Finding God in the Library: An Interview with Librarian Lorraine Olley Eustice

by on May 6, 2015

Lorraine Olley Eustice is the director of the Feehan Memorial Library and the McEssy Theological Resource Center at USML. She has been at USML since 2007 and had many illustrious predecessors.  She has a background in Academic Librarianship and this is her first position as a Theological Librarian. Her specific academic background is in preservation, which makes the Feehan Memorial library a perfect place for her given its great historical collection.  Also, she has an M.A. in Divinity from the University of Chicago, which makes her an even better fit! When she was at the University of Chicago, she was most interested in the History of Religions, and studied with Mircea Eliade, the creator of Comparative Religion and Mythology.

Although she was raised in Chicago, Lorraine did not know the seminary existed until she interviewed for the librarian position she now occupies at Mundelein Seminary. 

Robert Mixa (RM): What is unique about the Feehan Memorial Library at Mundelein Seminary.

Lorraine Olley Eustice (LOE): Over the library is the inscription “Wisdom has built herself a home” (Sapientia Aedificavit Sibi Domum), which I think expresses the essence of the library. It is not a storehouse, but it is a source of collected wisdom of the Scriptures and the Church.

RM: Speaking of Collections: You have a collection of Cardinal Mundelein’s gifts to the seminary on display. Could you tell us about that collection?

LOE: Cardinal Mundelein collected things!  He collected many rare, unique and now increasingly valuable artifacts to enrich the seminarians’ experience to appreciate culture and the higher things. Also, he did it to enhance the reputation of the seminary as a place of higher education and to highlight the “American” part of the American Catholic Church. But although we have an extensive Americana collection, much of the collection echoes the Vatican Library’s collection.  We have a collection of sacred letters – written or signed – by either blesseds or saints from the 12th Century to the mid-19th Century. We also have a canceled check signed by Padre Pio. The sacred letters collection is a reflection of the Vatican’s own manuscript collection. We have a collection of ancient papal coins and medals. Cardinal Mundelein thought that it was important to have a numismatics collection at the seminary just like the Vatican library.  This year I was able to visit the Numismatics Department of the Vatican Library. In August, the department director, Dr. Eleanora Giampiccolo, visited the Feehan Library to look at our collection. It was very exciting to make that connection.

Part of the collection that has great prestige is a collection of incunabula [an incunabulum is a book printed before 1501]. Around the time of the Eucharistic Congress in the 1920s a book collector from Germany came to Chicago with a collection of 2,000 books printed around the time of the Gutenberg Bible in the 1470s up to 1500. Cardinal Mundelein was able to either purchase – or receive as a gift -around 40 of these books. The one that got away is a three-volume copy of the Gutenberg Bible, printed on vellum, which Mundelein could not afford. It became the jewel in the crown at the Library of Congress Rare Book Department. So, in total, we have about 55 of these very rare books. Most of the university libraries that I have worked in have about one or two.

RM: Who are some of the Saints in the sacred letters collection?

LOE: We have an extensive collection of St. Robert Bellarmine’s letters, which we are sharing with the historical archives of the Gregorian in Rome. We also have the writings of St. John Bosco, St. Francis de Sales, a couple of the Popes (Pius VI), a famous letter by St. Teresa of Avila which had gone missing until we had rediscovered it here at Mundelein a few years ago. Many of the saints represented in the collection are obscure now but they were very important at the time.

RM:You also have a collection of American letters?

LOE: Yes. This was a surprise to me.

RM: Cardinal Mundelein was an admirer of the Founding Fathers, right?

LOE: Yes. In fact, his name’s sake ‘George’ is reflected all over the campus. In front of the Cardinal’s Villa is a statue of St. George.  But you also have signs of George Washington everywhere. The Cardinal’s Villa is modeled after George Washington’s villa at Mount Vernon. We have several signatures of George Washington. One of the most remarkable is a land survey prepared by George Washington when he worked as a surveyor. It is a survey of a little plot in Virginia that George Washington worked on, and includes his signature. Cardinal Mundelein collected as much Americana as he could afford. One of his main thrusts was to show that one could be both a good American citizen and a good Catholic at one and the same time. This was very controversial given that Catholic immigrants were persecuted in the 19th  and 20th centuries. We are blessed to have a set of the signatures of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. This is priceless. I think there are a dozen sets around the world. We have a set of signatures of all the presidents and their cabinets through Calvin Coolidge. We have the signatures of all of the Supreme Court Justices through Truman. And we have been adding sporadically to those collections. We have about six or seven signatures of Abraham Lincoln.

The campus is reflective of this Americana theme. The building exteriors are Georgian Classicist and the Interiors are Roman. In fact, on the ceiling of the Feehan Memorial Library you have the Barberini Bees. The interior of Feehan is modeled on the interior of the villa Mundelein studied in while he was a seminarian in Rome. That villa belonged to the Barberini Family; Pope Urban VIII was a Barberini. We have a papal coin with the Barberini Bees – the coat of arms of the Barberini family. Those bees are incorporated in Mundelein’s coat of arms. In 2010, the library made the American Library Association’s list of the 250 world’s great libraries. That is a huge honor.

RM: I know that you have been having some correspondence with Cardinal Mundelein’s relatives. Tell us about that.                                                            

LOE: It has been an interesting development. Mundelein was a son of German immigrants. He grew up in Brooklyn. He was born here, but his family is originally from Paderborn, Germany. Since the 1990s, there has been some interest from the citizens of Paderborn and Mundelein, Illinois to start a correspondence. I met a man from Paderborn during Mundelein Village’s Centennial. He knows some of the Mundelein family still in Germany. When the gentleman was here this October, he brought me a photo of the matriarch of the Mundelein family with a greeting. The great nephew of Cardinal Mundelein was married this August in St. James Chapel in Chicago. We lent him Cardinal Mundelein’s chalice for his wedding Mass.

RM: The Eucharistic Congress: Tell us about that monumental event.                        

LOE: The 1926 Eucharistic Congress was the first one to occur in the New World and Mundelein brought it to Chicago, not the East Coast. There was the Cardinals Train. Mundelein even had 20th Century Fox make a film about this. He was very much into the technology of his time. The film starts with the Cardinals in Europe boarding steamboats to travel to America. Soldier’s Field was used for five events during the Congress. There was a children’s choir of sixty thousand. Eight hundred thousand people came to Mundelein Seminary the last day of the Congress for Mass and a 2-mile procession around the lake.  The library had not been built yet, so there was a large open space. The photos show that people came from all around the world (Asians, Eskimos, Native Americans). It was a huge event for the city of Chicago and the Catholic Church in the United States.

RM: Can you explain the history of the Feehan Memorial Library?

LOE: The library was one of the last buildings to be built on the seminary campus. It was completed in the summer of 1929 right before the onset of the Great Depression. Mundelein had agents go over to Europe to purchase libraries from monasteries that were closing. Even though our seminary was built in the 1920s our book collection goes back to the 16th century and earlier for the incunabula. Over the years, we have had great librarians, comprised of priests and lay people, adding books that are usually reflective of course curriculums. We have an extensive collection in Scripture and Patristics. Due to Mundelein’s Americana interests, we have a really nice Civil War collection.

Since we are “people of the book,” theology has been, in relation to other fields, late in coming into the Electronic Age. Now we rely on electronic databases instead of print to delve into the literature. I find there is some pushback in using electronic databases, but then I remind people that even the Pope tweets. More and more books are being made available electronically. That helps us because it allows us to provide resources for our seminarians to continue to study even when they are not on campus ­– such as when they are in the Holy Land or on internship, they will have access to electronic resources if they have internet connection.  It is really exciting to reach out in that way. Another way the library is reaching out with electronic resources is through a service that provides full text articles to priests in the Archdiocese to use that service, mostly for homily preparation. There are around one thousand two hundred searches conducted a month on that site. Priests are continuing their intellectual formation on that site.

RM: Pope Francis has said “You get to know Jesus out and about in your everyday, daily life. You cannot know Jesus where it’s peace and quiet, or in the library.” But that statement seems counter to an important component of Christian culture, especially monastic culture. Even Cardinal Mundelein intentionally placed the library next to the Chapel. What are your thoughts on Pope Francis’ words?

LOE: We are a people of the book and a people of the Word. Jesus is the Word of God and the library is where words reside. Even before Christianity, the scrolls and texts captured the memory of great human thinkers but also the memory of what God said to Moses or how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt. The library supports an active memory. It is not supposed to be a warehouse. It is supposed to cultivate a living memory where connections can be made. When I talk to seminarians about the importance of using the library I will sometimes ask them to think of it as a place where you can take a book and have St. Teresa of Avila speak to you. You can have a conversation with her as you read and contemplate what she has said. You can converse with Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, Aquinas, if you try really hard. This is a living memory, not just a storehouse. This is really important to maintain the old classics and continue to add as more are created. 

As for Pope Francis, “not finding Jesus in the library”, well, he’s a Jesuit. Some of the most learned men I know are Jesuits, so he really didn’t mean it.

RM: The Library makes the Word and Man manifest through studying the scriptures and the tradition. A culture that separates faith and reason does damage to both. As St. John Paul II said in Fides et Ratio, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves. Why is it important that priests continually study philosophy and theology?

LOE: A quick way of answering is that there is nothing new under the sun and we pick that up from Fr. Barron in his Word on Fire. He will write an article and people respond. He will comment back that the Pelagian heresy rears its head again. So, what we have is a fresh way of arguing against and/or enlightening people who either consciously or unconsciously espouse an old error. It is important to be conversant with the heritage so that a priest can build on his knowledge to guide people in contemporary situations. One of my goals as a librarian is to make sure Mundelein has a collection representative of the thinking our future priests will confront as they deal with their parishioners who are exposed to the culture. I made sure we had books of the New Athiesm: i.e. Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett books. We also have Episcopalian Bishop Eugene Robinson’s book on why gay marriage is fine. Our seminarians need to know what our culture is thinking. They need to have and convey a good understanding of what Catholic teaching is and why it is.  Taking things on faith is just not going to work anymore in contemporary society, like it did before Vatican II where you just repeated what the Church said.

RM: The Search Engine and Scholarship: Many scholars with the search engine can have access to so much more information than ever before but it can also lead to a superficial reading of things. So you have many dissertations that lack substance and do not have a good grasp of one thinker or even one work. Thomas Aquinas memorized the whole Bible, but one wonders if anyone is capable of this in the Internet Age. What is the challenge of the library in today’s culture? Many people do not ask for the help of a librarian anymore since they think a search engine, like Google, can do it for them?

LOE: The big challenge, in terms of students and scholars, is getting them to be aware of what they miss when they rely on “Google Scholar”, a tool that is not really tailored to their area of research. Part of the challenge is to get them to wonder about what they are missing. For example, when you search Teresa of Avila in Google Scholar you will get screens of information. There is nothing to guide the researcher intelligently through that information. You might get a scholarly article, a superficial news article, etc. The librarian helps with the evaluation and interpretation of the loads of information out there. We spend quite a bit of our resources on describing and organzing books in our collection so that it makes sense. We gather things intelligently. There is a book called Men Behaving Badly. It is about the First Book of Samuel. If you didn’t have a librarian, someone might have thought it was about psychology or criminology. There is a lot of intellectual effort that goes into selecting and arranging the fruits of scholarship throughout the ages. This is the librarian’s biggest contribution these days.