In this exhibition you will see a small sample of rare and special books on religion, published from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries that the Newberry collected over the last two decades. In 1991 Sister Ann Ida Gannon, member of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and former president of Mundelein College, arranged for the transfer of Mundelein’s rare book collection to the Newberry. Over the course of the following two decades, her example led to the donation in entirety or in part of eight additional religious collections – six institutional and two private – totaling more than eight thousand volumes. Most had been acquired in Europe by religious institutions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to provide Chicago seminarians, friars, and priests with reading material requisite for mastering theology, classical literature, and history. The Chicago-area schools that had acquired these rare books had not cataloged most of them. Many volumes had “charge cards” so they could be taken home for private study; some, never cataloged, still had their original order slips. As religious education evolved, these rare manuscripts and printed editions gradually became superfluous to the institutions that housed them. They no longer served their original pedagogical function and posed a burden of preservation and maintenance. However, when transferred to the Newberry, these same volumes constituted a splendid complement to a rare book collection that had been assembled by the library’s curators over the course of more than a century.
Generous grants by the B.H. Breslauer Foundation and gifts from donors to the Sister Ann Ida Gannon Initiative have financed the monumental and truly archaeological enterprise of disinterring these volumes from basements and locked room repositories to catalog and conserve them. Present in Chicago for more than a century, these manuscripts and early printed books had never been fully appreciated. Now cataloged, they are available to scholars and students throughout the city, the country, and the world.
This exhibition highlights a selection of these long-hidden treasures, which, now properly described and conserved, have the potential to kindle the imagination and stimulate the expansion of humanistic knowledge.