For all the students and scholars who’ve opened the heavy wooden doors to enter Friedsam Memorial Library since 1938, an Allegany man who never attended the college crystallized in a few words the importance of the St. Bonaventure University landmark.
“‘You know, Sister, have you ever looked at the steps of the library? They’re worn away. Think of the thousands of people who have crossed on those steps and all that they have done in this world,’” said Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F., now the university’s president but then just a faculty member as she recalled the encounter with her landlord.
“‘Think of how many people have entered this place and all that they’ve learned.’ I never crossed the threshold of the library again without thinking of those words,” she said.
She told several tales about the library’s significance during the 75th anniversary celebration held Thursday morning in the library’s main reading room, including her wide-eyed wonder seeing the manuscript of the iconic book “The Seven Storey Mountain” on a school trip to St. Bonaventure as a teenager. The library’s legendary 34-year director, Fr. Irenaeus Herscher, O.F.M., took the time to show them Thomas Merton’s treasured work.
“We went back to our respective high schools, and when we could share that we had seen that manuscript, we were on the level with our classmates who got tickets to the Elvis concert,” she said with a smile.
The program to rededicate the library included brief talks by library director Paul Spaeth; Dr. Michael Fischer, provost
and vice president for Academic Affairs; a state Senate proclamation read by Bill Heaney, representing state Sen. Catharine Young; a blessing by Fr. Francis Di Spigno, O.F.M., executive director of University Ministries; and prayers by Fr. Robert Karris, O.F.M., and Br. Ed Coughlin, vice president for Franciscan Mission.
Fischer talked about all the advances the university has seen in its lifetime, from wireless computing and the elimination of the card catalog, to allowing drinks, “albeit in covered containers.”
“I can well imagine that if we continue to plan for and steward this treasure appropriately, it will continue to be all that was envisioned when it was first created, while continuing to adapt appropriately to the needs of new students and faculty in the decades and centuries to come,” Fischer said.
About 75 people attended the ceremony, which was followed by a light reception and tours of the new Holy Name Library for the Franciscan Institute, home to St. Bonaventure’s remarkable collection of rare books.
The library opened on March 7, 1938, and was built from money donated by the foundation of Col. Michael Friedsam, who became president of New York City’s B. Altman Co. in 1913. Friedsam had the majority of his fortune set aside to form a foundation that donated money to institutions that promoted the betterment of youth and the human condition.
Friedsam Memorial Library replaced Alumni Hall, which had housed the college’s library for more than 50 years but had become too small to handle the size of the collection.
The books were transferred from Alumni Hall to Friedsam by a “book brigade.” Led by college President Thomas Plassmann, O.F.M., the seminarians and the student body passed the books hand to hand, forming a human chain.
Today, the library has more than 375,000 titles, and more than 35,000 periodical titles in print or digital form. Friedsam, which has two computer labs, also houses the university’s Archives, as well as several special art, poetry and journalism collections.
The most impressive collection is located in the Holy Name Library for the Franciscan Institute, a new wing of Friedsam that protects the university’s collection of rare books. The collection is described by the National Endowment for the Humanities as “a unique national asset of great value to American humanistic scholarship.”
Holy Name Library includes the most important collection of Franciscana in North America, more than 9,000 rare books and manuscripts dating from the 12th century up to and including the seminal journals of renowned monastic Thomas Merton, who taught English at St. Bonaventure in the early 1940s.
About the University: As a leading Catholic Franciscan University, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them. We are establishing pathways to internships, graduate schools and careers. Our students are becoming extraordinary.