The Costello Collection:
A dusty box, forgotten for decades in an attic, reveals ties to the Hill and a surprising family discovery.
By John Gearan '65
A stack of sepia-tone photographs rested undisturbed for decades in an old box in a Connecticut house. Quite by chance, Richard McNulty (right) discovered them during the bittersweet chore of cleaning out his childhood home after his mother’s passing last year.
“I knew the photos probably belonged to my (grand) Uncle Mike,’’ recalls McNulty, who dabbles in family history. From reading the handwritten inscriptions on the backs of the photos, he deduced that the 45 pictures must have been given to Michael J. Costello ’00 (that’s the Class of 1900, not 2000) by his Holy Cross classmates. Mercifully resisting the natural impulse to chuck them, McNulty called the College’s head archivist, Mark Savolis, who eagerly accepted this fascinating turn-of-the-century donation.
McNulty had no idea what secret stories these photos would whisper. He knew that his mother’s aunt, Mary Dunleavy, had married Michael “Mike” Costello, of Scranton, Pa. From family chitchat while growing up in Newington, Conn., McNulty, a meteorologist in Lenexa, Kan., had “a vague recollection” about another granduncle on his father’s side attending Holy Cross.
What McNulty did not know until our interview was that the class photo of his paternal granduncle, Terence F. McNulty ’00, had been residing all along amongst the photo collection of his maternal granduncle Mike Costello. “I had no idea my granduncles were classmates,” says McNulty with a semi-exclamation point. Obviously Terence McNulty and Michael Costello could not have known that they would someday share a grandnephew. So in 1900, McNulty wrote blithely on his photo, “To Cos, Your sincere friend and classmate in memory of the days spent at H.C.C.”
Enter Dylan Cosgrove ’15 (that’s 2015, not 1915), who works as an aide-de-camp in Dinand Library’s Archives and Special Collections. Savolis and his assistant archivist Sarah Campbell assigned Cosgrove to prepare a photographic array for a main-hall display during the fall. He would glean information from the personal pennings to Costello from his 45 classmates and sift through bits of information about the Class of 1900 buried in archival files.
“These guys all look so stoic, so stiff in these formal class pictures,” says Cosgrove, an English major from Wrentham, Mass. “There were only 46 graduates who look so much alike. Very different than our junior class with 723 men and women.” Indeed, there was zero diversity. The Class of 1900 was all male and all Irish-American whose parents were largely come-overs from the Old Sod. There was no Purple Patcher yearbook until 1907, so trading inscribed photos was the tradition.
Cosgrove says he wondered, “Could these Holy Cross men be so deadly serious?” But from the jottings on the backs of the photos, most done in elaborate, artful penmanship, emerges a picture of the old grads’ personalities in vivid color. Costello is cast as the collection’s leading man as inkwell remembrances hint at hijinks and good times. Edward J. Corcoran of New York City recalls “many escapades of youth’s folly,’’ while Francis M. Monahan of Hartford, Conn., recalls negotiating “many tight corners,” even in those times when baseball fans were arriving at Fitton Field in horse-drawn buggies. Several pals refer to a wild Tuesday night out to see “the Rogers Brothers,” a popular musical act at the time.
Maurice P. Fitzgerald of Worcester dubs Costello his “ever-loyal beadle.” As class beadle, the trustworthy Costello would often be appointed by professors to take attendance, pass out and collect exams and assist in classroom management. Several classmates wrote appreciations of his understanding. “To my beadle in return for the many cuts which enabled me to take Physics and Mechanics, I am ever your sincere friend,” writes James A. Sullivan of Haverhill, Mass. Adds James W. FitzPatrick of Waterbury, Conn., “To Cos, Hoping he is out of trouble and will get late permissions and late sleeps galore.”
Edward A. Crowley of North Adams, Mass., designates Costello “the Poet Laureate of 1900.” That he was. Research into The Purple, then a combination publication of student literary works and news, uncovers that Costello received its “best poem” award for 1900. (The cross-century connections continue: Dylan Cosgrove’s poem “Fingertips” was published in the 2014 Purple. You can read it, below.)
The Class of 1900 produced many stories of significant accomplishment. Of the 46 graduates, 23 entered seminaries to become priests. Eight continued their education in law school, seven in medical school. Others became teachers and journalists. Back then, Holy Cross would honor such early achievement by bestowing honorary master of arts degrees. Costello received such a master of arts during the 1911 graduation ceremonies.
Another recipient in 1910 was the star of the class, John Gaynor McTigue of Great Barrington, Mass. Entering Holy Cross in January 1895 at 22 years old, McTigue was 28 when he graduated. (In that era, boys as young as 13 were admitted along with men as old as 31, but most arrived between the ages of 16 and 19.) The mature Mr. McTigue won acclaim as class president, co-captain of the baseball team, a very opinionated editor of The Purple and a persuasive debater, among other titles. McTigue was a co-founder of the Holy Cross alumni club in New York City. He ended his brilliant legal career as a highly regarded New York City judge, dying on Valentine’s Day, 1928. A throng of high-ranking officials of church and state attended his funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
As for Costello, his poetry and poise served him well. He became a revered high school administrator in Scranton, an author of several scholarly books on literature, a sought-out orator and speechwriter for many prominent politicians, the editor of The Catholic Light, the official newspaper of the Scranton diocese, and a regional administrator in President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration.
The Rev. Terence Francis McNulty ’00 had an equally remarkable career as a priest. In June 1905, he returned to his hometown of Scranton to be ordained by Rt. Rev. Michael J. Hoban, Holy Cross Class of 1871 and Bishop of Scranton. That same month the Rev. McNulty’s classmate Costello was marrying Mary Dunleavy in Scranton. Later the Rev. McNulty would serve as chaplain at West Point. As pastor of nearby Regina Coeli Church in Hyde Park, N.Y., he developed a close friendship with future president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In 1937 Fr. McNulty died while serving as pastor of St. Ann’s Church on Staten Island. Patrick Cardinal Hayes coordinated his funeral services attended by a host of clergy and laity alike.
Fr. McNulty’s body was returned to Scranton for a requiem high Mass at Holy Cross Church and for burial in Cathedral Cemetery where, eight years later, his classmate Michael Costello would join him, granduncles in perpetuity.
John Gearan ’65, an award-winning reporter and columnist for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 35 years, is a freelance writer living in North Smithfield, R.I.
Click here to see all of the Class of 1900 portraits in the Michael Costello ’00 Collection, as well as the friendly inscriptions on the backs of the photographs, in this issue’s Web Exclusives.
And read on to enjoy the poem penned by Costello’s fellow Purple poet, Dylan Cosgrove ’15:
By Dylan Cosgrove '15
Always moving so carefully,
they grazed my arm, making the freckles
on my skin sigh in pleasure.
Or embraced my hand,
daintily folding around
my fingers or a pen,
as she scribbled away
in that torn black notebook.
They liked to drunkenly dance
through each strand of red hair
on a Friday night, or rub
the cracked skin on my knuckles,
before they found their way
back to the tight pockets
of her high-waisted Levi’s.
Her eyes were no pools of deep blue.
Her lips—no rosy juiciness there.
But, oh those fingertips
still stroke my thoughts.