Library opens reading room named for G.K. Chesterton
Comfortable Victorian-style room dedicated to the memory of Rita and John Rees
By John Gleason
Photo by Roxanne King/DCR: Brian Hess, a seminarian in formation at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary for the Diocese of Cheyenne, Wyo., studies in the new G.K. Chesterton Reading Room at the Cardinal Stafford Library.
The much respected Cardinal Stafford Library of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary got even better—and even more comfortable—recently with the addition of the G.K. Chesterton Reading Room.
On March 23, 150 people witnessed Denver Auxiliary Bishop James Conley dedicate the room, which is located at 1300 S. Steele St. in Denver. The Victorian-style room contains a hand-crafted conference table for meetings, overstuffed leather chairs, etched glass-front bookshelves and, of course, books and video materials.
On hand were special guests-of-honor Dale Ahlquist and Dr. John “Chuck” Chalberg from the American Chesterton Society. Dale is the host of the beloved EWTN program G. K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense. Chuck is famous for his dramatic portrayals of Chesterton on the show. Guests were enchanted and delighted by Dale’s and Chuck’s after dinner presentation in the format of an episode from the EWTN series.
The room was made possible through a gift from the Denver Chesterton Society, according to Sue Scofield, chapter president. Boulder designer and architect Mark Tarrant, also a member of the Denver Chesterton Society, was the Project Director.
“The room is where seminarians and, hopefully, members of the community, can read in quiet and comfort,” Scofield told the Denver Catholic Register. “I’m told that the room is already popular for study as well.”
The Chesterton Reading Room is stocked with many of the British author’s works as well as DVDs produced by the BBC and EWTN, journals such as Gilbert Magazine and Chesterton Review and episodes of the Father Brown Mystery Series.
At the dedication, Bishop Conley spoke of his conversion to the Catholic faith and how Chesterton figured prominently into it.
“My romance with the faith began with my discovery of Chesterton,” he told the Register. “The first novel of his I read was ‘The Man Who Was Thursday,’ a story filled with wonderful allusions to the faith. I’ve been reading him ever since.”
Bishop Conley said that, in every sense, Chesterton was a large figure of a man who embraced life and everything in it.
“He had a wonderful array of friends including many non-believers such as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells,” he said. “He was able to keep these friendships and at the same time be very clear about what he believed as a Catholic.”
Chesterton, who often called himself an “orthodox Christian,” eventually became a Catholic in 1922. He was a man who loved to discuss and debate. George Bernard Shaw was known to call Chesterton his “friendly enemy” and described him as “a man of colossal genius.”
The Denver Chesterton Society gathers monthly to explore the works of Chesterton, discuss them and promote the reading of them, Scofield said.
“We have a jolly time once a month delving into these works, discovering the expressions of truth in them and understanding more deeply how our culture got to where it is,” she said. “He predicted much of what is happening today and specific events, including World War II, and how to become happier, hopeful people as well as better evangelists and defenders of faith.”
Dedicated to the memory of Rita and John Rees
The Chesterton Reading Room is dedicated to the memory of John W. and Rita H. Rees. Rita Rees served many years as secretary to the registrar and to the rector of the former St. Thomas Seminary (now St. John Vianney Theological Seminary) according to her son, Christopher, a member of the Denver Chesterton Society. It was because of her work at the seminary that the whole Rees family was introduced to the works of Chesterton in the 1960s.
“Up until the early 1960s, Chesterton was required reading in American seminaries,” Christopher Rees said. “But then around the end of Vatican II … many of his works were purged from the library. Our family ended up with several volumes of his writings, including the Father Brown mysteries. We children were enthralled by them, they were so much fun. If my mother hadn’t worked at the seminary, we might never have known these wonderful works.”
Rees noted that Chesterton was an inspiration to writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
“Lewis was a rabid atheist until he read Chesterton’s Everlasting Man, which is a history of mankind, Christ and Christianity,” Rees said. “After reading it he was confronted with the reality that history does have a point and that Jesus Christ is history’s entire point. Had it not been for that, we wouldn’t have the Chronicles of Narnia or The Screwtape Letters or Mere Christianity.”
“Tolkien read Chesterton’s epic poem Ballad of the White Horse which is about Alfred the Great, who defeated and Christianized the Vikings, saving the British Isles in the process. Tolkien based his Hobbit Cycle and his work on what he styled the Great Myth of the North on this one poem. Tolkien took the theme for all his works straight from Chesterton: God created the whole of nature good, there is something of that good left in spite of the fall, and there are some things in creation that are so good that they are worth the ultimate sacrifice of our lives, even if given up for a hopeless lost cause. Chesterton is someone that everyone should take a look at.”
All materials in the Chesterton Reading Room, with the exception of the rare editions, is available for check out to anyone with a Cardinal Stafford Library card. The Cardinal Stafford Library is open 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the summer). It is closed Saturday and Sunday.
“The library has many spaces for group study,” said Stephen Sweeney, Cardinal Stafford Library director. “Since the Chesterton Room began taking shape in late summer 2010, it has seen a lot more use. Chesterton was a prolific author, with more than 100 books and numerous articles. This room can prove to be worthy of his name for people that are interested in the same level of scholarship.”
The Cardinal Stafford Library has more than 160,000 books and 1,400 videotapes available. Since its founding in 1907 it has compiled one of the finest collections of theology, Church history, biblical studies, philosophy and literature. Special collections include a compilation of rare books from the 16th century. The library has computers with access to the Internet, a Children’s Nook and a rotating art exhibit.