Ginger Adams Otis reported on Tuesday in New York Daily News that someone returned a book almost fifty-five years after it was borrowed to the Fort Washington Library, a branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL) located at 535 West 179th Street in the Washington Heights neighborhood of the Borough of Manhattan. Whoever mailed the book back to the library included a $100 check to cover any fines.
The copy of Fire of Francis Xavier: The Story of an Apostle by Reverend Arthur R. McGratty, S.J., had been checked out of the library on April 10, 1958. An aristocratic Basque from Spanish Navarre, St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), studied at the University of Paris, where he became one of the earliest followers of St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). Thus, Francis Xavier helped the aristocratic Spanish solider-turned-priest establish the Society of Jesus.
Ignatius and Francis Xavier were ordained together in Venice on the Feast Day of John the Baptist (June 24), 1537. Appointed apostolic nuncio to the Indies by Pope Paul III, at the suggestion of King John III of Portugal, Francis Xavier led Jesuit missions to India and Japan and died on the isle of Shangchwan while trying to enter the Celestial Empire of China.
He is buried in a shrine in BomGesu basilica in Goa, India, also known as the Basilica of Bom Jesus or Borea Jezuchi Bajilika (and, in Portuguese, Basílica do Bom Jesus), except for part of his right arm. Once every ten years, his air-tight glass casket is lowered so his remains can be venerated for six weeks, most recently in 2004.
In 1614, Claudius Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, ordered that Francis Xavier’s right arm be severed at the elbow and transported to Rome, where the relic was placed within a gold, glass-paneled reliquary placed in a side altar of the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome. [This altar is in the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, designed by Pietro da Cortona, of Chiesa del Gesù di Roma, formally the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù all'Argentina (Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus at the Argentina).] The relic has been publicly venerated in Spain in 1922, in Japan in 1949, and in the U.S. in 1949 (accompanied by the saint’s above-mentioned biographer Fr. McGratty), as Frederick N. Rasmussen reported in The Baltimore Sun in 2008.
In 1619, Pope Paul V beatified Francis Xavier. A few years later, in 1622, Pope Gregory XV canonized Blessed Francis Xavier and named Saint Francis Xavier patron of foreign missions.
On Monday, Branch Manager Jennifer Zarr posted a photo of the book on the Fort Washington Branch Library’s Facebook page with the caption, “This book was returned to us today! Not sure what the late charge should be?” Ms. Zarr told CBS New York, “I was checking the mail and I saw a mysterious package, and so I opened it up, and here it was.” She explained to Ms. Otis that the NYPL’s computer files don’t go as far back as 1958, so the NYPL has no record of who checked out the book, and the NYPL won’t disclose the name on the $100 check.
NYPL spokeswoman Amy Geduldig told Nigel Chiwaya, who covers Washington Heights for DNAinfo.com New York, “that the fine is usually the cost of a replacement book. ‘It's temping [sic] to say it would be an astronomical number, but it wouldn't be,’ Geduldig said.”
The unidentified writer of the story on the CBS story joked about why the book was kept out for so long. “So maybe there are clues to be gleaned from the subject of the book itself. St. Francis Xavier was one of the most prolific Roman Catholic missionaries since St. Paul.”
He traveled all over the world, and once advised a colleague to ‘converse with sinners, making them unburden themselves to you. These are the living books by which you are to study… I do not say that you should not on occasion read written books.’
Well, that must be it then. Whoever the borrower was just took St. Francis Xavier’s advice about reading books. Or, of course, it could have been behind the borrower’s dresser for 50 years.
Whoever it was, they needn’t have worried about the fine. The library said the most it would be was the replacement cost of the book.
But if the library applied current overdue penalty of 25 cents per day retroactively back to 1958, the fine would come to nearly $5,000.
On Monday, August 6, 2012, the CPL announced a “Once in a Blue Moon” Amnesty from the 20th of August to the 7th of September, 2012. During this period, CPL waived $641,820 in fines as patrons returned 101,301 books, DVDs, and CDs.
Thus the CPL regained approximately $2,000,000 in property. It was called the Blue Moon amnesty because the last one was held in 1992 and the previous one was in 1985.
Most of the items the CPL regained were overdue by a matter of three to five weeks, but CPL Marketing & Communications Director Ruth Lednicer related to Chicago Tribune reporter Bridget Doyle that staff members were shocked by the number of items that had been checked out in the 1980s, or farther back, in the 1970s, but one woman returned a copy of Giant Animals of Long Ago by Agnes McCarthy, which the woman had borrowed as a little girl thirty-six years beforehand.
Someone else returned a copy of Weather and Man by Hans H. Neuberger that had been due for fifty-eight years. The item that had been missing the longest, however, was a limited edition of Oscar Wilde’s Faustian horror novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, which someone checked out in 1934.
The NYPL also announced this week that the Lincoln Center Plaza entrance to the Library for the Performing Arts will be closed on February 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th. Visitors should use the entrance at 111 Amsterdam Avenue (just south of 65th Street) during this time.