Mount St. Mary’s College
Second oldest among the Catholic collegiate institutions in the United States, located near Emmitsburg, Maryland
Mount St. Mary’s College, the second oldest among the Catholic collegiate institutions in the United States, is located near Emmitsburg, Maryland, within the limits of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Its situation on high ground at the foot of the Maryland range of the Blue Ridge Mountains is remarkable for beauty and healthfulness while it affords ample opportunity for physical exercise. Mount St. Mary’s Theological Seminary has been maintained in connection with the college since the foundation of the latter. The institution is directed by an association of secular clergymen who, with several lay professors, compose its faculty. Its material interests are controlled by a board of directors of which the Archbishop of Baltimore is, ex officio, the president. For the academic year 1909-10 the teaching corps included sixteen professors, besides assistant instructors in the various branches, with 298 students in the college and 54 in the seminary. Instruction is given in four departments: collegiate, academic, commercial, and modern languages. The degrees conferred are those of bachelor of arts and master of arts.
Mount St. Mary’s College was founded in 1808 when the preparatory seminary established by the Sulpicians at Pigeon Hill, Pa., was transferred to Emmitsburg. Eight students formed the nucleus out of which the college developed. Its first president was Rev. John Dubois (q.v.) who had been laboring for some years in the neighboring missions and had built a brick church on the slope above the present site of the college. He had been led to secure this site by Father (afterwards Bishop) Dubourg (q.v.), who directed Mother Seton also to Emmitsburg for the establishment of St. Joseph‘s Academy. Father Dubois had as his assistant Father Brute (q.v.) who was consecrated first Bishop of Vincennes in 1834. Father Dubois himself became in 1826 Bishop of New York and was succeeded in the presidency by Rev. Michael de Burgo Egan (1826-28), Rev. J. F. McGerry (1828-29), and Rev. John B. Purcell (1830-33), later Archbishop of Cincinnati. In January, 1830, Father Purcell obtained from the General Assembly of Maryland a charter of incorporation for the college. This document prohibited the requiring of any religious test from students or professors, and limited the tenure of land to 1000 acres and the total value of the college property to $25,000: all gifts or revenues in excess of this amount, after the payment of necessary debts, were to be held for the use of the State of Maryland. After the brief (five months) incumbency of Rev. F. Jamison during the latter half of 1833, Rev. Thomas R. Butler was chosen president (1834-38). During his administration, a new charter, still in force, was granted on April 4, 1836, wherein the college authorities are empowered to confer all collegiate honors and degrees except that of doctor of medicine. Father Butler’s successor was Rev. John J. McCaffrey, a man of great energy and zeal, whose long term as president (1838-1872) was marked on one hand by the growth and prosperity of the college, on the other by reverses that threatened its very existence. He was the builder of the new church at Emmitsburg which was dedicated in June, 1842. The cornerstone of Brute Hall, for which $12,000 had been appropriated, was laid on May 2, 1843, and, in 1852, the foundation of McCaffrey Hall. On June 25, 1857, Archbishop Purcell laid the cornerstone of the church which was to replace the structure on the hill. In 1858 the college celebrated its semi centennial with appropriate exercises in which many distinguished alumni took part.
The “Mountain” already counted among its graduates such men as John Hughes, later Archbishop of New York; William Quarter, first Bishop of Chicago; John McCloskey, afterwards Archbishop of New York and Cardinal; Willaim Henry Elder, Archbishop of Cincinnati; William George McCloskey, president of the American College, Rome, and later Bishop of Louisville; Francis S. Chatard, president of the American College, Rome, and later Bishop of Vincennes; Michael Augustine Corrigan, later Archbishop of New York; Richard N. Whelan, first Bishop of Wheeling; Francis X. Gartland, first Bishop of Savannah; Francis P. McFarland, third Bishop of Hartford.
Within three years after the celebration of its golden jubilee, the college was confronted by difficulties due to the outbreak of the war between the States. Though both North and South had strong partisans in the faculty as well as in the student body, the college as a whole remained neutral. But shortly after the beginning of hostilities, an exodus of students representing each section took place in such numbers that only seven were left for the graduating class of 1863, and only two for that of 1864. Moreover as parents were unable to meet tuition fees and other expenses of the pupils whom the college maintained during the four years of war, the financial standing of the institution was seriously compromised, and as a result the college at the end of the conflict was overwhelmed with debt. In June, 1872, Dr. J. J. McCaffrey, in consequence of failing health, withdrew from the presidency after thirty-four years of arduous and devoted service. Father John Mc Closkey was elected to the office with Rev. H. S. Mc Murdie as vice-president. Under their administration, the student body varied from 130 to 165. In 1877 Rev. John A. Watterson became president and retained the office until his promotion to the See of Columbus (1880). He introduced a thorough system of retrenchment in all departments; but the bulk of the debt remained. After his departure, Father John McCloskey once more took up the burden of the presidency, but only for a short time, as he died towards the close of 1880. In January, 1881, Rev. Wm. J. Hill, of Brooklyn, came to the college and petitioned to have a receiver appointed. The appointee was James McSherry, later Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of Maryland. He turned over the affairs of the institution in June, 1881, to Very Rev. William M. Byrne, Vicar-General of Boston, whose firmness, prudence, and wise economy restored prosperity to the college. His policy was continued by Rev. Edward P. Allen, who held office from 1884 until he became Bishop of Mobile in 1897. During his administration, McCaffrey Hall was completed (1894); and under his successor, Rev. Wm. L. O’Hara (1897-1905), Dubois Hall was completed, improvements were continued to accommodate the increasing number of students.
The presidency of his successor, Very Rev. Dennis J. Flynn (1905), has been marked by the celebration, in October, 1908, of the centenary of the college. This occasion brought to the “Mountain” a large number of men prominent in ecclesiastical, professional, and public life who claim the college as their Alma Mater (for full account see “The Mountaineer”, October and November, 1908). It may indeed be said that the highest tribute to the college and the best proof of its efficiency is found in the careers of those whom it educated. Its service to the Church is shown by the fact that among its officers and graduates at least twenty-five have been bishops, including one cardinal and five archbishops hence its well deserved title, “Mother of Bishops”. But it has also given to the State and to every department of useful citizenship a large number of men distinguished by ability and integrity (see partial list in “The Mountaineer”, October, 1908, 34-43). Among the causes which explain this success, the most important is doubtless the united work of clergy and laity in building up the college, controlling its discipline, and conducting its courses. Scarcely less efficacious have been the relations between clerical and lay students which, continued beyond the years at college, have resulted in hearty cooperation for the highest civic, moral, and religious purposes, and have bound all the alumni in loyal devotion to the venerable institution which gave them their early training. This harmonious spirit found its latest expression at the dedication of the new college church on October 12, 1910, which called together former graduates, both lay and clerical, from all parts of the United States (see “The Mountaineer”, November, 1910).