Gannon Initiative Puts Newberry Among First in U.S. for Early Modern Religion Collections

$750K Gift Honors Renowned Educator and Religious Leader Sister Ann Ida Gannon

David Spadafora, Roger Baskes, Sister Ann Ida Gannon, Dennis Keller
David Spadafora and Roger Baskes join Dennis Keller in honoring Sister Ann Ida Gannon.
September 2011

The Newberry is pleased to announce a major, five-year, $750,000 initiative that will help make the Newberry one of the nation’s premier centers for research on early modern religion. The initiative honors Sister Ann Ida Gannon, BVM, a Newberry Trustee, former president of Mundelein College, and renowned Chicago educator, and will conserve and catalog about 8,000 titles relating to religion in the early modern period, ca. 1500 – 1750.

Preserving and cataloging rare materials requires significant resources, and the Newberry—like all research libraries—has a backlog of unconserved and uncataloged items relating to early modern religion.

Works encompassed in the Gannon Initiative include rare and significant bibles, liturgical and theological works, sermons, histories, biographies and autobiographies, sacred music, and family and personal papers. Specific items include a 15th-century edition of St. Bonaventure and early print editions of works by Albertus Magnus, Vincent Ferrer, and St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as religion-related books in American Indian languages, pre-1500 European manuscripts, 25 oversized Mexican choir books from the 16th and 17th centuries, and items from the collection of Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte, Napoleon’s nephew.

“Acquisition brings books to the Newberry; conservation and cataloging allows them to live here and be used in perpetuity,” Spadafora said. “Books, maps, and other materials cannot be made available to our visitors until they are carefully preserved and cataloged. Free and open access to our collections is at the core of our mission, so this initiative and the project it supports will make a major and positive difference for our readers.”

After an item arrives at the Newberry, but before it is accessioned into the collection, it must spend some time in the Conservation Lab. Newberry professionals have the primary goal of physical and chemical stabilization, such as dealing with the results of old insect infestation, mending tears, or repairing or replacing a binding. This painstaking work is done with minimal intervention, disturbance or change to original materials or structures.

An important element for many libraries and museums, conservation is especially important at the Newberry. Free and open to anyone 16 and older, the Newberry has from its foundation in 1887 allowed its readers direct access to the entire collection: materials are meant to be read, so they will be handled by readers and therefore must be preserved to withstand actual use.

“Coming face to face with a book or manuscript often is key to making an important discovery,” Spadafora said. “From providing optimum storage conditions to active conservation treatments like rebinding, our conservation staff help to further knowledge by ensuring that a rich cultural legacy is properly preserved.”

Two decades ago, the Newberry received more than 700 books from Mundelein College, a gift spearheaded by Sister Ann Ida, who by then was a Newberry trustee. A good fit with the Newberry’s already large collection of early modern religious materials, the Mundelein books led to a series of gifts of similar collections from other Chicago-area religious institutions, transactions that were fostered by Sister Ann Ida. Over time, such collections came from the Divine Word Society, the Dominican Friars of the Province of St. Albert the Great, Concordia University, the Passionist Monastery of Chicago Northside, and most recently, McCormick Theological Seminary and the Catholic Theological Union. All of these collections are rich in religious materials, of course; most are richest in printed books and manuscripts from the early modern period.

Sister Ann Ida received 26 honorary degrees and more than 28 prestigious awards for service in education or as an outstanding woman, including the Laetare Medal, University of Notre Dame. Through the years, she served on 21 boards, ranging from the Association of American Colleges and Saint Louis University to the Scott Foresman and Company, often as the first woman to serve on the board. She served on many panels, committees and task forces that were dedicated to education, women’s, church, or civic needs, as well as serving as chair or a member of accrediting teams.

For more information about the Newberry’s early modern collections, please contact the reference desk at reference@newberry.org or (312) 255-3506.