St. Mary's Seminary plans library expansion Archive to hold documents of Catholic Church in U.S.

July 02, 1998|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

St. Mary's Seminary and University in Roland Park is embarking on a major expansion of its library that will include archival space for what will be the most comprehensive collection of documents related to the development of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The library addition will bring together the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore with the archives of the seminary and of the Sulpician Order of priests who founded it in 1791 and still teach there, said the Rev. Robert F. Leavitt, president and rector of the seminary.

The documents from the nation's first diocese and its first seminary show how Catholicism took root in the United States.

"It will be a national research center for early American Catholicism," Leavitt said.

Two other collections

In addition, the expansion will provide space for two other collections.

The Christian-Jewish and Judaica Collection will include works related to Judaism and Jewish-Christian studies.

The Raymond E. Brown Center for Johannine Studies will house the collection of the pre-eminent Catholic scholar on the Gospel of John. Brown, a priest and member of the Sulpician order, earned a doctorate at St. Mary's in 1955 and taught at the seminary from 1959 to 1971.

Brown's collection takes up 90 feet of shelf space and has nearly 10,000 volumes, Leavitt said.

"I think the collections that they're working with are most significant, extraordinary in many respects," said Edward C. Papenfuse, archivist for the state of Maryland.

"What you're going to have there is an outstanding collection of materials relating to biblical studies and the early history of the Catholic Church in English-speaking North America."

Better way sought

Cardinal William H. Keeler said that for years, he had wanted to find a better way to store the archdiocesan archives when Leavitt approached him with the current proposal.

"I was looking for a way to apply contemporary technology to their care to have a controlled climate setting for them and also to see that the documents, where possible, would be entered into an electronic database which would preserve them from unnecessary handling and wear and tear that would result, and at the same time make them more accessible to the scholars who wished to use them," he said.

The archdiocesan archives date from 1745. The diocese was founded in 1789 when John Carroll became the country's first bishop, said the Rev. Paul K. Thomas, the archivist.

"We remained the Catholic capital of the United States until about 1900. Everything was funneled through Baltimore," Thomas said. "Whenever they held major meetings, they were held in Baltimore, and they were called the Baltimore councils."

George Washington letter

The archdiocesan archives include a letter from George Washington to the Roman Catholics of the United States, dated March 12, 1790, thanking them for their congratulations on his election as the first president.

"One of our real treasures is the sketches that Benjamin Latrobe did for the old Catholic Cathedral," Thomas said. Latrobe, who designed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, was the architect for the nation's first cathedral, now known as the Basilica of the Assumption, on Cathedral Street. The 19 Latrobe sketches were valued at $20,000 each when they were last appraised in 1975, Thomas said.

The library addition itself will cost about $3 million, but Leavitt hopes to raise about $7 million to cover construction and an endowment for the library and research facilities. Construction is expected to begin in about a year and should be completed in the summer of 2000.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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