Annual Benedictine College Discovery Day Reveals "Secrets of the Vatican Library"

Annual Benedictine College Discovery Day Reveals "Secrets of the Vatican Library"

Published: Tuesday, April 15, 201

Benedictine College students packed O’Malley-McAllister Auditorium on April 9 to hear Rabbi Herbert Mandl, senior rabbi of Kehilath Israel Synagogue in Overland Park, Kan., talk about “Secrets of the Vatican Library.”  Rabbi Mandl is among the very few scholars, and the first rabbi ever, to gain access to the heavily guarded, 500-year-old Apostolic Library inside the Vatican.  He was the keynote speaker for the annual Discovery Day at Benedictine College.

“There are projects spanning history, science, theology, music performance and more,” said Dr. Terrance Malloy, co-chair of the Discovery Program. “It’s a great demonstration of the kinds of activities and the kinds of interactions (between faculty and staff) that we’re proud of here at Benedictine.”

Each year, Benedictine cancels its classes to allow for student presentations and the special keynote address. This year’s event included more than 80 presentations featuring the works of over 150 students and 23 academic departments.  Projects included A Capella singing groups to Viking clothing and everything in between, including a hovercraft and a concrete canoe!  There was even a tournament among 28 six-inch robots which students had built and programmed to stay within the combat circle, seek and recognize an opponent, and then attack it.

The keynote speaker, Mandl, graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in German and Semitics from the Johns Hopkins University in 1965.  He attended Baltimore Hebrew College at the same time, earning degrees in Bible and history.  Upon completion of his college courses, he entered the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and was ordained ‘Rabbi’ and graduated from the seminary in June 1969.  Rabbi Mandl went on to earn a Ph.D. in Medieval Philosophy and Law from the University of Montreal and a Doctor of Divinity degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.  He has served twice as president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City and in 1987 he was appointed chairman of the Kansas Holocaust Commission and as liaison to the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council. 

After going through an arduous vetting process that required him to be a theological scholar and have a doctoral degree, two stipulations he easily met, Mandl spent 10 days exploring the Vatican’s library in October of 2013. 

“The Vatican Library is one of the oldest libraries in the world,” explained Mandl. “It was officially opened in 1475 by Pope Nicholas V and it combined a lot of different collections that were in existence at that time. Today, there are 1.1 million books in the Vatican Library and 75,000 manuscripts.”

Mandl had gained admittance to the rare books and manuscripts sections, two of the three areas of the library.  He came to find that the “secret” section of the library, to which admission is heavily restricted, contained only the private writings of the popes.  He said while rare books were exciting, his favorite finds were original manuscripts and letters, including some from England’s King Henry VIII and a manuscript with handwritten notes from Martin Luther dating back nearly 500 years.

“It was an unbelievable experience to be able to see firsthand all the materials that I had read about and dreamed about,” said Mandl. “To have your hands on these things is really just amazing.”

Founded in 1858, Benedictine College is a Catholic, Benedictine, residential, liberal arts college located on the bluffs above the Missouri River in Atchison, Kansas.  The school is proud to have been named one of America’s Best Colleges by U.S. News & World Report as well as one of the top Catholic colleges in the nation by First Things magazine and the Newman Guide.  It prides itself on outstanding academics, extraordinary faith life, strong athletic programs, and an exceptional sense of community and belonging.  It has a mission to educate men and women within a community of faith and scholarship.