sklbaAll too often we take for granted what we see every day. Lake Michigan with its vast expanse of water is there every morning as I cross the Hoan Bridge to the Cousins Center, and so are the natural beauties of southeastern Wisconsin for those who travel east and west back and forth to work. Sometimes the spectacular scenery is so familiar that we no longer even see it. Only a change of seasons makes us take a second look.

A new academic year at Saint Francis de Sales Seminary can provide the same service to those who come to its campus for meetings at the archbishop’s residence, seminary programs or archdiocesan events. In a real sense, it also is a new season.

There, almost as a jewel in its own right, stands Salzmann Library, a gift to the archdiocese and to the seminary by its alumni back in 1908. Over a century later it is well worth a second look and perhaps even a visit!

From the very beginning, the people of the archdiocese and their pastoral leaders have treasured a learned clergy and well -educated teachers. Holy Family College was established for the training of Catholic school teachers and parish musicians almost at the same time as the formal blessing of the “new” Saint Francis Seminary in 1856.

Fr. Joseph Salzmann, zealous procurator and rector of the seminary (also an early pastor of scattered parishes such as St. Boniface in Germantown, Old Saint Mary’s and Holy Trinity in Milwaukee), traipsed across Europe on a mission to gather precious volumes for his new missionary seminary.

Over a century and a half later, the institution which bears the name of its illustrious founder has a current collection of 80,000 volumes and offers regular access to more than 200 periodicals from across the country and beyond. They focus on current questions of pastoral, theological, spiritual and biblical significance. In recent years, that portion of Salzmann’s resources have been supported by private donations in an effort to preserve the collection during this time of transition to being a house of formation with academic classes elsewhere.

Once the seminary’s academic program was relocated to the campus of Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, the focus of the library changed. It became a formational rather than an academic resource. A few years ago I wrote a “white paper,” attempting to describe what a ‘formational library’ might look like. The challenge was a good one, and the essay remains available for further reflection and response.

Some 950 of the most valuable volumes from Salzmann’s rare book collection have recently been sent on loan to Marquette University’s Raynor Library for safe keeping and for greater availability to scholarly research. Those volumes alone have been valued at more than $435,000 by a recent professional audit.

Our own current seminary collection continues to provide resources to priests and parish staffs across the archdiocese who are always welcome to browse or check out books for their reading or pastoral projects. The spiritual and intellectual life of all lay leaders and parishioners has become an increasingly significant priority. Through the program of local library exchange called SWITCH (Southeastern Wisconsin Information Technological Exchange), students from colleges and universities across the city can withdraw books. Even the local Baptist Seminary is proud of its association with Salzmann!

One never knows when the collection may suddenly become contemporary. Current pre-election debates over the serious questions of our economy, for example, could use a second look at the biblical background and fundamental moral principles articulated in the 1986 American Bishops’ letter on the economy: Economic Justice for All! Certainly candidates could use a refresher course, and those working the campaigns as well. I hear far too little about the common good in all the rhetoric. Libraries are irreplaceable for background and perspective on the issues of the day.

I have always loved books. There are very few books … well, OK, maybe a few college texts on advanced chemistry or nuclear physics don’t quite qualify … but still very few which I haven’t wanted to pick up and peruse with love at first sight! I still pray for my first grade teacher by name because she taught me how to read almost 70 years ago!

Any library, and Salzmann in particular, is a precious heirloom. It belongs to the entire archdiocese. The staff is always extraordinarily helpful. I have requested a reserve corner carrel for personal enjoyment in retirement!

PS: Just for the record, the autumn hours of Salzmann Library this year are: Tuesdays and Thursdays: noon through 9 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays: 10 a.m. though 4 p.m.; Sundays and Mondays: Closed. Stop in and check out this archdiocesan treasure!