Georgetown Magazine: July, 1977 by George M. Barringer
In its first two decades, Georgetown drew heavily on the abilities—and availability—of French Sulpician priests and seminarians. (Sulpicians were members of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, founded in 1642 primarily for the purpose of training priests to administer seminaries and to engage in pastoral work.-Ed.) Led by Fr. Francois Charles Nagot, the first band of Sulpicians came to Baltimore in 1791 to open a seminary for the Diocese of Baltimore and to establish a haven for their society in the event of religious persecution in France. Georgetown College was to supply candidates for the priesthood to the seminary in Baltimore.
As it turned out, by 1801 only one candidate, Michael Cuddy, had gone from Georgetown to the seminary; but the college had profited greatly from the presence of the Sulpicians as administrators and teachers. And the Sulpicians, perceiving their original mission as a failure, were contemplating complete removal from the diocese. The ex-Jesuits who were by then once again in control of Georgetown: English, Irish and American, were not entirely unhappy to see them go.
Georgetown's first teacher, according to the account left in his memoirs, was the Sulpician seminarian Jean Edouard de Mondesir, born in or near Chartres and then about 22 years old. Sent to Georgetown in July, 1791, shortly after he arrived in Baltimore, Mondesir found the college building unfinished and no students yet enrolled. Mondesir claimed to be the first to sleep in the building, and the first to teach there. In two stretches of about two years each between 1791 and 1797 he taught French and Latin (in the process acquiring a knowledge of English) and prepared himself, though he does not tell us how, with a knowledge of Greek. He was ultimately ordained by Bishop Carroll in 1789.
Mondesir's memoirs (really a rambling series of letters and discourses) afford us a good deal of first-hand knowledge about life in clerical circles in Baltimore. One of his finest stories concerns Fr. Nagot's hilariously unsuccessful attempt to introduce Gregorian chant to cathedral services, an event which ended with Bishop Carroll losing his episcopal decorum to laughter. Only two anecdotes, however, tell us of life at Georgetown. The first recounts the annoying presence and habits of Fr. John Thayer, the famous convert, who insisted on saying matins aloud at the stroke of midnight, pacing the corridors of the college with prayer book in one hand and a candle in the other. The other anecdote chronicles Mondesir's adventures in escorting three brothers to New York for vacation, including a formal presentation of them to Bishop Carroll and some first-hand experience (almost shocking to the Frenchman) of American religious toleration via visits to Protestant households.
Fr. Louis Guillaume Valentin DuBourg, a Sulpician from Cap Francois, Santo Domingo, became Georgetown's third president at the age of 30 in 1796. It was chiefly on him that the antagonism of the exJesuits and their allies centered. Fr. DuBourg, later to be the first bishop of New Orleans and finally archbishop of Besancon, brought a number of changes to the college. He donated books to establish a library, and he published a French prayer book (probably La Journee de chretien, Baltimore, 1796), copies of which he sold to the Georgetown students. He spent a very large sum of money for a set of silver candlesticks and a monstrance for the college altar and another sum, not so large, for a piano.
He hired Frenchmen whenever possible. Besides the established French professors, Mondesir and Fr. Flaget, there was a Monsieur Duclaracq who instructed the young gentlemen in dancing and fencing and a number of others as well, including two women retained as nurses, Mrs. Justine Dau (or Douat) and one known only as "Alzire," who were sufficiently well off to lend the college money from time to time.
Under Fr. DuBourg's presidency some aspects of college life that we think of as essential first took shape. A more formally organized board of directors assumed overall control of the college in 1797. Among its first acts was the issuing of a directive to Fr. DuBourg to publish a prospectus of the college in three languages: English, French, and Spanish. This prospectus, which was printed in Baltimore in January, 1798, was the college's first catalog, albeit a brief one. The French and Spanish versions, printed somewhat later, recognized the large number of Georgetown students who came from Louisiana and the Caribbean and the importance of assuring a continued flow of students from those regions.
Unfortunately, Fr. DuBourg and the Board of Directors could not get along. At a time when American sentiment was becoming strongly anti-French, and when the American navy was fighting an undeclared war with French naval forces in the Caribbean, Fr. DuBourg's emphasis on a strong French influence at Georgetown was not politically feasible. In December, 1798, Fr. DuBourg resigned the presidency in favor of Fr. Leonard Neale, under whose direction the college took on a much more American flavor.
One other Sulpician who contributed much to Georgetown in the 1790's was Fr. Benoit-Joseph Flaget, a native of the Auvergne, later to become the first bishop of Bardstown. Fr. Flaget was 32 when he was recalled from his missionary work at Vincennes, Indiana, to become vice-president and professor at Georgetown in September, 1795. Mondesir has much to say about Fr. Flaget's goodness and amiability, but nothing at all about what he did. Certainly he spent much effort at learning English, in which he was barely competent when he arrived. He shared with Fr. DuBourg a taste for the theatre, which he attended in the company of Justine Douat.
Fr. Flaget shared with Fr. DuBourg the distinction of being the first Georgetown professor to dine with the President of the United States. Along with two students, John Law of Washington and Garrett Barry of Baltimore, Frs. Flaget and DuBourg visited Mount Vernon on July 10, 1798. Law's father and Barry's uncle were friends of Washington, and it seems likely that the two Sulpicians functioned as escorts rather than as guests of honor.
Fr. Ambrose Marechal, a Sulpician later to become archbishop of Baltimore, served briefly at Georgetown in 1801. But after 1798 the French presence at the college never approached the level it attained in the middle of the decade. The Sulpicians stayed on in Baltimore and elsewhere, but Georgetown was to find its strength henceforward in the ranks of the ex-Jesuits and those who would become Jesuits following the restoration of the Society. Georgetown would become increasingly more American.
Georgetown Magazine: May, 1977 by George M. Barringer
In October, 1873, the Georgetown College Journal reprinted the following notice from the Philadelphia Catholic Standard:
-Georgetown College-The authorities of this time-honored institution have engaged as organist and professor of music at the College, Herr Anton Gloetzner, recently arrived from Munich, Bavaria. He is a pupil of the Maestro, Von Bulow, and a performer of brilliant power…
Of Anton Gloetzner's life we know almost nothing; only the name of his associate at the college, Dr. Henri Perabeau, remains in the university's records.
Gloetzner and Perabeau were the culmination of a long line of immigrant musicians who brought to Georgetown most of its musical life in its first century. What little we know of these men must be gathered from the college ledgers, records of payments to "hired men," and a few scraps of music that remain in the Archives.
Henry DeMonti arrived at Georgetown in November, 1797. So far as we know, he was the first professor of music employed at the college. In March, 1798, the college paid a freight invoice for "2 piannos" ( furnished by the music master, as would be most instruments used by students until after the Civil War). De Monti remained at Georgetown until 1800, but the ledgers do not reveal exactly when he left or who (if anyone) replaced him. About 20 boys studied with him each term, and John Carroll advanced $ 400 to the college towards the purchase of DeMonti's library upon his departure.
Francesco Masi began teaching at the college around 1820-21, taking a room on the campus and yielding 10 per cent of his pay for the room and for the college's services in collecting the bills owed by his students. Masi sold flutes to a large number of his charges, and he and they provided the musical accompaniment to the Commencement of 1822.
By 1825 Masi was listed on the college's prospectus as one of three " Professors of Fine Arts". He was the composer of a Te Deum ( place and date of publication unknown) and an Ode on the Occasion of the Celebration of the Anniversary of St. John the Baptist (Alexandria, 1820 ), copies of which are still in the Archives, and of The Battles of Lake Champlain and Plattsburg: A Grand Sonata for the Piano Forte (Boston, 1815), the only known copy of which resides in the Boston Public Library.
Masi left the college in 1826 and returned in 1837. He still sold flutes, but added to his stock in trade clarinets and "fiddles". He brought in a little more money by renting practice time on the piano. By undertaking to collect his own bills, he thriftily saved the college's 10 per cent collection fee, but underwent the troubles of pursuing the young gentlemen for their money, and not always successfully. He departed the college for good in 1839.
Joseph Roura, who took up the music master's position in 1843, was a teacher of greater range. He built up his student enrollment by teaching not only the woodwinds, violin, piano and voice, but by offering as well instruction on guitar, bugle, cornopean and orphocloyd. The college paid Roura $25 in March, 1845, for its very own "orphocloyd," the first instrument that we know the college purchased. (The orphocloyd, correctly spelled ophicleide, is a now-extinct keyed version of a musical instrument called the serpent. It fell into disuse soon after its invention because it made a sound that did not harmonize well withother orchestral instruments (to put it delicately); the cornopean was an early antecedent of the modern cornet.)
Francis Esputa taught at the college from 1847 to 1849. Sixteen years later John Esputa, also a member of Washington's small Portuguese community and probably a relative of Francis, was the first music teacher of one John Philip Sousa, a Washingtonian of Portuguese-Bavarian parentage.
From Oct. 1, 1850, to May 14, 1855, the music master at Georgetown was Pedro A. Daunas. He was associated with Joseph Roura as early as 1845, and, like Roura, he carried out his duties with eclat. In January, 1851, he introduced the double bass to the college's instrumental inventory, selling the instrument to the college in 1852. On Sept. 15, 1851, he took up his duties as the college's first organist, at $75 a year above his other wages.
The students had often been called upon to furnish music for festive occasions, at least since Masi and his pupils in 1822. By 1853 Daunas had organized a college band (the "Philharmonic Society") worthy to be called such, although in all probability it drew its members, as did the college choir, from those who came to Georgetown already equipped with musical skills. From then on the band was a constant adjunct to the commencements, programs of readings and debates that made up the bulk of the students' great occasions.
The tenure of Gloetzner and the shadowy Perabeau in the 1870's marks the full development of a music program at the college. To the college band and choir were added an "orchestral band"; Gloetzner organized formal classes in voice instruction, the first at the college. The pages of the College Journal are filled with accounts of contemporary performances by the master and his pupils at every sort of occasion, including a memorable band outing to Great Falls, Md.
Gloetzner, too, was a composer. His Ave Regina, for soprano or tenor solo, was "dedicated to the Georgetown University in memory of the Centennial Celebration"; a Mass (Op. 12) for vocal quartet with organ accompaniment appeared in 1909. Like the music of Masi and Daunas, these pieces are rarely played now.
Finally, it is thanks to the generosity of the Bavarian pianist and organist that Georgetown has two of its most important musical manuscripts: an 1825 copyist's version of the first two movements of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (published in 1826) and a manuscript of the Romantic organist Josef Rheinberger's Fantasie-Sonatefur die Orgel, given to Gloetzner by Fanny Rheinberger shortly before his departure from Bavaria in 1872.
One wonders whatever happened to the fine old college "orphocloyd."
by George M. Barringer Special Collections Librarian
Georgetown Magazine: March, 1977 by George M. Barringer
This is the first in a series of articles which will examine the roles of members of various ethnic and national groups as teachers and administrators at Georgetown or as Georgetown alumni in the world at large. The choices are not entirely representative. since the focus of the series will be Georgetown itself, especially in its earlier years. Those still living as well as those born in America, have been excluded.
Not all of those chosen became Americans; yet without them Georgetown would not have become what it is.
During the 19th century a large number of men came directly from Italy to Georgetown. More than a few of them achieved distinction, as have many of those men and women of Italian extraction who came later. But three Italian Jesuits especially had a great impact on the college and on the course of Catholic life and education in America. A president of the college, a librarian and a professor of mathematics: each made a unique contribution, and, although they are now all but forgotten, all three left an indelible mark on the character of the university.
Fr. John Anthony Grassi, S.J., born in Bergamo in 1775, came to Georgetown in 1810 via Russia, Denmark, Portugal and England. Equipped to become a missionary and astronomer in China, he became instead the administrator and teacher who brought Georgetown through its very hardest times.
Grassi studied at Colorno, in Italy, under Fr. Joseph Pignatelli (who was canonized in 1954). Sent to Russia for his novitiate, he became rector of the College of Nobles in Polotsk at age 29. Chosen as one of three Jesuits to reopen the China mission, he, with the others, was ultimately stranded at Lisbon and then at Stonyhurst, from whence he was assigned to Georgetown.
During the War of 1812, despite the constant threats of war and faltering enrollment, Fr. Grassi kept the college open and growing. Together with Archbishop Carroll he resisted the plan concocted by Georgetown citizens to offer the college buildings as a meeting place to Congress after the British burned the Capitol. At his instigation and with his direction the Society sought and gained Georgetown's government charter of 1815, signed by President Madison the same day that the Senate ratified the treaty ending the war with Great Britain.
More importantly, it was Fr. Grassi who resisted the urgings of Fr. Anthony Kohlmann and others to close Georgetown entirely in favor of Kohlmann's newly-established Literary Institute in New York. When he returned to Rome in 1817, Fr. Grassi left behind him a re-invigorated college with a respectable scientific "cabinet," a growing library and able teachers.
In the Notizie varie, a book on America published in Rome a year after his return, Fr. Grassi devotes the principal space in his description of Georgetown to notices concerning the granting of the 1815 charter and the failure of the New York Literary Institute. Though he suppressed his own connection with the college and with the contests he had waged so successfully, Fr. Grassi realized clearly what he had accomplished.
Rev. Joseph Finotti
The library, not much out of its infancy when Fr. Grassi left, was to be a main concern of another Italian immigrant, Fr. Joseph Maria Finotti, who was born in Ferrara in the year Grassi left America. Recruited by Fr. James Ryder in Rome in 1845, Fr. Finotti spent three of the next five years at Georgetown as teacher and librarian. What he attempted at Georgetown failed; what he learned at Georgetown carried him to a greater accomplishment almost 25 years later.
In the two years he served at Georgetown before his ordination, Fr. Finotti, as assistant to the librarian, Fr. James Ward, compiled the first detailed statistical survey of the library. After a year at Frederick, Md., he returned to Georgetown as both librarian and professor. His plan for a subject catalogue of the library, however, was not completed; extensive notes remain, but the more than 13,000 volumes were too many for the efforts of a single man in a single year.
Fr. Finotti left Georgetown for good in 1849. Serving first as a Jesuit missionary priest in Alexandria and across the Potomac in Maryland, he transferred, upon leaving the Society in 1852, to Massachusetts. While working as a parish priest in Brookline and Arlington and as literary editor of the Boston Pilot, however, Fr. Finotti found time to pursue the interest in collecting and bibliography on which his reputation rests.
In 1872 Georgetown's erstwhile librarian published his Bibliographica Catholica Americana, the first serious attempt to bring together a list of books by Catholic authors published in America down to 1820. In large part that list depended upon the collection Fr. Finotti had superintended at Georgetown and the collection he had himself built up. Not until 1939 was Fr. Finotti's work superseded, and then it was by the efforts of another Georgetown librarian, Fr. Wilfrid Parsons.
When Fr. Finotti died in Colorado in 1879, having spent his last years as a missionary in Central City, his books and papers passed largely into the hands of John Gilmary Shea. Thirteen years later the "Finotti Collection" became part of the Georgetown University Library upon the purchase of Shea's entire collection, and Fr. Finotti's books now form one of the principal bases of our collection of early American Catholic writing.
Fr. Benedict Sestini, S.J., made a pair of contributions which demonstrate his intellectual kinship with both Fr. Grassi and Fr. Finotti. Born in Ferrara in 1816, he alone of the three, came to America as a result of religious persecution and arrived here shortly after the outbreak of the 1848 uprisings in Italy.
Trained principally as an astronomer and mathematician (as Grassi had been before him), Fr. Sestini took up the assistant directorship of the fledgling Georgetown College Observatory under its creator, Fr. James Curley. From Sept. 20 to Nov. 6, 1850, Fr. Sestini conducted a series of observations of sun spots which, when published in 1853, was immediately recognized as an authoritative study of the subject.
By the time of publication, however, Fr. Sestini had also published his Analytical Geometry (1852), the first of a series of excellent though difficult texts on several branches of mathematical studies. His texts (a continuing torture for Georgetown students over a considerable period of years) and his teaching consumed the remainder of Fr. Sestini's years at Georgetown, save for his beginning of the second great project of his life.
During the 1860's Fr. Sestini was deeply involved in the planning and building of Woodstock College, Md. as well as in his ordinary duties. But shortly before Woodstock opened, in 1866, Fr. Sestini issued the first number of an American edition of The Messenger of the Sacred Heart.
The Messenger, the principal organ of the Apostleship of Prayer, had appeared for some years in a French version. For the next 20 years, however, while Fr. Sestini was professor of mathematics at Georgetown and then at Woodstock, he was also the sole editor of the American edition. Laboring against the difficulties of little money, little time, and an alien language (a problem he shared, as an editor, with Fr. Finotti) Fr. Sestini nonetheless kept The Messenger afloat and put it on the path to revitalization.
The Woodstock Library, ca. 1890
Known today principally as the artist who created the ceiling of the old Woodstock Library room (on which he drew a scheme of the Copernican solar system and, in their correct positions, all of the stars visible to the naked eye), Fr. Sestini receives little credit for the scientific publications and for the Messenger to which he devoted his adult life.
Grassi, Finotti, and Sestini are now all but forgotten. Yet what each did was important, and he did it well.
by George M. Barringer Special Collections Librarian
Georgetown Magazine: September, 1977 by George M. Barringer
From about 1820, Irish-born Jesuits and laymen played an important role in the development of Georgetown. This initial article will examine the character and contributions of three who each served twice as president of the college: Fr. James Ryder (1840--45, 1848-51); Fr. Bemard Maguire (1852-58, 1866-70); and Fr. John Early (1858-66, 1870- 73).
Fr. James Ryder, born in Dublin in 1800, came to the United States as a child following the early death of his Protestant father. Enrolled at Georgetown by his mother in 1813, he entered the novitiate of the Society two years later. Not long after, he was among a group of talented young American scholastics sent to Rome for training.
Rev. James Ryder, S.J.
Rev. James Ryder, S.J. Fr. Ryder returned to Georgetown at the end of 1829. By the next year he had left a continuing mark on the college by directing the formation of the Philodemic Society. Esteemed throughout his life as an eloquent preacher, he continually encouraged oratory and debate at the college. During his first term as president, in 1842, the Philodemic took upon itself, under his leadership and that of Fr. George Fenwick, to slake the public thirst for a celebration of the anniversary of the founding of Maryland. In due course clergy, students, musicians and distinguished guests took conveyance to St. Inigoes and St. Mary's, where they regaled themselves on oratory and a concluding ode by George Washington Parke Custis, set to the tune of " The Star- Spangled Banner" and sung by a trio composed of Custis, Fr. Fenwick, and a granddaughter of Charles Carroll of Carrollton.
Two years later Fr. Ryder saw to the passage of the act incorporating " The Presidents and Directors of Georgetown College." Besides entitling the college to adopt a seal, the act clarified the ambiguous position given the college by the original 1815 charter. And in a decade of intense anti-Catholic feeling throughout America, Fr. Ryder made sure that the college was known at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue-even though twice he was pelted with rocks in the streets of Washington. Besides accepting Presidential offspring as students, the college, at Ryder's insistence, put regional differences aside and turned out en masse for inaugural parades and other occasions. Ryder provided an extra touch by sending gifts of fruit from the vineyards on the Observatory hillside to the President.
The Observatory itself came to be built in 1843, though credit for it cannot fairly be given to Fr. Ryder. But in his second term as president, from 1848 to 1851, he oversaw the foundation of the Medical Department. Impetus for the establishment of the medical branch came from four doctors disaffected with the policies and educational practices of the medical school attached to Columbian College (George Washington University), which had started up in 1826. Doctors Noble Young, Johnson Eliot, Charles Liebermann, and Flodoardo Howard, after a preliminary meeting on Oct. 25, 1849, met again with Fr. Ryder and won his agreement to the affiliation of a school to be run by them with the college. Procurement of a site and final arrangements for a faculty took time, but a prospectus dated April 2, 1851, announced the schedule for an initial course of lectures which began in the following month. Simply by not erecting obstacles, Fr. Ryder accomplished what otherwise would have strained to the breaking point the resources of the college.
Referred to once by Bishop Benedict Fenwick as a "right down nice little fellow," Fr. Ryder emerged with reputation unscathed from the student revolt of 1850. While he was away from the campus, on Jan. 15, three students got into trouble. The following day Fr. James Ward, Fr. Ryder's deputy, expelled them. One stayed on until dinner, at which time he roused a number of his fellows to sympathetic anger with a speech in the refectory. Some violence followed, and 44 young gentlemen betook themselves to the Globe Hotel in Washington, from whence they issued non-negotiable demands, principally for the restoration of the status quo ante of Jan. 14 and a general amnesty for themselves. But in vain: notice was given to the hotel that the students' bills would not be paid by the college, and a team of Jesuit negotiators talked the students into submission, demands unmet, on Jan. 21.
Rev. Bernard Maguire, S.J. by Mathew Brady
Fr. Bernard Maguire was not the sort of president who would make himself "unavailable for comment." Shortly after he became president in 1852, a band of students disrupted a class and did some mild wrecking. Fr. Maguire faced them down alone, expelled six, and finished with the affections and respect of the student body securely in his grasp. A native of Edgeworthtown, County Longford, Fr. Maguire came to the United States shortly after his birth in 1818.
As prefect and as president, Fr. Maguire commanded the respect of the students and got it. No one-probably not even a bishop-would have dared call him a "right down nice little fellow." His readings of the monthly "black lists" are recalled in the reminiscences of Fr. Francis Barnum, a student at Georgetown during Fr. Maguire's second term as president, from 1866 to 1870: ... we all knew perftctly well the storm that was coming and wondered who were the ones that the bolt would fall upon. There was first a nervous crumpling of the paper and then the torrent burst forth. Even Fr. Barnum, loquacious and a man of considerable wit, was awed: "It is useless to attempt a description."
The college was blessed during Fr. Maguire's first term with a level of prosperity never before reached and not to be reached again until long after his second term. The middle 1850's saw the flowering of the college societies and the institution of college dramatics. Among its more important events was the more rigid separation of college and preparatory divisions. What is now the Maguire building was erected during Fr. Maguire's presidency to house the younger boys. In 1853, shortly after the opening of Loyola College in Baltimore, the Provincial of the Maryland Province of the Society moved his official residence from Georgetown, where it had been since the organization of the province in 1833, to Baltimore.
Another separation from the Society marked Fr. Maguire's second term. The Civil War and the attendant burgeoning of Washington's population provided the final arguments for those in the Society who wished to have the scholastics studying in an atmosphere of quiet and retirement. Washington would suit no longer in those terms (if it ever really had), and so the scholastics and their teachers and a large percentage of the college library went off to Woodstock, near-but not too near-Baltimore.
The man who was head of the college between Fr. Maguire's two terms and again after the second term was Fr. John Early, a native of Maguire's Bridge, County Fermanagh. Unlike Frs. Ryder and Maguire, Fr. Early grew up and was educated in Ireland; he came to the United States at 19, in 1833, and the following year entered the Society of Jesus.
Rev. John Early, S.J. by Julius Ulke
Rev. John Early, S.J. Fr. Early was a "professional" college president. From 1848 to 1851 he was president of Holy Cross; in 1852 he was the first president appointed to the newly-founded Loyola College in Baltimore. Leaving Loyola to take over Georgetown in 1858, he returned there during Fr. Maguire's second term here, 1866 to 1870, only to return to Georgetown in 1870 himself.
Fr. Early's first term at Georgetown was dominated by the Civil War. As is well known, Union troops (the 69th and later the 79th New York regiments) were billeted briefly at Georgetown early in the war, and the college was used as a base hospital after Second Manassas, from August 1862, until January, 1863. But it was the drastic decrease in student enrollment that was the most serious problem. The Southern boys who had made up the majority of Georgetown's students went back to fight for their states or to be educated away from the North. Much of the Northern minority decamped as well for similar reasons, and more than once there were less than 60 students in the whole college. Fr. Early kept the college open, however, and in the fall of 1865 he was able to assemble over 100 students, including a group of seven from Louisiana, the first Southerners to enter since before the war.
The war did, however, stall for ten years a project that was important to Fr. Early and to the college. As early as June, 1859, plans for a proposed law school were underway. A letter to Fr. Early from William M. Merrick, dated June 9, refers to the proposal as "your scheme" and reports favorable outside reaction to it. Not until 1870, however, was the Law Department a reality, when Fr. Maguire was able to announce its formation in his address at the 1870 Commencement. The Law School opened during the following October, after Fr. Early had returned to Georgetown, in rented quarters in the Colonization Building at Pennsylvania Avenue and 4 1/2 Street.
The question of whether the college was to mature into a university was put off for a few years following Fr. Early's death (while still in office as president) in 1873. But during the period in office of its three Irish presidents-1840-45, 1848-51, 1852--73 -the college obviously moved far along that road: the scholastics were gone, but the younger students were isolated officially and schools of medicine and law were established. A conscious decision not to pursue the aims of a university would have been to ignore the efforts of almost 30 years. To Fr. Patrick Healy has generally gone the credit for much of Georgetown's academic improvement in the late nineteenth century; but to the three Irishmen, Ryder, Maguire, and Early, Fr. Healy owed the stable administrative and educational structure upon which he could build.
by George M. Barringer Special Collections Librarian
Georgetown Magazine: November-December 1977 by George M. Barringer
The College Bakehouse and Store
The college bakery was housed until 1908 in the basement level of a nondescript building near the southwest corner of Dahlgren Chapel. The college store was one flight up, and the shoemaking shop occupied the top of the house.
The building was constructed in 1814 for $890.93, not including excavation, carpenter work and plastering on the upper floors. It was torn down upon the completion of Ryan Dormitory with its modern kitchen facilities.
For some 40 years, from about 1856 until 1895, the bakery was tended by Brother Thomas Gavan. Brother Gavan was one of a large number of devoted coadjutor members of the Society, many of them Irish, who provided the auxiliary services upon which the college depended: cooking, carpentry, cleaning and repairing, tending such enterprises as the store and supervising allocation of locks and desks and appurtenances to the young gentlemen.
Brother Thomas Gavan
Like most of these men Brother Gavan is now little more than a name in the official records. Unlike most, he is the subject of a variety of anecdotes which tell us something about him and about the college during his tenure. Father Francis Barnum, a Jesuit and Georgetown alumnus fascinated with Georgetown's history, has left us most of what little we know of Brother Gavan.
Thomas Gavan was born December 31, 1822. We do not know where; that he was Irish will appear in the course of two of the stories about him. He entered the Society July 25, 1854, and took the first vows from Father Charles Stonestreet, president of Georgetown, on July 31, 1856. In that year he was appointed assistant to baker Brother Bartholomew Doyle. Two years later he succeeded Brother Doyle, who for reasons unknown became an assistant in the tailoring shop.
It was an auspicious change. The quality—not to mention the amount—of food served at the college was, like New York City politics, always a matter for "reform." In the late 1860s, when Father Barnum was a student, the principle fare at breakfast and supper was bread. But, as Father Barnum said (of Brother Gavan), "his bread was unexcelled. During his time the reputation of Georgetown bread extended over the entire province [of Maryland]."
Among the culinary enticements of dinner was pie, and Father Barnum describes it, and its role in college life at length in his reminiscences:
"As I have mentioned pie a few words on this great College delicacy may not be amiss. The Georgetown College pie was an institution, it was made of dried apples & formed the staple dessert during the entire year. It was made by Bro. Gavan and like everything from his bakery it was excellent. There were two, and only two varieties of pie, but the difference was only in form & they were known as square pie and round pie. The first which was for the students, was baked in great oblong pans, and then cut up into generous sized squares. The pies destined for the Fathers table were baked in the ordinary pie plates. These latter were also called Priests pies. Bro. Gavan was very stout and very good-natured and furthermore he never looked on the boys as his natural enemies. When he spread out a long row of pies to cool he certainly was well aware that it was placing a great temptation in the way of youth…
The students devoted considerable energy to the problem of stealing pies left out to cool; if not caught with the smoking pie in their hands, they were generally tolerated:
"Brother Gavan never raised any howl over a raid. The good old man rather enjoyed it and I think he used to bake two or three extra pies just for the purpose."
The two following anecdotes complete our knowledge of Brother Gavan; both are taken from one of the volumes entitled "Stray Notes" in which Father Barnum recorded aspects of college life that have only rarely intruded on its official histories.
"In person Br. Gavan was exceedingly imposing. He was tall and rather stout and with a most benign countenance. In fact, as long as he kept quiet, one would take him for a bishop or rather an archbishop. At the time of the College Centennial Bro. Gavan was standing one day at the front entrance watching the crowd. He was dressed up for the occasion, wore a long cloak and certainly presented a most dignified appearance. A Harvard Professor approached him and politely inquired whether he was a member of the Geo.town Faculty. 'I am' replied the Bro. 'May I ask what particular branch?' 'I am the baker, Sir 'said Bro. Gavan with the full Hibernian accent.
The second anecdote bears the title "Bro. Gavan's financial Loss" :
"Once while a circus was in town Bro. Gavan was allowed to attend a performance. [NB. This was during the period of the simple life, before communication with Rome became so easy and frequent.] Provided with a ticket and two five cent pieces for carfare he set out. In the circus he was accosted by a slick individual who showed such a great interest in him that the simple old Brother felt quite flattered by the attention of the kind and gentlemanly stranger. After the performance Br. Gavan boarded a street car to return to the College. When the conductor approached him for his fare he reached into his pocket for the five cent piece, but it was gone. In a loud voice he exclaimed 'I've been robbed!' The conductor and passengers all expressed much sympathy with him, but one simple soul asked how much money he had lost. In tragic tones Bro. Gavan announced the sum 'Foive Sints.' -There was lots of fun in that car."
When Brother Gavan died at the end of 1895 the College Journal made no mention of him. Yet someone connected with the college had been spurred to learn the secret of his estimable bread, and so, preserved in the University Archives, is a small manuscript entitled "Science of Bakery." For the edification of those interested in cooking, and as a tribute, however late, to Brother Gavan's skills and labors, it is transcribed here in full.
Science of Bakery
1) at 4 ¼ A.M. Br. Gavan strains the yeast & puts it in the trough & makes the sponge.
2) at 7 ¼ A.M. he works & kneeds it & puts salt and water in the sponge. [NB. In warm weather the water shd. never be hot; in cold weather lukewarm; in summer, at the ordinary temperature of the pump; else the bread will become black and sour.]
3) After the dough has been well worked up, leave it rise for one hour.
4) After the hour is passed, Br. Gavan works it again for a quarter of an hour and then leaves it again for a half an hour, a process which he calls proving it -Experience has taught him that this makes the bread fine & light.
5) After a half hour's proving he makes it into loaves and leaves it in the pans for nearly an hour.
6) Puts it in the oven.
-To a barrel of flour, a gallon of yeast. Take a bucket of potatoes, boil them skins and all, -when well boiled turn them into a tub, pour over them 4 lbs of flour; then smash them up-
Then take 3 gallons more of cold water & mix them all well. Over this pour the gallon of yeast; mix well. and leave in a tub of double capacity for the space of from 12 to 13 hours.- It ripens thus.
Then strain it well through a tin strainer-pour 2 gallons of 1. w. [lukewarm water] over the skins
-mix & with it make the sponge, as above.
-To make yeast-
1 oz of hops & 1 oz of malt for a gallon of water.
1) Take a gallon of water & when it begins to boil put one ounce of hops - Let boil ½ hr -
2) Take 4 oz of flour & mix with it the juice of the hops until made into a dough - then pour the rest of it -
3) Take an ounce of malt & put it into a pint of cold water - & then pour it over the juice of the hops.
4)Let cool until lukewarm - Put a quart of stock yeast into it - mix well & let ferment 24 hours - Strain & use.
by George M. Barringer Special Collections Librarian