As Bryn Athyn College of the New Church students return to classes in 2008, they are being met by giant mounds of earth and the sounds of heavy construction, part of an extensive growth plan for the campus. As they pass by the College’s entrance signs they may have noticed a small phrase below the school’s name: “established 1877.” The official opening of the first school of the Academy of the New Church took place on Monday, September 3, 1877.
The first school was on the lower floor of the church building on Cherry Street in Philadelphia (see photo, left), which at that time was being used by the newly formed Advent Society. Louis H. Tafel was the society’s pastor and had preached the day before in the building’s upper floor chapel (see J.P. Stuart, Diary, Sept. 3, 1877). Detailed descriptions of the school’s opening ceremonies do not seem to exist, but the few sources that are available suggest that it was a modest affair. Vice-chancellor J.P. Stuart’s diary contains just seven lines, indicating that the only faculty members present were himself and L.H. Tafel. Frank Sewell of Urbana University was also in attendance. Stuart lists only three students by name in his diary—”[John] Whitehead, [Adolph] Roeder, [G.W.] Lang.” Another source lists four additional students—Edward C. Bostock, Eugene J.E. Schreck, William Schliffer and Andrew Czerny (Mary Bostock, Handwritten biographical sketch of E.C. Bostock, c. 1920). (There are no known photographs of this first Academy class, but a photo has survived of a class from 1889-90, see photo, top). Chancellor William H. Benade, having recently sailed to Europe on an extended trip with John Pitcairn, was not able to attend.
Stuart wrote to Benade a few weeks later in October with a description of the school’s operation: “The school is coming into a living condition with a visible unity and strength—the awkward stiffness of our first beginning in Cherry Street having passed into a rational adjustment to the work . . . The library begins to look like life. Dr. [N.C.] Burnham has his extended blackboard for his illustrations of degrees. The tables are there with lexicons and copies of the Word and the Writings for Tafel; and when my day comes, the books change and the tables present Webster’s and Worcester’s great unabridged dictionaries, with a supply of various English works as texts for rhetoric and criticisms. The young fellows do not shrink from their task—a thesis once a week” (J.P. Stuart. Letter to William H. Benade. 24 October 1877).
Henry Schill, a member of the congregation, provided housing for the students and treated them “more like guests than boarders. He visited and talked with [them], gave them a settled home like feeling as well as stimulating talk on all kinds of subjects, and always looking to the Writings for guidance. Often there was a glass of beer and a bite to stimulate these friendly discussions” (Mary Bostock, Handwritten biographical sketch of E.C. Bostock, c. 1920).
The Divinity School of 1877 quickly became the College and Divinity School in 1878, with the Boys and Girls Schools following in later years.
Photos: The photograph of an early Academy class is labeled: “Boys School Class, 1889-90; Top Row [standing, left to right]: Will Farrington, Robert Schnarr, Sam Klein; 2nd row [sitting, front]: Sam Roschman, Frank Ballou, Ellis Kirk, Jesse Burt.” The photograph of the exterior of the Cherry Street building is from an early postcard. The interior photograph shows the upper floor chapel and is taken from the chancel facing the back of the chapel. All three photographs are in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.
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