mingle with the palpitating stillness of the natural surroundings, it became strangely musical. He had the rapt attention of every one present, even before reaching the point to which in all his sermons his fervor carried him his arm stretched rigidly before him, his hand clenched, trembling with the fervor with which he strove and so well expressed. And in the very midst a whip-poorwill burst into song a short distance down the ravine, and together with the brook made a harmony of sound which in that curfew stillness blended perfectly with the tones of Father McMurdie's voice. Not a movement or rustle of those present betrayed the consciousness of any distraction, and a few minutes afterwards the last words of Father McMurdie seemed to float away into the empyrean.

"The soft strains of the O Salutaris Hostia and the Tantum Ergo had been wafted heavenward on fragrant incense. Our Redeemer in the Most Holy Sacrament had blessed the kneeling forms, bowed in humble adoration before Him, and it is safe to say that not one gross thought intruded itself during the quiet, gentle return to the college grounds."

Father McMurdie's preaching was effective on both old and young.

Bishops Alien of Mobile and Northrop of Charleston visited us on occasion of the Centenary of the Baltimore Cathedral, May, 1906. The latter told us that his father had great devotion for the grotto, and prepared and had printed a little Office of Our Lady of the Grotto, which himself and Harry (the Bishop), with several other boys, aspirants to the altar, as well as other people, used to recite every Saturday up at the grotto made sacred by so many memories. Bishop Alien said that Benediction took place for a while at this stone grotto, completed 1879, but that afterwards return was made to the old wooden shrine originally raised by Brute, in which also the Holy Sacrifice was offered for the first time on the 16th of August, 1897. In 1906 a new stone edifice was erected by his relatives as a memorial of Bishop McGovern, of Harrisburg, once a Prefect at the College and a devout client of the Mother of God, and an altar was built within it, so that Mass could be said as well as Benediction given at Corpus Christi, or on May evenings as in olden times.

The Corpus Christi procession was a very impressive and touching ceremonial, clergy and people accompanying the Blessed Sacrament from the Old Church on the Hill to and from the grotto, and it was very edifying to see the piety of many of the students, who would decorate the shrine of Mary with flowers and pay a visit there in the morning before school. Father John McGovern, of the Faculty, nephew of the Bishop, offered the Divine Sacrifice at the new grotto June 2, 1907.

In the Christmas (1879) number of the Echo we find these rhymes:

Farewell to mountain, to terrace and hall, For two weeks our bosoms no care shall enthrall; No bell to annoy us, no prefect to vex, No curst mathematics our brains to perplex; No Homer, no Livy, no Grandclaude so drear. No Ganot to frighten, no Bloxom to fear. They can all go to pot. But the stage is just here, And hark! the train hastens, she's always on time, She'll be off in a moment and so will my rhyme. One last word of greeting to those left behind: May they feast and live highly, at least in their mind!

On January 20, 1880, Father McMurdie died. He had been long failing, and being taken with a hemorrhage hastened to the adjoining room, where the midwinter examinations were going on, his hand to his blood-stained mouth, and rapped at the door. Father John McCloskey at once followed him to his room and anointed him in time. Dr. Richard Reilly, '80, one of the students present, telling us of those happenings, bade us imagine the feelings of all. The priest's death carried out his reiterated quotation from Macbeth:

Blow, wind, come wrack! At least we'll die with harness on our back.

Bishop Becker sang the Requiem and Dr. McCaffrey preached.

Henry Spencer McMurdie, M. A., was born in London in 1822. His mother taught him Latin. At first a Puseyite, he entered the Church in 1848, and emigrating toourcountry came to the Mountain Seminary, where in 1854 he was ordained for the diocese of Pittsburgh. He was Vice-President for a while; taught logic, metaphysics and ethics with great esteem, and was Director of the Seminary after the departure for Rome in February, 1860, of Rev. William McCloskey. Father McMurdie's tombstone, erected June 18, 1881, at a cost of $250. is thus inscribed:


Sacerdos Rari Exempli Philosophiae Et Theologiae Professor In Collegio S. Mariae Ad Montes Qui Natus Londini IV Kal. Sept, MDCCCXXII Sacerdotio Auctus XVI Kal. Sept. MDCCCLIV Sancte Decessit XIII Kal. Feb. MDCCCLXXX Discipuli Ejus Maerentes Fecerunt Animae Desideratissimae. R. I. P.

Corpus Christi Avenue

Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, M. A., '75, was elected to the Council Feb. 2. 1880, and on April 1 became Secretary of that body. The Treasurer's report, handed in that day, reads as follows: "Notes payable, $99,265. Assets : Emmitsburg R. R. paper; note of Piet, the publisher, etc., $15,513. So that the debentures of the little railway made up nearly the entire assets of Mt. St. Mary's College.

Meanwhile Father Watterson had accepted the miter of Columbus. Father William Byrne, future President, writes to him June 5,1880, from Charlestown, Mass., accepting an invitation to Commencement, suggesting that he do not resign the presidency till he has recruited the Corporation with suitable members, "two or three old Mountaineers of the right stamp." It seems a pity this suggestion was not taken!

Cardinal McCloskey, also, writing June 21 to Bishop-elect Watterson, says: "As for the poor old Mountain, it has my deepest sympathies in what I fear may prove to it an irreparable loss" (he alludes to President Watterson's departure). "It has, however, survived so many apparent death-blows that it may again survive the one now impending."

On the 26th day of June President Watterson resigned Ms office, and on the 13th of July the presidency was offered to Father Hill, who was reported on July 27th as declining to accept it.

Father Watterson had reformed the course of studies and infused new vigor into the teaching. He was zealous for the beauty of God's house and frescoed the church, the chapel and seminary-oratory, had the stone grotto built, remodeled St. John's well, and made many much-needed repairs about the buildings.

Father William Byrne, "54, writing again to Bishop Watterson, hopes that he had " retained authority not only to advise but to vote as regards your successor. This may have been so much out of course that you did not like to resign the presidency and yet retain a place in the corporation. It was essential, however."

Father McCloskey, unwilling to take the presidency, tried to have Father Hill elected, not only writing to the Mountain bishops to this effect, but even going to Brooklyn, N. Y., as a committee of the Council to induce him to consent. Father Hill pleaded that both his own Bishop and the Archbishop of "Baltimore were away and he could not assume so important an office without consulting each of them. In addition, one who was at the College in those days thinks that " he felt that so great was the influence of Father John with the students no one could be president in the full sense of the word while the latter lived." So Father John once more took up the sad burden and struggled on, weighed by the dread of what he knew must come sooner or later, till at last, on November 22, 1880, he sank upon the terrace, was helped to his room, and died on Christmas eve, his brother, Bishop William McCloskey, helping to cheer his last days. There was no one to take the helm.

Father John died, as was thought, "of a broken heart." He was an out-and-out Mountaineer. Entering the College in 1830 as a boy of thirteen he was graduated in 1836, ordained in 1840, and though not elected Vice-President till February 9, 1842, his first report as treasurer dates from March, 1841. Like Dr. McCaffrey and Dr. Brownson, he had never been in Europe, nor have we any actual record of his going as far as Baltimore, except when he went to New York to induce Father Hill to accept the presidency.

"Father John was," says one writer, "a gentleman of commanding appearance, noble in manners, affable to strangers, zealous for discipline, prudent to a fault. . . . Since 1841 John McCloskey had borne the responsibilities of governing to such a degree that Dr. McCaffrey found ample time to display his powers and enjoy comparative ease. . . ."

Another distinguished ecclesiastic, telling of his own coming to College in 1860, says:

"'Father John' was the first of the College authorities I met, and his reception was so friendly that I thought someone had written to him about me; or, possibly, that he had mistaken my identity in other words, that he took me for the Governor of Kentucky! 'Don't be putting on any airs here,' said a fellow-student to whom I related these things. ' Father John is a gentleman ' to the manner born ' and could not, without danger to his health, act otherwise. He treats everyone as he treats you, and the more unpromising the newcomer looks the kinder he is.' "

"Father John" was known favorably to all the country around. His live stock were among the prize-takers at every county fair, and the noble-looking priest on his black charger brought George Washington to the imagination of beholders. Whether out of admiration for him or not, the Chronicler cannot say, but a certain red-hot or coal-black Orangeman in the district was actually laid out and buried in a cassock made for Father John. This man was, like Gilpin's spouse, "of a frugal mind," and taking a tombstone in payment of a debt, had it inscribed to suit, selected also a cheap coffin and kept these and the cassock which were actually used a few years since at his own funeral.

This list was sent to Sadlier's Directory for 1881 : V. Rev. John McCloskey, President; V. Rev. Dr. McCaffrey, President-Emeritus ; Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, Vice-President; Thomas Gambon, Treasurer. The last-named gentleman had been a Christian Brother, but he was not yet a deacon or a member of the Council, which was thus, by Father John's death, reduced to one young and one old and invalided priest.

The Mayor of Baltimore at this time invited the Faculty and students to take part in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city, and the graduating class went down for the events, which began Oct. 11, lasting for five days.

A letter gives us an idea of the status of a college president in Kentucky. June 20. 1879, Rev. George McCloskey, ex-'40, excusing absence from commencement, writes to President Watterson that he has " to throw off his cassock and betake himself to the hay field, having to manage a farm as well as a seminary." He was rector of the Preston Park institution at Louisville, Kentucky, his brother, Bishop William's, seminary.

Emmitsburg village, however, had enterprise enough to start (1879) another paper, The Chronicle, which not only still flourishes, but has reached a higher plane than its founder ever dreamt of.

Chapter 63 | Chapter Index

Special thanks to John Miller for his efforts in scanning the book's contents and converting it into the web page you are now viewing.