If you think you’ve ever seen a ghost on campus, you’re not alone.
Monks, faculty and students reflected on the ghostly legends that circulate through the campus. Students recounted personal supernatural experiences they had themselves on campus.
“I can’t be in here by myself,” Johanna Philips, junior English major, said about being backstage in the auditorium.
Philips explained several eerie experiences from backstage. While they all felt ghostly, each could be reasonably explained through natural means – with one exception.
“I looked over at the prop room door, and the handle was moving, and the prop room door was shaking as if someone was inside trying to get out,” she said. “That went on for like a minute, and then it just stopped.”
This chilling event occurred in September one evening when she was alone backstage, Philips said. The windows in the prop room stay only slightly open, meaning drafts are unlikely to move the door, according to Philips, and the door was left closed the rest of the night. If it was a person shaking the door, she would have expected them to keep making sound until they were let out, but no sound was made after.
Philips added that being alone in the prop room has a “weird feeling.”
“If you’re walking down toward the suit of armor [prop] it feels like there’s someone in there with you,” she said.
Philips explained she has heard of other supernatural encounters from her friends.
One of these was from Megan Paullet, alumnus of the class of 2017, who reported witnessing a surprise visitor while she was sitting in her dorm room bed junior year.
“In the opposite corner of my room, I saw a small light,” she said. “I looked up from my phone and saw a hooded figure standing at the foot of my bed.”
Paullet, who was on the phone with her friend during this, said she described the encounter to her friend as it occurred and repeatedly asked the apparition who they were and why they were there.
Moments later, Paullet recounted, the figure turned around. She said she immediately recognized the apparition as a priest from her elementary school who was buried at Saint Vincent.
“I began to cry as I told him how happy I was to see him. He smiled at me,” she said. “I asked him why he was there, and all he said was that he was protecting me; he was there to keep me safe.”
He then faced out the window, Paullet said, and she asked him what he was keeping her safe from. He never replied and disappeared shortly after, she said.
Jason Scagline, senior criminology major, also reported seeing a deceased Saint Vincent related priest on campus: Archabbey and college founder Boniface Wimmer.
On the night of Founders’ Day, which is the anniversary of Wimmer’s death, Scagline said he and a friend went to the graveyard, inspired by the stories they had heard of Wimmer annually roaming the campus on that night.
“We saw the outline of a large figure in front of us. The person looked like they were swinging incense onto the path,” Scagline said.
He said that while he “cannot say for sure that it was indeed Boniface Wimmer,” the context made them think that “it very well could be him.”
The legend of Wimmer dwelling on the campus on the anniversary of his death has persisted for some years, as it has been recorded in a 1996 collection of legends organized by professor of sociology, Phyllis Riddle.
In 1996, Riddle assigned her students to interview Saint Vincent community members and recount their legends, which were compiled into a nine-page collection containing 23 legends, several overlapping, with 20 being ghost-related.
“I think we got most of the stories that were around,” Riddle said.
The various accounts note that Wimmer said before his death he would remain with the campus to oversee its growth, that people can feel Wimmer pass through the cemetery on his death anniversary night and that Wimmer flies to the crypt in the Basillica that night to say the Masses he did not get to say before he died.
It also contains six tales of the fire on the seventh floor of Aurelius, all of which describe the culprit as a “satanic resident.” Riddle pointed out, however, that this floor has never been used for residence, even though there really was a quickly extinguished electrical fire.
Some legends on campus stem from actual incidents in Saint Vincent’s history, Fr. Thomas Sikora, lecturer of theology, said.
As another example, one of the stories in the collection tells of a “frightful event” from “many, many years ago” in which a monk working in the Gristmill was pulled into his machine by his habit and died.
“To this day the gristmill is supposedly haunted, and the monks are not allowed to wear their habits while they are there,” the story reads.
Sikora indicated that a Br. Majoules did in fact die from an accident with the Gristmill machinery 1862, citing that many well-known historical incidents “may become somewhat embellished.”
“However, throughout the years that I have worked in the mill, there were some occasions when fellow monks had strange encounters not completely explainable,” Sikora said.
Fr. Nathan Munsch, assistant professor of theology, posited some explanations about the prevalence of ghost stories on campus.
“When buildings seem modern and don’t make strange noises, the ghost stories told about the building tend to decrease,” he said.
He also explained a motive behind such tales.
“They are customarily something that an older generation tells a younger generation as a way of saying ‘there are things about this place that are scary and that you don’t understand,’” he said.
Munsch, who transferred into the Saint Vincent monastery, believes the monks who go through the initiation process here learn more of the campus ghost stories; similarly, Philips reported learning such stories in her pod Freshman year.
Munsch said the devil only has as much power as you give it.
“If evil forces become intertwined with human intelligence and desires and action, you are literally dealing with something demonic,” he said. “But the idea there are these independent creatures hiding behind the bushes waiting to grab you? I don’t think so.”
He explained the devil can only work through people cooperating with it; if one gives their mind and actions to God, the devil cannot hurt them.
“There’s a little bit of the devil inside each of us, that’s what we call sin,” Munsch said. “The main form of the devil we have to be careful of is the part of it that’s in ourselves.”