The Year is…1808

by James Rada, Jr.

The Mount Seminary Is the “Cradle of Bishops”

From a brick cottage in rural Maryland grew an institution that has educated dozens of young men who became Catholic bishops and archbishops.

Mount St. Mary’s College began in 1808 when “the Society of St. Sulpice in Baltimore closed its preparatory seminary in Pennsylvania and transferred the seminarians to Emmitsburg,” according to the Mount St. Mary’s website.

The first classes were held in the Chinquapin Cottage. The first class was made up of 39 resident students and 7 or 8 day students. Among them were John Lilly of Conewago, James Clements of Littlestown, Rev. John Hickey of Frederick, and Dr. James A. Shorb, according to The Emmitsburg Chronicle.

“Father Dubois enlarged the scope of the institution and established classes of philosophy and theology, so as to retain his assistant teachers as long as possible; this finally led to the organization of the College and Seminary on a basis of entire independence, to be conducted by an association of priests under the jurisdiction and protection of the Archbishop of Baltimore,” James Helman wrote in History of Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The college’s and seminary’s reputations grew over the years. The Mount Seminary can boast 52 episcopal alumni, including John Hughes (Seminary of 1826), first Archbishop of New York; his Eminence John Cardinal McCloskey (Seminary of 1831), also Archbishop of New York and first native-born American cardinal; Most Rev. William B. Friend (Seminary of 1959), Bishop of Shreveport; Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn (Seminary of 1960), Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Most Rev. William E. Lori (Seminary of 1977); Most Rev. Michael 0. Jackels (Seminary of 1981), Bishop of Wichita; and Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley (Seminary of 1983), Bishop of Salina.

At present, Mount seminary alumni total more than 2,600, approximately half of whom are alive and active in priestly ministry. Alumni have served as first bishops of 15 newly formed dioceses, and 32 U.S. dioceses have been led by at least one bishop from the Mount.

“Emmitsburg has turned out some of the most notable American Jesuits. Father Early, my predecessor in the presidency of Georgetown, was a Mountaineer. In our needs, we naturally turn to this college. …There is an axiom that there is nothing in the effect that we may not find in the cause: now Mt. St. Mary’s is called the ‘Mother of Bishops,’ and the bishopric is a perfect state; hence, we find perfection in Mt. St. Mary’s that is the envy and the despair of all other colleges. …The secret of this is, I suppose, in the noble-hearted faculty which conserves and holds sacred the traditions of the saintly founders of the College,” Most Rev. John Farley, Archbishop of New York, said during the Mount’s centennial celebration in 1908.

Because of this, Mount St. Mary’s became known as the “cradle of bishops” and the “mother of bishops.”

“All the early universities of Europe were of priestly foundation, and almost all of our American ones had a similar origin. Religion and civilization go hand in hand. Now the priest is trained in the seminary. Hence, the seminary is the nursery of civilization and its preserver, for things are preserved by the same causes that give them origin. Mount St. Mary’s is the second in point of age of our seminaries, and has had very much to do with diffusing and preserving civilization as well as religion in the Republic. A dozen other colleges and seminaries owe their origin to her. Overbrook, her younger sister, acknowledges her precedence and wider influence, and pays her due honor on this her Centennial birthday anniversary,” Rev. Henry T. Drumgoole, LL.D., Rector of St. Charles’ Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., said of the Mount during the centennial celebration.

A version of this story appeared in The Emmitsburg Dispatch in 2008.

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