The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Archives in the Digital Age – Religious Order Archives Edition

Panelists discuss the importance of religious order archives to Catholic scholarship

March 29, 2017 saw a gathering of more than 80 archivists, librarians, and information specialists working with religious order archives at The Catholic University of America to discuss the status and future of Catholic religious order archives. The conference marked the third in a series on “Catholic Archives in the Digital Age.”

The gathering began with presentations by four well-known scholars in the field of American Catholic studies discussing the significance of religious order archives in researching and writing Catholic, American, and global history. Leslie Tentler, Emerita Professor at The Catholic University of America, kicked off the day’s first panel, “For Posterity: Religious Order Archives and the Writing of American Catholic History,” with observations on the worth of religious order archives to the scholar seeking to understand basic structures of American Catholic institutions. Diocesan records cannot be used solely to tell the full story of Catholic education in the U.S., for example. Why? Many schools were run by religious orders, and where diocesan records often have little in the way of religious order records related to discipline, pedagogical ideals, student socialization and the emotional climate of schools run by religious orders—these archival materials have historically been kept by the teaching religious themselves.

Participants listen to panelists discuss Catholic Archives in the Digital Age

Carol Coburn, Professor of Religious Studies at Avila University, followed this thread in her talk—religious order records help tell a story that can’t be told otherwise. As Director of the Martha Smith, CSJ, Ph.D., Archives and Research Center at Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri, Coburn works with Archviist Adonna Thompson to preserve records of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Coburn maintains that “to fully know the story of American Catholicism, you have to know what religious orders are doing at any given historical time period.” As Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, lecturer at Purdue University, pointed out in her discussion of the journal of Sister Justina Segale of the Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati, resources such as these offer insight into the everyday lives of religious. Sister’s journal entry for April 4, 1968 reads: “While eating dinner, a flash came over the TV that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. Only minutes later a special news report confirmed: Martin Luther King Jr., has been assassinated!” Far from being removed from the concerns and interests of everyday Americans, the journal shows, here and elsewhere, that women religious were of course tied into the daily lives of ordinary Americans. And yes, they watched TV. Malachy McCarthy, Archivist for the Claretian Missionary Archives in Chicago, Illinois, took a different approach in his talk. Using the example of a scholarly monograph on Mexican Americans, he illustrated the pitfalls of not consulting religious order records, in this case the male Claretian missionaries, who were heavily involved in ministry to Mexican Americans. In his otherwise solid Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945 (1993), historian George Sanchez was unable to access records related to the Claretians’ work with a key Los Angeles population in which the La Placita parish is situated. Instead he examined secondary works and diocesan records related to the population with the result that his chapter on religion could not include valuable information from the Claretian archives (not open to the public at the time) in his work.

Participants listen to panelists discuss Catholic Archives in the Digital Age

Our second session featured a panel of some of the most well-respected archivists of materials related to the Catholic experience in the U.S. The Associated Archives at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Maryland is the home of a collaborative effort of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, and the U.S. Province of the Society of St. Sulpice, or the Sulpicians, and serves as the repository of these three organizations’ archives. Its archivist, Tricia Pyne, offered the group a genealogy of how several Catholic institutions worked to make that collaboration happen. Ellen Pierce, Consulting Archivist with the Maryknoll Archives offered an overview of holdings there, with an emphasis on the importance of producing value in maintaining archives for institutional stakeholders. Denise Gallo, Provincial Archivist for the Daughters of Charity Archives in Emmitsburg, Maryland, focused her talk on how the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives merged records of that order from multiple locations, emphasizing the role in communications among various stakeholders in achieving optimal archival goals and visibility. Emilie Gagnet Leumas, Director of Archives and Records for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, focused on her Archive’s effort to work out temporary agreements with those institutions or individuals who may want to make short-term agreements with the Archdiocese. Finally, Patricia Lawton of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance (CRRA) at Notre Dame University gave a fine overview of the many unique services offered to the Catholic archival community by the CRRA.

The afternoon session wrapped things up with an overview of a survey of Catholic archives done by Young Choi, Professor of Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University and LIS Graduate Student Emily Nilson. Many of the issues that have plagued Catholic archives for decades continue to pose as challenges. Most collections, for example, remain hidden and inaccessible to potential users, in part because there is no information on such collections on the internet. Still, almost all Catholic archives have some web presence and staff are eager to gain training in born-records collection, digitization of materials, and to continue processing. The reportage of the results led to a lively discussion among audience members, who eagerly shared and sought out information.

The Archives will be posting a website with resources and the presentations of scholars and archivists this summer—stay tuned!

Also see:

Catholic News Service: http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2017/panel-archives-of-religious-orders-tell-history-of-us-church.cfm

The Fate of Religious Order Archives: http://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/8901/

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Archives in the Digital Age – The Fate of Religious Order Archives

Franciscan Sister Mary Aquinas Kinskey, pictured teaching at CUA in the 1940s, received a special citation of honor from the U.S. Air Force Association in 1957 for her contributions to the advancement of air power in the interest of national security. She taught aerodynamics here at Catholic University during the Second World War.

Catholic religious orders hold a unique place in the European settlement of what is now the United States, indeed some of the earliest Catholic colonial settlers came as members of religious orders. The Jesuits, for example, founded in 1534 by the Spanish Ignatius of Loyola, was the first order to send missionaries to propagate the faith among Native Americans. Franciscans followed soon after. The record of the interactions between these two orders and the Native American populations forms an important record of the early encounter between the two groups.

Women religious, for their part, also settled in the territory that became the United States, with French Ursulines arriving in modern-day Louisiana in 1727 and Elizabeth Seton founding the Sisters of Charity (later the Daughters of Charity) in Maryland in 1809. These two orders played a unique role in the establishment of Catholic women’s presence in the U.S., and helped lay the foundations of the American Catholic education system.

Fortunately, we have well-cared for records and wonderful histories of much of the Jesuit, Franciscan, Ursuline, and Sisters/Daughters of Charity experience. But this is not the case for all religious orders and their records. Religious orders in the U.S. held different missions, locations, and administrators. Many held houses in multiple provinces and countries. As they have expanded and contracted over time, their archival records have experienced a range of fates.

Father Gilbert Hartke with a CUA student in an undated photo. Father Hartke was a member of the Dominican Order. He founded and headed the CUA Drama Department from 1937 – 1974, training and meeting many theater luminaries on the way. His papers are housed in the CUA Archives.

The Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: The Fate of Religious Order Archives Conference is the third in a series of conferences under the theme of how Catholic archives are evolving in the digital age. The specific focus arose as after the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives worked with the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart in Baltimore to preserve their valuable archives as they moved from one location to another, will address aspects of the question of religious order archives in the United States. We figure Catholic University is a great place for such a conference–surrounded by religious houses from its origins, the University has historically served as a center of education for members of religious orders from around the country.

The free conference will be held on the CUA campus in the Pryzbyla Center on March 29th, 2017 and will feature a range of scholars and archivists of the American Catholic experience and archival stewards of religious order records. For the full schedule and to register, visit the website: http://iprcua.com/2017/03/29/the-fate-of-religious-order-archives/.   The conference is generously funded by the Our Sunday Visitor Institute, and sponsored by the American Catholic History Research Center/University Libraries, the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies, and the Department of Library and Information Science.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Few Leaves from St. Rose’s on Pearl Harbor Day

“Schools At War: A Report to the Nation” was a report that schools around the country filed with the Office of Education and the Wartime Commission during the war. This is the cover of St. Rose’s 1943 submission.
“Schools At War: A Report to the Nation” was filed with the Office of Education and the Wartime Commission during the war. This is the cover of St. Rose’s 1943 submission.

About a month after the United States entered the Second World War, The Young Catholic Messenger, a weekly magazine that could be found on the shelves of Catholic school libraries throughout the country, published an article titled “United We Stand.” The article pledged that Catholics would support the war effort and outlined ways young people could “do their part for victory.” Catholic youth could make “crusades of prayer, sacrifice, Masses and Communions for victory and peace and for our soldiers and the leaders of the country.”¹

This braiding of Catholicism and Americanism occurred over and over again among youth on the home front. It marked a break from the past in that earlier Catholic proclamations of Americanness were often made defensively, amid Protestant accusations that Catholics weren’t fit for American institutions because of their membership in a hierarchical organization headed by the pope. Instead, during the war, a newly confident Catholic Americanism emerged in Catholic educational institutions and popular culture across the country as Catholics were fully enlisted in the effort to win the war.²

As noted in a previous blog post, Pope Pius XI requested that the Catholic University of America establish a series of educational materials that would promote Christian and democratic principles in the wake of rising totalitarian regimes in Europe. The result was the Commission on American Citizenship, which established a series of civic texts blending Catholic teaching and democratic principles and used in thousands of Catholic schools across the country from the early 1940s through the 1970s. This blending of American national identity with Catholic identity found new forms across the U.S. during the Second World War.

St. Rose’s Victory Corps in formation, 1943.
St. Rose’s Victory Corps in formation, 1943.

St. Rose’s Technical School records contain a gem of an artifact related to this new blending of Catholicism and Americanism in youth culture that is a fitting offering for Pearl Harbor Day. St. Rose’s was established in 1868 for female orphans. After 1895 it was incorporated as school for female students over 14 years of age to learn trades considered suitable for women at the time, namely, “plain and fancy sewing, dressmaking, and the responsible duties of practical housekeeping.” Between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, the young women remained at the school until they were twenty-one, “at which time they are thoroughly competent to make an honest independent living.” Indeed, one history noted, “our graduates make splendid business women, and they conduct large establishments in all the large cities.”³

Unfortunately, we do not have testimony from the students of St. Rose’s to corroborate such claims. We do know that a classical and business high school curriculum was added to the “technical” curriculum of the earlier period. And we have a student created journal from 1943, a full year into the Second World War. “Schools at War, A Report to the Nation” was a report on war-related student activities that took place in the school during the war. The report reflects the characteristic blending of Catholicism and Americanism we see among young Catholics on the home front during the war.

St. Rose students show off their “Books are Weapons” display.
St. Rose’s students show off their “Books are Weapons” display.

The report itself was dedicated to the “Immaculate Mother of God, the Patroness of the United States, the Ideal and Inspiration of every student at St. Rose.” The St. Rose Victory Corps centered many activities around war service. Like many Americans, they prolonged use of their clothing by mending and darning. They saved scrap materials such as old keys, cans, rubber and fat—all in short supply due to war rationing. Like many American youth, they made slippers and bandages for soldiers, donated blood, and collected garments for refugees. Using the title, “Books are Weapons,” they created a school display for National Catholic Book Week, claiming “books shape lives of free people,” no doubt to contrast with Nazi book burnings of the 1930s. The report and its wartime brand of Catholic Americanism can be viewed in its entirety here.


¹Young Catholic Messenger, January 9, 1942, accessible via American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives: http://cuislandora.wrlc.org/islandora/object/achc-ycm%3A23/datastream/PDF/view

²Maria Mazzenga, “More Democracy, More Religion, Baltimore’s Schools, Religious Pluralism and the Second World War,” in One Hundred Years of Catholic Education, John Augenstein, Christopher J. Kauffman, Robert J. Wister, eds. (National Catholic Education Association, 2003), 199-219.

³Sister Rose, “St. Rose’s Technical School History,” 1909, 14; in Catholic Charities DC, St. Rose Reference File, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Catholic University, Washington, D.C.

“Saint Rose to Observe 75th Jubilee,” Catholic Review, April 30, 1943.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Significance of Eddie Patterson’s Friends

Illustration for poem, “World Brothers” from These Are Our Horizons, by Sister M. Charlotte and Marry Synon (Ginn and Company, 1945). Note the multiple national and ethnic backgrounds of the images, intended to underscore an ideal of global unity after the Second World War.
Illustration for poem, “World Brothers” from These Are Our Horizons, by Sister M. Charlotte and Marry Synon (Ginn and Company, 1945). Note the multiple national and ethnic backgrounds of the individuals, intended to underscore an ideal of global unity after the Second World War.

Nineteen-thirty-eight was not an auspicious year as far as the stability of Europe went. Adolph Hitler’s invasion into non-German territories proceeded at an alarming rate. Benito Mussolini had been running Fascist Italy as a police state for over a decade. The Vatican held uneasy diplomatic relations with both powers. Further east, Josef Stalin presided over a Soviet Union unfriendly toward religion. In short, expansionism and totalitarianism appeared to be consuming Europe and, of course, a war would begin the following year to ensure it didn’t.

The year also marked the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic University of America, which is a fancy Catholic way of saying the University turned 50. Worried about the fate of Europe and, indeed, of Catholicism, Pope Pius took advantage of the University’s 50th birthday to make a request. “Christian doctrine and Christian morality are under attack from all quarters,” he said, adding, “dangerous theories which a few years ago were but whispered in conventicles of discontent are today preached from the housetops and are even finding their way into action.” As the representative educational institution of the American hierarchy, the Pope noted, the University was endowed with the “traditional mission of guarding the natural and supernatural heritage of man.” Toward fulfillment of that mission, wrote the Pope, “it must, because of the exigencies of the present age, give special attention to the sciences of civics, sociology, and economics” in a “constructive program of social action” that fit local needs.¹

Following the Pope’s directive, the Bishops instructed the University to prepare materials of instruction in citizenship and Christian social living for use in the Catholic schools of the United States. The Commission on American Citizenship was organized in 1939 to carry out the Bishops’ mandate. They decided that the Commission would outline a statement of Christian principles as requested by the bishops, create a curriculum for the elementary schools, and oversee the writing of a series of textbooks to embody the social message of Christ. According to Dr. Mary Synon, who oversaw much of the day-to-day operation of the Commission, while the Department of Education and the School of Social Science did much of the Commission’s work, practically every department and school of the University contributed significantly.

One product of this effort was a series of textbooks for elementary through high school students used in most U.S. Catholic schools from the 1940s through the 1970s. For Catholic school students from the first through eighth grades, the Commission designed the Faith and Freedom series of basal readers based on the principles espoused in the curriculum. Aiming to establish Christian principles in the minds of students toward their use in daily living, the writers of the readers–Sister Mary Marguerite for the Primary Grades and Sister Mary Thomas Aquinas, Sister Mary Charlotte and Dr. Mary Synon for the intermediate and upper grades–built a series on social education according to the principles cited as base for the work of the Commission.

Image from “Eddie Patterson’s Friend,” from These Are Our People (Ginn and Company, 1943). What’s wrong with Eddie’s friends? The story’s answer: not a thing.
Image from “Eddie Patterson’s Friends,” from These Are Our People (Ginn and Company, 1943). What’s wrong with Eddie’s friends? The story’s answer: not a thing.

According to a 1946 Commission report, these readers were used in more than 6,000 of the 8,000 Catholic elementary schools in more than thirty-five archdioceses and dioceses in the United States. Copies of texts in this series were officially requested by the military authorities who were revising systems of education in occupied Japan and Germany after World War II. Catholic publicists in Belgium, France and the Netherlands referred to this series for their future education plans. Missionaries in the Philippines requested the copies for children there, and nearly every Catholic school in Hawaii used the texts. Also, the Commission received many inquiries from educators about using the series as possible models for books to be used in non-Catholic schools. A key theme throughout the readers is cooperation across cultures and social classes and an emphasis on Christian democratic ideals in creating a less conflicted postwar world.

Which brings us to the significance of one 1943 text story titled “Eddie Patterson’s Friends.” Eddie was an extremely generous and open-minded young man who “finds the queerest people,” according to his rather judgmental sister Mary. Mary worried about Eddie’s strange friends with his birthday party coming up. The girls on the block where they lived would “laugh if we let Eddie ask anyone he wants to the party.” Mary went so far as to convince their mother to throw Eddie a surprise party for which she and her sister would control the guest list to keep out those she felt should be excluded.

Who were the excluded? “The smiling Yim Kee, whose father ran the Chinese laundry… Frank Bell, the boy whose father had been taken away by the police.” And, “Silas Jefferson, whose father worked as porter on a train.”² Clearly these are stereotypes of Chinese Americans, African Americans and a neglected and possibly impoverished child. But consider the year of publication: 1943. The Chinese Exclusion Act passed in 1882 barred Chinese immigrants from citizenship until it was repealed in 1943. African Americans were legally segregated from whites, and in fact segregated virtually everywhere in the U.S. Stories like this one pointed to the end of such practices and customs.

A Finding Aid to the Commission on American Citizenship records can be found here: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/americancit.cfm


¹Maria Mazzenga, “More Democracy, More Religion: Baltimore’s Schools, Religious Pluralism, and the Second World War,” in One Hundred Years of Catholic Education: Historical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of the National Catholic Educational Association (National Catholic Education Association, 2003); Finding aid to the Commission on American Citizenship Records: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/americancit.cfm.

²“Eddie Patterson’s Friend,” from These Are Our People by Sister M. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., M.A. and Mary Synon (Ginn and Company, 1943), 44-56, 46.

The Archivist’s Nook: Show Biz and Then Some – Father Gilbert Hartke’s CUA

In 1939 the musical Yankee Doodle Boy was first performed at CUA. Based on the life of songwriter and entertainer George M. Cohan, the production was made into a film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney, in 1942. Here, Father Hartke studies a script of Yankee Doodle Boy with Cagney in 1941.
In 1939 the musical Yankee Doodle Boy was first performed at CUA. Based on the life of songwriter and entertainer George M. Cohan, the production was made into a film, Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney, in 1942. Here, Father Hartke studies a script of Yankee Doodle Boy with Cagney in 1941.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post on Bishop Fulton Sheen and his popularity in the mid-twentieth century as the TV show, Life is Worth Living, gained millions of viewers. Sheen was a well-known presence on the CUA campus from 1926 until 1950, after which he became a nationally known television expositor of the Catholic way of life.

There was another star on campus during these years, and in fact, beyond. About a decade younger than Sheen, Reverend Gilbert Vincent Ferrer Hartke, O.P., served as the founder of CUA’s theater program, and later, the Department of Speech and Drama in 1937. Hartke Theatre bears his name today—a fitting tribute to an educator who initiated and ran CUA’s theater program for 37 years. During his tenure as chair of the Drama Department many celebrities were trained at CUA, including Ed McMahon, Jon Voight, Susan Sarandon, and director Robert Moore.

Born in Chicago in 1907, Father Hartke attended the Jesuit-run Loyola Academy, where he discovered a love for both acting and football—he even stayed on at the academy to coach football for a year. By 1929, he decided that he wanted to be a priest and entered the Dominican Order. After attending St. Joseph’s Seminary in Ohio, young Gilbert, or “Gib” as he was known, found his way to Immaculate Conception College in Washington, D.C. Following his early love of theater, Hartke began writing plays for the Black Friars, a group affiliated with the Dominicans. In 1935 he was sent to the Dominican House of Studies, just across Michigan Avenue from the CUA campus.

Inspired by his work with the Black Friars, and the author of three plays by age 28, Father Hartke thought he might start a theater program affiliated with the Dominicans. This didn’t come to pass, but he began attending CUA when he lived at the Dominican House, and “Within These Walls,” his play about a prison chaplain, was performed by the CUA Theatre troupe in 1936.

Frank Persico, CUA Alum and current VP for University Relations and Chief of Staff, 1974. Of Father Hartke, Persico says, “He was impossible not to like. He was generous to a flaw and showed interest in each and every one of the students in the drama department. He was a wonderful and prayerful man. To say that I knew him - - and knew him well - - is an honor for me and a everlasting memory.”
Frank Persico, CUA Alum and current VP for University Relations and Chief of Staff, pictured in downtown DC in 1974. Of Father Hartke, Persico says, “He was impossible not to like. He was generous to a flaw and showed interest in each and every one of the students in the drama department. He was a wonderful and prayerful man. To say that I knew him – – and knew him well – – is an honor for me and a everlasting memory.”

Another well-known presence on campus, Vice President for University Relations and Chief of Staff Frank Persico, studied with Father Hartke here at CUA in the late 1960s and early 70s. As he puts it, “Father Hartke was larger than life. When he came across campus from the Dominican House with his white robes and white hair flowing in the breeze, he could not be missed–and would not allow himself to be missed, either! Everyone knew Father and he had an uncanny way of knowing every one, too.” Father Hartke, in fact, was known for his hair. A 1985 USA today poll declared him one of the ten best male heads of hair in Washington!¹

With the launch of the theatre program and the Department of Speech and Drama, Father Hartke proceeded to influence theater in Washington, D.C. as well. He breathed life into local theater, incorporating a group of Shakespearean thespians known as the National Players in the 1940s, and in the 1970s, he was critical in the reopening of Ford’s Theater and was the creator and director of The Olney Theatre in Olney, Maryland. He was, moreover, a key figure in ending discrimination in D.C. theaters. Persico notes “it was a time before the nation’s capital was saturated with theaters,” and a time when Father Hartke brought in leading national theater luminaries to “be part of the CUA drama department family,” among them Helen Hayes, Cyril Richard, Pat Carroll and Stephen Joyce. “I firmly believe,” says Persico, “he is one of the reasons why drama and theater is so popular in the Washington area today. One need only point to Olney Theatre or Arena Stage, to name just two–and you will see Father’s fingerprints all over them.” In 1981, Washingtonian Magazine called him “one of the five most powerful men in Washington, D.C.”²

The Archives holds the papers of Gilbert Hartke: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/hartke.cfm.

Hartke Theatre, named for Father Gilbert Hartke, was dedicated in 1970 and remains a lovely backdrop for azaleas in 2006.
Hartke Theatre, named for Father Gilbert Hartke, was dedicated in 1970 and remains a lovely backdrop for azaleas in 2006.

We also have an in-house finding aid for the Drama Dept. records, available upon request as a PDF if one emails lib-archives@cua.edu.

A press release on Father Hartke as “The Show-Biz Priest” exhibit held at Mullen Library: http://publicaffairs.cua.edu/releases/2013/hartke-exhibit.cfm


¹Mary Jo Santo Pietro, Father Hartke: His Life and Legacy to the American Theater (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2002), Preface.

²Santo Pietro, Father Hartke: His Life and Legacy to the American Theater, Preface, xi.

The Archivist’s Nook: On 1952’s Television Man of the Year

Virginia Farley Mazzenga, avid fan of Bishop Fulton Sheen, in her confirmation robe, ca. 1953. An avid follower of Sheen’s Life is Worth Living at the time, she says when she watched him on TV it was “as if nothing else was happening in the room. The way he was able to put the teaching over was out of this world.”
Virginia Farley Mazzenga, avid fan of Bishop Fulton Sheen, in her confirmation robe, ca. 1953. A follower of Sheen’s “Life is Worth Living,” she says when she watched him on TV it was “as if nothing else was happening in the room. The way he was able to put the teaching over was out of this world.”

When I was in graduate school at CUA in the 1990s, I came across the name Fulton Sheen while studying American Catholic culture in the twentieth century. I learned that Sheen taught Sacred Sciences and Philosophy at CUA from the 1920s through the early 1950s, wrote dozens of books and pamphlets, and that he was an extremely popular speaker on the National Council of Catholic Men’s Catholic Hour. These fit with my understanding of a charismatic Catholic priest of the twentieth century. Then I learned that Sheen had won the 1952 Emmy for “Most Outstanding Television Personality,” beating out Jimmy Durante, Lucille Ball, and Edward R. Murrow. I thought: huh?

I figured I’d ask my mom if she’d ever heard of him. After all, she grew up Catholic in the 1950s and watched television, had she seen him when she was growing up? I was unprepared for her emotional response. “Oh, I loved Fulton Sheen. I watched Life is Worth Living every week!” I asked her what she liked about him. “I thought he was very saintly. He was mesmerizing when he talked, and he had this stare. His sermons were very deep. My faith was stronger after I listened to him.”

Sheen biographer Thomas C. Reeves notes that Life Is Worth Living went on the air “at the right time, for the 1950s marked a golden age for American churches.” Polls bore this out:  in 1952, 75% of Americans told pollsters that religion was very important to them, and five years later, 81% said they thought religion could answer all or most of life’s problems.¹

Fulton Sheen on the set of Life is Worth Living. Bishop Sheen appeared in full regalia, surrounded by books. He made ample use of a blackboard to make his points.
Fulton Sheen on the set of “Life is Worth Living.”  He appeared in full regalia, surrounded by books and made ample use of a blackboard to make his points.

Nonetheless, few thought Sheen’s show would succeed: when he first went on the air in 1952 he was set up against Milton Berle (known as “Mr. Television” at the time) and Frank Sinatra in what was known as “an obituary spot” at 8 p.m. as it was believed that no one could compete with those two famous personalities. One agent called Sheen “a dead duck.” Take a telegenic and charismatic Catholic evangelizer like Fulton Sheen to this national mood and you get an entire generation of American Catholics with fond spiritual memories of one of the popular religious shows of its time—Sheehan drew many millions of viewers a week.²

Life is Worth Living didn’t run original episodes for long. Starting on the Du Mont network in , the show ran from 1952-1955, when ABC picked it up and ran it until 1957. The show went into syndication, though Sheen starred on other programs until 1968. And many Catholics of a certain age will remember him with affection, as does my mother.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured in this undated photo with Rev. Gilbert Hartke, O.P., founder of Catholic University's speech and drama department; Clare Boothe Luce, playwright and former congresswoman from Connecticut and U.S. ambassador to Italy; and Clarence Walton, who served as president of the University from 1969 to 1978.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen is pictured in this undated photo with Rev. Gilbert Hartke, O.P., founder of Catholic University’s speech and drama department; Clare Boothe Luce, playwright and former congresswoman from Connecticut and U.S. ambassador to Italy; and Clarence Walton, who served as president of the University from 1969 to 1978.

In addition to pioneering in religion and media, Sheen served in several positions of authority within the church. Known for his evangelical abilities, he was named the national director of the Pontifical Mission Aid Societies in the United States and auxiliary bishop in New York at the behest of Cardinal Spellman, the city’s archbishop. With this appointment, Sheen resigned from the faculty of CUA. This mission was one of the largest sources of funds for the Vatican missions, and under Sheen’s guidance as director, donations from America dramatically increased. Pope Paul VI named Sheen as the bishop of Rochester on October 26, 1966, a position from which he resigned three years later. He continued writing and speaking in New York City until his death in 1979. By the end of his life, he had published sixty-six books and sixty-two booklets, pamphlets and printed radio talks. Sheen died on December 9, 1979 before the Blessed Sacrament and was buried in St. Patrick’s Cathedral beneath the altar.

The archives holds several collections of materials related to Fulton Sheen:


¹Thomas C. Reeves, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen (San Franciso: Encoutner Books, 2001) 229-240.

²Thomas C. Reeves, America’s Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton J. Sheen (San Franciso: Encoutner Books, 2001) 229-240.

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA + .EDU

A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky
A rendering of Francis Howard, the fifth Bishop of Covington, Kentucky

When those familiar with The Catholic University of America think of this school, they may think of a national Catholic University, which it is. It also served as the center of Catholic education in the United States throughout the first half of the twentieth century. 

Back in the late-nineteenth century, a man named Thomas J. Conaty served as the Rector of CUA. Conaty established what would become the framework of the American Catholic school system during his years as rector, 1896-1903. He convened the first meeting of the Conference of Seminary Faculties and became the founding president of both the Association of Catholic Colleges and the Parish School Conference. It was Conaty’s vision to create a national organization that would embrace all levels of Catholic education. As fate would have it, he was promoted to Bishop of Monterey-Los Angeles before he could complete his plan.

At that point, Ohio-born Francis Howard grabbed the reigns of the fledgling organization from Bishop Conaty and ran with them. Howard forged it into the Catholic Education Association (“National” was added to the title in 1927), and became its first secretary, serving for 25 years. He managed the organization out of offices in Columbus Ohio until he became Bishop of Covington, Kentucky in 1923. Howard was also drafted to run the new National Catholic Welfare Conference’s Department of Education in 1919; he declined, but agreed to serve on the executive committee. If you are wondering why both a National Catholic Education Association and an NCWC Education Department were necessary, consider the following:  the early twentieth century saw several attempts to eliminate Catholic parochial schools through legal means by anti-Catholic forces in the U.S. Catholics in education needed someone to advocate for them. The Education Department, which was a bishop-run organization and therefore had the backing of the church’s highest authorities, was behind much of the effort to prevent the abolition of parochial schools. Though, like the NCEA, the Education Department conducted surveys and promoted Catholic education, its early years in particular were centered on monitoring legislation that affected Catholic schools. 

These Are Our People
“These Are Our People” is one of the many well-used elementary school textbooks created by the Commission on American Citizenship. Notice the image of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the backdrop. (CUA Press, 1943)

In any case, after 1920 the leaders of the CEA, NCWC Education Department, and Catholic University were intermeshed. Howard did not want the association with the University, preferring to keep its autonomy. Not so with his successor, George Johnson, who also happened to chair the Catholic University Department of Education. Johnson took over the helm of the NCEA in 1929, serving until his death in 1944. Johnson oversaw the movement of the entire educational operation to Washington, D.C. as well as its adaptation to modern administrative and professional standards. 

Democracy was popular topic in the 1930s, as it seemed under siege due to competing ideologies of communism and fascism. Catholic University was asked by Pope Pius XI to oversee a project creating a course of study of democracy through the Catholic educational system. Monsignor Johnson was asked to head the project. The resulting Commission on American Citizenship quite literally transformed American Catholic education, through a series of textbooks that would dominate American Catholic school civic education from the 1940s through the 1970s. 

The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books
The consummate educator, Monsignor George Johnson loved his books

Johnson’s educational activities rippled outside of Catholic circles. He served as a member of the National Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Hoover in 1929, and later on the Advisory Committee on Education appointed by President Roosevelt. He was a member of the Wartime Commission of the U.S. Office of Education, the Education Advisory Committee under the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, Secretary of the American Council on Education. This list is not exhaustive–poor Monsignor Johnson must have been though. As he delivered the commencement address to the Trinity College class of 1944, he died at the age of 55. Adding further pathos to his demise while delivering the commencement speech, Johnson actually spoke the following lines: “the best, the truest, the most substantial advice that can be given to a Catholic graduate is this: Go forth and die. Die to yourself; die to the world; die to greed; die to calculating ambition… Die and you shall live, and live abundantly.”¹ 

The NCEA was in good hands with Johnson’s successor, Frederick Hochwalt, a topic for another post. Here is Johnson’s 1944 commencement speech and a short biography.


Sources:

Donald C. Horrigan, The Shaping of NCEA (Washington, D.C., n.d.).

John Augenstein, Christopher Kauffman, Robert Wister, One Hundred Years of Catholic Education: Historical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of the National Catholic Educational Association (Washington, D.C.: NCEA)

1 George Johnson, Apostle of Christian Education (Washington, D.C.: National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1944), 5, ACUA reference file, George Johnson.

The Archivist’s Nook: What the Heck is a Labor Priest?

Some labor priests were especially good at number crunching. This is John A. Ryan’s estimate for an average sized family of 5.7 in 1905 as published in his book, A Living Wage. His inclusion in the budget of intoxicating liquors and tobacco may or may not raise eyebrows today.
Some labor priests were especially good at number crunching. This is John A. Ryan’s estimate for an average sized family of 5.7 in 1905 as published in his book, A Living Wage. His inclusion in the budget of intoxicating liquors and tobacco may or may not raise eyebrows today.

Yes, a “labor priest” is a thing.  His origins can be found in the intersection of the rise of the modern working class in the nineteenth century and the issuance of the encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891.  The labor priest usually materialized from a working class community, often with immigrant roots, and often possessed an organic awareness of issues affecting the people in those communities.  The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the rise of conflicts between employers and employees in the wake of industrialization in the United States, much of it centered on the question of whether employees could form unions and collectively bargain with employers through these organizations.  The CUA Archives has a very strong collection of materials related to Catholicism and labor, including rich collections related to three individuals known as “labor priests”: John Ryan, Francis Haas, and George Higgins.

The trailblazer of the labor priests was Monsignor John Ryan, a professor of moral theology and ethics at The Catholic University of America (CUA) from 1915 until 1939.  Ryan was electrified when he read the encyclical Rerum Novarum in the 1890s, noting that “The doctrine of state intervention which I had come to accept and which was sometimes denounced as ‘socialistic’ on those benighted days, I now read in a papal encyclical.”  Ryan drew inspiration from the encyclical to dream up a whole host of reforms aimed at improving the condition of the American worker.  Realizing that very little research had been done on what it actually took to survive economically in America, Ryan wrote “A Living Wage,” the first book published on the subject in 1906.  Ryan did extensive research into living wage issues, worker rights, and employer-employee obligations, and wrote a program of reform for the U.S. Bishops that was largely adopted during the New Deal years.  Later, he served on the Fair Employment Practices Commission and advised various individuals in the Roosevelt administration on workplace issues. Ryan’s papers are a rich chronicle of a progressive Catholic reformer in the early twentieth century.[i] Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: What the Heck is a Labor Priest?”

The Archivist’s Nook: African American History? You’re Standing On It

The Middleton House was the main house on the CUA property when it was a slave run plantation. Sold to the U.S. Catholic Bishops after the Civil War, the house served several purposes for the University until it was demolished in 1970.
The Middleton House was the main house on the CUA property when it was a slave run plantation. Sold to the U.S. Catholic Bishops after the Civil War, the house served several purposes for the University until it was demolished in 1970.

It’s African American History Month, and we’ve got all kinds of  African-American history here at The Catholic University of America.

In fact, you’re standing on it.  The original 65 acres purchased by the U.S. Catholic Bishops to found the University is rife with African American history.  It didn’t start out that way.  Initially, the first house built on the current CUA campus was built by Samuel Harrison Smith and Margaret Bayard Smith.  The Smiths were invited to settle in the young capital city in 1803 by President Thomas Jefferson and found the District’s first newspaper.  Later, the house passed on to James Middleton and his son Erasmus Middleton.  The Middleton family held it as a slave-run plantation, until the Emancipation Act of 1862 (the first emancipation act in the nation, by the way) liberated the slaves of Washington, D.C.  The house eventually became part of the CUA campus and was demolished in 1970.

During the Civil War, Fort Slemmer was established on the perimeter of campus.  One of 68 fortifications protecting the city during the war, the fort never saw action, but it did play its part in the Civil War. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: African American History? You’re Standing On It”

The Archivist’s Nook: About That Time Eddie Pryzbyla Nominated JFK

Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act of 1963 while Margaret Mealy (second from right), the head of the National Council of Catholic Women, looks on, June 1963. The bill abolished wage disparity based on sex. Mealy received one of the pens Kennedy used to sign the bill.)
Kennedy signing the Equal Pay Act of 1963 while Margaret Mealy (second from right), the head of the National Council of Catholic Women, looks on, June 1963. The bill abolished wage disparity based on sex. Mealy received one of the pens Kennedy used to sign the bill.

President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 52 years ago this November 22nd. Kennedy, being the first Catholic president in the United States, earned the respect and admiration of many of his American co-religionists. Dorothy Mohler, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work when Kennedy was killed, captured the mood on the CUA campus in her journal entry that day:

The bells in the campanile of the National Shrine were ringing out, not tolling in the usual way yet not ringing with any joyful sound. Students, faculty, visitors, nuns, priests, religious, everyone—began moving toward the Shrine.  Most went into the upper church but some to the crypt and I joined the latter so choked up I could not keep back tears.

Before his tragic death, even before his storied Presidency, Kennedy had his CUA admirers, among them the Chicopee, Massachusetts native, Edward “Eddie” Pryzbyla.  Here on campus, we know Mr. Pryzbyla for the eponymous Pryzbyla Center built in 2003. Pryzbyla, a generous donor with a keen interest in campus beautification, graduated from CUA in 1925 and was an active member of the University’s Alumni Association for decades. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: About That Time Eddie Pryzbyla Nominated JFK”