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Burns Library Celebrates a Legendary Jesuit Victorian Poet

Burns Library held a reception last week to mark the opening of its exhibit on Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ. Jude V. Nixon, who assisted in organizing the exhibit, and his son Jeremy viewed a display. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Rosanne Pellegrini | Chronicle Staff

Published: Apr. 24, 2014

Boston College is celebrating one of the most influential Victorian poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ (1844-1889), with a special exhibition and related events marking the 125th anniversary of his death.

“The Jesuit Victorian Poet: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) 125th Anniversary” — a Burns Library display now on view until Sept. 30 – comprises singular items from its collection related to Fr. Hopkins and his family. The exhibit’s final day will feature a public lecture by University Professor of English Paul Mariani, a biographer of Fr. Hopkins, about the impact of Jesuit spirituality on Fr. Hopkins’ poetry.

“Rev. Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, in the form of his poetry, has been a continual presence on the campus over the years,” said Burns Conservator Barbara Adams Hebard, one of the exhibit curators. “Clearly the spirituality of Hopkins’ poems resonates with the Catholic community at Boston College.”

An April 16 opening reception featured remarks from Hebard and her co-curators: Robert A. Maryks, a Jesuit Institute visiting scholar and City University of New York associate professor of history, who initiated the exhibition; and Jude V. Nixon, a professor of English and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Salem State University, who wrote the accompanying introductory statements and bibliography.

On display are the poet’s clippings, photos and correspondence, and materials related to members of the extended Hopkins family, including manuscripts, poems, drawings, music and photographs.

Works on and about Fr. Hopkins also are on view, including the first biography, by G.F. Lahey, and a page from Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, in which Merton received spiritual prompting from reading that biography, according to Nixon. Other items include prints, digital copies, a Hopkins icon, and an essay by Mariani titled “Revisiting the Catholic Imagination.” (C21 Resources, Spring 2013).

“While the world knows and celebrates Hopkins the poet,” Nixon writes in an exhibition introduction, “scholars and critics are only now beginning to appreciate an otherwise rich if still relatively unknown religious life. For years, Hopkins the priest had remained largely in relief.”

 “The magnificent, profoundly spiritual, and extraordinarily original poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins can no doubt be understood in many ways – and have been,” said Mariani, a poet and author who wrote the award-winning, critically acclaimed Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life.

“But from reading him for more than 50 years now, it is my experience that his words can best be understood in terms of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, which so deeply shaped him as a priest and as a poet. By this I mean his sense of composition of place and the radiance of the quotidian, manifesting itself in his sacramental reading of a Spirit-saturated world and of his own increasingly complex, kenotic, and celebratory passage through that world: his and ours.” 

Hebard hopes Boston College students see the exhibition “and come away with the idea of Fr. Hopkins as a role model. While a student he came to know the Catholic faith and, despite the opposition of his family, converted and became a Jesuit. It is important for students to know, as they learn new ideas and become aware of opportunities, that they will need courage and conviction to follow their own goals. Fr. Hopkins’ life as a model shows how, in achieving his own goals, he succeeded in enriching the lives of future generations.” 

Visitors will be given complimentary copies of the CD, “The Poems of Francis Thompson and Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ,” read by the late J. Robert Barth, SJ, who was College of Arts and Sciences dean from 1988-99.

The exhibition is open during regular Burns Library hours. Visitors also may explore more of the Hopkins Family papers in the Burns Library Reading Room. For more information on the Burns Library, visit the Library’s research guide at