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The history of the Jesuit Book Collection
We can discern two acquisition periods in the history of this Jesuit collection: one before the suppression of the order in 1773 and one after the restoration of the Society of Jesus in Belgium in 1832.
The Jesuit Book Collection and the KU Leuven
During the first period, there were many Jesuit schools in Flanders and Brabant. Each school had its library. In Antwerp there was the domus professae. And there was also the vast collection of the Musaeum Bellarminum (later Musaeum historicum, Malines), out of which one had envisioned to write a general history of the Low Countries. The latter collection went to the Malines archdiocese, upon suppression of the order. These books provide us with an idea of the wide-ranging abundant and scientific education offered in these Jesuit institutions of learning.
In 1839, after the restoration of the order, the Belgian Jesuits began a new library in their theological and philosophical college in Leuven. It was built around fr. Lodewijk Vincent Donche's (photo) important collection, containing some 25 000 books, of which 2 000 old books. Skilled Jesuit librarians, Hendrik Rosa and Aloys De Backer (co-author of the Bibliothèque des écrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus, 1853) in the nineteenth century and Joseph de Ghellinck, Marc Dykmans and Herman Morlion in the twentieth, turned this library into an exceptional work instrument for studying theology. It was Fr. de Ghellinck who collected at the time of the rebuilding of the university book collection after WWI many precious works in the neighbouring countries. He had a particularly keen interest in the historical dimension of theological research.
The Jesuit Book Collection and the Katholieke Universiteit, Leuven
In the previous century, some major shifts happened in the world of the Louvain university libraries. Over a period of sixty years, being part of the entire university library, the university theological book collection had to be completely or basically restored three times (in 1914, 1940 and 1968). In the wake of the split of the University (1968), a new library for the Theology Faculty at the KU Leuven was planned, and solemnly inaugurated in October 1974. The founding of a separate Theology Library within the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium was all the more challenging and de facto an innovation in the history of the faculty since its origin in 1432. It is to the credit of professor Maurits Sabbe († 2004) to have brought together, within the span of three decades, such a vast collection of books.
Thanks to his vision and perseverance, he managed to bring together already existing collections from outside the University. The important theological library of the Flemish Jesuits at Heverlee (formerly in Leuven) and the collection of the Major Seminary at Malines, consisting of theological and historical books from the time before the French Revolution, became the basic components of the new library. These two collections housed the bulk of the present Jesuitica.
Besides these, a number of other libraries from religious congregations and from private persons have been completely or partially incorporated. Moreover, thanks to the annual credits of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies it has been possible to update these collections through regular purchase. In both ways, the Jesuitica collection keeps increasing.
Lastly, the Jesuitica collection has been greatly enlarged by the transfer of the Nijmegen (Berchmanianum) Jesuitica collection in the Fall of 2006. This collection belonging to the Dutch Jesuit Province will be housed in and administered by the staff of the Maurits Sabbe Library.
Taken together, all these Jesuitica collections are part of the wider Maurits Sabbe Library collection, which constitutes an exceptionally valuable cultural patrimony, which can be considered a historic treasure-house, with manuscripts of special value, more than three hundred incunabula and more than one hundred seventy thousand books printed in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century and later. Altogether the library now houses some 1.2 million volumes. At the same time this collection is a highly qualified instrument for scientific research, equipped with the latest tools of reference. A laboratory for theological studies and the humanities in general, unique in Flanders and comparable with the most important theological research centres in the world.
Adapted from M. Sabbe, F. Gistelinck and S. De Smet, S.J. in: Early Sixteenth Century Printed Books 1501-1540 in the Library of the Leuven Faculty of Theology, Leuven, 1994 .