Hidden Gem in Brenner Library under lock and key

By Chloe Nott

A story can be found behind every door at Quincy University. But there is one door on campus that leads to something very special.

The Brenner Library was built in 1967 to serve the students and professors of QU. However, one unique element was included in the design with a very specific purpose.

Brenner Library

On the second floor, a rather inconspicuous room is home to a collection of rare books. The room is temperature and humidity controlled and kept under lock and key.

The collection is officially referred to as the Franciscan Rare Book Collection. It contains approximately 3,500 volumes written between the early 15th to mid 19th centuries.

The books are in a variety conditions. Some have undergone restoration work.

A majority of the books are written in Latin. Some texts are in other languages such as Greek, German, and English. The subjects of the books include theology, philosophy, history, science, law, and music.

Printed music for a Gregorian chant.

Forty-one of the books were published between 1472-1500 are considered incunabula. The word incunabula comes from the Latin term “in the cradle” or “place of birth”. This refers to the books printed within the first 50 years of the invention of the printing press. The incunabula at Brenner Library is registered with the United States Library of Congress.

The oldest book in the Franciscan Rare Book Collection, dating 1472.

A majority of the books were brought to the US by Franciscan Friars during the 19th century. The Friars particularly focused on taking books with them from Germany after Bismark came into power. It was feared Bismark would suppress Franciscan friaries and confiscate books from their valuable libraries.

As the books made their way to the Midwest, they were dispersed among the larger friaries. In 1931 a collection of old and rare books was gathered and housed at St. Anthony’s in St. Louis, Missouri.

The collection was relocated to Quincy after the building of the Brenner Library. Numerous additions have been made to the collection from alumni and other members of the public over the years.

Page from a 19th century family bible, donated from a member of the community.

Patricia Tomczak is in charge of the collection. Tomczak’s knowledge of the books and the history behind them is a great asset for the Library.

For instance, Tomczak explained how some of the books were printed in one location before being sent off to get bound.

“They were bound by a group of sisters in Germany near where the printers were, and they did that as a way to make money for their convent,” Tomczak said.

Tomczak told many stories about the books and the history behind some of them. The range of topics the Friars kept she found particularly interesting. The value of knowledge was important for them and their communities. Not only religious works but a variety of areas of interest from 17th century Greek medical books containing the Hippocratic Oath to early attempts to phonetically translate scripture for Native Americans.

Tomczak is working with Brother Terry Santiapillai, OFM, on digitally archiving the collection. Tomczak said it is hard work and getting through the collection is a slow process.

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