Cardinal Dolan, new museum, help celebrate faith of Gettysburg soldiers

As we get set to raise the curtain on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, it’s worth noting the religious tie to the battlefield.

062213_jl_NDmass01.JPGAfter all, some 750,000 soldiers died during the Civil War and many of them carried and quoted from the Bible. As is the case today, how they interpreted the Bible diverged greatly.

Recalling the faith of the soldiers is playing a big role in this celebration. On July 1, Schmucker Hall, located on the campus of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, will reopen as a museum reflecting on the epic battle, the costly war and the complex role of faith.

Seminary Ridge Museum will take visitors into the minds of those who fought and explore their conflicting ideas of freedom.

“Here were these young men, caught up in these events, and trying to be as faithful as they could be as good Christians,” Maria Erling, professor of church history at the seminary, told the Religion News Service. “They were consoled by those faith commitments.”

In interactive exhibits, visitors grapple with mid-19th century moral dilemmas: Would you harbor a fugitive slave if it meant you could go to prison? What motivated nurses, such as the Catholic Daughters of Charity, to tend to the injured on both sides?

Exhibits also showcase religious belongings of soldiers who fought at Gettysburg. Example: a 3-inch-by-2-inch Bible carried by Jefferson Coates. A member of Wisconsin’s 7th Regiment and recipient of the Medal of Honor, he was blinded on the Gettysburg battlefield but survived.

“The fact that he carried this Bible with him tells me a lot about him and his purpose,” said Coates’ great-granddaughter, Jean Smith of Kansas City, who donated the Bible to the seminary. “If there hadn’t been some sort of a religious context for him, he wouldn’t have carried it.”

Faith is a big part of the anniversary program in many other ways as well. On Saturday, the president of the University of Notre Dame, Father John Jenkins, flew in to celebrate the Mass.

The symbolism of the mass honored the sacrifice of Christ mixed with honor given to the fallen soldiers at Gettysburg, to the sacrifice and dedication of Father William Corby, and to the two martyrs who shared a feast day on Saturday.

“This is very sacred ground for us,” Jenkins told the Hanover Sun.

Father Corby was the chaplain of the 88th New York in the legendary Irish Brigade.

This Saturday, the celebrant and homilist will be the Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. The Mass will be held at the new parish center of St. Francis Xavier Church, 455 Table Rock Road, Gettysburg.

The invitation was extended to Cardinal Dolan because of “his love of history,” reads a news release on the visit. The cardinal is the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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