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American College, The (in Rome)

The American College of the Roman Catholic Church of the United States, Rome, Italy

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American College, THE, IN ROME.—The American College in Rome, or to give the legal title, “The American College of the Roman Catholic Church of the United States, Rome, Italy“, owes its existence chiefly to Archbishop Hughes, of New York, and Archbishop Kenrick of Baltimore, who were the most conspicuous supporters of Pius IX in founding at Rome this institution which has done so much for half-a-century to preserve and propagate Roman traditions and maintain unity between the See of Peter and the Church in the United States. When a number of American bishops went to Rome in 1854 to be present at the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they expressed to Pius IX the desire to see an American college established that should take rank with the other national colleges in that city. Bishop Michael O’Connor, of Pittsburg, an alumnus of the Propaganda, seconded the efforts of the leading prelates already mentioned, and specially pressed the matter on the attention of the Pontiff. In his reply to the letter of the archbishops and bishops composing the First Provincial Council of New York, Pius IX proposed the establishment of a North American College in Rome. Archbishop Hughes, who had long fostered this idea, immediately wrote to the other archbishops of the United States and to his suffragans, extolling the Pope‘s design and asking their advice as to the best method of putting it into execution, and of procuring the means necessary to support the college when established. In the Eighth Provincial Council of Baltimore held from May 6 to May 16, 1855, it was resolved to appoint a committee of three bishops to report on the subject of the American College. Bishop O’Connor, of Pittsburg, Bishop Neumann, of Philadelphia and Dr. Lynch, Administrator of Charleston, were appointed. It was subsequently agreed that the Pope should be asked to select three bishops as a committee to carry out the idea; that the Archbishop of Baltimore should act as promoter until their appointment, and that an active and experienced clergyman should be sent to Rome to make the necessary preparations. Pius IX became so interested in the project that he offered to purchase and present a suitable building for the purpose, while the American bishops would furnish it and procure the funds necessary for its maintenance. In 1857, the Pope bought for $42,000, the old Visitation Convent of the Umilta, then occupied by soldiers of the French garrison in Rome. The free use of it in perpetuity was accorded to the American bishops. By reason of its military occupation the building was in bad condition. On December 12, 1858, the Archbishop of New York ordered a general collection in all the churches of his diocese to procure funds for the necessary repairs and for the furnishing of the college. The people were most generous in their contributions, and the other American archbishops and bishops cooperated so liberally that in a short time the sum of nearly $50,000 was collected. Repairs were immediately begun on the building, and in the year following it was fit for occupancy. On the 8th of December, 1859, the college was formally opened with thirteen students who had for some time been waiting in the College of the Propaganda for this event. On the day of the opening of the college, Monsignor Bedini, Secretary of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, consecrated the marble altar of the college chapel, and on the twelfth of the same month the feast of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, to whom one of the side altars is dedicated, he celebrated Pontifical Mass in the college church. On the feast of St. Francis de Sales, January 29, 1860, Pius IX visited the college. To commemorate this event, a tablet bearing the following inscription was put up: “On January 29, 1860, the feast of St. Francis de Sales, Pius IX, the Supreme Pontiff, father and founder of the American College, said Mass in this building, fed the alumni with the heavenly banquet, visited the college, and deigned to give audience to all”. His Holiness was assisted on the occasion by Bishop David Bacon, of Portland, Maine, and by Monsignor Goss, of Liverpool.

The Rev. Bernard Smith, O.S.B., professor in the Propaganda College, and afterwards an abbot, was appointed temporary rector of the college, until the appointment, in March, 1860, of the Rev. William George McCloskey, who was then an assistant at the Church of the Nativity, New York City, and later Bishop of Louisville. During the administration of Father McCloskey the college flourished, the number of students increasing rapidly from thirteen to fifty, of whom six came from New York, four from Newark, two from Brooklyn, five from Philadelphia, and the remainder from the New England States, the South, and the West. The first ordination of an alumnus to the priesthood was on the 14th of June, 1862, in the Church of St. John Lateran, by Cardinal Patrizzi. The finances of the college were not, however, on a sound basis; the rector, therefore, in 1866, appealed for aid to the American bishops assembled in the second Plenary Council of Baltimore. The appeal was successful, for Archbishop Spalding, who as Delegate of the Holy See, convoked and presided at the Council, in his letter promulgating its decrees, commended the college to the good will of the bishops. In consequence, the Rev. George H. Doane, a clergyman of the Diocese of Newark, was appointed by the bishops to collect funds for the college. After making a tour of the country, he succeeded in collecting $150,000, which at once placed the college on an excellent financial footing.

During the Vatican Council, the American prelates in Rome decided that the property of the college should remain in the hands of the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda. With regard to the burses or scholarships founded, it was agreed that when they were vacant, one-half of the proceeds should go to the college and the other half to the diocese to which the burse belonged. There are now (1906) thirty-five burses founded in the college. The Rev. Dr. McCloskey was made Bishop of Louisville, Kentucky, in 1868, and was succeeded by the Rev. Dr. Francis Silas Chatard, who remained rector until May 12, 1878, when he was consecrated Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana. The Rev. Dr. Louis Hostlot, vicerector of the college, succeeded Dr. Chatard, and remained in office till his death, February 1, 1884. Then for a time the Rev. Dr. Augustin J. Schulte governed the college, until the election of the Rev. Dennis J. O’Connell, D.D., now Rector of the Catholic University at Washington. He resigned in July, 1895, and was succeeded by the Rev. William H. O’Connell, D.D., who became Bishop of Portland, Maine, in 1901. The Right Rev. Monsignor Thomas F. Kennedy, of Philadelphia, succeeded him. Under Dr. Kennedy’s rectorship property adjoining the college was purchased, in November, 1903, at a cost of $50,000. His predecessor, Dr. William H. O’Connell, had purchased for $20,000 the Villa Santa Catarina, at Castel Gandolfo, as a summer residence for the students. At the present time (May, 1906) their number is one hundred and fifteen, the largest number the college has ever had. The college has an Alumni Association in the United States comprising two hundred and seventy-five members, out of four hundred and fifty students who have been ordained priests in the college. This association made a contribution of $25,000 to the fund for the recent acquisition of new property by the college. Besides the late Archbishop Corrigan, of New York, the following American prelates, who are still living, studied theology in the college: Archbishops Farley, of New York; Mceller, of Cincinnati; O’Connell, of Boston; Bishops Richter, of Grand Rapids; Burke, of St. Joseph, Mo.; Horstmann, of Cleveland; McDonnell, of Brooklyn; Hoban, of Scranton; Rooker, of Jaro, P. I.; Dougherty, of Nueva Segovia, P. I.; Morris, Coadjutor, of Little Rock. Archbishop Riordan, of San Francisco, and Archbishop Seton, as well as Bishops Byrne, of Nashville, Keiley, of Savannah, O’Connor, of Newark, N. J., and Northrup, of Charleston, S. C., are partially indebted to this institution for their training in theology. By his brief, Ubi primum, October 25, 1884, Leo XIII raised the American College to the rank of a Pontifical College. The administration of the college is controlled by a board composed of the archbishops of Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Its internal management and discipline are entrusted to the rector, who is assisted by the vicerector and by the spiritual director. The students attend the lectures, and are subject to the academic regulations, of the Urban College of Propaganda. The curriculum of the last-named institution comprises a two-years’ course in philosophy and a four-years’ course in theology. Supplementary lectures are given in the American College on the subjects treated in Propaganda.

The most interesting incident in the history of the American College was the attempt of the Italian government, after the taking of Rome, to seize the college property. Italian statutes of August 15, 1866, and of July 7, 1867, confiscated to the State the property of religious corporations. A law of 1873 applied the general law to the City of Rome. The Propaganda had for ten years contended in the courts that these laws did not apply to its property; but the highest Italian court on the 29th of January, 1884, decided the case in favor of the State. Cardinal McCloskey and Archbishop Corrigan, his coadjutor, wrote a joint letter on the 3d of Marsh, 1884, to the President of the United States, Chester A. Arthur, begging him to “ask the King of Italy for a stay of proceedings, if it be not possible furthermore to exempt the institution as virtually American property from the operation” of the law”. Archbishop Corrigan, who, for a long time, was secretary of the board of bishops, having charge of the affairs of the American College, sent special letters to the Secretary of State, Mr. Frelinghuysen, who wrote on the 5th of March, 1884, to Mr. Astor, the American Minister at Rome, urging him to use his influence with the Italian government to save the college property because “although technically the American College is held by the Propaganda, it is virtually American property, and its reduction would be attended with the sacrifice of interests almost exclusively American”. The efforts of President Arthur, Secretary Frelinghuysen, and Mr. Astor, suggested and urged by the cardinal and his coadjutor, saved the college; and on the 28th of March, 1884, Mr. Astor sent a telegram from Rome, announcing that the college had been exempted from the effect of the Italian statutes of confiscation.


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