by William O. Harris
As retirement looms I have been affectionately recalling my 52-year
connection with Princeton Seminary. I entered here as a student in the
fall of 1951 and feel a profound debt of gratitude for the friends,
professors, and opportunities this place has given me through the
succeeding years as a student, an alumnus, and, for the past 14 years, as
librarian for archives and special collections. Looking back over those
years with the charge to write about the peak experiences, three stand out
as characteristic of the spirit of Princeton Seminary.
During my first week as a student at the Seminary, I was seated between
two other students, both slightly older veterans of World War II. On my
right was Hans Kirchhofer (Class of 1952), a new Th.M. student from
Germany and a former officer in the Luftwaffe; on my left was Arthur
Gebbard (Class of 1953), a former bomber in the U.S. Army Air Force.
During dinner they began to share their war experiences and soon
discovered that throughout the spring and summer of 1944 Hans was in
charge of anti-aircraft batteries in Hamburg, while Arthur was flying
bomber missions over that very city during that very time. At Princeton
Seminary these two men, who only seven years before were trying to kill
each other, were enjoying fellowship together at one of the Seminary’s
tables. I was deeply moved by this obvious evidence of the power of the
gospel to reconcile enemies and to create goodwill on earth.
Another intense experience of the Spirit’s presence at the Seminary
occurred in the Mackay Dining Room in May 1991 when Carl McIntire (Class
of 1931; he died this past March) appeared for the alumni/ae luncheon to
celebrate the 60th reunion of his class. No one had ever said harsher
things for a longer period about Princeton Seminary than had Dr. McIntire.
He was one of those who left the Seminary in the famous “split” in 1929;
he then became a fierce critic of both Princeton Seminary and the
Presbyterian Church (USA). There was some uneasiness at the head table
about his presence at that crowded luncheon. President Gillespie, however,
greeted him warmly and asked him to stand up and be recognized. The
applause was deafening and the welcome genuine. I still get a lump in my
throat thinking about the wonder of Christian grace shown at that moment.
Dr. McIntire came to the Seminary library some years later to arrange for
the deposit of his papers here. Repeatedly he recalled the welcome that he
received at Princeton from the alumni/ae at his 60th reunion. He had been
touched as well.
A final example of the essential spirit of Princeton Seminary is
illustrated by a discovery I made while examining former PTS president Dr.
Mackay’s papers after I returned to Princeton as archivist in 1988. He had
carefully organized a file of the class pictures for each year of his
presidency. On these he had neatly written the students’ names beside
their pictures. A small notebook accompanying the pictures explained what
he had done with them. He had used them as guides to daily prayer. The
notebook contained special requests for prayer submitted to him by
graduates through the years. This discovery reminded me of a sermon Dr.
Mackay had preached on one of our weekly choir trips in the spring of
1953. His text was Exodus 28:15–30, in which the high priest is described
as carrying on his breast the 12 jewels symbolic of the 12 tribes of
Israel and as making intercession for each tribe. Mackay’s emphasis was
that ministers are called—as was the high priest— to carry on their
breasts the needs and concerns of all the members of their congregations
and to lift them to the Most High. Dr. Mackay practiced what he preached
by literally taking the alumni/ae by name day by day to the Lord.
These insights into the spirit of Princeton Seminary represent for me
our Seminary’s true glory and treasure.
William O. Harris (Class of 1954) retired as the Seminary’s librarian for
archives and special collections in June. The inSpire staff wishes him
Godspeed, with thanks for his invaluable help over the years.