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Move to Darlington

Golden Jubilee of Bishop O'Connor's ordination.

October 12, 1926. Dedication of new seminary at Darlington, New Jersey, and the celebration of the golden jubilee of Bishop O’Connor’s ordination. Seated: Right Reverend John J. O’Connor (1855-1927), fourth bishop of Newark (1901-1927); second from left: Monsignor Thomas H. McLaughlin, president of Seton Hall College (1922-1933), rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary (1922-1938). - AAN

In the early twentieth century, the Holy See urged that seminarians be formed in isolation away from "the world." American seminaries moved to rural locations at this time.

Late in 1925, McLaughlin requested that the real estate firm of F. M. Crawley and Brothers of Montclair, New Jersey, search for a suitable site for the seminary. The search extended to Essex, Sussex, and Bergen Counties. McLaughlin personally was involved, minutely examining the possible sites. Crawley recalled that McLaughlin "proved to be one of the greatest mountain climbers and estate hunters that I have ever met in the forty years of my activity in the realty business."

They settled on a large estate in Hohokus (now Mahwah) Township in the Ramapo Valley of Bergen County. Fifteen magnificent homes, built by wealthy New Yorkers, lined Ramapo Valley Road. The estate was known as "Darlington," after A. B. Darling, who had previously owned the property. The real estate firm obtained an option to buy the property without divulging the future use of the property.

Macmillan Mansion

1927. The Macmillan Mansion, Immaculate Conception Seminary (1927-1984). - AAN

The estate was graced by a Jacobean mansion built by George Crocker. Crocker had spent $2 million on the 75-room mansion that he began in 1901 and finished in 1907. It was considered by architectural critics of the time as "a magnificent residence . . . among the finest country houses of America." The mansion was modeled on Bramshill, one of the finest examples of Jacobean architecture in England. Bramshill was built for King James I's eldest son, Henry, Prince of Wales, who died at age 18 in 1612, shortly after the completion of Bramshill.

Crocker lived in his home for only two years, dying in 1909. Darlington then was sold to Emerson McMillan, who had made his fortune in gas and power enterprises. McMillan resided there until his death in 1922. Due to a depressed real estate market, his estate sold Darlington for $685,000 to a development company that had plans to create the Darlington Golf and Country Club. Among the officers of the development company was Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City. The company went into receivership after two months and the McMillan heirs regained the property through foreclosure.


1930s. The cows at the Darlington farm. - AAN

The condition of the grounds; the size of the estate, more than 1,000 acres; a private reservoir free from pollution; the woods, lanes, hills, and river; and the inspiring aspect of the property impressed the bishop and the consultors. However, while the magnificent building had many desirable features, in other respects it was scarcely suitable as a permanent residence building for students, apart from the fact that only a very limited number could be accommodated. 

Initially, seminarians and faculty all moved into the Crocker Mansion. As one of the new arrivals put it, "We ate, slept, studied --and we were bawled out --all under one roof." Although there were not yet any recreational facilities, the seminarians were kept busy: "We did manual labor. We were assigned to till the fields, and cut the grass, and paint fences."

Left: 1927. The Saint Thomas Philosophy House, the former Darling family summer home, with the parish church on the left. - AAN

Left: 1927. The Saint Thomas Philosophy House, the former Darling family summer home, with the parish church on the left. - AAN

Over the summer, the former residence of Mr. A. B. Darling, after whom the estate and the area were named, was rehabilitated as a residence for philosophy students. Located "down the hill" from the Crocker Mansion on Valley Road, it was a rambling three-story nineteenth-century home with 27 rooms. The renovation cost $26,000. The building that would house the philosophy students was grandly named  the Philosophy House of St. Thomas Aquinas and dedicated on September 16, 1927. The gardener's house near the greenhouse was converted into a residence for the Sisters of Charity.

The elegantly paneled, frescoed, and plastered rooms of the Crocker Mansion, graced with marble fireplaces, were transformed. The first floor now housed two classrooms: one for the "cycle" course for all theology students, and the other for the philosophy students. The mansion's library continued to function as such, as did the dining room, although with many more diners than ever anticipated by the original owners.

1931. The chapel in the ballroom of the Macmillan Mansion. The altar is set in the fireplace. - AAN

1931. The chapel in the ballroom of the Macmillan Mansion. The altar is set in the fireplace. - AAN

The ballroom, or Great Hall, 30-feet high, encased in Caen stone, with enormous Tiffany silver chandeliers and statues of cavaliers on the balconies, was rechristened the Magna Aula, and became the chapel. An altar was placed in the giant alcove before the grand marble fireplace. It was an appropriate place for a chapel. There was a built-in pipe organ and the windows were decorated with sixteenth- and seventeenth-century stained-glass vignettes.

The Monsignor and His Lordship

Reverend Thomas Joseph Walsh

1940s. Most Reverend Thomas Joseph Walsh (1873-1952), fourth bishop (1928-1937) and first archbishop of Newark (1937-1952).

Monsignor McLaughlin, a terror in his own right, knew he had to tread softly when dealing with Bishop Walsh. His advocacy of a winter break may have been occasioned by a contretemps two years earlier, in 1931. That year an anonymous seminarian dared to write directly to Bishop Walsh. Apparently, the vice rector was not effectively monitoring outgoing mail. He would never have allowed a letter to go out to the bishop. The poor benighted seminarian thanked the bishop for his Christmas gift to the seminary and his "fatherly interest" and then ventured to propose a request, "trusting that it will appear reasonable." He wrote on January 5, 1931:

We believe, as you have stated, that it is sounder for us to celebrate Christmas in the seminary with the full ecclesiastical liturgy, than to spend it in the world. But due to our strenuous schedule, which extended solidly from September and even required classes between Christmas and New Years, we trust that it is not an imposition upon you to request a reasonable rest at home at the end of this term.

His Lordship, as bishops were addressed until 1931, was stunned at such a display of lèse-majesté. On January 7, Walsh, in a manner that only can be described as hysterical, exploded at McLaughlin in grand inquisitorial style.

Any and every ecclesiastical student of the seminary who had any part in the composition, execution or transmission of this anonymous letter or who has or had any knowledge regarding the same is invited to confess privately his relative participation or knowledge to you within three days after the promulgation of this letter, and to accept and fulfill any relative penalty or penance that you may impose. If this invitation is accepted, and if it solves the case, you may make thereafter appropriate public announcement in the chapel without mention of names.

If this invitation is disregarded, you are hereby directed to examine or have examined under oath by yourself and by the priests of your faculty --one priest suffices as an examining tribunal --each and every ecclesiastical student in the seminary as to his participation in or his knowledge of the anonymous letter in question. I further direct the submission to me of all evidence secured in this examination for adjudication and sentence.

Please read this letter to the full student body.

McLaughlin hoped that the passage of time would allow Walsh's wrath to simmer. Not placated, Walsh spoke to him again about the matter on February 9. McLaughlin brought the matter to the faculty on February 18. McLaughlin imposed only a slap on the wrist, hoping that Walsh might be conciliated. He wrote to the bishop, reporting the conclusions of the faculty.

It was the unanimous mind that while the composition and sending of the anonymous request was most cowardly, disrespectful and ungrateful on the part of the seminarians concerned, it was felt that the young men at the time did not have a proper appreciation of nor did they fully realize the consequences of their act, that now they appear to be fully aware of the gross impropriety committed, that they have since sought to give good example, that the community at large do not know who they are and accordingly that they be permitted to receive the remaining minor orders with the other members of their class.

It was suggested and all approved the suggestions that it would be appropriate for the two seminarians to send Your Excellency letters expressive of their deep sorrow and apology.

As much as he was a rather strict disciplinarian, McLaughlin realized that the bishop's reaction was overdone and that any severe punishment for such an offense could have negative ramifications on both students and faculty. He also was wise to let time pass to cool the episcopal temper and to obtain unanimous backing from his faculty. Equally shrewdly, he wrote with appropriate obsequiousness. One can only imagine the atmosphere such an inquiry provoked among seminarians, and among faculty. In the end, Bishop Walsh approved McLaughlin's rather benign resolution of the heinous act.

Building a New Seminary

Reverend Thomas Joseph Walsh

1940s. Most Reverend Thomas Joseph Walsh, accompanied by the seminary choir, opens the campaign for the new seminary broadcasting an appeal on radio station WOR. - AAN

The Bishop's Association and New Technology

The seminary at Darlington was too small. Bishop Walsh proceeded methodically but with determination and speed to raise funds for new seminary buildings. In the midst of the Great Depression, he personally visited with all of the diocesan consultors and secured their agreement to a plan to raise $1.5 million, spreading $1 million over the parishes if necessary.

On May 10, 1936, a group of 46 leading laymen, under the leadership of Joseph M. Byrne, Jr., gathered at the seminary and took the first steps to form the Bishop's Association of the Laity to aid in the campaign. Each donor would be enrolled in this association. The campaign opened in September with a series of dinners in each deanery. The bishop presided at each dinner and addressed the gathering. These dinners resulted in pledges of more than $600,000.

September 26, 1937. Most Reverend Thomas J. Walsh lays the cornerstone of the new seminary at Darlington

September 26, 1937. Most Reverend Thomas J. Walsh lays the cornerstone of the new seminary at Darlington. -AAN

Walsh formally opened the direct campaign on November 8, 1936, with a radio address on station WOR in Newark. The seminary scola cantorum provided musical selections for this broadcast. In his address, Walsh described the seminary as terribly overcrowded --so overcrowded that only one year of philosophy students was in residence. He explained, "There are now in residence at Darlington . . . 117 persons. This number of persons will continually and substantially increase every year. The eight priests and 56 students, 64 persons, have their crowded sleeping quarters in the mansion building, where the chapel, refectory, class rooms, dining rooms, library and all other service rooms are; 44 students are quartered in the farm house at the foot of the hill a mile and a tenth away; and nine students are quartered in another small residence three-quarters of a mile away from the mansion building.' Walsh's distances were a bit exaggerated, but he always thought grandiosely. He went on, stating the need for "the immediate construction" of a new seminary "wherein to house, fashion and train during eleven months of every year for six years . . . our ecclesiastical students in canonical preparation for ordination to holy priesthood. . . . The minimum estimated construction cost of the new seminary building will be $1.5 million."

On Christmas Day, just over a month later, the seminary broadcast the midnight Mass on the same station. The solemn pontifical Mass, featuring the seminary choir, was celebrated by Bishop McLaughlin. Afterward, McLaughlin received dozens of complimentary letters from places such as Idaho, Illinois, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., as well as from the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. Apparently, WOR had a very wide range for the day.

Throughout the campaign, Bishop Walsh made use of the relatively new technology of radio to spread the message of the campaign for the seminary and of its successful conclusion. Pastors were instructed to inform their parishioners of the schedule of these broadcasts and encourage them to listen. It is more than likely that this sophisticated publicity aided in making such an ambitious campaign in the middle of an economic depression a resounding success. It also publicized the diocese's efforts to provide priests for its ever-growing number of faithful.

Evidently very proud of his radio addresses, Walsh ensured that they continued to reach appropriate audiences. On January 10, 1939, the bishop ordered that a recording of his radio address be presented in the auditorium of the chancery, directing that "everyone affiliated in any way, in the chancery building, should hear this recording." Similarly, Bishop William A. Griffin, then the seminary rector, received a copy of the recording with very precise instructions. Griffin was directed to play the record "for the faculty assembled in globo or in smaller groups . . . for the entire household . . . for the priests assembled on occasion of the `Day of Recollection' . . . on Saturdays and Sundays or occasions when groups come to the Seminary whether for the purpose of viewing the new buildings or to make enquiries, etc." Lest any mishap occur, and looking forward to the future, there also was enclosed "an especially prepared needle which will play 2,500 recordings perfectly."

A committee of pastors met and set quotas for each parish. Each parish organized canvassers, "a vast, devoted, loyal army of 12,000 authorized Catholic men and women, they themselves generous contributors," who visited each home in the parish to solicit pledges and membership in the Bishop's Association. They made their rounds from November 8 to 19. In 11 days, they secured pledges from almost 50,000 contributors, bringing the total pledged to over $1.8 million. Of this amount $500,000 was pledged by the clergy. Pastors were asked to contribute $1,000; curates $600, payable over two years. When the final report of the campaign was made in December 1941, nearly $1.7 million had been realized. This amount exceeded the total cost of construction and furnishings and campaign expenses.

To ensure the success of his seminary campaign, Walsh did not hesitate to call in political favors. Mayor Frank Hague, the Democratic Party boss of Hudson County, and of New Jersey as well, was recruited to chair the campaign dinner in Hudson County and to "encourage" his followers to contribute. Hague himself contributed $15,000. He brought in an additional $52,000 from his chief lieutenants as well as from New Jersey corporations including Standard Oil, Continental Can, Colgate-Palmolive, U.S. Gypsum, Lorillard, and National Grocery. One of Hague's assistants, Harry A. Delaney, passed on contributions to the campaign from the warden of the Hudson County Penitentiary, the superintendents of the Jersey City police and fire departments, the chief of the Hudson County detectives, various fire department battalion chiefs, detectives from the prosecutor's office, and others who owed fealty to the mayor. Delaney, ever aware of security, wrote to Monsignor John McClary, the vicar general and pastor of St. Aedan's Church in Jersey City, that he would "mail checks to the rectory, and send cash by personal messenger." In the Jersey City of that time, for various reasons, cash was utilized more than checks.

Bishop Walsh then moved to expand the Bishop's Association, adding branches for the clergy and religious. Clergy who already contributed would automatically become members; others were invited to apply for membership for an initiation fee of $300. Religious communities could obtain membership through the payment of $1,000 for the motherhouse or $100 for each house in the diocese. The Bishop's Association of the Laity would continue to enroll members for a minimum of $25.

The Bishop's Association now was the "Bishop's Association of Clergy, Religious and Laity." Walsh commissioned Professor Gonippo Raggi to create an impressive scroll to be presented to all who fully redeemed their pledges. The scroll was graced with a rendering of the new seminary and a portrait of Bishop Walsh.

In gratitude Walsh announced the bestowal of "superabundant and supreme spiritual privileges" on the members of the association.

Professor Nicola A. Montani (1880-1948), director of music at Darlington. - AAN

Professor Nicola A. Montani (1880-1948), director of music at Darlington. - AAN

Bishop Walsh, following the instructions on sacred music of Pope Pius X, insisted that the seminarians be well trained in chant and be familiar with all other forms of sacred music. In 1932, at Walsh's behest, Professor Nicola A. Montani, a professional conductor and composer, was appointed professor of chant. Montani, born in Utica, New York, in 1880, received his professional training at the Conservatory of St. Cecilia in Rome. In 1914, he had been one of the founders of the Society of St. Gregory and, from 1915 to 1942, editor of its organ, The Catholic Choirmaster.

Under Montani's direction, the seminary choir attained what many regarded as professional quality, singing on various radio shows and recording several phonograph records. At the seminary, the music followed The St. Gregory Hymnal, edited by Montani, and was enhanced by pieces that the maestro composed specifically for the seminary. Among these was a multi-part setting of The Divine Praises.

Archbishop Walsh in procession. - AAN

Archbishop Walsh in procession. - AAN

Walsh also appointed Montani director of the archdiocesan Institute of Sacred Music. The institute provided training and advice for parish organists and choirs, and supervised annual "Demonstration Masses" that celebrated solemn Mass to a degree of musical and liturgical perfection rarely achieved.

Montani supervised the musical preparation for solemn ceremonies in Newark's St. Patrick's Pro-Cathedral and in the unfinished Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. The interior of Sacred Heart was decorated for several major occasions such as episcopal consecrations and the reception of the pallium when Newark was raised to the status of an archdiocese. These services can best be described as imperial.

Bishop Walsh had a special interest in ceremony and music. He insisted on the most elaborate liturgy and perfection in its execution. For Holy Week, Christmas, Pentecost, and other feasts, the choirs of Immaculate Conception Seminary combined with the choir of the Religious Teachers Filippini of Morristown and the Cathedral Singers. Professor Montani, a professional conductor and composer, directed the music.

On these occasions the pontifical Mass was celebrated with splendor rarely seen in this hemisphere. Bishop Walsh's entry into the cathedral, to a polyphonic arrangement of Ecce Sacerdos Magnus, was an event comparable to a Renaissance pageant. Two Papal Chamberlains of the Sword and Cape, one of them the artist Gonippo Raggi, escorted him. These chamberlains were arrayed in the military-style uniform of Knights of St. Gregory, gold-embroidered tunics, gold chains of office, and plumed hats and swords. Walsh was vested in an ermine cape over his magenta cappa magna, a long silk train. As many as six young pages, in costumes of silk and velvet, carried the train. The organ often was accompanied by an orchestra and combinations of Gregorian chant and polyphony filled the cathedral. The seminarians strove to be in the choir since these ceremonies gave them an opportunity to leave the strict confines of the seminary and its routine, even for a few hours. Professor Montani remained at Darlington until his death in 1948.

Seminarians of the 1930s and 1940s have many memories of Archbishop Walsh. In particular, they remember his "state visits" to Darlington. Walsh justly was proud of his achievements during his almost quarter-century episcopacy, and Darlington was his proudest achievement. He did not frequently visit the seminary but always was there for the annual meeting of the Board of Deputies in May. On the appointed day, the seminarians were assigned to gather in the roadway leading to the Crocker Mansion where the meeting was held. There they awaited his arrival.

As soon as his Rolls-Royce brougham appeared, they began to cheer and to applaud. A few brave souls would yell "Viva il Papa!" Both the car and the archbishop were impressive sights. The brougham was a regal model that had an open seat in front for the chauffeur and an enclosed cabin for the passengers. Walsh was dressed in cassock, sash, and cross with a magenta cape over his shoulders. He wore the Roman galero, a wide-brimmed hat with gold and purple trim. He would acknowledge his seminarians with a smile and a wave.

Before entering the mansion, he briefly addressed the assembled throng and then, with a twinkle in his eye, he gave them his "special" blessing. "This blessing," he would tell them, "goes five generations into the past and five generations into the future; it goes five degrees collaterally and five degrees laterally." What this meant no one knew; but some seminarians wondered why the archbishop gave them a blessing that extended five generations into the future. No one, of course, dared to ask him.

At the May 19, 1952, deputies' meeting, Archbishop Walsh spoke of the need for priestly spirituality and waxed nostalgic. According to the minutes of the meeting, Walsh "recalled the history of the new seminary building and the difficulties encountered in its construction and the hope and foresight used in placing the seminary at Darlington. The archbishop then gave thanks to God for our great major seminary, unique in the fact that the whole faculty and administration is composed of diocesan priests, a fact that cannot be duplicated in the United States. He declared that he was pleased that the rector and faculty stressed to the seminarians the paramount importance of spirituality in their training for the priesthood and as spirituality is the object of the faculty so should it be the object of all our prayers." He died the following June 6.

At his arrival in Newark in 1928, the diocese had a Catholic population of almost 705,000, served by 710 priests in 276 parishes and missions in the seven northern counties of New Jersey. At his death in 1952, he left an archdiocese, much smaller in area, consisting of four counties. In this reduced see, the Catholic population had reached more than 1.1 million, with 893 diocesan and religious congregation priests and 223 parishes.