Summer browsing in a library—and what a library
Old, new, serious and offbeat, Cardinal Stafford Library has it all
By Jean Torkelson
Originally the St. Thomas Seminary Library, then the Archbishop Vehr Library, the Cardinal Stafford Library got its current name in 2007. It is part of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary and is located at the John Paul II Center, 1300 S. Steele St. in Denver.
For more information: visit www.sjvdenver.edu
When the deacon walked into the Cardinal Stafford Theological Library with a Tupperware container wrapped in a beach towel, library director Stephen Sweeney could only guess.
Actually, he couldn’t guess.
“Do you think you can find a home for this?” asked then-Deacon Matthew Book.
Well, yes, and how: The unwrapped treasure turned out to be a Roman Missal published in 1587. The two parishioners who were accompanying the aptly named Deacon Book found it tucked into an out-of-the-way place in a home in Weldona, Colo.
“My very first thought was, how well preserved it was for being 430 years old,” Sweeney said. “No one had any idea how it ended up with them, in a small town in Colorado, but they knew someone had better preserve it. What an amazing connection to the 2,000 years of Church history!”
Today the missal rests in a glass case near the library’s entrance, available for all to see. While the missal is remarkable, it’s also in very good company. The library is home to 160,000 volumes, including a rare books room with shelves of ancient tomes dating back to the 1500s. Upstairs, the spectrum swings from academic fare and modern classics, to popular works such as the collection of the prolific Catholic author and essayist Michael D. O’Brien, “which is wildly popular among seminarians and faculty,” Sweeney said.
For those who love books, history and ideas—not to mention their Church—the Stafford Theological Library is a treasure trove in the heart of Denver. First and foremost, the library is in service to the archdiocese’s seminarians and students. It’s also a circulating library, open to the public, which means take-home access, with a library card. It’s a unique cache of books on theology and philosophy, some dating back 500 years. And it’s a reading room, too, with cozy chairs and likeminded patrons, which means nearby seatmates might range from scholars to even a cardinal, perhaps. (Cardinal Stafford himself is known to slip in for quiet reading and browsing time when he’s in town.)
As if that’s not enough, tucked into the library’s flanks is the elegant G.K. Chesterton room, named after the much loved and iconic Catholic apologist and populist theologian, whose novels, books, poems and essays made him a household name that spanned the Victorian era to the space age.
The room comes by way of an anonymous donor who prefers to be known as the Denver Chesterton Society. It’s a clubby, cozy getaway featuring leather furniture, a striking wood conference table, and a chilly, bring-on-the-beverages fridge. Of course there are the books, including the Chesterton canon, and a jolly, Chestertonian atmosphere of fun and common sense. One of his many epigrams is etched in the fridge’s door: “We should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.”
In fact, the words “stuffy” and “library” hardly apply here, except in the chairs. Throughout, the fragrances of old wood and leather bookbindings welcome visitors. It’s apparently a pretty sweet place to work, too.
Sweeney, who is the incoming president of the Colorado Association of Libraries, said he was told by a former seminary rector that this was “the best Catholic theological library between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains.” Librarian Tamara Conley, who used to be an editor for engineering publications, prayed for a new career that also used her talents; it led to a library science degree and a position here.
“God always gives above and beyond what you ask for,” she said. “The library is a treasure, and to work here is an overwhelming privilege."
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister