In celebration of the Abbey’s special collections library–current home to the personal library of Sir Henry Chadwick, K.B.E. (1920-2008)–the Abbot’s Circle is thrilled to present a three-part account of the great scholar’s life, his library, and how it came to St. Michael’s Abbey. In this third and final installment, abbey Librarian and Archivist Thomas Kiser tells us the improbable and grace-filled journey that Chadwick’s library took before arriving at its present home.
If you haven’t done so already, you can read Part One here; you can read Part Two here.
In our previous installments, we discussed the work of Sir Henry Chadwick, K.B.E. (1920-2008) in light of his well-known publications, followed by a cursory look at his prodigious library as it was in Oxford. What transpired after 2008 is the subject of this final installment. Here we will trace the remarkable journey of the books from Oxford to Southern California, where they now rest in the serenity of a newly constructed Premonstratensian abbey….
Given that Oxford is on the other side of the world, how did this happen? Enter Thomas Michael Loome, D.Th. (1935-2018), the American professor of theology turned antiquarian bookseller. Nobody understood the moment better than Tom Loome, who, starting in Europe with his friend Richard Booth in the 1960s, spent decades rescuing historic libraries from closing monasteries and seminaries after the Second Vatican Council. Loome Booksellers of Stillwater, Minnesota became the largest theological book business in the world, founding great libraries internationally, all the while contributing to the stacks of St. Michael’s Abbey in California.
For reasons not well documented, Chadwick may have been thinking long-term about the fate of his books and, wanting to learn something of this American professor of theology, invited him (twice) to tea at Cambridge. What resulted was the purchase of ¼ of the library “at best” according to Loome, predominately English literature. After the death of Chadwick the family contacted Loome’s successors about the availability of the books. Authoritative as he was with these matters, and ever a fastidious communicator, Loome described the books to his successors in a word: “stunning”. This was followed by a terse, “It requires a viewing”. The successors went on to view the collection in 2010 and shortly thereafter began preparations for shipment.
The books themselves would be more valuable this side of the Atlantic where British and European imprints are less common. Loome’s successors knew this and set to work looking for an American buyer. St. Michael’s would ultimately respond in Spring of 2012, not only to own the library of Henry Chadwick, but to increase the size and quality of the existing abbey library’s holdings. Going back to the early middle ages, monasteries have always been custodians of the divine and human record, when the stability of the cloister sometimes meant the survival of books.
Howard and Roberta Ahmanson understood this fact, and also the importance of Henry Chadwick; what his books represent. Thus, Mrs. Roberta Ahmanson went in person to examine the library in Oxford and meet with the Chadwicks, resulting in the Fieldstead Foundation’s co-sponsoring of the acquisition along with the Daniel Murphy Foundation of Los Angeles. By late 2021 all was complete. The new abbey built, the library design, underwritten by the Ahmansons, completed by friend Maja Lisa Engelhart, who, with husband Peter Brandes (both of Denmark) executed original stained glass windows and bronzes, the collection was cataloged and formally installed, all in time for the Norbertines celebration of their 900th anniversary on Christmas Day. Indeed, the symphony had sounded a joyous note….
From St. Michael’s Abbey