- How the Jesuits Settled in New York: A Documentary Account
In this and in its companion volume, Fordham, The Early Years (1998), Thomas C. Hennessy, professor of education emeritus at Fordham University, completes a scholarly labor of love. As Gerald McCool, S.J., says in an epilogue, if Hennessy and his collaborators had not assembled and translated these documents it never would have been done, and scholarship would have suffered a serious loss.
We have the letters, diaries, short biographies, reports, portraits, essays, and appendices, many of which have already fed three histories of Fordham and will serve future researchers in nineteenth-century Catholic education and urban and ethnic history. One of Hennessy's major accomplishments is in documenting who lies where in the Fordham Jesuit graveyard—all to refute a myth popular among students that it was a "fake" cemetery with no actual bones.
Why else read the book? For the stories, some only hinted at in the details that spark these otherwise formulaic documents from missionary territory meant not for our eyes but for religious superiors in Rome, who would perhaps take them with a grain of salt.
Hennessy has divided his documents into four sections, the first three centered around strong personalities whose leadership determined the future of the apostolate: Clement Boulanger, S.J., the mission superior who pulled the French Jesuits out of Kentucky and moved them to Fordham; August Thebaud, S.J., the first Jesuit president of Fordham (then called St. John's College), a scientist, historian, writer, Renaissance man; and John Larkin, the rotund orator whofounded Xavier College, now Xavier High School and parish in lower Manhattan.
To best navigate these pages, pick a name like Peter Tissot, S.J., a young French scholastic who first shows up on one of Boulanger's lists in 1846, then again in 1847, among scholastics not assigned to (not having jobs at) the college, but appears in the minister's diary as beginning his long retreat at the college in 1846. We learn in his mini-bio that after ordination, though he taught, he [End Page 354] preferred pastoral work, that he was a chaplain for the Union Army during the Civil War, and though he had three horses shot out from under him during battles, felt the chaplain belonged behind the front lines serving in hospitals and camps. Though named acting president of Fordham in 1865, he protested until released to work in a parish. We last encounter him in 1890 in the diary of the Jesuit who supervised transferring the corpses from the old cemetery to the new: "Jan. 23: We moved Fathers Tissot, Legouais, Schemmel and DeLuynes...." (The index somehow includes only three of Tissot's five appearances in the book.)
Over all a portrait emerges of a community of men, at Fordham fluctuating from forty-two to seventy-five—priests, brothers, scholastics in studies, and novices—plus diocesan seminarians and students from grammar school through college, who live and die, and are often buried, together.
For the priests, St. John's College is only one of their concerns. They spread out all over New York, starting new schools and parishes, hearing confessions, preaching, bulling their way into hospitals, orphanages, and prisons, from The Tombs to Sing Sing, overcoming Protestants who block their way.
The raw texts both inspire us and give us a smile—as in Fr. Boulanger's report of April 10, 1846, to the Jesuit General that he had allowed the serving of a little dinner wine, only two-thirds of a glass, because the food was so bad. Some were eating nothing but pork. "Living like this in a disgusting state of uncleanliness is called 'the American way of life.' (Thus falling even below the peasants of Kentucky)."
Jersey City, New Jersey