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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 63 | Chapter Index

Chapter 64: 1881-1882

We have thus set forth some estimates of Dr. McCaffrey's character; now we proceed to describe how another robust son of the same Mountain worked at his self-imposed and most noble task. We speak of Father Byrne, '59. Like St. Paul, be had troubles from within as well as from without.

Right Rev. Mons. William Byrne, P.A., V.G. 12th President

One member of the Faculty, claiming likewise to be of the Council, remained for a whole year after he had been refused recognition and defied the President to eject him. He was finally induced for a pecuniary consideration to sign a receipt in full and to leave the institution. This was the hardest trial to bear. But the "labor and painfulness," the "watchings," the "cold and nakedness" spoken of by the Apostle were experienced by Father Byrne and other priests who like him had abandoned all modern baths, "sanitary arrangements," private table, etc., of large and cultured cities, and retired on one-third or less salary to this remote locality and its manifold privations.

As for the seminarians, and especially the theologians, their hardships were such as no one of those today can realize. Their rooms, practically opened, door as well as window, on the terrace; and even those who lived, as most did, on the mountainside, had no stoves at all either in room or in hallway, and were fain to keep out the cold by extra lamps and by staying in bed wrapped in blankets while they prepared their tasks. However, allowance being made for its wild situation on the Mountain, we are of opinion that it was as comfortable as other institutions, and indeed our buildings were before the Civil War superior to many in several of the great universities. Anything more harshly hare, however, than the College under the Christmas snow in those days would be hard to imagine.

Father Byrne put up with all this, and having more than enough to do as financial "settler" and procurator, in addition bore the solicitude of all the classes and himself taught (and a splendid teacher he was), several hours a day. He was besides pastor of the parish, but his chief care and perpetual bother came from settling with the creditors, whom he had to try and persuade, one by one, to accept thirty-five cents for every hundred the College owed or they thought it owed them. There is no class so hard to deal with as farmers and laboring people in such a crisis, and difficult indeed it is to convince them that you cannot pay their claims. And there were others. Practically every one of them, from the highest socially to the lowest, had to be debated with, and as the President had not taken advantage of the bankruptcy act, he was obliged to make terms with each. Some even sued for the amount of their bond. Father Byrne was very pragmatic. "Is this note any good, Doctor?" says one, handing in a piece of outlawed paper. The Doctor's patience was waning: "Dead as a mackerel," he replied. In a letter of September 13, a priest who had been asked to send a subscription, presented a claim for five hundred dollars with interest for several years, but agreed, for friendship's sake, to accept one-third of his bill. This must have been a little startling, indeed somewhat amusing, and doubtless relieved the dreary monotony of the situation. In fact, this unexpected "check" made the Doctor roar.

Father Byrne's successors, Dr. Grannan and Father Alien, had this battle to fight daily for years after Father Byrne went back to Boston, and even some of us professors, who had never known the College or its officials till we came to help save and revive it, could not visit a house in the neighborhood without being asked "when we were going to pay that sixty-five cents." As if we ourselves had not our own claims! As if we didn't have to economize! " Don't send that linen to the wash yet! Don't you know we have to pay the debt?" said the Vice-President to the sacristan of the little old chapel one day.

The following statement helps to recall the condition, as far as paper and figures can:

"June 17, 1881. A meeting of creditors was held to-day at Emmitsburg, Joshua Biggs presiding. Claims amounting to $173,000 were presented. (Later claims carried the total higher still.) The President of the College made a statement of the growth of the debt from $56,000 in 1838. The available means of the College, including what was expected to be raised by donations, were shown as follows:

  • Sale of stock and cattle.........................$8,000
  • Probable proceeds of sale of 700 acres......17,500
  • Present subscriptions..............................25,000
  • Expected..............................................15,000
  •                                                           --------

  •                                                            65,500
  • Paid to reduce mortgage..........................14,000
  •                                                           -------
  •                                                           $51,500

"This was the sum to be divided and would give about 35 cents on the dollar.

"Almost unanimously the creditors agree to take this sum in order to avoid a sale, which would bring them less. But certain bank representatives kept silent as not having authority to settle.

"Meeting adjourned for one week, when papers will be signed. William Byrne, Sec."

The Council had on June 22 confirmed the Board of Regents appointed, to wit: Cardinal McCloskey or his coadjutor; the Abp. of Baltimore; the President and the Vice-President of the College; General Coale, '23, of Liberty, Md.: Charles Roberts, ex'60, of Westminster, and William McSherry, '40, of Littlestown, Pa., and on Sept. 30,1881, a very formal meeting was held, notice of which had been served in writing. At this meeting Father Edward Sourin, '30, initiated Fathers William Byrne, '54, Thomas Fitzgerald, '72, and James Kelly, '76, into the original "Corporation and Council," of which he himself was the sole surviving member.

The Board of Regents appointed with consent of the Council the previous June authorized, Sept. 29,1881, Father Byrne to rent the College from Capt. McSherry, the receiver, for one year, for a sum equal to interest on liens, insurance and taxes of each year, or thereabout (that is, about $3,000); and in the event of failure to rent he was to obtain permission to use the College property; finally, in event of the compromise measures now on foot not succeeding within the space of one year, the College property shall be sold. This is signed by James Gibbons, Abp. of Baltimore; M. A. Corrigan, Coadjutor of New York; William Byrne ("if safe"); Thomas J. Fitzgerald ("if safe"); Wm. McSherry, of Littlestown; R. Gilmour, Bishop of Cleveland; Thomas A. Becker, Bishop of Wilmington; Francis Silas Chatard, Bishop of Vineennes. The last three assisted as invited consultors. Gen. James Coale adhered by letter. Cardinal McCloskey was an honorary member of this board; Col. Coale and Mr. Charles Roberts, of Westminster, were active members.

Fathers Byrne and Fitzgerald, as will have been noted, signed with a qualification, and the former, defending himself for not selling, declared that he had always meant to give the creditors their choice between a compromise and a sale. Some in consequence who subscribed for the repurchase of the College declined to contribute towards paying the 35 per cent. Indeed there were amongst them those who desired to abandon the former double character of the College and to start it anew and unencumbered as a school for lay students only. As this was not done, the institution lost patronage in quarters where it had from the beginning enjoyed it.

The sale would have been a simple, easy, economical way, though of course the less generous; in fact, the only ones getting anything in that event would be probably the holders of mortgages, and Father Byrne deserves the thanks of all the other creditors for the endless trouble he undertook in thus obtainirg for them at least one-third when they would have got nothing at all. His successors in office, volunteers, as he was, deserve like recognition.

On October 3, 1881, President Byrne issued a circular calling for the payment of the subscriptions, so that the creditors might get something and the sale of the College be averted. There were already in the house about one hundred students.

Oct. 5, 1881. Father Maguien, S. S. Superior of St. Mary's Seminary, Baltimore, writes to know whether the Rev. Benedict Abbott, of Gethsemani, having been authorized to establish a monastery of his order in the diocese, could buy "the whole or part of the farm of St. Mary's College." Of course it were for a monastery as it is for a college an ideal spot. But the College was "fated not to die" yet awhile, and the Trappists came not.

Rt. Rev. Mgr. Charles P. Grannan, S.T.D.

On October 14 Rev. Charles P. Grannan, S. T. D. of New York, a Propagandist, is mentioned and becomes a professor, as well as does Rev. John Larkin. of Ireland. The President is empowered to fix their salaries and salaries of all persons howsoever employed, and to make such terms as he thinks proper with all creditors, as well as to give notes and such corporate obligations in settling with them.

Father Byrne issued a circular Oct. 27, 1881, announcing that the creditors unsecured had agreed to accept thirty-five per cent, of their claims, that is, $44,000 out of $125,000. The cash contributions amounted to twenty-five thousand dollars, the sale of farm property brought about eight thousand, and so twelve thousand more was required and sufficient to set the College free. "If each subscriber to the relief fund will pay one more instalment of his subscription, and if such alumni as have as yet contributed nothing (and they are many), will now at last came to our aid, even with small sums of fifty or one hundred dollars, the desired object can be easily attained., ..."

Writing to Bp. Watterson, Oct. 27, '81, Father Byrne tells of Dr. McCaffrey's Month's Mind celebrated the day before, at which Bp. Loughlin sang Mass and Abp. Elder delivered an admirable discourse, "a most exquisite appreciation and analysis of Dr. McCaffrey's character." Bp. Conroy was also present. The sermon was published in the Catalogue of 1882.

We find recorded that Rev. Richard H. Keenan, '77, who had been ordained at Louvain this year, was appointed to teach "Metaphysics, Ethics and Senior English," and to receive twenty-five dollars a month. The professors of theology, who also took their turns in all parish work, received fifty dollars a month during the scholastic year, and this was almost to the half-dollar their entire income.

Among the seminarians we give the names of those who stood by the College in the year of trouble 1880-81, although their successors for several lustres worked perhaps as hard, but "not as they who had no hope," which must have been the case with many this year. The names are: Alien, Edward P., Mass.; Clark, Joseph J., N. Y.; Conway, John H., Md.; Convvay, Michael, Md.; Cunningham, William A., Pa.; Cusack, John, O.; Cotter, James H., N. Y.; Cody, John J., N. J.; Delaney, Stanislaus, O.; Donlan, Michael B., Pa.; Flynn, Dennis J., Ky.; Hillyard, Van Buren, D. C.; Higgius, Dominic, Ky.; Hannigan, Francis J., N. Y.; Hemler, Pius P., Md.; Hill, Marshall J., N. J.; Kelly, Thomas L., R. L; Kinsella, Thomas H., Ky.; Kohl, Germauus, Pa.; Kurnmerant, Louis P., Pa.; Meade, John, O.; Morris, Patrick, N. Y.; Murray, Michael J., N. Y. Murphy, William H., N. J.; McCue, Joseph J.. N. Y.; McGrath, John P., Pa., McDonald, Robert V., Pa.; McCarthy, John, Ark.; Oeink, John B., III.; O'Reilly, Christopher, N. Y.; O'Connell, Patrick, Pa.; O'Neill, Denis, N. Y.; O'Grady, Richard, Conn.; Rosensteel, Charles O., Pa.; Singleton, John S.,O.; Tierney, John J., Ky.; Tole, William H., N. Y.; Toner, George H., Pa.

Some of these undertook the very disagreeable task of going around and persuading the rustic creditors to accept thirty-five cents on the dollar; others endeavored to get pastors in the large cities to give collections, etc.

Those whom the Chronicler knew in '83 and the years following fulfilled the duties imposed on them heroically. They had, as we said, very poor accommodations, though true it is those of the priests were little better. And though bearing so much of the "burden of the day," they had scarcely a privilege beyond those of the boys, the only one of much importance being that of going out to walk in twos, provided, always, that they did not enter a village nor even a house unless accompanied by a priest. No one would believe what a dreary task was that of the prefects on a rainy winter day then, when the only diversion of the boys was to walk around the dark playroom or fling themselves about in the old shed that opens on two sides to the weather, constituted the apology for a gymnasium. But they stuck to their posts, and to them is due a very great deal of the credit of working the college ship out of the whirlpool rapids and bringing her once again into deep, safe waters.

In his Commencement address Abp. Gibbons referred amongst other things to the laymen "the Coales, the Carrolls, the Mileses, the Horseys, the McSherrys and Elders" whom the Mountain had sent forth.

he Mountain Echo, Vol. 1. No. 20, February 12, 1880. lies before us. It came out fortnightly, being issued by the editors and printers, the Lagarde Brothers, every fortnight at Inglewood, near the College, fifty cents for six months.

The number for April 29 tells of a disputation on the Duello in the class of ethics, in which D. J. Flynn was defendant, H. P. Coleman and F. M. Garvin objectors, and which shows that studies were strenuously pursued under the black financial sky.

"In the afternoon two theses de Gratia were discussed in the library by Messrs. Lubbe and Morris, and by Messrs W. Cunningham and Oeink respectively." What made it seem like old times and times older still, was that here the entire discussion was in Latin. "All acquitted themselves very creditably and the disputations are a source of great improvement to all concerned."

The following from the same paper will help to form an idea of the social condition around the College in days past:

"The San Marino amateur string band gave a private concert last week and connoisseurs who were present declared that it was a triumph. We congratulate the band, and particularly Mr. K. T. Manning, an old Mountaineer, and Dr. J. W. Hickey; and his brothers, Messrs. J. and H. Hickey, who contributed to the success of this musical departure. The inspiring genius of the band is the whole-souled, genial host of San Marino, Charles A. Manning, Esq."

Another writer regrets " that the custom of ascending the Hill on Saturdays to sing the Litany of Our Lady in the Old Church has been discontinued.

The Mountaineer, a manuscript monthly, published by the Gregorians of the Seminary, was revived this year. It contains essays by John J. Tierney, Dennis J. Flynn and others, and was read Sunday evenings.

Dr. John P. Judge, above quoted, tells us how " In my days nearly all the songs and dances current in playroom and on terrace recalled a period in college history when students from the sunny South were in the ascendancy in numbers. Or was it in morale? Or did they have more music and poetry in their souls, and thus give stamp and character to college customs? . . . ''

The Catholic Mirror March, '81. quotes the Abp. of Baltimore, who evidently felt that the situation called for apology, as saying that " he had no control over the financial management of Mount St. Mary's College, and was of course in no way responsible for its present condition. It was a private corporation. . . . "

Massachusetts and Maryland do not always harmonize. Father Byrne and the receiver came into positive conflict when the former this summer,'81, dismissed or confirmed the dismissal of Prof. Black, in order to decrease expenditure. The latter appealed to the receiver, who reinstated him, and was sustained on appeal by the Court. Black at once resigned in order to avoid unpleasantness, but everyone can understand how hard it was for a Massachusetts Vicar General, a volunteer for the task, and legitimately installed president of the ancient College, to be interfered with in the appointment of professors. Indeed this was perhaps the most grievous trial of Father Byrne's fortitude, and his perseverance under it commands admiration.

As a tribute to the merits of the receiver we quote from a letter, November 9, 1881, written by General Coale, of Liberty, to President Byrne: "Mr. McSherry has certainly exhibited extraordinary forbearance in the exercise of his authority over the property and affairs of the College since you have taken up your abode there. ..." Noblesse oblige. "Fatti maschi. Parole Femmine'' is the Maryland gentleman's motto.

Several Catholic colleges, as appears from the list appended to this history, helped the Mountain in her trouble, and the New York Catholic Review of July 2, 1881, speaking of the action of the students of Fordham and Manhattan in that city in giving up their premiums to aid Mt. St. Mary's, says: "Exegi monumen-tum aere perennius.' No gold medal that either Manhattan or Fordham has yet given to worthy students will be more honorable than those bits of paper, or gives better promise for our Catholic future." The boys had contented themselves with simple certificates of collegiate success.

Chapter 65 | 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.