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A New Century

A Century Turns

Right Reverend Winand Michael Wigger

Right Reverend Winand Michael Wigger (1841-1901), third bishop of Newark. (1881-1901). – AAN

The end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century saw significant transition for the seminary. Father Synnott's death in 1899 was followed by the appointment of Father John A. Stafford, S.T.L., as president of the college and rector of the seminary. Father Stafford, born in 1857, was ordained at the North American College in Rome in 1888. He was assigned to several parishes before his appointment as vice president of Seton Hall in 1893. He also served as professor of Latin and English. He became a pastor in 1897, but returned to Seton Hall to take up his new roles in 1899. At the time, there were 32 seminarians enrolled. The first decade of the new century would be an eventful one for the seminary.

Bishop Wigger, who had lived at the seminary for 20 years, died there on January 5, 1901, after a short illness. Wigger took great pride in his seminary and college. At his invitation, the first apostolic delegate, Archbishop Francesco Satolli, had spent several days at the seminary in October 1896, during which he was tendered a gala dinner. Wigger died a poor man. "When I was only a simple priest, I was always more or less in debt. Only once did I succeed in laying by $100. In less than three weeks, all had disappeared. Since I have been bishop, things are worse even. My personal debts are larger than formerly. There is some comfort in knowing that I have not spent much on myself. I have never done that. The money has been given to others, generally in charity." A few weeks before his death, he left the following note in his Register: "This morning I went to visit the Catholics in the Poor House of Newark."

shipsThe Catholic population of the diocese had doubled during the 20 years of Wigger's tenure. In 1882 there were 145,000; in 1901, 290,000 Catholics. The number of priests also had doubled, from 131 to 265. There were 83 churches in 1882; 155 in 1901.

Since the diocese had been established in 1853, the Catholic population of New Jersey had grown from about 30,000 to 362,000. Of this number, Newark accounted for 290,000, and Trenton, 72,000. Catholics in the diocese of Newark accounted for about 25 percent of the total population of its seven counties, just over 1.1 million.

Much of this growth was fueled by immigration. From 1890 to 1900, for example, the number of Catholics in Newark rose from 170,000 to 290,000. In that decade, the new immigration, especially from Italy, made a great impact on the diocese. In 1900, almost 432,000 of New Jersey's population were foreign-born; in 1910 this swelled to over 658,000, in 1920 to almost 739,000.

The state of New Jersey had changed quite a bit as well. Industry was concentrating in the northern counties that comprised the diocese of Newark; the area around Newark was the most heavily industrialized. Among the great centers of industry were the Standard Oil Refinery in Bayonne, Thomas Edison's laboratory in West Orange, Singer Sewing Machines in Elizabeth, Western Electric in Kearny, Ward Baking Company in Elizabeth, several meat packing companies in Jersey City, and Ballantine and numerous other breweries in Newark. Nearby Paterson was the center of the nation's silk-producing industry, and Passaic boasted numerous textile mills.

In the jubilee year of the diocese, Thomas Edison produced the film The Great Train Robbery. The action took place in Paterson and the train was borrowed from the Lackawanna Railroad. By 1900 New Jersey had more railroad mileage in proportion to its size than any other state. Farming still was important in parts of northern New Jersey, but was shrinking, except for dairy farming in Sussex and poultry in Sussex and Passaic Counties.

Right Reverend John J. O'Connor, former seminary director and professor, was consecrated bishop on July 25, 1901, in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Newark. It was very much a Seton Hall event. O'Connor was a former professor and director of the seminary. Father Stafford, the college president and seminary rector, read the papal bull. Archbishop Michael Corrigan, onetime president of the college and the seminary, was the principal consecrator of the new bishop.

Bishop McQuaid, founding president of both college and seminary preached "in his usually eloquent and reminiscent style." He now had preached at the installations of the second, third, and fourth bishops of Newark, and had hosted the installation of the first as rector of St. Patrick's Cathedral. The South Orange campus celebrated with a fireworks display that night. O'Connor was tendered a formal reception by the college and seminary the following September 24.

O'Connor only briefly resided at the seminary, moving to the newly purchased nearby former Kelly estate, just a few hundred yards from the seminary and the college. He remained closely connected to the seminary, visiting weekly and having his daily Mass served by the seminarians. Throughout his episcopate, he continued the practice of presiding at the seminarians' examinations as well.

1908-1909 Seton Hall basketball team.

1908-1909 Seton Hall basketball team.

Seminarians and sports in the early 1900s

Monsignor Stafford (rector of the seminary and president of Seton Hall College, 1899-1907) endeavored to improve both the intellectual and the athletic standards of Seton Hall in both college and seminary. In reporting the ceremonies of his 1903 investiture as domestic prelate, the Newark Evening News noted that Monsignor Stafford had a keen interest in athletics and that "seminarians as well as the collegians have experienced the benefits of these up-to-date methods."

Apparently, the rector and president believed that the seminary and the college were so united that they should share the athletic abilities of their students. On October 20, 1904, the Newark Evening News reported that Seton Hall had won a football match over Fordham, 6 -0. It described the match as a "bruising battle from the start . . . Magnificent team play on both sides . . . superb individual work." The paper published the lineup but no one noticed that Seton Hall's team included Thomas Corr, a third-year theologian, right halfback; James Rutledge, a first theologian, at left; Andrew Clark, a second theologian, left tackle; and James Owens, first theologian, left guard. Using graduate students in an undergraduate sports event surely strained the bounds of intercollegiate sportsmanship, but evidently did not bother Monsignor Stafford. It would not be until 1931 that Seton Hall's teams received the nickname "Pirates," but it may have already been deserved.

pirateStafford's interests ranged beyond athletics. An imposing series of lectures under the auspices of the seminary-sponsored DeSales Union included Dr. Brann's "Paradise of Dante," Dr. Kelly's "Medical Diagnosis," and the Hon. James Minturn's "Law and Lawyers," topics sure to stimulate the interest of the seminarians.

A decade later, seminarian Leroy McWilliams participated in another Seton Hall sports scam. McWilliams later became the legendary pastor of St. Michael's Parish in downtown Jersey City, then a bastion of Catholicism and a city where there was little distinction between church and state. In Jersey City, until the middle of the twentieth century, "You were born a Democrat and then baptized a Catholic" and remained both until your death. According to local lore, longtime Jersey City mayor and boss Frank Hague, to a query from President Franklin D. Roosevelt concerning the number of votes he would receive in the next election, responded unhesitatingly, "How many do you want?"

McWilliams' reminisces are gathered in the book Parish Priest, written by Jim Bishop and published in 1953. His genial stories of a world in which the priest was a prince among his people and served them with love and dedication are filled with Irish wit, and sometimes telling commentary, regarding his seminary days of 1915 -1918.

As an ecclesiastical student in the college, McWilliams participated in many sports, as a player and as a manager. He enjoyed football, baseball, and diving. Too short to be a significant player, he managed the basketball team. The athletic ethics condoned by Monsignor Stafford had not left the campus, but this time the future Pirates were found out.

McWilliams remembered "arriving in the gymnasium just before a basketball game with New York University, and there stood a great star from St. Benedict's donning one of our uniforms. As manager, I protested, not only because it was unethical and plain dishonest, but because someone on the opposing team would be sure to recognize him. I was overruled. And someone from NYU did recognize the player, and for years afterward Seton Hall was blackballed by New York University."

Monsignor McLaughlin

Monsignor Thomas H. McLaughlin (1881-1947), president of Seton Hall College (1922-1933); rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary (1922-1938). - AAN

Monsignor Thomas H. McLaughlin (1881-1947), president of Seton Hall College (1922-1933); rector of Immaculate Conception Seminary (1922-1938). - AAN

From 1922 to 1939, Monsignor Thomas H. McLaughlin literally ruled the seminary. Bishop O'Connor sent him to the Jesuit theological faculty at the University of Innsbruck, where he was ordained in 1904. After ordination, McLaughlin remained at Innsbruck to receive the doctorate in sacred theology in 1908. He would carry the nickname "Schlitz," given him by seminarians in his first years of teaching, throughout his time as rector and his reign as bishop of Paterson, New Jersey. His years in Germany as a student apparently resulted in McLaughlin assuming Teutonic mannerisms as well as what the seminarians took as a slight German accent.

After several months in St. Michael's Parish in Jersey City, he was assigned to Seton Hall College as vice president, also teaching classical languages, English, and philosophy in the college, and scripture, dogmatic theology, homiletics, and canon law in the seminary. In August 1922, he was named president of the college and rector of the seminary. The next year he was invested as a domestic prelate. He took this title seriously, on formal occasions wearing the purple stockings and silver-buckled shoes of his rank.

McLaughlin had high expectations of his professors. In a 1925 conference for the priests he reminded them that the seminary was "the most important post in the diocese," and they were called to "personal sacrifice and service" and responsible to see that "ecclesiastical discipline is observed, [and] that the seminarians are correctly guided and taught." They were to observe priestly decorum "even in minutiae." Among the minutiae was the observance of silence in the corridors after the seminarians retired. He added that in all of this they always were to be "cheerful."

In the opening conference after the seminarians arrived at Darlington on April 21, 1927, McLaughlin presented them with the rule and outlined his interpretation. In his words, the purpose of the seminary was to enable "the student for the priesthood . . . to understand . . . that he is with the grace of God in the triumph over self interest, pleasure and gain, to be an apostle that is an ambassador of Christ, yea verily to be another Christ."

The seminary, he told them, "is not a college for seculars and the secular spirit, which smacks of ambition, ease, self interest." Such inclinations "must be torn out of the heart root and branch" and replaced with the "spirit of Christ, the spirit of humiliation, suffering, self denial, and general charity." The seminary is "not a place to have a good time," but rather a place to "subject yourselves to the will of God and those whom God through his Church has called to guide you."

He instructed the seminarians to "bury your own mind, your own will, to the direction and rules of your superiors; the direction of your consciences to the spiritual director and your confessor; the direction of your intellectual development and viewpoints to your professors and textbooks; your deportment to the rector and his delegates in all matters." For McLaughlin, there was no room for discussion because the rule was of divine origin: "It is the law, not the law of the individual rector, but of the Church, nay of God himself."

He told the seminarians:

No one must bring into the Catholic seminary the viewpoint of the present age of revolt or independence because this is the very spirit which must be broken in the hearts of men if they would be saved. . . . The best means to this end is constant fidelity to rule . . . with subjection of will in thought as well as in deed. . . . Now the rule of the seminary properly viewed has this purpose: The submission of one's own judgment, likes, and dislikes to the will of ecclesiastical authority.

"No rule should be taken lightly." McLaughlin specifically focused on the rule against visiting "stores or dwellings." He noted that "the world, hypocritical and pharisaic as it is, has always taken umbrage at social visiting of the clergy." He roared that such visits often are the occasion of scandal, "drink, and intercourse with young people of the other sex." Social visiting was a particular b&#ê;te quam et bonum jucundum habitare in fratres." (how good and joy-filled it is for brothers to live in unity).