1870 - Move the Seminary to Newark?
In fall 1870, despondent over Seton Hall's finances, Bishop Bayley contemplated giving up on the college, selling it to the Christian Brothers, and moving the seminary to Newark.
Father James Corrigan gave Bayley multiple reasons why such a move and a sale to the Christian Brothers would be a mistake. Father James' letter gives us many insights into the life and behavior of seminarians and faculty in these years. He reminded Bayley that South Orange was a “healthy” site, with spacious grounds “well adapted for the recreation indispensably required for young men so long and so much confined as seminarians must be.”
The facilities were ideal and the chapel suited for a seminary. The rural character of South Orange also provided adequate isolation for seminarians, being “sufficiently out of the way of public thoroughfares to preclude too much visiting from outsiders, and consequently will keep the minds of the seminarians comparatively free from outside nonsense.” Just as the isolation was beneficial for seminarians, it was of equal advantage for the professors, who “are not particularly liable to be interrupted in their studies by visitors, and consequently have more time to prepare the lessons for their classes. And if they do go out sometimes, it is only at night, and into the very best society.”
Having stated the positive aspects of a seminary in South Orange, Father James bluntly put forth the problems that would occur were the seminary moved to Newark. It would be “unhealthy,” and there would be frequent visits to the seminarians by friends or priests. In Newark there would be no place “suitable for the purpose of recreation and taking fresh air.” This was not an exaggeration. Nineteenth-century Newark was notoriously unhealthy. The water supply was tainted, the streets filthy, and epidemics of smallpox and cholera were not infrequent. The city lacked open public spaces and parks. This woeful state of affairs is chronicled in a 1988 study by Stuart Galishoff, Newark: The Nation's Unhealthiest City 1832 -1895.
Father James was quite concerned about the seminarians going out for walks “for we do not live in a European city and in a Catholic atmosphere, where seminarians can go out without danger of being insulted and stared to death.” Even more he feared that if they went out in parties of two or three, they would succumb to “the multitudes of occasions and facilities of visiting, drinking etc., which seminarians precisely because being seminarians together often times easily fall into.” The seminarians also would “be exposed to make visits which no stringent laws or rules can prevent; for they can be kept secret” and be tempted to purchase “forbidden and dangerous articles.” In the city it would be “impossible to prevent a good deal of news, talk, and scandal from crossing the threshold, and hence an immense source of distraction.”
Father James equally was fretful about the deleterious effects of city living on the professors, believing “there would be visits of people and priests to the professors, which would take away a good deal of their time, and lessons would not be well prepared and seminarians not well taught, though there be the best will in the world.”
Apparently worried that some of the professors might spend too much time drinking, he delicately expressed his concern that the “professors would more or less frequently visit their friends at all hours throughout the day as well in the night, and you will readily admit that the Newark Catholic society is not the most refined: hence the professors might some times come home in a state not overedifying to the seminarians.” Father James probably had cause to worry about both seminarians and professors let loose in the wilds of nineteenth-century Newark. Rural isolation of both was his solution.
Strangely, for a city that had the stately St. Patrick's Cathedral and the grand St. Mary's German Church, Father James ended his list of the difficulties of a seminary in Newark with this remark: “For years to come there will be no suitable church in Newark for seminarians, hence ceremonies could not well be properly taught and practically learned.” Having expressed to Bishop Bayley his manifold reasons for keeping the seminary at Seton Hall, he urged the bishop to keep “a college and a seminary, which certainly will not be at all a blemish, but rather a bright jewel in your mitre.”