The earliest records refer to a professors’ library at the seminary, as well as a small book collection, containing some 250 volumes, housed in the second floor alcove of the Old Red Brick building (ORB), “the poor little disheveled book-nook of earlier years.” As this collection grew, it was divided into one for philosophy students and another for theology students. Both of these collections, which together constituted the student library, were housed in the individual philosophy and theology classrooms in the ORB.
As early as March of 1910, shortly after the founding of the seminary, student initiative organized the Saint Thomas Students Library Association. The association set out to furnish reading materials to its members. Students joined by paying $1.00 annually, and this fee entitled them to borrow materials.
The first major gift to the library came from Rev. Fr. Agatho (Strittmatter, O.S.B.) of Boulder, though the titles he donated were not recorded. The first student librarian was Daniel Callaghan, who was appointed by the association.
BY 1919, this association developed into the Student Activities Association, which included a library committee to carry on the work of the former assocation. The minutes of the new association record the first attempts at indexing (cataloging) during that same year. The minutes from subsequent years record that the students worked at organizing the library, at soliciting financial assistance from alumni, and generally maintaining the proper order of a growing collection.
The association passed a resolution at its meeting on January 12, 1923, that the students’ library be merged with the seminary library and its meager fund balance of $4.04 be turned over to the rector. By 1926, this combined collection contained some 1500 volumes.
Beginning in 1926, when the main seminary building was completed, two seminarians — Maurice Helmann and Barry Wogan — undertook the organization of a library, and reclassified all the volumes according to the Dewey Decimal System. Although they were not the first seminarians to be concerned about establishing a library, the honor of being considered the founders of the present library belongs to them.
The volumes they classified were placed at first in “Theology Hall,” classroom P-100. During this period, Father John Vidal acted as the director of the library and attended to the regular purchasing of basic resources. After Hellman and Wogan were ordained in 1932, Anthony Elzi, David Maloney, and John Cavanagh succeeded them in managing the library. They relocated to more spacious quarters under the main chapel as well as the small rooms across the corridor.
Other students who were actively involved in the library between 1933 and 1950 were Frank Pettit, Roy Figlino, Fred McCallin, Michael Kavanaugh, Joseph Leberer, Norman Smith, Jerome Murray and Rawley Myers.
Several other were helpful to the work of the library. Bernard Jaster began a bindery in 1931. Students bound and repaired books and periodicals on a regular basis until the 1960s. In 1935, Frank Markey opened a bookstore in connection with the library; its profits directed toward the purchase of library and student books. A small rental library opened in 1936 to provide current fiction for the students.
In those early years, student initiative included the collection and sale of old newspapers and magazines to finance the purchase of new books. As a result, the library grew quickly: 1927 — 2155 volumes; 1928 — 2585; 1929 — nearly 3000; 1931, 4525; 1932 — about 6000, doubling to 12,000 by 1935, and reaching 16,000 in 1942.
Since that time, the library has grown through purchases, especially through gifts from priests and other alumni. Among the most significant gifts were the Bishop Matz Memorial Library donated by Bishop J. Henry Tihen in 1929- 1930, and many contributions/legacies received from Archbishop Urban J. Vehr, including his personal library bequeathed to the seminary. The Seminary Auxiliary helped financially for many years in the purchase of periodicals, and the alumni association also made regular financial gifts.
Starting in 1940, the annual seminary catalogs occasionally mention the names of Vincentian faculty librarians: Daniel Kane (1940-1945), who reclassified all the books according to more modern guidelines, Francis Hynes (1948-1949), Edward H. Sullivan (1950), James P. Graham (1951).
In 1949, the library was administratively divided into two parts: college and theology. The 1952 catalogue reveals that the two libraries continued to co-exist: the theology library under the chapel, and the philosophy library on the first floor of the ORB.
Cataloging by trained professionals began in 1950, and purchases began to be made selectively at that time, on the basis of published lists. The impetus for the activities of the late 1940s and early 1950s were a result of the seminary’s drive to receive accreditation.
In connection with the seminary’s major construction program, independent library facilities were built, beginning in 1954, and were dedicated on June 10, 1956. The new library had a capacity for 90,000 volumes on three floors.
The first librarian in the new facility was Father Robert Stack, C.M., (1956-1957). The first professionally trained lay librarian was Mrs. Barbara Illsey (1958), followed by Mrs. Lavonne B. Axford (1958-1965), Mrs. Marguerite W. Travis (1965-1986), Joyce L. White (1986-1996), Sylvia Rael (1997-2006), Michael Woodward (2006 to 2009), and Stephen Sweeney (2010 to present).
Faculty members and other staff, along with student assistants, continually supported the librarians as the library grew in professional stature.
In recent years, the library has grown rapidly. Seminary catalogs and other sources record the following approximate number of volumes:
Added to these these figures should be a large number of non-book items, such as microfilm and audio-visuals.
In the summer of 1984, the Midwest Province of the Vincentians donated approximately 25,000 books and periodicals (the former collection of the De Andreis Seminary, Lemont, Illinois).
In the springs of 1985, the library received a collection of some 10,000 volumes from the estate of E.M. Womack, with a concentration on English church life: theology, biography, history, liturgy, ecclesiastical art and other related subjects. These additional acquisitions required expansion of the facilities into the available space, first on the lower stack floor, and afterwards into the entire area beneath the main reading room.
In 1985 the facilities expanded further, utilizing of the former entrance corridor for the circulation desk and other services.
St. Thomas Seminary closed in June 1995. The Archdiocese of Denver purchased the campus in September of 1995. The facility was renamed the John Paul II Center for the New Evangelization, and the name of the library was officially changed from St. Thomas Seminary Library to the Cardinal Stafford Theological Library. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput dedicated St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in September, 1999.
The Cardinal Stafford Library maintains reciprocal borrowing privileges with the libraries of the University of Denver, Iliff School of Theology and Denver Seminary, so that SJV seminary students and faculty have access to additional resources beyond its own collection. At the same time, students and faculty from these other institutions are welcome to use the fine in-depth theological collection housed by the Cardinal Stafford Library.