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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 7 | Chapter Index

Chapter 8: 1818-1819

The Rev. Charles Duhamel, who helped in the parish work at the village, died on the 6th of February, 1818, and Father Dubois must have felt his loss greatly, not only as an assistant in his labors, but as a friend.

Midway of the ascent to the church on the Hill is a small level spot. To-day it is only an idle-wild, a tangled mass of woodland undergrowth, a spot where mid-summer runs riot; but here and there are traces of an ancient garden; shrubs and flowers which were dear to the hearts of our ancestors still survive. The old yellow lilies lift their disks to the sun, larkspur and phlox the sweetest of the roses, the old "hundred-leaf" bloom in their season, raising their heads above the surrounding entanglement as if asking for the hand that planted them and wondering why these unkempt intruders are permitted to crowd them so!

The birds make merry in the branches of the old cherry, pear, and apple trees, which keep watch over the solitude in company with younger growths of oak, chestnut and ailanthus. Upon this spot in those days stood the log-house, of two rooms, built in 1805 for Father Dubois and occupied subsequently by Mrs. Seton and her companions and by M. Duhamel, of which no trace other than this wild growth remains. Yet what have not been the communings of each saintly soul with its Creator or with other souls as heaven-drawn as itself, while the eyes of the body from this eyrie drank in the beauty of nature spread out before them, since that winter which Father Dubois spent alone within its rude walls!

Who, in pausing beside this neglected spot and turning glances down at the graceful stone buildings below and across the valley to that other group beyond, nestling beneath the linden trees, but will experience a rush of glowing thoughts, so rapid as to defy arrangement, yet bringing with it a sadness indefinite and intangible as is the blue mist which enveils the Mountains? Imagination will paint the hours spent here, in sweet communings with heaven, in resting after long walks or rides through the snow and wind and sleety storms of that winter of 1805-1806, by him, an alien in tongue and nativity, who had devoted himself to God's service among this scattered people. How like a pharos over rock-fretted waters must his "little candle "have shone through the watches of the night over this wide valley! Thoughts will picture those ten delicately nurtured women who had left their all of home and family to build up in this wild spot a nucleus whence the rays of God's sweet charity should diffuse themselves over all the broad continent, and who spent those mid-summer weeks in that small cottage of two rooms, thankful for the courtesy which had sheltered them, for they had found scant refuge otherwise. What consolation of tenderest human sympathy must not Father Dubois have found from them in his struggles and disappointments! The last tenant, the saintly exile, dying there seemed to bless the rude walls by the act. But here had gathered to him Dubois and Brute", and what must not have been the heights to which they rose in the science of the Saints! In anticipation of the future monument, to be erected by both institutions, a plain wooden cross now marks its site, and bears this inscription :

Father Dnbois' house was built on this spot in the Summer of 1805. Mrs. Seton and her first associates occupied it from June 21 to July 31, 1809. blessed be god is his angels and in his saints!

We have seen among the pupils of this year, the name of Charles I. White of Philadelphia, afterwards a seminarian of the Mountain. As a priest he added much to Catholic literature, notably a translation of Balmes' "Catholicity and Protestantism" and a "Life of Mrs. Seton."

Among the letters of this time we find one from Mr. Basil 8. Elder confiding his oldest son Francis William to Father Dubois' care. This gentleman, Francis William, is the oldest brother of the Archbishop of Cincinnati and was succeeded at the College by all his six brothers save one. Of those days he writes:

"It was in the month of September 1818 that I was first enrolled as a pupil of Mt. St. Mary's Seminary the Institution not being yet dignified with the title of College. The trip from Baltimore to Emmitsburg at that time was a journey that sometimes involved the necessity of spending one night on the road. Schoolward this journey was always accompanied with subduing influences but when at length the time came to turn our faces the other way, then, indeed, it was a journey of rollicking jollification; and if perchance a cherry tree was descried by the wayside, laden with its fruit just then in perfection, our Jersey wagons were deserted, and we fellows up the tree in quicker time than it takes to tell of it. The advent of the vacation time was duly chronicled all about the school room for weeks and months before the day arrived: 'eighty-four days to vacation' ' forty days to vacation' etc.. chalked in every conspicuous spot about the premises. And no panting bridegroom ever looked forward to his wedding day with brighter hopes and anticipations than we boys awaited the day we were to be released from our school books to return to our homes. . . . The school buildings and the annexes, as we would call them today, were all constructed of hewn logs and two stories high. We were awakened at a very early hour in the morning by one of the prefects walking up and down the dormitory, smacking his hands together with a noise that could be heard all over the house and if any fellow was observed playing possum, his cot was tilted to one side and he was unceremoniously dumped out on the floor. As each boy finished his toilet, which was done generally in about two minutes, he went down to take his morning ablutions at the pump, so-called, but it was no pump at all being simply a long trough dug out of a solid log, pierced at both sides with a dozen or more holes through which the water flowed continually day and night, summer and winter, and we had only to catch two or three double handfuls of water souse our faces and wipe them off with the towel with which every fellow provided himself as he went from the dormitory. In the winter time this feat of washing was often accompanied with accidents that afforded fun for the fellows but no fun for the actor. The splashing of the water, freezing in front of the trough, formed a mound of ice just where we had to get in order to catch the water and it was an everyday occurrence for some of us to get a fall and often to slip into the pool which was formed by the frozen spray and many a time we found our faces fringed round with icicles formed on our hair during the short time it took us to make our ablutions on those bitter winter mornings.

"In the winter time after washing, we had morning prayers in the big play room, but in the summer we went up to the church on the Mountain to hear Mass. Then we had a short study and after that, breakfast, which was a frugal repast indeed; a big bowl of good hot coffee and a hunk of bread which the boys generally broke up in the coffee no butter no meat nor relish of any kind. For dinner we had meat and gravy in abundance but there was no attention paid to carving, and the whole service was of the most primitive character but the feature of our dinners in the summer and fall, was the gumbo soup that was luxurious and although I have been a lover of gumbo soup ever since I learned to eat it there, it seems to me I have never found any so good as what we had at School. Supper was the same as breakfast, with the additional accompaniment occasionally of a little butter.

"The amusements of the boys, besides marbles, tops and some athletic games, were sometimes of a very practical character. On one occasion we gathered up all the loose stones about the premises and filled up a frog pond in the garden (the present, 1908, Athletic field), which it was desired to obliterate; another time we spent a whole day clearing the stones out of the roadway to the church and with them filling in the roadway of the stone bridge, which I believe still stands a little way above the College. At other times we would help good old Father Brute" to lay out and open the many paths, that yet remain to attest his engineering qualities, all about the surrounding localities and to fix up the ' Grotto,' which still attracts the visitor to Mt. St. Mary's.

"Twice during my term of four years at the College the big boys were called up to help to avert the forest fire, which was making its way towards us, threatening to destroy everything in its path. These adventures afforded themes for our exploits and mishaps, journeying amongst the nooks and undergrowth of the Mountains, for months afterwards; and the roll-call after our return to see if any were missing appeared to us as graphic and significant as the calls after the great battles we had read about.

"It was the custom in those days for the Sisterhood girls to come over in the summer to the high Mass at our church; but the good Sisters were very shy, always keeping them where they could be out of the sight of the boys as if that were contaminating. The Grotto was one of their favorite haunts and one of their pastimes was to scratch their names with a pin on the laurel leaves, so that we fellows when we went there afterwards, could gather the said leaves and faithfully keep them in our prayer books, just by way of a Tittle innocent romance.

"Another of our practical amusements (?) was to belong to a squad of 4 or 5 boys detailed to attend to the fire in a designated stove, for which service we were allowed some special privilege. We were furnished with small axes to prepare the kindling-wood, which we provided in good weather and stored away for use, the large wood being kept in good supply all the time by Uncle Abe. The waiting on the tables was all done by the boys in turn and was a service very gladly rendered and was generally rewarded by something extra for their dinner. All these little services constituted a saving of expense to the College (as I now call it) which was a very important matter in its then impecunious condition. Many of the boys had guns, and on Thursdays we were allowed to go off through the country, accompanied by a prefect, to make slaughter upon the birds that abounded in the valley. But that sport was put a stop to shortly after I left school for fear it might lead to serious accident."

The school had now attained a well-founded reputation. The teachers formed by Fathers Dubois and Brute were excellent; others trained in European schools were added and the list also included two who had graduated at Georgetown College. One of these, Rev. James Lynch, had left the novitiate of the Society of Jesus on account of delicate health. His wit was of the keenest and his manners bland and suave. He taught mathematics and, having been ordained at the Mountain, died there and lies in its God's-acre. Rev. James Smith was a man whom no one could pass unnoticed. Of large frame and ungainly figure, rather a hypochondriac, warm hearted, if warm-tempered, he was a model of virtue. If not an eloquent preacher he was an eloquent advocate for the study of the Greek language, using a manuscript Latin-Greek grammar by one Dr. Moore. Father Smith was afterwards a priest in the Diocese of Philadelphia, and died at sea, on a voyage undertaken for health.

Extracts from some letters give an idea of the relations between Dubois and his former pupils. Father Hickey begins a letter thus:

Mount. St. Mary's College 21' Oct. 1818.

Dear, Reverend and Beloved Father: You must not be displeased with the three titles which my heart more than my pen bestows.

Dec. 27th of the same year, Rev. George Elder writes from St. Thomas' Seminary, Bardstown, Kentucky: It is hard to say what a pleasure it gives me to think of you in my native forests. How I got to Pittsburgh I think I told you in my letter dated from that place. ... I took the steamboat and in five days reached Louisville. This made thirteen days from the time I left Mount St. Mary's. The pleasant passage down the river was some compensation for the roughness of the stage. I set out from the Mountain with no eagerness whatever; sorrow for the friends I left behind left no room for joy at the idea of revisiting my family. . . . (Rev) Mr. David was overjoyed on receiving your letter is glad to hear that you still succeed so well after the storm. Few have heard of that difference and those few (I'm glad to say it) are for the cause of Mount St. Mary's Seminary.

On the 6th of November, Martin Kerney, one of our earliest students, an acolyte, died in his native Emmitsburg. During the ensuing twelve months the number of pupils increased and among the papers relating to this period we find, for the first time, a name henceforth for sixty-two years to be connected with the college. John McCaffrey, whose parents lived in Emmitsburg where he went to William Mullen's school, came to the college a boy of thirteen years, and his standing on May 10, 1819, in the third Latin class kept by Mr. Egan, is as follows: "McCaffrey in his fourteenth year, began Latin this year, translates De viris illustribus well- a little giddy, particularly in parsing." In algebra he showed " great facility and application," in geometry was " easily confused and disconcerted, but did very well and has real talent." John McCaffrey was a son of Bartholomew, one of those many Irish emigrants who made a living by hawking goods about the country, strong, intelligent, faithful men. When president of the College Dr. McCaffrey often told anecdotes of his own childhood. One was that on St. Patrick's Day the dead body of Samuel Emmit, who was said to be going towards the little convent to undo his deed of sale made to Mrs. Seton, was found in the street of the village, and little McCaffrey had peeped into the parlor windows of the tavern to see it. Another was this: as he was playing near the village pump in the square a stranger rode up and asked him for a drink. The boy ran to his mother and brought out a pitcher, from which the stranger drank, raising it with both hands." Could you tell me where is Mr. Dubois' College? He could, and getting up behind Prince Galitzin, for it was he, and as he was told, planting his bare feet in the huge pockets of the priest's coat, he guided the great missionary through the forest to the log houses of John Dubois. And this, as Father Brute tells us, was John McCaffrey's first visit to Mt. St. Mary's College. He was then in his seventh year.

The William Mullen (or Mullon) mentioned, was the father of Rev. J. J. Mullen, priest later in New Orleans, and life-long friend of Doctor McCaffrey, his schoolmate. The Irish, as we observe elsewhere, did a great deal to educate the children of the young republic, and themselves composed several of the Mountain's earliest pupils.

One of Father Brute's memoranda is an account of the manner in which he spent the third Sunday of Advent at the Seminary in Paris; the third Sunday of Advent at Rennes in 1809; and the third Sunday of Advent in 1819 at the Mountain. The Sundays at Paris and Rennes are but the routine of Seminary life, that at the Mountain is as follows:

"Slept at the Mountain.

5.o'c. Rose ; 1st. Prayers.

5 1/2. On my way to the Sister's (at St. Joseph's) meditation en route.

6.o'c. Heard confessions; wrote out my meditations.

7o'c. Mass. Read de Blois' Lives of the Saints.

8.0'c. Breakfast at Mr. Grover's.

8 1/4 o'c. Gave communion at the ch. at Emmitsburg to two persons; heard confessions; wrote a meditation.

101/2 o'c. Went to visit Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Bradley, who are sick; said my "Little Hours" on the way.

11 1/2 o'c. Stopped at the Sisters'; read the Life of Mdme.de Chantal; wrote an exhortation for the Funeral of Mrs. Lindsay.

1 o'c. Gave Benediction; read the Epistle for the Sunday, and gave a short instruction.

1 1/2 o'c. Returned to the Mountain. Visited the Sisters at their house (i. e. the Sisters who were on a " mission " at the College); a few words.

2 o'c. Went to Mr. Elder's; officiated at the funeral of Mrs. Lindsay ; exhortation. Read the Hist, of the Councils (whilst walking there and home.

3.o'c. Vespers ; gave benediction; heard confessions after Vespers.

4.o'c. In my room; heard confessions; office; looked over some Gazettes 1816-17 (French Newspapers); read, in the Encyclopedia, account of Pennsylvania.

7o'c. Supper : study.

8 3/4o'c. Evening prayers ; reading, etc."

A day of rest verily!

Another of Father Brute's scraps of memoranda is a paper upon which are noted the details of a day's work in going about the country from one family to another, and is headed, "A day of the Missions at Emmitsburg," presumably a holiday at the Mountain. The distances which he traveled are marked on the margin and their sum is thirty miles. Leaving the Mountain at a quarter to five in the morning, he celebrated Mass at half past five o'clock at the Sisterhood, and was at home at the College by half past six in the evening.

"I remember to have spoken to sixty two persons, mostly in regard to matters connected with Religion and their duty; made a short exhortation at Mass, it being St. Ignatius' day (July 31). Three persons were warned about their Easter duty; several spoken to for circulating evil reports; others warned against attending a camp meeting to begin next week at Hoover's." In another note we read: "I began to go to Emmitsburg on Sunday the 20th, June, 1819," that is, to take charge of it. On the 8th of September this year the sodality called the "Children of Mary" was founded, Michael Egan being the first "Guardian." Several others who like him were destined for the presidency of the College and other high stations in life, were amongst its early members.

The manner of conducting this society gives us an insight into the ways and means adopted by those Frenchmen to develop piety in the young American. The members during meeting called one another "charissime," and the highest virtues were held up for their imitation. One of the " Masters," as the Seminarians were called, was superior and was called Guardian, having under him an Angel and two assistants. The meetings were on Sunday evenings from 7 1/2 to 8 1/2, and oftener if possible. If one member noticed another behaving improperly he was bound to admonish him privately, and if this failed, he should tell the Guardian. Confession was once a fortnight. They were bound to defend the Masters if they were spoken ill of. They were to give a pious turn to conversations among themselves. Each member must try to win another boy to virtue and get him to join the sodality. The daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament was at the beginning of the 5 o'clock studies. On every second Wednesday the whole society visited the church on the Hill and said prayers for a good death, and then going to the graveyard recited part of the Rosary, the time not to exceed half an hour. When a member died, the individuals said the penitential psalms for him and offered one Communion, while the Society said the Beads thrice and the President said three Masses. The only exercises indicated at this time for the meetings are the reading of some pious book and an occasional exhortation made by the Guardian, but the Rosary was said daily by each one.

An old document, found in the papers of a prominent family of Maryland, contains a unique scholastic report of a pupil of the Mountain, who attended College in 1819. These are some of the comments of the president of the College, Rev. John Dubois, marked opposite the lessons: Religion, inconstant yet and neglectful; English spelling, careless in writing; English reading, reads without method and application, dry in composition ; does better now; writing improves; Latin, pretty well lately; French, capacity; overcomes the difficulties by his application; geography, so inattentive to this class, which requires so much attention, that it was thought best to take him away. Practical arithmetic, does well: behavior, middling, careless; talents, good enough when he exerts them; temper, peevish and stubborn for a long while, good lately ; application, deficient since he returned from home lately; health, good; manners, good or bad according to his humor ; piety, very deficient.

Observations. When Marius came from the vacations he showed a great deal of discontent, probably owing to bad counsels from some of his playmates he had left behind. He neglected everything. His temper was peevish and stubborn. A great change for the better has taken place in him for a few weeks. I trust the next account will be much to his advantage.

It will be seen from the foregoing monthly report that Master Marius received quite a genteel "drubbing" from his preceptor, which doubtless did him much good in the end. At any rate the pains and consideration for the welfare and progress of pupils in the old school is plainly indicated in the above report.

On January 4, 1820, it being proposed to remove eleven seminarians to Baltimore, Father Brute’ enumerates the duties of Father Dubois and himself, and the need they had of their clerical pupils and fellow-laborers. First he has a list of 25 seminarians with marks after their names that are now enigmatical, and speaks of others asking for admission. Second, College: 59 pupils and many calls two more this very day. All Catholics except five, four of whom go to confession. Third, at the Sisterhood, fifty nuns in all, here, in Philadelphia and New York, including novices, besides sixty or seventy pupils, orphans and day-scholars. Fourth, the congregation Mother Seton had kept a free school as well as an academy for some years, but now built a brick edifice in which free tuition was given and a daily substantial meal. It was at the convent and at the start had about twenty pupils.

Amongst the employees at the College at this time are, Marcilly the gardener, Bowden and Didier the shoemakers, Devoy tailor, Gegan teacher of music and Jandon whose trade is a lather. Several of these were Frenchmen, who naturally followed Dubois and Brute'. As showing the hardships of the slave-trade in those days, Henry Taylor tells how "Betsey," a tall slave of an Emmitsburger, was sold here and Emmitsburg together having five hundred fifty Easter duties. Of these in the Mountain parish there were 91 men and 140 women, white; 20 men and 27 women, black.

Prizes this year awarded to Alexander Hitzelberger, John McCaffrey, Richard Whelan, John Gildea, Ambrose White, Francis Elder.

From a note of Father Brute' of 1819, we find that Father Dubois used to make out a list of the students "who went to Brute’, and handed the same to him. Two names have the addition "if he wishes." The Sulpician manner was to assign a confessor to each student, instead of allowing the latter to choose his own.

The reputation enjoyed by the college is shown by such letters as this:

Mr. Peter K. Beverly to Mr. Dubois. Alexandria, Aug. 1st, 1820.

Rev. Sir: My neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Patton, and many others give the Seminary over which you preside, such distinguished character for intellect and morals and attention to the health of the pupils that I am induced to give you the trouble to answer my inquiries. I have three promising boys. . . .

As we intimated the Mountain theologians used to finish in Baltimore. One of them, John F. McGerry, writes to Mr. Dubois :

St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore Sept. 7th, 1820.

Dear Father: If I have deferred writing to you it is not want of attention nor forgetfulness of you, whom I can never forget ... I am classed differently from what I expected and contrary to your expectations too. As I am the only Seminarian who was to attend the Philosophy class, the gentlemen here thought that it would be better for me as I had seen Logic to begin Divinity at once and not lose another year . . . Mr. Deluol is to teach me privately Philosophy ; so that I am now hard at it, you may be sure, to prepare for two classes a day, but I hope I shall be able to succeed ... On account of Mr. McCosker's being sick I keep an Arithmetic class at the College here, and indeed I may expect to have it altogether, for there is almost no hope of his recovery.

To a dealer from the South. She was at the wash-tub when the latter went to look at her. "What do you want for the black mare?" said Mr. Souldriver, as we called him . . . Dr. Chatard thought him in his agony this morning . . . Mr. Hickey received the last Sacraments last week, but he is now much better and the Doctor thinks him out of danger ... [He lived to be an old man.] I am as contented as I can expect to be at so great a distance from the dear Mt. and all the good people about it. I assure you my thoughts are very often with you . . . When they call the Mount the little Seminary no doubt they allude to the house, for we here are now but eight Seminarians all studying Divinity, and I expect in a short time we shall be but seven, so that the large Sanctuary here is to look at, and this is the big Seminary with only eight students and yours is the little one with twenty. However I hope one day things will get their true name. . . .

Chapter Index | Chapter 9

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