From The Observer
The University recently acquired a Bible belonging to Stephen Badin, the first Catholic priest ordained in the United States and a previous owner of the land that eventually became Notre Dame’s campus. The Bible currently is on display in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in Hesburgh Library.
Catholic Studies Librarian Jean McManus, who played a role in the acquisition, said John Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in the United States, gave the three-volume Bible to Badin in the late 1700s. She said Badin took it with him in his travels. These included visits to Kentucky and Northern Indiana, where he made his land purchases and built the original Log Chapel.
Kathleen Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, said Badin gave the Bible to the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Ky., who owned it for more than 200 years before only recently realizing its significance. She said the religious order had the books appraised and then contacted the Notre Dame, who purchased them with grants from the Library Acquisitions Fund and the Office of Research, with letters of support from history and American Studies faculty. The Sisters then brought the book to campus and gave it to the University at a special Mass in the Log Chapel in late June.
Cummings said the Cushwa Center and the Library were interested in making the acquisition because the Bible linked two early American church leaders as well as other aspects of the early Church in the United States.
“The way the Bible brings together the story of Catholics at every level – the leadership, the laity and religious – that’s enormously important,” she said. “The Fr. Badin connection makes it special, but the significance is far larger.”
Margaret Abruzzo, an associate professor of history at the University of Alabama, who is studying the correspondence between Carroll and Badin as part of a project with the Cushwa Center, said the Bible also is significant because of its rareness. She said the Bible was printed by Matthew Carey, an Irish immigrant in Philadelphia. The edition, which was only 500 copies, was the second full Bible published in the United States and the first Catholic translation.
“[Carey] was interested in kind of refuting the idea that Catholics didn’t read the Bible,” Abruzzo said. “He wanted to get the Catholic Bible into people’s hands because it was very important to Catholics at the time that they read the Catholic version of the Bible rather than the Protestant version.”
Abruzzo said the Bible, which contains an inscription from Carroll to Badin, speaks to the closeness of their relationship at a time when the American Catholic Church was small and far-flung.
“Badin would write questions to Carroll, and Carroll would write answers,” she said. “He was a source of advice for Badin.
“When there were issues, Carroll would intervene, so sort of imagine something that is a very, very, very small version of any sort of diocese today. Imagine Carroll running the Catholic Church out of his garage. It’s that level of informality. They’re really trying to create a church from scratch.”
McManus said the Bible, which shows signs of heavy use, will be on display this semester in Special Collections, and it will be the subject of a symposium on Oct. 10. She said the Bible will be available for scholars, who may study the book’s binding, marginal notes or relationship to Badin’s other writings and letters.
“Connecting those letters to this time frame, and knowing where the Bible lived, that’s all of interest as well,” she said. “Its biggest use is just gesturing towards this big story of the very early 1800s [when] Catholicism was very much a minority religion. Things could have gone very differently, but this is a piece of the evidence for how it did go, especially that westward movement.”
Cummings said faculty can bring classes to see the Bible, and researchers also can study the Bible’s translation and inscription.
“Researchers who come – Bible scholars, scholars of American history – it will be a text that will be studied by them for a long time now,” she said. “A lot of people come to Notre Dame to do research on Catholicism, and so it’s a crossroads of source to scholars, so it will definitely get more exposure.”