Franciscan Joy: Hail to the Chiefs’ Libraries

Friar Voices

Fr. Robert Bruno, OFM


My heritage – I am the grandson of immigrant grandparents – made me an amateur history buff. And my assignments in the United States Air Force Chaplain Corps gave me the opportunity to indulge one of my favorite hobbies, visiting U.S. Presidential Libraries and Museums.

In the summer of 1985 the Chaplain Corps assigned me to 10 months of training at Boston College’s Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry. There I was able to study the challenges facing religious educators of young Americans. (From there I was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.)

On my first visit to downtown Boston I came upon the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. Given my ministry in the Air Force, I was drawn to the place and the perspective it afforded on American history through the administration of our late president. It was a fascinating and insightful learning experience. The information, the players and the artifacts were crafted together so well it made visitors feel as though they were a part of that history when it took place. I recall going back a second time because the first visit just wasn’t enough to take it all in.

That inspired my desire to make a pilgrimage to other Presidential Libraries and Museums. My U.S.-based assignments in Washington, D.C. (twice), Nevada, Colorado (twice), South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, Illinois and Texas have made it possible for me to see 10 of the 12 libraries and museums dedicated to our Presidents:

  • Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Ill.
  • Herbert Hoover in West Bend, Iowa
  • Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park, N.Y. *
  • Harry Truman in Independence, Mo.*
  • Dwight Eisenhower in Abilene, Kan.
  • Lyndon Johnson in Austin, Texas
  • Richard Nixon in Yorba Linda, Calif.
  • Gerald Ford in Ann Arbor, Mich.
  • Ronald Reagan in Simi Valley, Calif.
  • George H.W. Bush in College Station, Texas

Also worth a visit are:

  • President Theodore Roosevelt’s Summer White House in Oyster Bay (Long Island), N.Y. *
  • President Franklin Roosevelt’s family summer home in Campobello, New Brunswick,* Canada, just across the international border from Maine, where he contracted polio in 1921, and his house in Warm Springs, Ga., where he died in 1945 *
  • President Truman’s “Little White House” in Key West, Fla. *

(The locations with asterisks* include personal residences that were turned over to the U.S. Government exactly as the families left them.)

During my seven years of overseas duty in Europe, I visited other sites of American historical significance, including Verdun, Dunkirk, Bastogne, Anzio and Normandy. There are other destinations still on my bucket list.

President Truman’s Library and Museum was of particular interest to me because he was our president when I was born in 1950. Among the milestones during his administration were:

  • the dawn of the nuclear age
  • the successful end of World War II
  • the overhaul of the War Department into the Department of Defense
  • the separation of the Army Air Corps into the United States Air Force
  • the establishment of the National Security Agency
  • the overhaul of the Office of Strategic Services into the Central Intelligence Agency
  • the birth of the United Nations
  • the birth of the nation of Israel
  • the onset of the Korean Conflict

Those are just tips of the historical iceberg, and each of them has helped bring us to our present moment. Visiting these places is like taking a trip through time. The rich insights they provide has deepened my appreciation and gratitude for the dedication of countless individuals who have served our nation and preserved our constitutional freedoms and way of life.

At the turn of the last century my grandparents left the only world they knew because they saw no future for their family in their native land. They risked everything they had to immigrate to a world they knew nothing about, understanding that it was a one-way trip, that they would never go back, and they never did. They survived, thrived and succeeded!

I am so very glad they did and so very grateful for their many and huge sacrifices. I am now a part of your life because of their daring sojourn. May they, along with all who have served America and gone home to the Lord, rest in peace!

(Fr. Robert Bruno, OFM, is a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force who ministers at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia.)