Three Voices from the Early Years of Saint Anselm College

Here are the remarks I gave yesterday at the convocation:

We are pleased to mark the 125th of the college’s founding with this signature academic convocation. Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, Friends, all are welcome. I would especially like to acknowledge my monastic confreres, especially the 3rd, 4th, and 5th abbots of Saint Anselm Abbey, Abbot Mark, Bishop Joseph, and Abbot Matthew. Bishop Joseph was elected the 3rd abbot in 1972, and while 1972 does not seem so long ago, it does represent the presence of abbots here today covering 42 years of continuous abbatial reign. Bishop Joseph and Father Cecil also represent alumni from the class of 1950.

It is most appropriate to celebrate 125 years of founding with an academic convocation and we are pleased to welcome Father Mark Massa, SJ here to reflect on the nature of Roman Catholic higher education. Dr. DiSalvo will introduce Father Massa in his remarks later in the program.

Before introducing Dr. DiSalvo I would like to spend a few minutes reflecting on the historical character of this celebration, which occurs in a key anniversary year since the college’s founding in 1889. I would like to do so by singling out three voices from the very early years of the college, one voice from 1889, another from 1892, and finally one from 1893.

1889: [Rev. Hugo Paff, OSB]

Father Hugo Paff, an American-born Benedictine monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in Newark, NJ, was the first headmaster of Saint Anselm College. Before the college even opened, but shortly after its being granted its legal charter by the state of New Hampshire, Father Hugo undertook a campaign of solicitation for funds to support the new college in Goffstown. Given the considerable size of the Franco-American population in Manchester and environs, he conducted some of these solicitations in local French parishes. I would like to read briefly from one of these solicitations. They were indeed made in French, and Paff apologizes up front for his slow and hesitant delivery. With your indulgence I will read one sentence in French and then continue on with a translation:

Dans ce Collège vos enfants trouveront la faculté de recevoir une éducation plus avancée dans les affaires, dans l’études des langues, dans les arts, dans les sciences.

“In this college your children will be able to receive an advanced education in business, in the study of languages, in the arts, in the sciences. In this institution, the cost of room and board will be set at such a modest fee that not only the children of the rich, but also those of the working class, will profit from the opportunity to procure a more perfect education.”

And so with the support of the Bishop of Manchester, the Order of Saint Benedict, and the good people of the local area the building of Saint Anselm College was able to begin.

1892: [ECH Kimball]

Several years back I was asked to organize all the minutes for meetings of the monastic chapter, the Council of Seniors, and the Governing Board of the College dating back to our earliest records. It turns out that for the first several decades these minutes were kept in bound ledgers. In the monastery safe in the file cabinet where these ledgers were kept, I also discovered two smaller volumes which were journals from Maplewood Farm, owned by the Kimball Family. Their property was located on what is now abbey property, just off the main entrance to the college from Saint Anselm Drive. In fact if you use Google Maps on campus you will see that the road by this church is Kimball Road. But don’t check right now! The journals were kept by ECH Kimball, a young farmer in his mid-twenties. The journals cover the years 1891-1893. The time I first saw these journals I was not particularly interested in them, but earlier this year when I was trying to put various things in order, I decided to leaf through these journals. They are very fragile, and consist mostly of very short entries referring to the amount of snowfall, the tending of sheep, and waking early. However, since the Kimball House was so close to the college building, I wondered what would be the nature of the entry on the date of the infamous fire. It turns out ECH Kimball had a rare full page entry, entitled The Fall of Saint Anselm’s. Here is that entry, dated Thursday, February 18, 1892: (Oh, and even though I will not be reading directly from it, here is the original hand-written volume.)

“The Fall of St. Anselm’s

Shortly after eight a gentleman rapt at our door
upon opening it he said, Will you please step out
and tell me if the college is afire. One
glance was enough [.] I rushed into the house.
Harry + I jumped into our boots and overcoats
and rushed to the scene. When we reached the
building the fire was raging fiercely in the S.W.
corner. We were the only ones there. I then remem-
bered that Emil had told me this afternoon that
they were going to the city this evening. We rushed
down to the house and found that they had gone.
I then went down to our barn and hitched up
White Faw and Mack went down to St. Raphael’s
and notified Father Leonard and Mr. Frank
Dowst and brought them up to the scene. In
a very short time thousands of people had assembled but
could do nothing as there was no water avail-
able[.] Bro. Bernard was at the [Manchester Heating and Light Company’s]
store when notified. In his excitement he forgot
Tom who was at a jewelry store near by and Emil
who was at St. Raphael’s. When they
heard the news they started and ran until
they got to the Worthley place when the be-
came completely exhausted. The tower fell
at about 10 o’clock and it was a terrible sight.
The building is a complete wreck.

It is a sad loss all round, to the
order, to the contractors, to the workmen who
lost their tools, and to the neighborhood in
postponing the opening of an institution
that would be a great benefit to them.

Four brick walls now mark the place of the conflagration.”

1893: [Rev. Vincent Amberg, OSB]

As we know the monks decided shortly after the fire to rebuild. One and a half years later Saint Anselm’s opened its doors to its first class of students.

One of the significant characters in the history of Saint Anselm’s was a monk of St. Mary’s Abbey in New Jersey, by the name of Father Vincent Amberg. He was the prior at their monastery in Delbarton for many years. But before 1927 he was actually prior here at Saint Anselm’s before this house became an independent abbey. But even before he was a superior here, he taught here, and before that he studied theology here as a young cleric. But even before that, before he was in vows, he came to Saint Anselm’s as a 15 year old boy, one Frank Amberg from Newark, New Jersey. He was in fact a member of the first class that entered in the Fall of 1893. In an interview later in life he described the day as follows:

“We went to Manchester. Well that was about September the 5th, 1893. I have it clearly in mind that, it was Monday I know and I think it was Labor Day. So we got up there and I remember we marched into the new building and if I wasn’t the first one to move in, I was not far behind the leader, and we walked right into the new building there. Fr. Hugo Paff, he met us and welcomed us as the first entries into Saint Anselm’s College.”

Because Father Vincent transferred back to New Jersey and because of his important leadership role at Delbarton, he is not often remembered as a prominent figure at Saint Anselm College in its very early years. However, in 1953 Saint Anselm’s clearly recognized his key role by granting him an honorary degree, a Doctor of Divinity. He lived to the ripe old age of 87 years, and even after his retirement he remembered his early years at Saint Anselm’s fondly. Five years before he died in 1965, he sat down and was interviewed by one of the monks at Delbarton, Father Giles Hayes (later Abbot Giles). The interview was extensive, not only about his time at Delbarton but also the early years at Saint Anselm’s. Let me read again that quote from him earlier:

“We went to Manchester. Well that was about September the 5th, 1893. I have it clearly in mind that, it was Monday I know and I think it was Labor Day. So we got up there and I remember we marched into the new building and if I wasn’t the first one to move in, I was not far behind the leader, and we walked right into the new building there. Fr. Hugo Paff, he met us and welcomed us as the first entries into Saint Anselm’s College.”

Now, I believe for the first time in public, listen to his actual voice: [play tape].

There it is, a voice from over 50 years ago, describing a personal experience from 121 years ago!

I am now pleased to introduce a more contemporary voice, that of Dr. Steven DiSalvo, the President of Saint Anselm College.

This entry was posted in Monks, Saint Anselm College and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Three Voices from the Early Years of Saint Anselm College

  1. Renee says:

    My daughter and I very much enjoyed your historical information. Especially the account and voice from 50 years ago! What a treasure! Thanks for sharing it.
    Renee Turner

  2. Lee mayhew says:

    Excellent reading, thank you for the historical perspective

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