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St John's Seminary History

Founded in 1881, St. John's Seminary provides evidence of the growing wealth and influence of the Catholic Church in Brighton during the late 19th century. The great number of Catholic institutional buildings in Allston-Brighton speaks eloquently to the sacrifices and successful adaptation to life in a new country on the part of Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants despite prejudice born of fear and ignorance. As early as the 1840s and 1850s, Irish immigrants escaping Ireland's disastrous potato famine settled in Allston-Brighton. These mostly, young, unmarried and unskilled Irish immigrants were attracted to the town's convenience to Boston, by highway and railroad, its cattle market, slaughterhouses, nurseries, and many small-scale industries. Additionally, settlement of large numbers of Italians in Allston-Brighton after 1910 added another key ethnic element to the community. A small community of Polish Catholics settled in North Brighton, near the Abattoir during the 1880s.

It was in south western Brighton, however, that an unusually large number of these Catholic institutions evolved, owing, in part, to the beauty of the hilly, pond-dotted countryside. St. John's Seminary, along with the Cenacle Convent, Cardinal's residence and the campus at Boston College were all built on the grounds of former farms and estates.


Behind the Archbishop's Residence

St. John's Seminary trace's its beginnings in Allston -Brighton to the purchase of the 50-acre Stanwood estate by Father Patrick J. Rogers, the first resident Pastor of St. Columbkille's Parish. Father Roger's intended to use the former estate between Foster and Lake Streets for a Catholic Cemetery. Evidently, the nearby Evergreen Cemetery of 1850 was viewed as having set a precedent for this type of land use. Archbishop John Williams, however, viewed this tract as an ideal location for a Boston seminary dedicated to the training of young men for the priesthood. During the early 19th century, a farm called the Hildreth estate was located atop the hill just to the east of Lake Street. Jacob Stanwood, a wealthy Boston merchant acquired the Hildreth estate in 1864.

Jacob Stanwood was a wealthy Boston merchant, who was the brother-in-law of Maine Governor and United States presidential candidate James G. Blaine. The 1875 Brighton Atlas shows the estate of the Jacob Stanwood heirs with a large main house and five stables situated at the center of the tract bordered by South, Lake, Glenmont and Foster Streets. The present St. John's Seminary driveway on Lake Street, nearly opposite the entrance to Lake Shore Drive, may follow the path of the of the old Stanwood estate carriage way. The tract, next door, to the south, containing the Chancellery, was owned by William H. Plummer. In 1875, the Plummer estate encompassed an L-shaped house near the northeast corner of Lake Street and South Street. The main house and stable on the Plummer property were set back from Lake Street.

During the late 1870s, Stanwood's heirs discovered that he died in considerable debt having sustained financial losses in the Panic of 1873. The Stanwood heirs sold the 26-acre Brighton estate to Archbishop Williams for $18,500. Before the commencement of construction work on St. John's Seminary, Archbishop Williams sought to secure a well-trained faculty for the seminary. In the summer of 1880, he traveled to Paris where he persuaded the teachers of his own youth, the Society of St. Sulpice, to supply instructors for his new seminary.

Construction work began on Theology House at 127 Lake Street in April, 1881 and continued for three years. Designed by in the Norman Chateau style by South Boston architect John H. Besarick, it was modeled on the Seminary of St. Sulpice in Paris. Constructed of Brighton pudding-stone quarried on site, it was trimmed with brick and sandstone. Initially, the plans called for a large building in the form of a hollow quadrangle which was projected to house 200 students and was expected to cost $500,000. For the sake of economy, Archbishop Williams scaled back the ambitious project, carrying out only about half of this plan. What were actually finished were the present towered L-shaped structure and a temporary chapel. This smaller facility could accommodate 100 students and cost around $150,000.

In the summer of 1884, a group of Sulpicians arrived from Paris and from Maryland, bringing with them a large stock of books for the seminary library and various works of art. Particularly noteworthy is the statue of the Virgin and Child that adorns the courtyard of Theology House, a replica of a famous work by Pigalle in the church off St. Sulpice in Paris. The first President of the Seminary was the Abbe John Baptist Hogan, " an Irish -born priest of wide scholarly attainments." On September 22, 1884, the new seminary opened its doors to thirty-two aspirants to the priesthood. The number of students grew from 70 in 1885-1886 to 132 in the years 1895-1899. In 1911-1912, the Sulpician faculty was replaced by eleven priests of the Diocese, five of whom had been teaching there under the previous regime. This turn of events occurred, despite the Sulpician's excellent work, because Archbishop O'Connell wished to have a faculty familiar with local conditions rather than instructors dependent upon distant superiors in France.

The jewel-like Chapel at St. John's Seminary was designed by Maginnis, Walsh and Sullivan in 1898-1899. Constructed of yellow and gray Brighton pudding stone with limestone trimmings, the Romanesque Revival chapel was reportedly in use as early as August, 1899. The first solemn services were held at the opening of the academic year of 1901-1902. The marble altars of the sanctuary and the vestibule oratories were installed in 1902. Most of the magnificent interior was executed between 1908 and 1909 under the direction of Archbishop William O'Connell who took office in 1907. During this period, stained glass was installed and wall and ceiling frescoes were executed by Gonippo Raggio. Interior renovations in 1945 and possibly later included installation of a new marble floor in the sanctuary and a "Linotile" floor in the aisle, as well as construction of the present five graduated rows of pews on either side of the aisles.

St. John's Seminary Chapel is an early commission of Maginnis, Walsh & Sullivan, as the firm was known from 1898 to 1907. The firm designed numerous churches and Catholic institutions in the Boston area. Among the firm's other buildings in Brighton were Cenacle Convent and Chapel, Presentation Church (1913-1921) and St. Gabriel's Monastery Chapel (1929).

Gonippo Raggi was an ecclesiastical artist and interior decorator based in Boston from 1908 to c. 1916. By 1912 Raggi's commissions included paintings in the Archbishop's House, St. Columbkille's Church in Brighton, St. Joseph's Church and All Saints Church in Roxbury, and St. Mary's Church in Newton. Perhaps his most splendid design is the painting and stucco work on the interior of Notre Dame Church in Stockbridge, Mass., beginning in 1912. Raggi returned to Rome during World War I.

During the Spanish Influenza Epidemic, St. John's Seminary was offered by Cardinal O'Connell to the Massachusetts Emergency Public Health Commission for hospital purposes. In early October, 1919, Boston had 150 to 200 deaths daily from this terrible "flu". St. John's was turned into a temporary home for convalescents, becoming St. John's Hospital, with a staff of six doctors, nine registered nurses, and a total of ninety-two patients. Twenty seminarians also served as attendants upon the sick. The seminary's period as a hospital lasted only a few weeks but proved to be of tremendous service to the community.

The 1920s were characterized by unprecedented construction on the seminary grounds. The north wing of Theology House was substantially enlarged around 1920. In 1925 a south wing was added. Containing a dining hall, well equipped modern kitchen, heating plant, and a convent for the Sisters who attended to part of the work of the refectory, the new wing is a dignified addition to the late 19th century seminary. With walls decorated with Della Robbia rondels, the new dinning room was "in the best tradition of monastic refectories".

In 1927, the Archbishop's House or Cardinal's Residence was constructed on the south side of the campus, at 2101 Commonwealth Avenue. Designed by the important ecclesiastical architects McGinnis and Walsh in the "Roman" Renaissance Revival style, funding for the mansion was provided by A. Paul Keith in memory of his mother Mrs. Mary Catherine Keith. In 1918, his father, Benjamin F. Keith bequeathed the Archdiocese more than two million dollars. According to Brighton historian William Marchione, " the Cardinal, who loved beautiful architecture, used the money to create a "Little Rome" on the hills of Brighton." Cardinal O'Connell reportedly "wished to leave to his successors a residence worthy of the head of so great a see.

Works by Maginnis and Walsh for Boston area Catholic institutions include the Boston College complex (1909), the Church of St. Catherine of Genoa in Somerville (1909), Holy Cross College in Worcester, the Jesuit Novitiate in Weston, St. John's Church in North Cambridge and the Cenacle Convent in Brighton (1922).

The Clergy Personnel/Tribunal Building at 1 Lake Street was designed by Desmond and Lord Architects, Boston. Constructed in 1928-1929 of yellow brick and limestone, it is designed in the Italian Renaissance Revival style. The Chancery Office was transferred to this building from Granby Street, Brookline, early in 1929.

In 1928, Cardinal O'Connell built the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception into the hillside just to the south of the dining hall wing of Theology House. As originally intended, this limestone-constructed structure serves as the Cardinal's Mausoleum.

A smaller building campaign conducted on St. John's campus between 1935-1940 resulted in the addition of a rebuilt classroom building, gymnasium and a preparatory seminary.

The Georgian Revival St Williams Hall at 37 Lake Street occupies the site of an 1889 classroom building that was almost entirely rebuilt following a devastating fire on April 8, 1936. Erected atop a high elevation to the south west of Theology House, the original building, "Philosophy House", was designed by Maginnis and Walsh. It was built by contractor Charles Logue to house classrooms and dormitory rooms. The east chapel is all that survives from the original J. H. Besarick designed building.

In 1937, the Georgian Revival Keith Gymnasium was constructed on the east side of the great lawn. Erected in memory of Mrs. Mary Catherine Keith, this recreational facility was opened on March 21, 1938. Constructed by Thomas O'Connor, contractor, the gymnasium was designed by Boston architect Maurice P. Mead

St. Clement's Hall at 210 Foster Street was built in 1940 as a preparatory seminary, in which youths aspiring to the priesthood might carry on the studies of the first two years of college before entering the Philosophy department of the Major Seminary.

During the 1950s, the modern, brick Peterson Hall classroom building was added to the east wall of Theology Hall. The first floor is used for administrative offices and the upper floors are lined with dormitory rooms.

Also located on the campus are three c. 1960s modern office / classroom buildings as well as a library on the west side of the great lawn at the center of the campus. The Chancery was built in 1962 by contractor E.H. Peabody. It was designed by Brockton architect Arthur R. Murphy.

In 1960, at the height of enrollment at St. John'ss, 47 men were ordained as priests. Since the early 1960s the number of seminarians studying to be a Catholic priest has dropped from about 7,000 down to 3,400 in 1995. And the number of major seminaries has dropped from about 110 in the 1960s to 48 in 1995.

In June 2004, Boston College agreed to purchase 43 acres and several of St John's Seminary buildings from the Archdiocese of Boston. Boston College will pay the Archdiocese $99.4 million for the property, which in addition to the land includes the three-story former residence of the Archbishop of Boston; St. William's Hall, an administration building; St. Clement's Hall, and several smaller structures. BC and the Archdiocese also agreed on an additional proposal for the University to buy the Archdiocesan Tribunal property on Lake Street in two years.


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