Dedicated to All Things Related to Mary
Heckler-Feltz, Cheryl, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
DAYTON, Ohio - She is black, she is white, she is Latino. She is "Our Lady of Tenderness," "the Mother of Sorrows" and "the Woman of Freedom."
Designers of Byzantine icons portrayed her as downright homely. Renaissance artist Raphael imagined her a stunning beauty. One modern printmaker even portrayed her as a young mother wearing headphones and holding a toddler on her hip.
Although images of "Mary, the mother of God and of all faithful" vary throughout countries and centuries, she is undeniably an integral cultural element throughout the world, especially in the Christmas season.
The University of Dayton has the distinction of serving as caretaker to the world's largest collection of books, videos - and even some fascinating wine labels - related to the life of "the mother of the whole Christ."
It also includes the office of Marianist priest Johann Roten, a native of Switzerland and one of the world's leading experts on the life of Mary and her cultural influences these past 2,000 years.
Housed in the top of the university's Roesch Library, the Marian Library includes more than 90,000 books and pamphlets dating from the 15th century and representing more than 50 languages, including Sanskrit, Arabic and Syriac.
By contrast, Father Roten's team of scholars also created one of the first home pages (http://www.udayton.edu/mary) dedicated to Marian studies - a page launched more than two years ago that receives more than 1,000 hits per week.
Materials in the library also include 4,000 slides of 20th-century art, 10,000 postcards, about 400 statues, 55,000 magazine and newspaper articles and thousands of postage stamps from more than 180 countries as well as paintings, icons and audio cassettes.
The materials are in strong demand these days as reports of apparitions fuel Marian enthusiasm. Some 275 apparitions of Mary have been reported in the past 15 years, prompting library administrators to create a separate bibliography of religious and educational resources on the topic of Marian sightings.
More broadly, enthusiasts are beneficiaries of the work of Marianist priest John Elbert, who began the collection 50 years ago while serving as Dayton's president.
His efforts were a gesture to honor the late founder of the Society of Mary, William Joseph Chaminade, and to acknowledge the university's approaching centennial celebration. He also donated the first book - his own - entitled "Devotion to Mary in the Twentieth Century."
"Rather than erect an inert monument, he wished to establish something living and active, a contribution to the mission both of the University of Dayton and the Society of Mary," according to the library's director, the Rev. Thomas Thompson. The original mission of the library was not necessarily collecting materials, but rather identifying their locations throughout the United States by corresponding with librarians of more than 250 Catholic colleges, Father Thompson says.
In 1953, however, the library received a remarkable 6,000-volume Leon Clugnet collection originating in Europe and dating back to 1860, and its development into a top international research library began in earnest.
More than 50 books (mostly written in German and French) date back to the 1480s, and the library even holds an original text of Martin Luther, who revered the mother of Christ even while rebuking and denouncing the Catholic Church. …