Sitting in the Xavier archives is a little known journal about a quarter-inch thick. The spine is disintegrated and the pages so fragile that a simple touch can cause them to crumble into dust. Inside is the Historia Doma or House History, a Jesuit account of Xavier’s early years from 1847-1894. It’s a rare source of Xavier history, but for years, no one knew what it said. Written in Latin, the ledger sat in the archives, waiting to be translated.
Then came Charlie Rosebrough. After six years in high school translating the same Latin over and over, the junior honors student and begrudging Latin lover swore he would never touch it again.
“I didn’t choose Latin,” Rosebrough says. “Latin chose me.”
Rosebrough wanted a theology degree. When he saw Xavier’s Honors Bachelor of Arts, which focuses on the classical languages of Latin and Greek, he couldn’t resist. It was great preparation for his degree, but he would have to fight against the monotony.
“As you can imagine, Latin is only so fun when it all has been translated before,” says Rosebrough. “When I go to class and Virgil has been translated a thousand times, it’s boring. I wanted to translate something that has never been translated.”
In his freshman year, Rosebrough sent out three emails looking for translation work. One was to the Cincinnati History Museum. The curator told Rosebrough there were tons of un-translated documents. In German. Another went to the University of Cincinnati’s archives. No response. The last was sent to Thomas Kennealy, S.J., in the Xavier archives.
Kennealy thought he’d hit the jackpot. Finding anyone, not to mention a student, who can translate Latin to English doesn’t happen very often. Kennealy had Rosebrough translate some old diplomas first. When he saw Rosebrough’s skills, he pulled out the journal.
“It’s amazing how much sense Rosebrough has made of it,” Kennealy says.
Rosebrough went to the archives every day, working anywhere from one to five hours. He pored through the Historia Doma, which was written by a Jesuit who was called a scriptor historiae. Every few years, the name of the scriptor historiae would change.
“So there’s about 15 to 20 different authors,” says Rosebrough, “That means I had to get used to 15 to 20 different handwritings as I went through the thing.”
To make it more complicated, none of the authors were native Latin speakers. They all thought and spoke in their own different languages such as English, French or Dutch. This meant what they wrote has its truest meaning in their native tongue, while Latin itself is only an approximation.
“It’s like I’m guessing what they initially thought and then put into Latin,” he says. “Latin is almost a barrier to what their thought is.”
To streamline the translation process, Rosebrough set out to create a readable master transcript. First, he transcribed the journal into his own handwriting in Latin and then typed his Latin onto a master transcript. It took a little over a year to transcribe the Latin into English.
“It’s more important for me that there is a good Latin copy than there is an English, because the Latin will always be true,” Rosebrough says. “My translation is my own.”
What he learned from the journal sheds new light on early Jesuit history at Xavier. A large section of the journal is dedicated to the fire that burned down St. Xavier’s Church in 1882 and the rebuilding process that followed. Lost in the blaze was a beautiful organ.
Rosebrough’s work on the journal has become an integral part of who he is today.
“It’s defined me,” he says. “Last year when the fire alarm went off, the only thing I grabbed was the USB drive that had my work on it. This entire building could go up in flames, and I could not care, but if this thing (USB drive) was destroyed, I would have been heart-broken.”
With the English translation complete, Rosebrough is looking to publish an excerpt in the academic journal, U.S. Catholic Historian. After graduation this spring, Rosebrough hopes to enter a doctoral program in Jesuit American history, a passion he credits to the ledger.
“Without Charlie,” Kennealy says, “who knows when these would be translated. We are going to miss him when he graduates.”