Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

By the Book

by Ann Cavera


On a visit to Europe some years ago, our oldest daughter Katie befriended "El," a woman who is a jazz musician and former bookstore owner. Thanks to Facebook, El and I (Ann) also became friends. I sent El one of our books, and in it she read a piece we had written about an old family Bible.* Here is some of what we wrote:

Many years ago, our son Jim rescued an old family Bible he found on a dusty shelf in a used bookstore in Lafayette, Indiana. Knowing I love old books, he passed this along to us. Printed in 1857, the pages between the Old and New Testament captured our attention. Here in a bold, clear script someone had made a list of family births, weddings and deaths.

As we studied these dates, a story emerged. William Nagle was born December 7, 1808. His wife Elizabeth first saw the light of day April 3, 1811. At age 17, Elizabeth married William and by the time she was 45 she had given birth to six sons and six daughters, including a set of twins. Their second son, Charles, died just before his fifth birthday. Another son, John, died at the age of nineteen in May of 1864. This would have been during the Civil War and I couldn't help but wonder if John had lost his life in this conflict. William passed away at the age of 79 in 1888, but sturdy Elizabeth lived until 1897. The hand that wrote these dates signed his initials J.M.N. These are the initials of the youngest son, James M. Nagle. Young Jim had enough faith to make certain his family would be remembered as long as this book survived.

On a water-stained page at the back of the Bible someone listed a scripture reference from Job. I turn to the passage and read:Man that is born of a woman is of a few days and full of trouble.I think of all the struggling imperfect families that have gone before us. Sometimes family members left clues like small whispers echoing for generations beyond:We were here.I wonder if these worn pages gave comfort to a mother or father late at night while a son fought in the Civil War, or in a trench in Germany or slept on a ship in the South Pacific or slogged through rice fields in Korea or Vietnam. Since time began, struggling families have written stories with their brief, imperfect lives. Trusting in prayer and faith, generation after generation of parents kept vigil with an open Bible. Through war and famine, wealth and poverty, life and death, the Word survives.

*Now, about our friend El across the ocean in Holland. After reading our story, she went online and located the graves of William and Elizabeth Nagle, complete with photographs.That she could locate specific graves in Indiana from Holland still boggles my mind.

El sent us links for these and soon I will begin a search for descendants of William and Elizabeth Nagle. Wouldn't it be amazing if, after all this time, this Bible could be returned to its rightful family? 

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.