Biographical and Historical note
Sister Mary Joseph (Scherer) SL was born in Peoria, Illinois, on September 28, 1883. She was educated at Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska, receiving a B.A. in 1917 and an M.A. in 1921. She received a Ph.D. from De Paul University, Chicago in 1925. She was a member of the order of the Sisters of Loretto at the Foot of the Cross, and taught English at Loretto academies in Kansas City, Missouri from 1905 to 1906, from 1919 to 1921, and from 1926 to 1929; and in academies in Colorado from 1906 to 1914. She then taught at St. Mary's Academy in Denver from 1914 to 1917. Sr. Mary Joseph became a professor of English at Webster College in 1921, and then served as librarian from 1929 to 1937 when she resigned to devote her time to the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors. She died June 5th, 1967.
"The Gallery seems to me to be a unique method of aiding the revival of Catholic literature, a revival which cannot be over emphasized..." (Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen)
The Gallery of Living Catholic Authors was founded by Sister Mary Joseph (Scherer), S.L., professor of English at Webster College in Webster Groves, Missouri, from 1921, and librarian from 1929 to 1937. Her aim, so aptly expressed by Msgr. Sheen, was to create a literary hall of fame for contemporary Catholic authors, and to foster an appreciation of Catholic letters by building up a Catholic reading public. In May 1932, Sr. Mary Joseph invited one hundred carefully selected Catholic writers to become members of the Gallery.
Dedicated to Our Lady of Letters, the Gallery was headed by Sr. Mary Joseph as director, aided by an executive council, a board of governors, and various committees. Membership was deisgnated unlimited, and from 1945, foreign language works (untranslated) were admitted based on committee recommendation. In general, the committees accepted all submissions of authors' names. Candidates would then be reviewed and voted on by committees composed of literary authorities knowledgeable in certain fields or foreign languages. On acceptance into the Gallery, authors were requested to send an autographed photograph, a letter, and a page or more of original manuscript. Originals would then be photographed and, in many cases, laminated. Slides were also often made to accompany Sr. Mary Joseph on a lecture circuit of schools, colleges, literary conferences and clubs.
By 1954, Gallery membership of contemporary Catholic authors numbered 775. When membership had reached 200, the board of governors decided to create an academy of its greatest authors, in much the same tradition as the French Academy. The academy was to be composed of 40 authors: 15 Americans and 25 non-Americans. Election to the academy was by a combined electoral and popular vote with vacancies decided by the board. Rev. Francis X. Talbot, S.J., chairman of the board and editor of "America" magazine, headed a national plebiscite, the partial results of which were published in "America" on October 10, 1936. Ulitmately, 31 places were filled: 11 American authors and 20 non-American. G.K. Chesterton was elected to the the academy but died before the formal opening.
The concept of the Gallery of Living Catholic Authors was not only to encompass a collection of autographed photographs and original manuscripts, but a place of research for scholars of the history of contemporary Catholic literature. This library or research center was to house books, pamphlets, magazines, etc., of contemporary Catholic literature, and was to provide an information service offering biographical and bibliographical data on authors. A brochure published in 1954 boasts that the Gallery had collected over 60,000 pages of manuscript, 750 letters, photographs and voice recordings. At that time a card catalogue was also in existence.
Realization of a Gallery library building went so far as commissioning the great architect Ralph Adams Cram for designs. This collection includes a set of original blueprints by Cram of floor plans for the first through third stories of a Catholic Library to be constructed especially to house the Gallery. Also included are elevations of all four sides of the facade. Unfortunately, construction depended on donations, and it must be assumed that without them the Gallery did not attract the monetary assistance needed.
Although the building never materialized, this collection still represents an invaluable archive of Catholic writers and their works. In addition to the material sent by authors, there is a large body of administrative material related to the establishment and operation of the Gallery.
The perpetuity envisioned by Sr. Mary Joseph was not to be the Gallery's lot. She resigned as director in 1960. Plans for the growth and development of the Gallery faded without her inspiration when she died on June 5, 1967, in St. Louis.