Exhibit on prison chaplain to be held in Loyola/Notre Dame Library
| By Stephanie Weaver
An exhibition highlighting the work of the Rev. Joseph Ayd of the Society of Jesus will be held in the Loyola/Notre Dame Library from Feb. 9-April 25. Leading with Mercy: The Legacy of Father Joseph Ayd, S.J. (1881-1957) will celebrate the work of Fr. Ayd, whose career as a prison chaplain and advocate for prison reform spanned more than 38 years at the Maryland Penitentiary and Baltimore City Jail.
In addition to being actively involved in the commutations of 11 prisoners, Fr. Ayd was a strong advocate for prisoners’ rights and a more effective system of parole. He was well-known for speaking out on issues publicly in newspapers and magazines and through personal correspondence with governors and other public officials.
As part of his work, Fr. Ayd walked with 70 men to their deaths. At his peak, he was simultaneously professor of sociology at what was then Loyola College, professor of psychology to the nurses at Seton Institute, and chaplain of the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore.
After the Jesuit’s death, Baltimore journalist H.L. Mencken wrote, “No more useful man ever lived in Baltimore. Like the man in Homer who dwelt by the roadside, he was the friend of all man. He was forever giving of himself without stint to help all he could. His phone was always ringing: somebody was forever wanting something of him. He never refused a request: his response was cordial, prompt, and efficient. He wished, above all, to help those unfortunates upon whom, in his opinion, the hand of the law had descended with too much rigor. God alone knows the hours, days, and even months he spent trying to get commutations of the death sentence.”
The exhibit will feature photographs, newspaper clippings, articles, correspondence, manuscript drafts, and related ephemera.
“Fr. Ayd’s story has to be told,” said Anna Clarkson, head of archives and special collections for Loyola/Notre Dame Library and the curator of the exhibit. “No one knows about it, and he was very progressive for his time. One could argue that Fr. Ayd’s work with the assistance of lawyers associated with the St. Vincent de Paul Society was a precursor of the Innocence Project (founded in 1992) by more than 60 years. Because of his work, Ayd was the first Caucasian recognized by the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper’s Honor Roll in 1942 for his assistance in having the death sentence of Robert White commuted to life imprisonment.”
The exhibit is free and open to the public. Find the Loyola-Notre Dame Library hours here.