Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter


FALL 2008

BC to Digitize the Entire Run of the Sacred Heart Review

This past February, in preparation for the renovation of the library building that is now the Theology and Ministry Library, the Burns Librarian, Bob O'Neill, asked me to accompany him to help select rare materials held by the St. John's Seminary Library. Everything had to be removed for the renovations, and the Burns Library was the logical place to transfer any rare materials that the Seminary Library might hold.


When we arrived at St. John's we were warmly greeted by the Librarian, Msgr. Laurence McGrath, who ushered us into a section of the library known as the "Cabinet Room." Inside the Cabinet Room were housed the materials that were rare, non-circulating, or deemed needing of special care. As we poured over the contents of this room the realization dawned that here indeed resided some very special and exceedingly rare items, including a 14th-15th century illuminated French Book of Hours manuscript, 15 printed books from the 15th century - prized "Incunabula," i.e. books from roughly the first 50 years of the printing press, and 99 books from the 16th century. All told, 165 titles were transferred to the Burns Library.


So it was almost as an afterthought that Fr. McGrath asked me "Would I be interested in these bound periodicals?" Sitting on several shelves were some dusty, folio-sized books that contained what appeared to be a local newspaper: the Sacred Heart Review. The volumes I looked at were from the early 20th century, before World War I, but seemed otherwise unremarkable.


"What," I asked, "would become of these volumes if I did not accept the offer?" The question was not an idle one; space is limited in the Burns Library and there were many duplicate copies among the St. John's collection. As I was to find out, several libraries – the New Hampshire State Library among others – had donated their bound issues to St. John's when they were weeding their own collections.


"They'll be thrown away," I was told. When faced with that prospect, there is only one responsible reply – space or no space – for a rare book librarian to make. "We'll take them." Little, at that time, did I realize the momentousness of that decision.


Published from 1888 through 1918, the Sacred Heart Review was a newspaper of roughly 16 pages per issue. Edited by the Rev. John O'Brien, pastor of the Sacred Heart Church in East Cambridge, the paper was definitely not a church bulletin, but a full-fledged newspaper devoted to local, national and international news. The heart of the journal, however, comprised articles that reported on the Catholic Church in the Archdiocese of Boston as well as greater New England, along with pieces that explicated and defended Catholicism. The statement on the paper's masthead puts it succinctly:

Our object: to furnish sound, instructive, and entertaining reading for the Catholic family; to explain, illustrate, and defend the doctrines, devotion, and practices of the Church.

The first order of business was to inventory the masses of volumes that were delivered to the Burns Library, and since some of these bound volumes turned out to be in three-hole punched loose leaf, the only way to really know what we had was to go through each volume, issue-by-issue. The Sacred Heart Review was published as two volumes per year, 26 issues to the volume. Given the number of duplicates we had – in some cases there were five or six duplicates of a particular volume – the job appeared to be a very long and dry exercise in spreadsheet creation. But it was just that "long and dry exercise" that led directly to the Review becoming a completely searchable digitized text.


As I thumbed through each issue of each volume I began to be drawn into the newspaper's world – the world of turn-of-the-last-century Boston. Through the newspaper's advertisements, articles, columns and even printing presentation, I entered a paper time machine that became more and more compelling the more I cataloged. By the time I was finished I had become convinced that this journal would be an ideal addition to the greater digital library; only six libraries nation-wide had holdings of the Review, and of these only three – BC, Library of Congress and Marquette University – had complete holdings.


What did I find that was so compelling? And how would the digitization of this newspaper advance scholarship? Let me count the ways ...


The front pages of the paper always covered current events in both the political and intellectual spheres; here is a tiny sampling of some of those articles:

  • In vol. 53, no. 3 (Jan. 2, 1915) the cover article contained Pope Benedict XV's encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, which described his grief at the slaughter that had just begun to envelope Europe. Terming the war the "suicide of civilized Europe," Benedict attempted to mediate between the Allies and the Central Powers, but was rejected by both sides.
  • Vol. 56, no. 17 (Oct. 7, 1916) saw another front-page article concerning the war, entitled "German-Americans Loyal." Anti-German sentiment had become high in the country (for example, one man of German descent was lynched in Illinois simply because of his ethnic background, and the jury appointed to try the case described the act as "patriotic"), but the Review strongly defended the patriotism of its German-American parishioners and indeed of German-Americans everywhere.
  • "A Chinese Priest Martyred," found in vol. 31, no. 7 (Feb. 13, 1904), describes not only the death of Canadian priest, Fr. Andrew Chu, who died a martyr's death whilst on mission in China, but the global reach of the Church.
  • An article entitled "Catholics and Socialism," by the Rev. M.P. Dowling, found in vol. 41, no. 19 (May 1, 1909) gives a brief yet eloquent description of the Church's stance on socialist ideology and on socialism's strengths and weaknesses.
  • "The Theory of Evolution," vol. 18, no. 5 (July 31, 1897), is a short yet surprisingly sophisticated analysis of that theory.


As the paper's masthead stated, one of the purposes of the Sacred Heart Review was to explicate and defend the theological positions of the Catholic Church. As such, every issue had articles that defended the Church and Catholics from misinformed or bigoted positions. In addition, every issue also featured articles by Protestant theologians that viewed the Church in a favorable light. Examples of such articles:


  • "The non-sectarianism of Amherst College. What an inquirer discovered about the obligation of attending Protestant services," vol. 46, no. 14. (Sept. 23, 1911), describes the supposedly non-sectarian services that all students attending Amherst at the time had to attend and their clearly biased intent. The article consists of a series of letters between the Registrar of Amherst and the parent of a prospective Jewish student from Flagstaff, Arizona, in which the distinctly denominational intent of the school is revealed.
  • "How a Harvard man learned history," vol. 49, no. 4. (Jan. 11, 1913), uses excerpts from Henry Cabot Lodge's series of articles, Some Early Memories, published in Scribner's Magazine, to illustrate the bias with which Protestant institutions teach the history of the Catholic Church.
  • "Considerations on Catholicism by a Protestant Theologian" was a series of columns that ran in just about every issue the Review ever published. For example, the column in vol. 34, no. 1 (July 1, 1905), was the 360th such column. These columns, often by the Rev. Charles C. Starbuck of Andover, Mass., sought to redress popular Protestant conceptions of the Catholic Church and place these arguments within an historical context.


Most issues of the Review devoted at least some space to coverage of events in the Archdiocese of Boston, and some issues were devoted – in part or in whole, in the case of supplements – to reporting the affairs of the Catholic Church throughout greater New England. Since the paper's period correlates to the rise of what some have called the "golden age of American Catholicism," it represents an extraordinarily rich resource with which to mine information about this period.

  • The editor himself is given a seven-page spread in vol. 40, no. 1 (June 27, 1908)'s "The successful celebration of Father O'Brien's triple anniversary." Father O'Brien was celebrating 40 years as a priest, being the founder of the Sacred Heart Review, and being the editor of the paper for 20 years.
  • "The Church in Worcester" (Vol. 16, no. 13, Sept. 26, 1896, Supplement p. [1]-24), "The Catholic Church in Southwestern Maine" (Vol. 16, no. 1, July 4, 1896, p. [19]-34), and "The Catholic Church in the Androscoggin and Lower Kennebec Valleys" (Vol. 16, no. 7, August 15, 1896, Supplement p. 1-16) represent just a few of the issues and/or supplements devoted to reportage on the activities of the Church in greater New England. Each article was replete with photographs of the churches involved (both interior and exterior views), portraits of the priests employed in each parish, and sometimes photographs of classes of attached parochial schools.
  • One of the great figures in this period of Boston religious history, Cardinal O'Connell – a BC graduate – is given front page coverage in "The people rejoice with Archbishop O'Connell. Celebration of his home-coming and his silver jubilee," vol. 42, no. 2 (July 3, 1909).


Since many of the subscribers to the newspaper were Irish-Americans, the Review often featured articles and columns dealing with Irish heritage. Advertisements offering inexpensive rates to travel back to Ireland were prominently featured, as were columns dealing with Irish language and culture.

  • "Our Gaelic department," a column conducted by the Rev. M.P. Mahon that featured in many issues of the Review, offered lessons in reading Irish. See for example vol. 44, no. 3 (July 9, 1910).


Finally, popular culture is treated in every issue with the many advertisements that brought the Review income. From the standpoint of both history and cultural studies the Review offers many insights into this period of our history.


  • It is possible to trace the rise and fall of gas lighting through the advertisements of the Cambridge Gas Light Company. Towards that end the ads attempted to fend off the encroaching dominance of electric lighting by offering very inexpensive rates.
  • Every issue featured advertisements from local patent medicine manufacturers such as Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, Dr. Greene's Nervura, Father John's, and Dr. Pierce's Pleasant Pellets. See for example vol. 24, no. 26 (Dec. 29, 1900) , and especially the full-page ad "A cry for help" purchased by the Lydia E. Pinkham Medicine Co., Lynn, Mass. in vol. 13 (n.s. 1), no. 12 (Mar. 23, 1895). Most of these firms disappeared or changed the nature of their products after the passage of the Pure Food and Drug act; for example, Dr. Greene's was found to contain 18% alcohol, along with ginger, and the owners were fined. Lydia Pinkham's medicine, aimed at the reduction of menstrual cramps, was actually found to have genuine medicinal properties and the firm is still in business. Songs have been written about Pinkham, and a B-17 bomber in WWII was named "Lydia Pinkham." The bomber, unfortunately, did not have the same luck as Ms. Pinkham’s customers, and was shot down.
  • The Review itself advertised that it offered "A First-Class College Education FREE to any boy who sends the SHR offices 100 new subscriptions 4 years of either preparatory (High School) course, or 4 years of college course at Boston College." Similar offers were made for Holy Cross College and Mt. St. Joseph Academy. See vol. 34, no. 2 (July 8, 1905).


These short descriptions provide but an inkling as to the contents of this incredible resource, and thanks to the work of Bill Donovan, Betsy McKelvey, Brian Meuse, Naomi Rubin, and Greg Tallent it will be possible to view, search and download the entire contents of this journal in either individual issue or complete volume form. The entire corpus of the Sacred Heart Review will be available by summer of 2009, but a sample volume of what this will look like is available via the digital collections site. [View larger text images Opens with Adobe Acrobat]


David Richtmyer
Senior Cataloger




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