The Archivist’s Nook: A Flapper, a Nurse, and a Nun Apply to Catholic University…

Women blast through the barriers to their admission at Catholic University. No prisoners were taken. Pictured: (L to R) Nursing students Kathleen Bowser and Lois Pecor visiting the Soldier’s Home, 1945-46. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection. Special thanks to Robert Malesky for identifying the location.

I am not pleading for co-education or the admission of “flappers” into the University, but I am pleading for the cause of the women who mean more for the Church in America in one sense, than all its Hierarchy and all its Priests.

– Archbishop Michael Curley to Peter Guilday, October 10, 1924

Among the most frequently questions we receive at the Catholic University Archives are: Who was the first woman to graduate from Catholic University? When did the University first admit female students? Despite the simple questions, the answers are surprisingly complex! Beyond the opposition to coed institutions at the time of the University’s founding, the admission of women was complicated by the variety of degree programs, academic schools, and the status of lay and religious women on the campus.

During the 1895 inauguration of the newly constructed McMahon Hall, Rector John J. Keane stated to those assembled that, “Many women have applied for admission and the University would be glad if it were in her power to grant them the educational advantage which they desire.” Keane went on to state that such a change in the University’s admission policy would necessitate a decision by the Board of Trustees.¹

This issue was seemingly resolved with the founding of Trinity College (1897) and Catholic Sisters College (1911). Both institutions were founded to educate Catholic women, the former being for lay women and the latter for religious sisters. While certain exceptions were granted for some women to enroll as graduate students at the University – although without the full rights of an enrolled student – female students largely took courses at one of the two neighboring colleges. However, with the end of the First World War and passage of women’s suffrage, new opportunities appeared for American women.

New organizations, such as the National Council of Catholic Women, founded educational institutions such as the National Catholic School of Social Service, which became affiliated with Catholic University in 1923. However, despite being affiliated with Catholic University and often being taught by University faculty, none of the female students officially were enrolled or received degrees from the University.  That is until one sister from Minnesota came on the scene.

Sister Hilger with Mapuche women in Chile, ca. 1950s. Traveling the world, Hilger studied childhood experiences across cultures. (Courtesy: Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History)

Wishing to pursue an advanced degree in sociology, Sister Marie Inez Hilger, OSB, was upset to find that major Catholic universities, such as Notre Dame and Catholic University, did not accept female applicants. Explaining her situation to the Bishop Joseph F. Busch of St. Paul, she found a sympathetic ear. Busch expressed concern about the lack of opportunities for religious sisters at Catholic universities and promised to raise the issue at the annual Bishop’s meeting in Washington. Shortly thereafter, a telegram arrived from Busch, informing Hilger that permission had been granted for her to enroll as a full student at Catholic University. Packing up from Minnesota, Hilger arrived on campus on October 1, 1924. Completing her Masters in sociology and social work in 1925, Hilger’s example helped renew the discussion among the Board of Trustees on the topic of female students.

With her admission, the deadlock that had existed since 1895 was broken. The first laywoman to be registered as a full student was Florence McGuire, who began in 1927 and earned a Masters in Greek and Latin. With these two women granted special permission to enroll, a debate developed amongst the University’s leadership. Paralyzed between pro and anti-admission factions, the Board deferred on making a decision and referred the matter to the Rector. In 1928, Rector John H. Ryan granted admission to all religious sisters.² With the stalemate seemingly broken, the Board of Trustees moved quickly to open the University’s graduate programs to all women, lay or religious. However, undergraduate admission was another matter.

In 1932, the School of Nursing began to operate on the campus, presenting a new challenge to the University. Suddenly, a large cohort of lay women required general course work outside the nursing program, necessitating that they be permitted into undergraduate classes. Despite some concern over infringing upon the two nearby colleges, pragmatism won out as sending professional students to other campuses was costly and inefficient.³ Thereafter, women were accepted into a variety of science and humanities courses in the 1930s. While these students were technically enrolled only in professional programs – and not strictly liberal undergraduate degrees – this did not stop female students from becoming engaged in undergraduate life.

(L to R) Kathleen Bowser, Annabelle Melville, Rita Bondi, and Joan Chapman, 1945-46. Melville was a PhD student in history, the other three were nursing students. Karl M. Schmitt photograph collection.

By the end of the 1930s, women would be seen attending and teaching classes in English, drama, anthropology, and even aeronautics. The January 1934 Alumnus even reports that there were already enough female graduates to form the Graduate Alumnae of the Catholic University of America, complete with officer elections and nationwide branches! In the 1940s, female students began to organize their own social clubs on campus, including the Association of Women Students (1943) and the Columbians (1945). Undergraduate actors and actresses graced Fr. Gilbert Hartke’s theatrical stage. By 1950, one of the final barriers to admission came down with the Board of Trustees officially allowing undergraduate women to enroll in bachelor’s degree programs on campus.

As for Sister Hilger? Well, she returned to the University in 1936, earning a doctorate in anthropology in 1939. Soon afterward, she met famed anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who inspired her to continue a lifelong career studying the child life of indigenous people worldwide. After decades of teaching at the College of St. Benedict in Minnesota and serving as a Smithsonian research associate, Hilger passed away in 1977.

A small collection detailing the graduate admission and anthropological work of Sister Hilger may be viewed here:

¹ The Catholic University Bulletin, Vol. 1 (1895), 540. 
² E. Catherine Dunn and Dorothy A., eds. Mohler. Pioneering Women at The Catholic University of America: Papers Presented at a Centennial Symposium, November 11, 1988 (Hyattsville, MD: International Graphics, 1990), 1-18.
³ Roy Deferrari, Memoirs of The Catholic University of America, 1918-1960  (Boston: The Daughters of St. Paul, 1962), 229-40.

The Archivist’s Nook: Numismatic Teaching Tool – Catholic University’s Coin Collection

H197-1: Justin I – Gold – Tremissis; (Wt.) 1.21, (Mod.) 14; (Ob. Type) Bust, facing, wearing helmet with plume and diadem; (Ob. Legend) DNIVSTINVSPPAVC; (R. type) Victory walking, looking r.; (R. legend) VICTORIAAVCVSTORVM in ex. CONOB, 518-527 A.D. Byzantine. Research by CUA Greek and Latin Class in 2013.

The Catholic University of America (CUA) coin collection, part of the museum administered by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, contains nearly seventeen hundred numismatic pieces, primarily from ancient Greece, the Roman republic and empire, and Byzantium, as well as medieval and modern specimens, including coins from Western Europe, Persia, and China. A Roman poet once said: “Quidquid praecipies, esto brevis” (whatever you want to teach, be brief),¹ so let us begin.

From the late nineteenth century to as late as 1938, there were more than twenty donations, some 1682 coins. With the exception of the Nablus series, the collection was acquired entirely by gift. One of the earliest donations came from Claudio Jannet (1844-1894), a professor of Economics at Paris who also wrote about American political and economic institutions. He was known to be an admirer of the United States and probably interested in the establishment of CUA, hence the CUA Bulletin 1894 description of him as one of the University’s best friends who had donated a large collection of Greek and Roman coins. This donation of 806 coins represents the largest donation of the entire collection. Another early addition to the collection was 72 coins from Professor Henri Hyvernat and Msgr. Paul Muller-Simonis after their trip to India, 1888-1889. Hyvernat traveled extensively throughout the world and donated hundreds of eclectic items to the university museum from five continents.

1058-1: Caesar – silver – denarius; (Wt.) 3.91, (Mod.) 20, (Die axis) 12; (Ob. type) Pontifical emblems: culullus, aspergillum, axe, and apex; (Ob legend) BLANK (R. type) Elephant r., trampling dragon; (R. legend) CAESAR (in exergue); (Mint) Moving with Caesar, 49-48 B.C. Late Republic, military issue. Research by CUA Greek and Latin class, 2010.

The Nablus Collection, numbering 178 coins, came to the university in 1927 from the Samaritan Community of Nablus, Palestine, then under British administration. Due to its unique nature as a coin hoard discovered during an archaeological dig, Rev. Romain Butin, curator of the Museum and a professor of Semitics, had to obtain written permission from the Governor of Palestine, and the Department of Antiquities, Jerusalem, to export the collection to CUA. There were also several other donations between 1916 and 1938.  In 1975, CUA archivist George Hruneni created a preliminary inventory of the coins. In 1977, New York coin dealer Alex Malloy examined the collection, stating the overall quality was not superb, but with many good pieces it would be a valuable teaching aid.  In 1987 a numismatist named John D. Mac Isaac reported that the Roman Imperial material was the overall strength of the collection, illustrating Roman art, economics, and political propaganda for the period 100 B.C. to 450 A.D. He also noted several coins he believed to be Greek forgeries and the presence of over 300 virtually illegible coins. The following year, Stephen Koob, an art conservator at the Smithsonian Institution, recommended improving the storage conditions of the coins. He also believed the collection would be a useful educational tool, providing tangible artifacts for the classroom, and, for some of the more valuable coins in good condition, as items displayed in exhibitions.

1058-669: Ptolemy I – Bronze piece; Head of Alexander the Great with horn of Ammon, wearing diadem, elephant’s skin and aegis. (r) Eagle with wings closed stdg. On thunderbolt with head turned (left). Egypt, 305-285 B.C. George Hruneni. Preliminary Inventory to the Coin Collections of The Catholic University of America, 1975, p. 46. Also, special thanks to Douglas Mudd of the Money Museum.

In 1991, volunteer students began transferring the coins from acidic envelopes and boxes to polyethylene sleeves housed in a series of binders to facilitate better storage and access. A student of Greek and Latin, Daniel Gordon, wrote a number of important notes on accompanying cards to individual coins in the collection. The coins are housed in the binders, usually ten (10) pages each in a covering box. Roman Empire coins dated 27 B.C. to 284 A.D., the accession of Diocletian, are listed as ‘early empire,’ those dated A.D. 284 to 476, the fall of the empire in the west, are designated ‘late empire.’ The first series contains the 806 coins donated by Jannet, collection number 1058, ca. 600 B.C.-1878 A.D., in binders 1-4. These are primarily Roman coins, but with a nice selection of Greek, Byzantine, Carthaginian as well as a few from Carolingian France. The second series has 31 coins donated by Grindell, collection number 2474, in binder 5. These are primarily Roman and Byzantine Coins, with one from Carthage. The third series has 115 coins donated by Pierre Court, collection number 2945, also in binder 5. These are primarily Roman coins. The fourth series, binder 6, has coins donated by Schrantz. The fifth series, binder 7, has coins donated by Ignatius Lissner. The sixth series, binder 8, has coins of poor quality from Luigi Gassi, designation no. 5281, consisting of 148 Roman, Greek, and Byzantine coins plus a no. 5282 Arabic coin. The seventh series, binder 9, has coins of the Nablus Collection. The eighth series, binder 10, has coins donated by Henri Hyvernat. The ninth and final series, binder 11, has miscellaneous coins donated by several sources.

1058-796: Louis the Pious – Christiana religio; Obverse Legend: +HLVDOVVICUS IMP, cross; Reverse Legend: +XPISTIANA RELIGIO, temple, 822/823-840 A.D. Carolingian France. Research in 2011 by CUA Professor Jennifer Davis, special thanks to Dr. Elina Screen, Fitzwilliam Museum, The University of Cambridge, and Dr. Simon Coupland, The University of Oxford.

In the past decade, Professor William Klingshirn of Greek and Latin has organized several classes of students for the purposes of examining specific categories of coins; learning how to properly weigh, identify and catalogue them; and consulting reference tools to compile new databases of portions of the coin collection for a more accurate inventory.² For more information on access, please contact

¹Horace (65-8 B.C.), Ars Poetica, 333.

²See the article by one of the CUA students: Lionel Yaceczko. “The Riddle of the Nablus Collection: An Unusual Hoard of Fourth-Century Roman Bronze Folles,” Studies in Late Antiquity 1.2 (2017), 173-203.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Darkness is the Light – Father Cyprian Davis and the Black American Catholic Experience

Father Cyprian Davis. Photo Courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey

“Black Theology arises from the experience of being black and oppressed in the United States. It is a theology which seeks, first, to speak to Black people where they are now. It explains what it means to them to be black and Christian. Only then does it look beyond the Black community and present itself, without apology, to the white Christian world.

—Diana Hayes, 1985 Dissertation titled Historical Experience and Method in Black Theology: The Interpretation of Dr. James A. Cone, submitted to the Faculty of the School of Theology at the Catholic University of America.

The quoted text is from the dissertation of a previous Catholic University of America theology student and is representative of the many powerfully-written hermeneutical texts that were authored by students and collected by Father Davis in his exploration of the Black American Catholic experience.

Cyprian Davis was one of the great theologians, exegetes, liturgiologists, homeletes and (what the Swahili call a mwanafalsafa) to emerge from the African American Catholic tradition and the Catholic tradition as a whole. His work was focused on racial reconciliation, racial unity, the unity of the church, the evolution of the African American Catholic identity, and the healing of a people who carry the genetic scars of enslavement.

The History of Black Catholics by Cyprian Davis. Copy from The Catholic University of America Archives

The literatures of the Davis collection are emblematic of what any descendant of the Africans who were brutally snatched from their homelands and placed into a vile system of chattel enslavement in order to build The United States of America into the greatness that it is today, would intuitively know: that the historical and contemporaneous African American experience is one of dizzying permutation. It is a disparate amalgamation of social forces and perplexities that has been aptly characterized by the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III as a blue note existence—one in which the existential mood is premised upon the contrasting nature of all things bittersweet. This notion of contrasting forces as coessential to one another, is a conceptualization that is prevalent throughout the history of West African philosophical schools of thought and is critical to the African understanding of the world. The West African cerebration of metaphysic coessentiality and complimentary opposing forces within the natural world was exhaustively investigated and expertly exposited by Marimba Ani in her 1994 monograph called YuruguMetaphysical coessentiality is the ethereal, spiritual marrow that is responsible for the superhero endurance that African Americans have shown throughout the history of the Atlantic World and it is the foundation on which Davis’ epistemology rests.

The Black spiritual and religious tradition is often simply referred to as The Black Church; however, this phrase is indicative of an uninformed, undistinguished, monolithic view that belies the multifactorial nature of the African American spiritual tradition and how it was transmuted by White Christian violence that was enacted as a means of perpetuating African American enslavement and dehumanization, and as a means of destroying African American’s own centuries old West African spiritual traditions by having the church decree them as evil witchcraft that would need to be denounced or one would suffer grave tortures to ensure that this occurred.   

1979 Series by The Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History, Inc. from Cyprian Davis’ personal library

While Christianity was largely unknown to African Americans, it was a faith that had noble roots in East African societies that are older than those in Rome. Despite the malefactions through which the African American religious tradition emerged, it was transformed by Africans’ creative nature through creolization and syncretism between traditional West African spirituality and the new religious tradition forced on African Americans.  

What is most interesting about Father Cyprian Davis is evident throughout his collection—his remarkable quest to reconcile the ways in which the word of God had been hijacked and weaponized against African Americans. But how did Davis forge a space for African Americans?

As an archivist, Davis was not afraid of facing the ugliness of the Church’s history head on and exploited this history to bolster the physical, psychological, intellectual, and spiritual resilience of the African American Catholic community. Davis understood that the darkness of the past was inextricable from the light of the future, so he sought to prepare African American Catholics for a church that was in many ways no different from the world around it because the church had been historically and contemporaneously a hostile space for African Americans that would require the acuity of self-knowledge to navigate and to repair the institution. It was an incredibly bold way to usher in the spirit of reparation, through directly living out the Church’s values of human dignity and the mandate to protect the sacred nature of life.

Father Cyprian Davis Photo Courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey

The Cyprian Davis collection consists of 32 boxes of materials from the estate of Benedictine Fr. Cyprian Davis of St. Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana. The collection reflects his research into and interest in the history of black Catholics in the United States, black spirituality, and the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, which he helped found in 1968. The collection includes a wide range of materials, mostly printed, and reflects Davis’ multifaceted interests. Among the items are the records, agendas, and minutes from various conference proceedings, especially the National Black Clergy Caucus, the National Black Catholic Congress, and joint conferences. Also included are the records pertaining to a range of projects in which Davis was heavily involved, including the Black Hymnal Project and the Historical Commission in the Cause of Father Augustus Tolton (1854-1897). Davis’ notes and assembled research material relating to his most famous book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States (publ. 1990), and other research projects are also included, along with the texts of his various public addresses. The bulk of the materials span the period from the late 1960s to the mid-2000s.



The Archivist’s Nook: Digital Rebirth – Labor Collections at Catholic University

Boxes, microfilm reels, and guide books for the Powderly, Hayes, and Mitchell Papers, 2018. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The papers of Terence V. Powderly, John W. Hayes, and John Mitchell, three Gilded Age and Progressive Era labor leaders of national importance are now available online in digital format thanks to a partnership between The Catholic University of America (CUA) and ProQuest’s History Vault subscription service. Securing collections of notable Catholic labor leaders like Mitchell, Powderly, and Hayes was facilitated at CUA in the 1940s by labor priests, John A. Ryan, Francis J. Haas, and George G. Higgins, all of whose papers reside in the university’s archives. There were some advances in accessibility via microfilming in the 1970s and more recently with the creation of detailed finding aids and digital collections via the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) of Powderly and Mitchell photographs since 2001. However, the current ProQuest digitization project, based on scanning the microfilm, culminates over seventy years of archival outreach.

Knights of Labor Pamphlet, 1889. T.V. Powderly Papers via the ProQuest History Vault.

Powderly, subject of a previous blog post, was the son of Irish immigrants, born in Carbondale, Pennsylvania, in 1849. He joined the International Union of Machinists and Blacksmiths in 1871 and the Scranton, Pennsylvania, Local Assembly of the Knights of Labor in 1876, where he rose to national leadership as Grand (later General) Master Workman, 1879-1893. He was also a progressive mayor of Scranton, 1878-1884. From 1897-1901, he was Commissioner General of Immigration, and thereafter held several other federal immigration or labor posts. After his death in 1924 Powderly’s papers were retained by various family members until his niece, Mary, donated them in 1941 to CUA through the influence of Msgr. Haas. They richly detail the organization of labor, immigration policy, and political patronage in late nineteenth and early twentieth century America. The correspondence and reports are treasure troves of primary source material while the photographs and lantern slides display a wealth of cultural imagery and geographical landmarks.  The microfilming project of 1974 (94 reels) was funded by the Microfilming Corporation of America and edited by John A. Turcheneske, Jr.

Parade in Honor of John Mitchell, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1903. Mitchell Papers via the ProQuest History Vault.

John William Hayes was born in 1854 in Philadelphia to Irish immigrants. Working as a brakeman he lost his right arm in a railroad accident in 1878 and thereafter learned telegraphy. He joined the Knights in 1874, was elected to their General Executive Board in 1884, and became General Secretary Treasurer in 1888. He worked closely with Powderly until 1893 when Hayes joined with the socialists and populist agrarians to oust Powderly from leadership. Hayes remained in control of the fading Knights, who were losing out to the American Federation of Labor (AFL), first as General Secretary-Treasurer until 1902, then as General Master Workman until the closure of the Knights headquarters in Washington in 1916. The Hayes Papers (49 boxes; 24.5 linear feet) were donated to CUA by his family in 1943, the year after Hayes died, and are almost equally divided between official Knights of Labor correspondence and his personal affairs. They were microfilmed (15 reels) together with the Powderly Papers in 1974.

Mitchell, also subject of a previous blog post, was the legendary leader of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), born 1870 in Braidwood, Illinois. Orphaned at an early age, he worked as a coal miner. He was first a member of the Knights of Labor and then, successively, legislative agent, organizer, vice president and president of the fledgling UMWA.  His leadership in Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 resulted in significant gains for coal miners and greater recognition for the UMWA. Mitchell was also vice president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and member of various national, state, and local civic organizations. He died in 1919 and is buried in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  In 1942, Msgr. Haas contacted the Mitchell children and arranged for their father’s papers to be donated to the university. They include correspondence and meeting minutes regarding such watershed issues as standardized wages, safe working conditions, and collective bargaining. The Mitchell Papers, sans most clippings and many photographs, was microfilmed (55 reels) and a printed guide prepared by editor, John A Turcheneske, Jr., in 1975.

The promotional brochure for the ProQuest History Vault, 2018

ProQuest is well known in educational circles for curating an archive of billions of vetted, indexed documents connected via a variety of research communities. The ProQuest History Vault debuted in 2011 and is constantly adding new documentation of widely studied topics in American history. A particular strength is social movements, especially racial justice, women’s rights, and organized labor. The collections, with enhanced search features, can be purchased as a perpetual archive or as a subscription, providing research access for students and faculty to materials held at geographically dispersed archives. The Powderly, Hayes, and Mitchell papers are part of the module, ‘Labor Unions in the U.S., 1862-1974: Knights of Labor, AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO,’ which include collections from the University of Maryland and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Because the History Vault digitization project scanned the 1970s microfilm, portions of the Powderly and Mitchell papers are not represented. Files deemed duplicative or unprocessed, but also printed materials and photographs that did not show up well on microfilm, were omitted. The non-microfilmed portions are so noted on the Powderly and Mitchell finding aids and remain open to traditional archival research, as is also the case with all the original materials. Additionally, and as mentioned above, many Mitchell and Powderly photographs are freely available online via WRLC.

For more information on ProQuest History Vault, visit the ProQuest History Vault webpage.

The Archivist’s Nook: Theological College – First 100 Years

Two Postcards of Theological College. (L) The original Gothic plan for the College, ca. 1920s. (R) The completed College, ca. 1970s

Heading south from the Catholic University campus, right across Michigan Avenue and facing the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, sits Theological College (TC). TC serves as the official seminary of the Catholic University of America, and has stood as a fixture of the Brookland neighborhood for the past century.

Founded in 1917 as an annex of St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, from its foundation, the seminary has been associated with the Society of Saint Sulpice, also known as the Sulpicians. Known until 1940 as the Sulpician Seminary, the motivation behind it was to serve as a seminary at the heart of the nation’s capital and as partnership between the Sulpicians and the Catholic University of America. This official partnership, however, would take several decades to solidify, as it was not until 1937 that an agreement was made between the two institutions to associate. This partnership has been reviewed and renewed ever since, throughout the changes in theological programs and American and Church culture.

Sulpician Seminary, ca. 1920s.

Renamed Theological College in 1940, the building that houses the seminary is a landmark bordering the south of the CUA campus. With groundbreaking occurring in 1917, the Sulpician seminarians resided on the Catholic University campus until the site was completed in 1919. Seminarians and theologians moved in on September 20, 1919.

Originally envisioned as a collegiate Gothic structure with larger wings for student housing, funding was unavailable to complete the original vision. By the early 1960s, a boom in seminarians led to overcrowding at the College. To address these issues, construction on a new wing and the tower began in 1963 until 1965. This construction added a larger library, kitchen and refectory, gym, and an enclosed courtyard. These features thrilled the student population, as well as the Sisters of the Divine Providence of Kentucky. The Sisters, having a small convent close by, provided domestic care for the College from 1918-1986.

Construction on the TC tower, ca. 1964

As TC enters its second century, alumni and current students are reflecting on its storied history and connection with the Catholic University community. Among its storied alumni are CUA Sociology professor Msgr. Paul Furfey, Archbishop Phil Hannan of New Orleans, CUA Philosophy professor Msgr. John Wippel, and Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington. While the TC community has provided a rich experience to campus life – participating in classes and even papal visits – the personal and social connections are ones that many alumni share. For example, among the many favorite memories from TC alumni are the tales of their legendary intramural basketball and football teams. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the seminarians dominated the court against the CUA fraternities. As the March 15, 1968 Tower reports: “The fraternity league team was different this year, but the result was the same as last year, as the Theological College again won the intramural basketball tournament.” From theological classrooms to basketball courts, TC students and the building they call home has been an integral part of the CUA story the past 100 years.

Theological College vs. Alpha Delta Gamma, 1968.

More information can be found in Michael Russo’s Ecce Quam Bonum: A History of Theological College. Mr. Russo is a current student at Theological College.

The Archivist’s Nook: Richard John Neuhaus – A Catholic Lutheran in the Public Square

Fr. Neuhaus, then a Lutheran pastor, with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ca. 1960s (Courtesy: National Catholic Register) Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Today’s post is guest authored by Undergraduate student in Social Work, Emmanuel A. Montesa, who expresses his thanks to the professional Archives staff.

On October 19, 1999, the Reverend Richard John Neuhaus gave a lecture entitled “My American Affair” here at The Catholic University of America, only a few months after he had converted to Catholicism. As a former Lutheran pastor, he was heavily involved in the liberal causes in American politics of the 1960s such as the Civil Rights and the Anti-War movements. He even considered himself to be a radical, seeing the War in Vietnam as “God’s instrument for bringing the American empire to its knees.”¹ On December 4, 1967, Neuhaus led a service at St. John the Evangelist Lutheran in Brooklyn where over 300 people turned in their draft cards in protest, drawing the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Neuhaus was arrested twice in his life, the first for participating in a sit-in at the New York City Board of Education headquarters demanding for the desegregation of city public schools and the second for disorderly conduct during the chaotic 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. In addition, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for New York’s 14th Congressional district.

Neuhaus meeting with President Ronald Reagan at the White House, Feb. 26, 1986. Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

However, by the time he was invited to speak at the national university of the Catholic Church in the United States, Neuhaus was one of the leading neo-conservatives in America, along with George Weigel and Michael Novak. Neuhaus strongly believed that politics can and should only exist within the context of Christian morality, calling for Christians to find their place in what he called “the naked public square,” a reference to the absence of values emanating from faith-based communities in public life. His 1984 book of that title, which addressed the complex relationship between faith and politics, arguably paved the way for Ronald Reagan’s landslide re-election to the American presidency. In addition, Neuhaus served as a catalyst in the solidification of the political alliance of Catholics and evangelical Protestants. He served as an unofficial advisor to President George W. Bush on social matters which included abortion and same-sex marriage. As the editor-in-chief of First Things from its founding in 1990 until his death in 2009, Neuhaus voiced his discontent with the social liberalism that had taken hold of America. In 2005, Time Magazine named Neuhaus as one of 25 most influential evangelicals in America despite being a Roman Catholic.

Neuhaus’ renunciation of the Lutheran profession and conversion to Roman Catholicism is, in a sense, related to his political shift from the liberal left to the conservative right. His 1999 lecture at the Catholic University offers great insight into his reasoning for his conversion, both political and theological. He saw that the theory of the twofold kingdom of God, on which Lutheran political ethic is based on, “leads to Christian passivity and quietism in the face of social and political in justice.”² This theory holds that God rules the temporal earth with his left hand and the divine world with his right, and in the same way, theology should not muddy itself with human politics. However, Neuhaus believed that the Church should necessarily engage with the world, but the Church must first have a “vigorous ecclesiology” that can stand what St. Paul calls “the principalities and powers of the present age.”³ He  concluded that the only the Roman Catholic Church possessed such a vigorous ecclesiology.

Neuhaus being ordained a Catholic priest, 1991. Neuhaus Papers, box 88, The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Furthermore, in another lecture given at Catholic University in March 2000 titled “A Consistent Ethic of Strife,” which would later be published in CUA’s Journal of Law, Philosophy, and Culture, Neuhaus spoke about what he called the Catholic Moment. He first defined the term as a Lutheran in his 1987 book The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World, where he posited that the “premier responsibility for the Christian mission rest with the Catholic Church.”⁴ Now speaking on the Catholic Moment as a Catholic priest, he asserted that the Church should not fall into the passivity that his old profession had fallen into, but should continually play an active role in the world to establish the Kingdom of God. He declared that the Catholic Moment had not passed even 13 years after he first coined the term, because every single day since the first Pentecost until the end of time is the Catholic Moment.  In this framework, he distinguishes that there is a difference between an American Catholic and a Catholic American. The former is a corruption of the religion, but the latter is what we should strive for as Americans. There is a distinctively Catholic way of being an American.

Please see the newly completed finding aid (our 200th) for the voluminous Neuhaus Papers, a recent and welcome addition to the Catholic University Archives, joining the significant papers of other notable public priests such as Bishop Francis J. Haas, Msgr. John A. Ryan, and Msgr. George G. Higgins.

¹Daniel McCarthy. “Richard John Neuhaus by Randy Boyagoda,” The New York Times, March 26, 2015, accessed December 6, 2017,
²Richard John Neuhaus, “My American Affair” (speech, Washington, D.C., October 19, 1999), The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.
Richard John Neuhaus, “A Consistent Ethics of Strife” (speech, Washington, D.C., March 2000), The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Venus Fixer Goes to War

A devastating scene during the Italian Campaign of WWII.

“It’s been a strange way to do my wartime service but somebody had to do it and, since…I wondered inside who will take care of the monuments and the objects of art, I’m afraid I rather asked for it and so it was not improperly myself who was chosen.” – Staff Sargeant Bernard M. Peebles to Colonel Ernest T. DeWald, 1945

The Museum, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) Subcommittee, more popularly known as either the Monuments Men or Venus Fixers, was a program that focused on protecting and restoring cultural and historic sites and materials during the Second World War. Consisting of scholars of art, manuscripts, and architecture, the members of the MFAA often operated in active warzones across North Africa and Europe with limited resources. Not only did they work to assess the damages rendered to cultural sites and archives, but they worked to guarantee the survival of missing or pillaged art or manuscripts. Long-time Catholic University Professor of Greek and Latin (1948-1971) Bernard M. Peebles was one such Venus Fixer, serving in Italy from 1943-1945.

German Field-Marshall Albert Kesselring allegedly referred to the Italian campaign as “waging war in a museum.” With limited resources and combat raging across a culturally-rich and highly urban peninsula, the Allies relied on informational flyers and posts and local aid to secure sites.

Peebles was born in Norfolk, Virginia on January 1, 1906. He received his Bachelors in Greek and Latin in 1926 from the University of Virginia, and his Masters and Doctorate at Harvard University in 1928 and 1940 respectively. During this time he was also a fellow at the American Academy in Rome from 1932-1934. While in Rome, he met and befriended a fellow scholar by the name of Wolfgang Hagemann. The two would later be on opposing sides of the war effort, with Hagemann engaged in art and translation work with Rommel’s armies in North Africa and Italy.

In the years prior to the war, Peebles’ teaching career blossomed as he taught at Harvard (1937-1939), Fordham University (1939-1941), and at St. John’s College in Annapolis (1941-1942). With the US entering WWII, Peebles enlisted in 1942, being assigned as a chief clerk for the MFAA . As one of the earliest members of the Program, he began his service in Sicily in the fall of 1943, where he was regarded as a “discoverer of manuscripts.”¹ As a report dated 20 January 1944 from Palermo, Sicily relates:

Visiting a hardware shop in Via Cassari, [Peebles] saw there some old MS. Documents loose on the counter and apparently about to be used as wrapping paper. Upon showing interest in the documents he was allowed to examine them and, afterwards, a larger number which apparently had been removed from the same bound volume and comprised some sheets of parchment, one with heading in gold. Upon offering to buy the smaller batch of documents, he was told that he have them as a gift… A second visit to the neighborhood to determine the precise location of the shop found it closed but revealed that several shops in the Via Argenteria were using similar old MSS. (along with other documents of more recent date) to wrap fish and other edibles.²

Right photo: Peebles (L) with Hagemann (R), together on a hike in Verona in 1933. Left photo: Peebles during his MFAA tour in Italy.

Among the documents recovered were those belonging to the Palermo state archives, including early eighteenth-century manuscripts from Philip V of Spain! Peebles continued to serve with the MFAA in Italy throughout the remainder of the war. In 1945, a request came in for him to transfer to Austria to assist the Monument Men there. Writing to Colonel DeWald, Director of the Italian MFAA, he expressed a desire to finish the job in Italy – a mission he referred to as “[his] baby” – and then return to his wife, child, and academic career in the United States. He was awarded this opportunity, along with the Bronze Star and British Empire medal.

Peebles returned to the US in 1945, and began teaching at Catholic University in 1948. He served with the Greek and Latin Department – including an eight-year stint as Chair (1962-1970) – until his retirement in 1971. A scholar with wide-ranging interests in Latin manuscripts, he is most well-known for his work on the Church Fathers and Patristic studies. Sadly, he died during a robbery attempt in 1976.

In addition to recording his long academic career, the papers of Bernard Peebles catalogs his experience of the Second World War, with Allied reports, maps, and propaganda material.  It may be viewed here:

A small sampling of the WWII documentation and objects contained in the Bernard M. Peebles Papers, including his Bronze Star.

¹laria Dagnini Brey The Venus Fixers: The Remarkable Story of the Allied Monuments Officers Who Saved Italy’s Art During World War II (New York: Picador, 2010), 71-72.

The Archivist’s Nook: National Treasure – Catholic University Students Explore Campus History

Flier for the November 17th National Treasure event sponsored by Campus Ministry. No, Benjamin Franklin Gates did not steal our beloved Gus Garvey. As this recent photo shows, Gus is alive, well, and ready for the holidays!

There are many ways to connect the present with the past. One of the easiest is through physical objects, such as, say, informing students on the history of the physical space of their university campus. The Archives worked with Campus Ministry this past November on an event which had students playing trivia, doing a campus scavenger hunt, and watching National Treasure, a heist film involving a search for a treasure hidden by the American Founding Fathers. The event, inspired by the film and thus dubbed “National Treasure” itself, had students exploring the Catholic University campus for prizes while learning about the layers of history embedded on the campus itself.

A list of the items placed in the cornerstone of Caldwell Hall when the building was erected in 1888.

Indeed, the National Treasure reference is not really that far off the mark. Take the first structure built in 1803 on what is now the University campus, Sidney. Sidney, after the political theorist Algernon Sidney, was built and occupied by Margaret Bayard Smith and her husband, Samuel Harrison Smith, who was invited to move to the District of Columbia by then President Thomas Jefferson in order to publish the city’s first newspaper, The National Intelligencer, which he did. Jefferson, James and Dolley Madison, and other political luminaries visited Sidney back in the early days of Washington, D.C. Later, the house was sold to the Middleton family, and in 1887, to the founders of the Catholic University.

In 1890 the administration saw fit to allow the physicist and astronomer George Searle to construct an observatory at the highest point on campus, which lies just North of Centennial Village. The observatory contained a telescope and was used to observe and study, among other things, comets. Though the observatory burned down in 1924, the base for the telescope remains. On the left is the intact observatory in its heyday. On the right are Alexis Anelli (left) and Ella Wermuth (right) braving the chilly air to learn its history more than a century later.

The scavenger hunt/trivia night involved exploration of some of the earliest physical aspects of the campus, including two of CUA’s founders: Mary Gwendoline Caldwell’s eponymous Caldwell Hall and its cornerstone, laid in 1888, as well as the ginormous marble statue of Leo XIII that found itself in the foyer of McMahon Hall when it was constructed in 1895 and hasn’t moved since.

More recently built structures are quickly acquiring some local historical significance, too. The Great Rooms of the Pryzbyla Center hosted Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States in 2008. And the lower level of the Pryz features a painting of a CUA Cardinal done by the actor Jon Voight while he was a student here in the late 1950s—the painting was originally done on the floor of the gymnasium, which was housed in what is today the Crough Center for Architectural Studies.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Brutal Archives

1920s CUA Brochure to Prospective Students from the CUA Archives Photographic Collection Ca. 1887-1999: Box 71, Folder 7.

The construction of a Brutalist building at The Catholic University of America marked a departure from the existing architectural style previously seen at CUA and it was a departure from original conceptions of the growth of the university taking shape in a form that resembled a medieval village.

How did this shift in architecture challenge the ideas of public space? Was it a social experiment that was well suited to the academic environment?

I recently chatted with Eric Jenkins, a Professor of Architecture at Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning to get the answer to this question:

It was very expressionist; a lot of architects in the 70s were not concerned with making a typical campus, such as Yale, with its unified and orderly sense of space; they were concerned with making a modern statement” This modernist statement was invoked in the form of Aquinas Hall, the current home of The Catholic University of America Archives and 1 of 4 Brutalist expressions currently on campus.

The grand entrance stairway consists of a set of angulated right vertices and rectilinear striations of concrete whose descent to a planular surface of alternating rectangles adds an ethereal level of depth to the viewer’s field of vision.

Washingtonians are organically familiar with the Brutalist Aesthetic, due to the ubiquity of Government Brutalism in Washington D.C. In fact, The District is home to extremely beautiful examples of the Brutalist architectural style. From the trip to work, to the work place itself, a Washingtonian’s daily routine is saturated by the atmospheric essence of Béton Brut, which can be seen in the ceilings of the Metro’s cavernous stations and seen deep within the bowels of Downtown.

Washington’s Brutalist buildings are a communique of power, impenetrability, and the performative use of materials to create a remarkable psycho-social demarcation through jarring exaggerations in building scale that coerce the viewer to process the architectural form from a macroscopic perspective, in what Professor Jenkins noted as “object-oriented landscaping, in which the building becomes a landscape object.”

The atrium central staircase is an act of paradox: an acute involution of inflexible materials around a softer hexagonal social area presenting an unusual mix of refined textiles and raw materials.

Brutalism was the Federal Government’s de rigueur style during the 1970s; but tucked away at The Catholic University of America, a new player entered the field, in the form of a quieter, more pensive expression that emerged in divergent transition to the Federal Government’s translation of the Brutalist aesthetic.

In 1965, candidates for the Master of Arts in English, at The Catholic University of America, were asked during their comprehensive examinations to ruminate on a complexly layered observation made by Mark Shorer in the foreword of Society and Self in the Novel, a 1955 treatise edited by Shorer in which he made the following annunciation:

“…the problem of the novel has always been to distinguish between these two, the self and society, and at the same time to find suitable structures that will present them together.”

The central staircase appears dramatic in the morning sunlight due to the striking contrasts created by the deep shadows of the opposing faces.

From an interdisciplinary standpoint, the ontological consideration of the parallels, partitions and implications of what is real, what is imagined, and what can become, is one of the core considerations of designing a building—in other words: how to reconcile between anthropocentricity and design aesthetics to create a unified conversation between these aspects that are at times in harmonious communication and at other times in discordant miscommunication. The design of CUA’s Aquinas Hall squares this circle because the building was not designed through a psycho-social lens but rather as a form of psycho-geographical praxis in which scale is downplayed and the viewer’s gaze is shifted to the granular level. In this context, the juxtaposition of raw, coarse, unpolished, imperfect, cacophonous materiality results in theatric, unexpected geometries.

A melodic, psychogeographic exploration of the geometry and materiality of the Brutalist home of The Catholic University of America’s Archives.

Images and video of Aquinas Hall are by the author, Juan-Pablo Gonzalez.

The Archivist’s Nook: From Catholic University to Broadway – The Walter and Jean Kerr Collection

Booklet title page that accompanied the “Sing Out, Sweet Land” album, 1946.

This week’s Archivist’s Nook is by Morgan McKeon, graduate student in the Department of Library and Information Science.

Walter and Jean Kerr, partners in life and art, were figures of the dramatic arts from Catholic University to Broadway. Their work spanned from the stage to the televisions of the American public. Together, Walter and Jean Kerr had a fruitful artistic and familial partnership. Their first collaboration in 1942, the musical comedy “Count Me In,” opened at Catholic University and was produced in New York in 1942. Their Catholic University musical, “Sing Out, Sweet Land,” was brought to Broadway in 1944. 1946 saw their Broadway debut as a team with “Song of Bernadette.”

Walter Kerr alongside Josephine Callan directing Sing Out Sweet Land, 1944.

Walter Kerr became a professor of speech and drama at Catholic University in 1939 after it was founded by Father Gilbert Hartke in 1937. Alongside Hartke, Kerr helped develop the department and supported it through his direction of stage productions as well as writing original works to be performed at the university. By Spring of 1939 Kerr “wrote and directed his first production at the university, a one-act play entitled Hyacinth on Wheels.”¹ While popular among the students, Kerr decided to move on from academia in 1951. Walter Kerr continued to write and direct works for the stage – he also turned his attention to criticism. For his work as a critic, he would win a Pulitzer Prize in 1978. In 1966 he became the chief drama critic for the New York Times. Though hired as the soul critic, Kerr made the decision to only write for the Sunday edition so that he would not be the only opinion. “I saw in advance that the power of the Times, with one man writing both daily and Sunday, would be absolute. I wanted the vote split, and the Times was quick to agree.”² Due to his writing style, he made the theatre accessible to a wide audience – Newsweek even deemed him a “supercritic”.³ Though he was an influential critic, Kerr was not without those who criticized his reviews. In 1965 The Village Voice “presented him with an award for his ‘outstanding disservice to the modern theatre.’”⁴ During his career, Kerr was often critical of work that he though too musically ambitious or overrun with pretension. Despite some critics, Kerr won a Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his criticism, was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame in 1983, and was honored in 1990 when Manhattan’s restored Ritz Theatre was renamed the Walter Kerr Theatre.

Fr. Hartke and Walter Kerr.

Jean Kerr, was successful in her own right. Her theatrical works and publications were admired for their humor and “unerring eye for life’s everyday absurdities.” She won a Tony Award in 1961 for King of Hearts – but it was Please, Don’t Eat the Daisies that brought her into popular culture. Published in 1957, this collection of essays (based on her life as a mother and wife to an important critic) became a best-seller. It was adapted into a film in 1960 and made into a short-lived television series in 1965. In 1973, Jean Kerr won The National Institute of Social Sciences Gold Medal Award for distinguished service to humanity.

It was not until the processing of this collection that I learned about the contributions of the Kerr’s. The Walter and Jean Kerr Collection is made up largely of awards received by Walter and Jean. The Catholic University of America continues to live the legacy of Father Hartke, Walter and Jean Kerr – as well as the others that were central to the development of the Drama department. Their collection provides an important element to the holdings at Catholic University – providing another look at important figures that found themselves in Brookland. The Kerr’s found in themselves and through each other the desire to create for and support the theatrical arts. With every new production, Walter and Jean Kerr live on both at the Catholic University of America and the Broadway stage.

Jean Kerr and Adlai Stevenson, ca. 1950s.

The Walter and Jean Kerr Collection can be viewed here:

¹Mary Jo Santo Pietro, Father Hartke: His Life and Legacy to the American Theatre (Washington: The Catholic University Press, 2002), 70.

²Roderick Bladel, Walter Kerr: An Analysis of His Criticism (Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1976), 1.

³Bladel, 1.

⁴Bladel, 2.