A Novice at Roosevelt Hall

In 1974, Dennis Owen deeded Roosevelt Hall to the Christian Brothers, who chose to use the property as a novitiate. One of the novices, Brother Hal DeLuca, recently donated a quilt he made while at Roosevelt Hall to the Skaneateles Historical Society, and included a letter describing his time there. With his permission, I share part of his letter here:

“I was a novice at Roosevelt Hall for the required canonical year (1 year plus 1 day) from August 1991 to August 1992. During that time, there were five novices from the Baltimore, St. Louis and Santa Fe-New Orleans Districts. In addition, there was one novice from the Congregation of Christian Brothers (also known as the Irish Christian Brothers). Br. Timothy Wentworth, FSC, was the director and Br. Timothy Dean, FSC, was the Sub Director.

“Daily life started with morning prayer for the group. Some of us went to an aerobics class at the Auburn YMCA before this. We also may have jogged along West Lake Road. The chapel was the glassed-in back porch, and I remember in the summer how the dinner boat would be touring the lake while we were at night prayer. We could hear them talk about Roosevelt Hall and the Brothers as the boat passed.

“After morning prayer, we had conferences on various topics including religious life, the vows, prayer and spirituality, the history of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, and liturgy. Presenters included Brothers, nuns, lay men and women. Individual work assignments (that usually meant cleaning one of the rooms) followed conferences. Dinner followed evening prayer. Then there was quiet time for personal prayer and spiritual reading, and then night prayer with the group.

“The cooking was done entirely by the Brothers. Each of us had a turn every eight days. On the cooking day, the cook went to the P&C in town and bought groceries for that meal. I found a copy of Betty Crocker’s book the most useful. I couldn’t go wrong. My best dishes were Yankee pot roast, lemon chicken and chicken divan. I also made a pretty good pumpkin pie from scratch. Occasionally, we were treated to a restaurant, like the Sherwood Inn or Doug’s.

“Every Friday, after conferences, we all had art class with Mrs. Anne Uva of Syracuse. Class was held in Anne’s house on Ross Street. Anne had been the art teacher at CBA [Christian Brothers Academy] and also taught in the CCD program at St. Daniel’s [Church]. All of us loved Anne and enjoyed art. She started us off with pencil and charcoal drawing. Then we moved to watercolors and pottery; we actually built by hand and the wheel. I used to joke that the pottery we made would be the Christian Brothers version of Newcomb Pottery!

Hal Quilt 1

A detail of Brother DeLuca’s Roosevelt Hall quilt

“Anne was a quilter–she had them all over her house. Because we were interested, we each made one. Anne supplied most of the material and helped with some of the sewing. Most of us were afraid, initially, of the sewing machine. Regarding my quilt, I cut the pieces, tied the pieces, and embroidered and hand-stitched at Roosevelt Hall. Sewing the squares together was done at Anne’s. She helped me sew the case for the quilt.

Hal Quilt 2

“On the case, you will see embroidered the seal of the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools. (The star in the center of the case is actually the form for a flower.)

CB Seal

“Anne had a stencil for the branches. I used her fleur-des-lis cookie cutter for the top design. The pea pod — for lack of a better descriptor — I drew myself. The back of the quilt is an old bed sheet from a closet at Roosevelt Hall. I had the quilt in the case on my bed at Roosevelt Hall, Hudson Catholic High School for Boys (Jersey City, NJ), St. John’s College High School (Washington, DC) and Central Catholic High School (Pittsburgh, PA).

“Each Sunday, we all attended Mass at St. Mary’s in the village. Some of the Brothers did give an occasional homily. Fr. Wood and his staff were very generous and kind to all of us. One day each week, each of us had a community project. I was a volunteer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse, working in the pastoral care division.

“Once a month, Sr. Rose Clarisse Gadoury, SSA, a Sister of St. Anne in Boston, came to give each of us spiritual direction. We looked forward to her visit each month and envied those who got to meet with her first.

“People in town seemed to know who we were, and would speak easily with us. We enjoyed the summer concerts and the change of seasons on the lake. Some of us walked across water in the winter. We bought things in the shops, especially Roland’s. I remember one of the clerks saying to me, ‘Everybody can always find something at Roland’s.’

“We made occasional trips to Albany, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Niagara Falls, and Ellis Island, which had just opened to the public. The Creamery [Museum] opened while we were in residence. In fact, I went on opening day and they were finishing some of the exhibits. I went back after that a couple of times.


“My enclosed picture was taken on the back porch just days before we left Roosevelt Hall. Br. Chris Ford, FSC, from the St. Louis District, photographed each of us.

“Roosevelt Hall was a wonderful experience. It was a privilege to be able to spend a year praying, studying and learning from so many talented and accomplished people who came to us each week. Although it was a house of prayer and formation, it was not absolute solitude and quiet. It was a lively place with presenters and visitors (many Christian Brothers from all over the world) coming and going. The experience was also profoundly challenging and live-giving.”

In a later note commenting about Stella Maris, DeLuca adds:

“The sisters were very hospitable. We frequently attended Mass in the chapel in the lower level of the house. They extended an ‘open door’ to us. We could just walk in and use the chapel and sun room any time we wanted. Occasionally, some of their retreat guests would come to Roosevelt Hall and asked to see the inside. As long as it was not close to dinner time, we would escort them through the rooms on the main floor.”

* * *

Br. Hal DeLuca is today Director of College Counseling at St. Anselm’s Abbey School, Washington, D.C. I am grateful to him and to the Skaneateles Historical Society for sharing this glimpse of life at Roosevelt Hall during this time.

A few notes:

The Brothers of the Christian Schools (also known as the Christian Brothers, in Latin, Fratres Scholarum Christianarum) is a Roman Catholic religious teaching congregation, founded in France by Jean-Baptiste de La Salle (1651–1719). The Brothers use the post-nominal abbreviation of “FSC” to denote their membership in the order, and the title of Brother, abbreviated Br.

A novitiate is a place for the training and preparation that a novice (or prospective) monastic, apostolic, or member of a religious institute undergoes prior to taking vows in order to discern whether she or he is called to vowed religious life. This training includes times of study, prayer, living in community, studying the vowed life, deepening one’s relationship with God and one’s self-awareness. It is a time of creating a new way of being in the world.

In 2001, the Christian Brothers passed Roosevelt Hall to the Franciscan Friars. In 2007, at the Friars’ request, the house reverted to Dennis Owen who sold it to the current residents; it is once again a private home.

Susan B. Anthony at Legg Hall


Of all the lecturers who have spoken at Legg Hall, Susan B. Anthony is probably the least in need of an introduction. In January of 1880, she spoke on the notion that “Women Want Bread, Not the Ballot.” It was a speech she delivered many times over the course of her crusade, and it was never written down. But contemporary scholars have reconstructed the talk from scores of news accounts, and I include a few excerpts here. Reading these words, one can clearly imagine the power of their delivery in person:

“My purpose tonight is to demonstrate the great historical fact that disfranchisement is not only political degradation, but also moral, social, educational and industrial degradation; and that it does not matter whether the disfranchised class live under a monarchial or a republican form of government, or whether it be white working men of England, negroes on our southern plantations, serfs of Russia, Chinamen on our Pacific coast, or native born, tax-paying women of this republic. Wherever, on the face of the globe or on the page of history, you show me a disfranchised class, I will show you a degraded class of labor.

“Disfranchisement means inability to make, shape or control one’s own circumstances. The disfranchised must always do the work, accept the wages, occupy the position the enfranchised assign to them… If they could, do you for a moment believe they would take the subordinate places and the inferior pay?

“And yet, notwithstanding the declaration of our Revolutionary fathers, ‘all men created equal,’ ‘governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ ‘ taxation and representation inseparable’—notwithstanding all these grand enunciations, our government was founded upon the blood and bones of half a million beings, bought and sold as chattels in the market. Nearly all the original thirteen States had property qualifications, which disfranchised poor white men as well as women and negroes.

“Thomas Jefferson took the lead in advocating the removal of all property qualifications… Martin Van Buren declared, ‘The poor man has as good a right to a voice in the government as the rich man, and a vastly greater need to possess it as a means of protection to himself and his family.’

“It is said women do not need the ballot for their protection because they are supported by men. Statistics show that there are three million women in this nation supporting themselves. In the crowded cities of the East they are compelled to work in shops, stores and factories for the merest pittance.

“The question with you, as men, is not whether you want your wives and daughters to vote, nor with you, as women, whether you yourselves want to vote; but whether you will help to put this power of the ballot into the hands of the three million wage-earning women, so that they may be able to compel politicians to legislate in their favor and employers to grant them justice.

“The law of capital is to extort the greatest amount of work for the least amount of money; the rule of labor is to do the smallest amount of work for the largest amount of money. Hence there is antagonism between the two classes; therefore, neither should be left wholly at the mercy of the other.

“It was cruel, under the old regime, to give rich men the right to rule poor men. It was wicked to allow white men absolute power over black men. But there never was, there never can be, a monopoly so fraught with injustice, tyranny and degradation as this monopoly of sex, of all men over all women.

“Denied the ballot, the legitimate means with which to exert their influence, and as a rule, being lovers of peace, they have recourse to prayers and tears, those potent weapons of women and children, and, when they fail, must tamely submit to wrong or rise in rebellion against the powers that be. Women’s crusades against saloons, brothels and gambling dens – emptying kegs and bottles into the streets, breaking doors and windows and burning houses – all go to prove that disfranchisement, the denial of lawful means to gain desired ends, may drive even women to violations of law and order. Hence to secure both national and domestic tranquility, to establish justice, to carry out the spirit of our Constitution, put into the hands of all women, as you have into those of all men, the ballot, that symbol of perfect equality, that right protective of all other rights.”

Susan B Anthony

A typical broadside announcing Anthony’s appearance

Wallace Bruce at Legg Hall

Wallace Bruce, big photo

On January 25, 1879, Wallace Bruce spoke on Sir Walter Scott at Legg Hall, receiving mixed reviews. On one hand, it was said that he treated the subject manner “in a masterly manner” but another critic wrote, “Mr. Bruce is an orator of high order, but his lecture on Friday evening was delivered in too rapid a manner and in too loud a tone. Still, the lecture will take rank with the best we have had in the course so far.”

Bruce was back for the next lecture season, in December of 1879, speaking on Robert Burns. Fascinated by Scottish history and poetry from an early age, Bruce graduated from Yale in 1867 and then earned a degree in law. But after a walking tour of Scotland, he returned to America set on a new career, not in law but in lecturing.

He wrote, “On my first trip to Scotland I made loving pilgrimages to the shrines of Robert Burns and Walter Scott. Returning to America, I voiced my love for these great Scottish writers in almost every town and city from New York to San Francisco.”

Bruce also wrote his own poetry, as well as books on history and literature, and penned a series of travel guides as “Thursty McQuill.” But his dream job came in 1889: President Benjamin Harrison appointed Bruce to serve as U.S. Consul to Edinburgh.

Bruce was able to immerse himself in Scotland once more, and to create a memorial that would outlast his poetry. At the American Consulate, he heard of a Scots woman who was applying for a widow’s pension; her husband had served in the Union Army before returning to his homeland. When he died, his body was interred in a pauper’s grave. Bruce asked the Edinburgh Town Council to provide a plot for Scots who had served in the U.S. Civil War and then began to campaign among American friends for funds to build a memorial. His efforts were successful, thanks in part to Andrew Carnegie, one of several Scottish-Americans who supported the project. The memorial features bronze figures of Abraham Lincoln and a freed slave, and the names of the Scottish soldiers who fought in the war.

Bruce returned to America with his family in 1893 and continued writing and lecturing. He spoke again in Skaneateles in December of 1899, and continued to be active until dying of a stroke in 1914.

Litter Update

Since the firemen’s field days began ending on Sunday, and with the Village employees having Monday off, I have been picking up litter in Austin Park on Labor Day, rather than looking at it all day and complaining. The last two years haven’t been too bad — only two large trash bags total each year. But there are particulars worth noting.

This year, four loaded diapers. The record is seven. For the third consecutive year, a condom wrapper. Someone is really enjoying the fireworks. Elsewhere on the grounds, black panties. Ditto. Also a pair of reading glasses. I picked up a dozen or so beer bottles, but one Budweiser longneck had already been run over by a car, so I wouldn’t go barefoot in the park any time soon. No wallets, cell phones or keys this year, but I did find $10 in dew-drenched bills; I like to think they were a gratuity from the people leaving the diapers.

Robert Burdette at Legg Hall

Burdette in 1877

On January 22, 1880, the Skaneateles Library Lecture Course hosted Robert J. “Bob” Burdette at Legg Hall. Burdette was an American humorist who first gained notice for his writing in the Burlington (Iowa) Hawkeye newspaper. His humorous “Hawkeyetems” prompted his wife to suggest he begin speaking in public. After his first lecture, he and the church where he spoke split the take – $16 each – and he was on his way. In 1877, the Redpath agency in Chicago added him to their list of lecturers, and he began touring the nation.

He was an unlikely success on the platform. He was only 5’ 3” tall with a voice described as “thin and piping.” Because of his voice, he refused to lecture outdoors. His reply to one would-be host read:

“If the exercises are held in the church, I will come; if they are in the open air, I will send my blessing. If they are sort of mixed, a little one way and some of the other, well—then I will fall into harmony with the occasion—that is to say, maybe I will come and maybe I won’t. Yours, one way or the other, Robert J. Burdette.”

He trembled with stage fright before he lectured and had some on-stage oddities, including swinging his arms like a high jumper when excited. But with all that, audiences loved him. He had an irresistible warmth, an engaging sense of humor, and a way of putting things that summoned smiles, sentimental tears or both. He was never at a loss for words; it was said of him, “A Golconda of language poured out like a mountain torrent.” *

One reviewer noted, “He kept his audience in a continual flutter of laughter.” And the Skaneateles Free Press, when it was announced he would speak here, said, “His subject, ‘Home,’ is universally styled a masterpiece of droll pleasantry and wit.”

The village was lucky to catch Burdette early in his career. As his popularity soared, he commanded $150 to $250 a night. His epic lecture was “The Rise and Fall of the Mustache,” a two-hour, cradle-to-grave story about a boy named Tom, which he delivered more than 4,000 times. “It was only necessary to start it and it would say itself,” he later said.

He also wrote the poem “My First Cigar,” which was read and recited thousands of times, in which a dizzy, perspiring, nauseated boy writes, “I heard my father’s smothered laugh,/It seemed so strange and far,/I knew he knew I knew he knew/I’d smoked my first cigar.”

After three decades as a lecturer, Burdette became a Baptist minister and the head of a congregation in Pasadena, where he spent his remaining days among the orange groves.

* * *

Robert J. Burdette: His Message, edited from his writings by his wife, Clara B. Burdette (1922)

Skaneateles Free Press, November 1, 1879

* Golconda, in India, was renowned for the quantity and quality of the diamonds brought forth from its mines. In the 1880s, “Golconda” was used generically by English speakers to refer to any source of great wealth.


Picnic 1a

A picnic, probably at Spafford Landing/Randall’s Point, in June of 1910 or ’11, with this note on the verso: “Clockwise: Chet, Miss Brooks, Rene, Celia, Jennie, Helen, Ned, Ethel, John, ? , Stuart, Arthur”

Picnic 2a

“Clockwise: John, Bob, Stuart, Arthur, Chet, Ned, Ethel, Miss B., Jennie, Helen, Celia, Rene”

I wonder if “Miss Brooks” was the chaperon, and I marvel at men, especially Arthur, who wore a coat and tie on a picnic in June. My thanks to Charles Jermy for sharing these wonderful images.