The Archivist’s Nook: ‘Supernatural Sociologist’ – Paul Hanly Furfey

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt with Rev. Furfey, Mary E. Walsh and others at Fides House, Washington, D.C., May 30, 1941. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

On a spring day in 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited the campus of The Catholic University of America (CUA) and the nearby university sponsored Fides House, which promoted interracial social justice. The First Lady recounting in her syndicated newspaper column, ‘My Day,’ “A group from Catholic University has taken a small house, where they are running a nursery school, a boys club, and a sewing class for adolescent girls. The expense is borne by some of those working in the sociology courses, who deny themselves in order to carry on this work. It is, perhaps, the most valuable kind of education, because there is nothing as valuable as actual contact with problems and an effort to work them out in a practical way.”¹ The person responsible for attracting the First Lady’s attention to Fides House was ‘Supernatural Sociologist,’² Rev. Paul Hanly Furfey (1896-1992), described as “liberal, radical, and revolutionary”³ by Nicholas Rademacher in his new biography based on the Furfey Personal Papers at Catholic University.

Poster from a Furfey lecture, ca. 1937. Paul Hanly Furfey Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

In a career spanning most of the twentieth century, Furfey sought transformative social reform via a unique combination of Catholic faith, scientific method, and radical ethics. Both an active thinker and dedicated activist, he was not afraid to stand out despite leaving ruffled feathers in his wake, including sparring in print with fellow priests Raymond A. McGowan and John Courtney Murray. Furfey, a native of Cambridge, Massachusetts, graduated from Boston College in 1917, was a Knights of Columbus Fellow at CUA in Washington, D.C., 1917-1918, and earned a masters’ degree at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1918. After further Theological studies at St. Mary’s and the Sulpician Seminary in Washington, 1918-1922, he earned a doctorate in Sociology from CUA in 1926. Ordained in 1922, he joined the CUA faculty in 1925 and headed the Sociology Department from 1934 to 1963. He also served as Co-Director, along with Thomas J. Harte, of the Department’s Bureau of Social Research (BSR) and of CUA’s Center for Research in Child Development.

In 1936, Furfey was one of the founders, along with Gladys Sellew, of Il Poverello House, a settlement house for the poor and homeless on Tenth Street, Northwest, in Washington, D.C. A few years later, he co-founded another house, Fides House, on New Jersey Avenue, NW, along with Mary Elizabeth Walsh, a former student, fellow Sociology professor, and lifelong friend. Fides House was a project in Catholic social activism and study of a deteriorated D.C. neighborhood. The house garnered archdiocesan support with Walsh as director and Furfey as chaplain and member of the board of directors. Fighting racism, which he called ‘America’s Shame,’⁴ was always a central mission for him. Much later, in 1968, he founded Emmaus House in Brookland, near CUA, as a center for nonviolent protest against discrimination and the Vietnam War. Furfey was especially opposed to ROTC on the CUA campus, but there were limits to his activism as he was apparently unaware and would not have approved of an absurd 1970-1971 plot involving Emmaus House⁵ to kidnap Secretary of State Henry Kissinger!

Paul Hanly Furfey, priest and activist but always scholar and professor as well. Undated photograph, ca. 1960s, Paul Hanly Furfey Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Furfey was also involved with other local organizations and institutions, serving as Assistant Director of Catholic Charities of Washington as well as teaching at Trinity College. He also was one of two part-time Assistant Directors of the Juvenile Delinquency Evaluation Project (JDEP) tasked to make a full-scale fact finding survey of how public and private agencies could combat juvenile delinquency in New York City. At the national level, he was President of the American Catholic Sociological Society, now the Association for the Sociology of Religion. He retired in 1966, becoming Professor Emeritus and remaining at CUA as a Lecturer until 1972. He published numerous articles and books including Fire on the Earth (1936), History of Social Thought (1942), The Scope and Method of Sociology (1953), The Respectable Murderers (1966), and Love and the Urban Ghetto (1974). He received the papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice in 1958 and died on June 8, 1992 at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C. His legacy was honored by a group of international scholars at Catholic University in 2003 for a symposium The Intellectual and Moral Heritage of the Rev. Paul Hanly Furfey.


¹ (https://www2.gwu.edu/~erpapers/myday/displaydoc.cfm?_y=1941&_f=md055900).

² By ‘Supernatual Sociologist’ I do not mean to infer Furfey was a priest by day and a vampire hunter by night, but rather he promoted change and reform via a fusion of Christian faith, social action, and scientific method. In particular, see works of Luigi Sturzo for more on a ‘Sociology of the Supernatural.’

³ Nicholas K. Rademacher. Paul Hanly Furfey: Priest, Scientist, Social Reformer. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017

⁴ Ibid., p. 110.

⁵ Ibid., p. 233.

The Archivist’s Nook: Religious School Champion – A Bill Bentley Ball Blog

William B. Ball in his office, c. 1970. William B. Ball Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest-authored by Austin Arminio, a graduate student in the field of Library and Information Science.

Currently, about ten percent of students in the United States attend private schools, the majority of which are run by religious institutions. While they likely don’t know his name, many of these students owe their ability to go to these schools to William Bentley Ball. This October 6th is the 101st anniversary of the birth of William Bentley Ball, whose devout Catholicism and passion for constitutional law led to him defending student’s rights to religious education.  

William Ball on the steps of the Supreme Court following, Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, 1993. William B. Ball Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Ball was a patriot and devout Catholic from an early age. When the United States entered World War II, Ball joined the Navy, obtaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander, after which he studied law at Notre Dame. Following college, Ball begin teaching constitutional law at Villanova University, as well as serving as a general counsel for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public policy wing of the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. In 1967, Ball worked on his first case before the United State Supreme Court: Loving v. Virginia. On the case that would overturn laws prohibiting interracial marriage, Ball entered a brief on behalf of 25 Catholic Bishops in support of the Loving’s position. This would be the first of many Supreme Court cases Ball would be involved in.

The case the propelled Ball into the national spotlight was 1972 case of Wisconsin v. Yoder. Jonas Yoder was the member of an Amish community in Green County, Wisconsin and following his children’s completion of the 8th grade, Yoder attempted to pull his children out of school, as the Amish believe that high school education unneeded for their way of life. This view led to conflict with state and national compulsory education laws, leading to Yoder being fined by the county. As the case reached the Supreme Court, William B. Ball agreed to represent the Yoders free of charge. Before the Supreme Court Ball argued that forcing Amish children to attend high school was forcing them to violate their religious beliefs. “Whether the Amish religion itself is unreasonable is not relevant, the plain facts are that the state (whether acting reasonably or otherwise) is preventing the defendants from performing their religious obligation.” The Supreme Court agreed with Ball and in a 7/2 decision ruled in favor of the Yoders.

Undated poem and doodle by Ball. William B. Ball Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Besides Wisconsin v. Yoder, Ball’s most famous Supreme Court case was the 1993 case of Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District. James Zobrest was born deaf, and as a result was provided a sign-language interpreter while he attended public school. However, when he began to attend a Catholic high school, the school district refused to continue providing Zobrest with an interpreter, saying they could not provide public education funds to a religious school. The Zobrest family argued that this was religious discrimination, and took the case to court. Ball argued before the Supreme Court that the school district’s refusal was a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the 1st Amendment. In a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court sided with Zobrest.

William Bentley Ball died January 10th, 1999 following a short illness. Over the course of his luminous carrier, Ball argued 9 cases before the US Supreme Court, having a win/loss margin of 5/3. Ball additionally served as an advisor on 25 other Supreme Court cases, as well as giving his testimony on numerous state and federal laws concerning the 1st Amendment. When not practicing law, Ball was an artist and poet, loved for his cheeky caricatures and limericks, some of which can be viewed here, here, and here. To find out more information about William Bentley Ball, you can view the finding aid to Ball’s collection here.

The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor John O’Grady, Pioneer in International Catholic Charity

John O’Grady made several trips to post-World War Two Europe towards assisting wartime refugees there. These trips kicked off a flurry of activity by him on behalf of international Catholic charity. Here, he departs on a TWA flight from New York to Germany for an International Catholic Charities meeting in Freiburg in 1956. Catholic Charities USA Records, Box 190, Folder 4.

The Archivist’s Nook recently blogged on Monsignor John O’Grady’s early Catholic charity efforts and how he helped make Catholic Charities USA (called the National Conference of Catholic Charity until 1986) a national organization focused on assisting the poor and needy.  With the Second World War, O’Grady, by then an experienced and active leader in professional Catholic Charitable work in the United States, turned his attention to assisting those whose lives had been ruined by war.

The immediate postwar years saw millions war refugees gathered in camps throughout Europe. Not only had many individuals found themselves homeless and penniless after hostilities ended, but many had been moved to displaced persons camps, often suffering in crowded, diseased conditions. In the immediate postwar period, the United States worked with other western nations to aid these refugees through organizations such as the International Refugee Organization established in 1946, ultimately assisting 10 million of 15 million stranded in Europe due to the war.¹

O’Grady wrote this report on Displaced Persons—also known as wartime refugees—in 1947. From the Monsignor John O’Grady Collection, Box 30, “The Holy Father and Displaced Persons”

Monsignor O’Grady, now at the helm of the National Conference of Catholic Charities (later renamed Catholic Charities USA) for 25 years, made it a personal mission to travel to Europe, tour the refugee camps, and attempt to assist the refugees by coordinating his Catholic charity networks with those of other organizations. He found many obstacles to resettling the refugees. Italian resettlement authorities, for example, were criticized for returning those deemed Nazi collaborators to their original countries of origin, particularly in Eastern Europe, where Soviet authority was solidifying. As he toured dozens of refugee camps in Germany, Italy, and Austria, he noted that “displaced persons now were more than a generic term to me. I had actually seen them in the flesh. I had talked to them. I had found employment for them. I had seen them come off the ships with all their earthly belonging[s] on their backs. I had seen not only individuals but families.” A three-hour tour of refugees from Eastern Europe housed in underground shelters in western Germany shocked him: “One day after a 3-hour tour of one of the underground shelters in Stuttgart, I dropped to the ground and had to be taken out by the people who occupied the shelters. These people had no work; they barely had enough food to keep them alive.”²

In 1947, O’Grady visited with officials at the Vatican on the refugee problem. He thought about the work that needed to be done with the refugees in Christian terms. After meeting the Pope Pius XII on the matter, he noted that “I left the audience with a real faith in the educational mission of our Church throughout the world, in a great international program.”³

O’Grady conferred with refugees, charity workers and a range of authorities in relief work. Here, he confers with two colleagues in Rome in an undated photo. Catholic Charities USA Records, Box 240, Folder 60.

When he returned to the United States after his overseas tours of the refugee camps, O’Grady became convinced that many of the remaining displaced should be resettled in the United States. One problem with this aspiration was in the stigma some Americans attached to the refugees. After repatriation of millions, he said, opponents claimed “what we had available were the dregs that had been left.” Moreover, where a Presidential Executive Order of 1945 had paved the way for admission of refugees from Europe to enter the U.S., voluntary groups occupied with the admission process did not have the organizational framework nor the information on the refugees necessary to resettling them in ideal locations. O’Grady believed that religious groups—he particularly admired the Jewish organizational structures with respect to resettlement activities—were better equipped to manage the program because they had pre-existing networks overseas. He worked with a range of religious organizations as well as local governments toward resettling thousands of refugees in the United States, particularly in the Midwest, where a need for farm workers was sorely needed. “We were bringing people in to meet occupational needs in the United States,” he notes of the effort. “This is what we had sold the American people. We had sold them on the idea that we could find jobs and homes for the displaced persons without disturbing American workers. This was a new approach to immigration. It was a sound approach.”⁴

For more on the work of John O’Grady, see the finding aid: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ogrady.cfm

For more on Catholic Charities USA, see the finding aid: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/catholicCharities.cfm

An earlier blog on O’Grady and Catholic Charity: http://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9315/


¹ See, for example, Mark Wyman, DPs: Europe’s Displaced Persons, 1945-1951 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).

² John O’Grady, All That I Have Seen and in Some of Which I Have Had a Part, (unpublished memoir) John O’Grady Papers, Box 21, 268, 265, 279, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

³ O’Grady, All That I Have Seen, 285.

O’Grady, All That I Have Seen, 279, 288.

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA Scientist Lights Up Her World

Lise Meitner lighting up in this undated photograph from her younger days before she lit the world with nuclear fission. University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Austrian born Lise Meitner (1878-1968), a Jewish convert to Christianity and pioneering woman of science, was a renowned physicist who co-discovered nuclear fission. This discovery made nuclear weapons possible although this was not her intention. She worked for decades with Otto Hahn in Germany at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, including the prewar Nazi period, before fleeing to Sweden in 1938 where she worked at Manne Siegbahn’s laboratory. Many consider her the most significant female scientist of the twentieth century and Albert Einstein called her the German ‘Marie Curie.’ What most people do not know is that she also was a visiting professor in 1946 in Washington, D.C. at The Catholic University of America (CUA), where one of her sisters, who had converted to Catholicism, was married to CUA psychology professor, Rudolph Allers.

While Meitner had refused to work with the U.S. Manhattan Project to develop atomic bombs, she nevertheless feared revenge at the hands of Nazi sympathizers following the end of World War II. She wanted to leave Europe for a time to visit the United States. Accordingly, CUA Rector, Rev. Patrick J. McCormick, in a letter dated November 2, 1945¹ appointed her a visiting professor for the spring semester, February through May 1946, and she accepted in a letter dated November 27, 1945.² After her arrival in Washington, she was honored at a reception in Caldwell Hall on February 10, 1946. She gave a press conference the following day in McMahon Hall, where she was introduced by Karl Herzfeld, head of the CUA Physics Department. Meitner stated she was “happy to have the privilege of joining the science faculty of the Catholic University of America….I look forward to my stay in America for the opportunity it affords me to profit by the outstanding scientific results obtained in this great country.”³

National Catholic News Service Press Release, February 12, 1946. Meitner Reference File, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

On the CUA campus, Meitner gave lectures on nuclear physics on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays 5:10 to 6:00 and Fridays, 12:00-1:00, plus conducted a weekly nuclear physics seminar. Collecting several honorary degrees, she also toured and lectured at several other universities, including Brown, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Princeton, and Wellesley. Speaking at Hopkins on March 21, 1946, she urged American women to make an effort to understand women of other countries, saying “women possess a special aptitude for building international understanding. They control the spiritual and ethical education of future citizens, and how they mold minds and character might decide the future of mankind.”⁴ Before leaving America, she received awards from the National Conference of Christians and Jews and as “Woman of the Year” from the National Press Club, including a dinner with President Harry Truman.

Following her American sojourn, Meitner returned to Sweden where she was active at the Swedish Defense Research Establishment (FOA) and the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, participating in research on Sweden’s first nuclear reactor. In 1947, she became a professor at the University College of Stockholm. She became a Swedish citizen and retired in 1960 to England, where she died in 1968. While the Nobel Committee overlooked her contributions to the discovery of nuclear fission and awarded the 1944 prize to her partner Otto Hahn, she received the Max Planck Medal of the German Physics Society in 1949 and shared the Enrico Fermi Award in 1966. Additionally, named in her honor are craters on the Moon and Venus, a main belt asteroid, and Element 109 (Meitnerium), the heaviest known element in the universe.

Invitation to Meitner Reception, February 10, 1946. Rector/President Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

¹ Letter, McCormick to Meitner, November 2, 1945, Rector/President Records, ACUA.

² Letter, Meitner to Cormich (sic), November 27, 1945, Rector/President Records, ACUA.

³ Press release, CUA, February 11, 1946, Meitner Reference File, ACUA.

⁴ Washington Post, March 21, 1946.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: “Mother” Millar’s Mission – Catholic Women’s Service in WWI

The satchel and a sample of its contents.

Imagine you purchased a box of used books and found buried within a tattered satchel dating from the First World War. What would you do with it? This scenario played in the summer of 2016, when a thrift store benefiting an Alabama-based women’s shelter contacted the CUA Archives. Hidden within a box of cookbooks – donated by an unknown person – was an old satchel containing the personal diary, correspondence, pamphlets, medals, and photos belonging to one Margaret Millar. A figure long since known to the Archives, but whose personal effects were thought lost. The shelter generously donated the satchel and its contents!

“Mother Millar,” or Margaret Richards Millar, was the head of the “Women Workers” sent to France by the newly-formed National Catholic War Council (NCWC) as part of the Committee on Special War Activities.  Roughly a century ago, as the United States increased its role in the First World War, the NCWC – predecessor to today’s USCCB – organized social clubs for the American Expeditionary Force. Placed throughout Western Europe, these clubs were operated by female staff, and necessitated a strong-willed and well-connected person to get the project off the ground in war-ravaged Europe. Millar was just that person.

Margaret Millar in her NCWC outfit, ca. 1919.

Born in 1858 in Vermont to Jonas DeForest Richards and Harriet Bartlett Jarvis, Millar was the second of three children and only daughter. Her family was of a distinguished New England line, which included a maternal grandfather, William Jarvis, who served as Thomas Jefferson’s and James Madison’s envoy to Spain and Portugal. Her father, a New England Congregationalist pastor, decided late in life to move the family to the American South. Immediately following the end of the Civil War in 1865, the family relocated to Alabama, having purchased a cotton plantation in Wilcox County. Both Millar’s father and older brother who later served as Wyoming state governor, DeForest Richards, became involved in county and state politics, with the former serving in the State Legislature (1867-1872) and as interim president of the University of Alabama (1869-1870) and the latter as county sheriff and treasurer.

Millar was educated at home and ultimately obtained a degree from the Bradford Academy in Massachusetts in 1880. By that point, her family had relocated to the American West, settling in the Nebraska panhandle and the Wyoming Territory. Marrying Stocks Millar, a Scottish immigrant educated at the University of St. Andrews, she spent her married life on the Wyoming plains, where she developed a reputation as a generous hostess for army personnel stationed in the Territory. At this time, her younger brother, Bartlett Richards, became a prominent cattle baron near Chadron, Nebraska, ultimately running afoul of federal land law and being imprisoned under Theodore Roosevelt.

Millar’s NCWC Women Workers Patch.

When her husband passed away in 1890, she spent the next several years in France and Germany with their three children. In 1896, she converted to Catholicism alongside her son, future Jesuit Morehouse F. X. Millar (later a collaborator with CUA professor John A. Ryan). In 1918, as a representative of the American Bureau of Education, she was sent to France to recruit French women to attend college in the United States. Remembered for her charity towards the military in Wyoming and having already navigated war-torn France, Millar was a natural choice to lead the NCWC’s efforts in establishing service member clubs.

In the summer of 1918, she was sent back to France as a representative of the Committee on Special War Activities of the NCWC, in order to organize and supervise service clubs for American soldiers. She would open the Etoile Service Club in Paris that same year. In May 1919, she also was sent by the NCWC as the only American Catholic delegate to the International Congress of Women in Switzerland, serving alongside Jane Addams. Held concurrently with the Versailles Peace Conference, Millar felt challenged but firm in her beliefs as she wrote of an openness to discussion among the various parties assembled.

In October 1919, Millar was unexpectedly recalled to the United States by Rev. John Burke, head of the NCWC. This recall, following complaints by some of the women she supervised, led to protests by the majority of the service club staff and members of the American forces in France. As she prepared to depart the continent, Millar was inundated with letters and petitions from fighting to get her reinstated. In one such letter, a coworker writes:

The boys all love you as they do their own mother and they realize what your going will mean to them. My only desire to remain at the Club now, to work, for our boys is because it was your most beloved treasure of happiness for others and being the one thing that remains with us to express in unspoken language the good wrought for others by your love and kindness.

NCWC lay women workers stationed in France, ca. 1919.

While Millar appreciated the support, she did not return to Paris, but remained in Texas the following year, helping to organize the first conference of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), held in 1920. An active member of the NCCW and NCWC for the remaining years of her life, Millar passed away in 1947.

Her papers are available for research. The online finding aid may be found here, and a digital collection may be found here.

The Archivist’s Nook: My Constant Companions – Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale

My History Icons: Sisters Blandina Segale (standing, left) and Justina Segale at the Silver Jubilee of the Santa Maria Institute in 1922. (Image Courtesy of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati)

Guest author, Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, is a lecturer in History at Purdue University Northwest. She received her doctorate from CUA and is a former student worker in the Archives.

My relationship with Justina and Blandina Segale and the Santa Maria Institute has been going on for two decades. It was twenty-one years ago I began my PhD studies in history at The Catholic University of America and that first semester I came across two articles that referenced the Santa Maria Institute: Ilia Delio’s “The First Catholic Social Gospelers: Women Religious in the Nineteenth Century” and Margaret McGuiness’s “Body and Soul: Catholic Social Settlements and Immigration,” both in the summer 1995 issue of U.S. Catholic Historian. That started it. While these two articles helped me develop a dissertation topic, archival research brought me closer to the sisters themselves. (As I write this, a black-and-white photocopy of the Segales is tacked up above my desk, right next to the August 14, 2016 feature story from the Sunday edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which examines Sister Blandina’s Search for Sainthood. They are my history icons.) Through colorful letters and frankly written journal or convent chronicle entries, their personalities leapt from the documents. Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale went from two-dimensional figures of some nearly forgotten past to vital, courageous, at times, stubborn, flawed, and faithful Catholic women who had relevance for my work as a historian and in my classroom.

Thankfully, I have not been alone in my pursuit of the real Justina and Blandina Segale. M. Christine Anderson, associate professor of history at Xavier University, Judith Metz, SC, historian and former archivist of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, and I banded together to develop an exhibit for the American Catholic History Classroom hosted by the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at Catholic University. We bring to this classroom three perspectives on the work of the sisters and the Santa Maria Institute in Progressive-Era Cincinnati. This exhibit looks at the Sisters of Charity’s spiritual foundation and charism and how that informed the Segales work at the Santa Maria (Metz). It also focuses on how the sisters conducted social work in immigrant neighborhoods among primarily Italians, but they also served Irish, German, and other immigrant populations. They provided education, religious instruction, and material aid to children and adults. Understanding the important role that laywomen could fill in social welfare work, they also encouraged young women to move into this growing profession of social work. (Anderson) The exhibit also considers the actions of the sisters as agents of Americanization at a time when the federal and local governments, along with Protestant religious organizations sought to transform immigrants into good American citizens. For Blandina and Justina, Italian immigrants as well, they saw this desire as an effort to deny Italian immigrants their heritage, language, and, most importantly, their Catholic faith. Blandina and Justina sought to shore up and possible restore Italian immigrants Catholicism and in doing so, they articulated a Catholic identity that allowed for assimilation into American life. (Connolly) 

A touch of the Wild West via horseless carriage. Sisters of Charity tour of the order’s missions in the Southwest in 1906 included Mother Mary Blanche Davis and future Mother Superior, Mary Florence Kent, who later directed the sisters not to rise in open cars. Such restrictions were often ignored in practice.

All three of these perspectives make for delightful classroom material. Everything centers on the Santa Maria Journal – the convent chronicle – kept by Sister Justina. Her biological sister, Blandina, may be the more known of the pair, what with her infamous confrontation of the notorious Billy the Kid and her more recent cause for canonization, but Justina’s words provide insight into the day-to-day life of Sisters of Charity steeped in their ministry. They show us their commitment to their faith, vows, and congregation. Those words also provide glimpses into the lives of Italian immigrants, when records are sparse in local Cincinnati archives. I have employed this history in my own classroom by using excerpt from the Santa Maria diary alongside Christine’s excellent 2000 Journal of Women’s History article, “Catholic Nuns and the Invention of Social Work: The Sisters of the Santa Maria Institute of Cincinnati, Ohio, 1897 through the 1920s.” Students, wholly unfamiliar with Catholic history, or what a nun is, have been drawn to the unflappable Sister Blandina and her strong and (somewhat silent) partner, Sister Justina. I have offered these readings with excerpts from Blandina’s At the End of the Santa Fe Trail, recently reissued. What I did not expect, all the while secretly hoped for, was that my students recognized the relevance of the Italian immigrants and these sisters’ experiences to their present lives. (Could it be that history offers something for us to learn today? Shocking, indeed!) Christine, Sister Judith, and I have collaborated to present the work of the Sisters of Charity and the Santa Maria Institute for this American Catholic History Classroom precisely because the exhibit draws together the separate elements of the Santa Maria Institute, the Sisters of Charity, and Blandina and Justina Segale’s work and lives into one place. From this point, a teacher, whether in a Catholic grammar or high school or an instructor in a college or university (both secular and religious) can pull out tools to discuss Catholic women’s spirituality, immigrant history, women’s history, and maybe even a touch of the Wild West. Frankly, I imagine Sister Blandina would love that and Sister Justina would commend our work as righting wrongs done to Italians, the ultimate Americans and Catholics.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Few of My Favorite Things

World’s smallest mariachi band, discovered in the museum collection.

As part of the Graduate Library Preprofessional (GLP) program, for the past two years I worked full time in the Archives here at CUA while pursuing my Masters in Library and Information Science. This has been an amazing opportunity to get real world experience and on the job training. During my time here, I conducted an inventory of the museum objects on campus, learned how to encode EAD finding aids, oversaw several digitization projects, and participated in social media outreach efforts like this blog and the Archives’ Instagram account. The success of my experience here resulted from the freedom to be involved in so many different aspects of archival work and pursue projects that developed my skill set as an information professional.

President William Taft with “Billy Possum.”

Developing professional competencies aside, my favorite part of my job here at the Archives was the joyful glee of discovering interesting and/or bizarre items in the course of my normal workday. There is something priceless about opening an acid free box, finding something that makes you laugh aloud, and calling over a coworker to share the moment with. Like the time I decided to investigate a box labeled “Lizard” in the museum collection. I hypothetically understood this lizard was already cataloged, labeled, and housed long before my time here… but there is nothing quite like opening the box for yourself and finding a foot and a half long desiccated monitor lizard inside.

Testing to see if an old slide projector works using slides of UFOs.

On the other hand, there are the quieter discoveries that make you smile alone in the stacks. Looking for something itty bitty to post on social media for #TinyTuesday, I stumbled across the smallest mariachi band in existence in the James Magner museum collection. As I lined up these miniscule figures for their photo, I fondly remembered the mariachi band that played at my own grandparents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary. While on the subject of James Magner, I must also give a shout out to his personal collection of Christmas cards, which are always good for a smile come holiday season.

Bookplate from the Cardinal yearbook of 1932.

Then there are the multipart discoveries that build over weeks or months. A chance encounter here, another there. Such was the case when I came across a seemingly random picture of a possum in our digital collection of labor leader Terence Vincent Powderly’s photographs. This would be odd enough in itself, but weeks later I found the same photo cut out and pasted below an image of President William H. Taft in one of Powderly’s old albums. Apparently, Powderly was making a bit of a joke about “Billy Possum,” Taft supporters’ spinoff of Teddy Roosevelt’s “Teddy Bear.” These are the sorts of things archivists share a laugh over.

My time in the Archives has been filled with more entertaining discoveries than can be listed here. The beautiful typewriter hiding among our audiovisual equipment, the old stamps and seals of CUA’s logo throughout the years, the Physics Department slides of UFOs, and the “Ex Libris” bookplates in the early Cardinal yearbooks all come to mind as a few of my personal favorites. While I loved learning the ropes of working in an archive, I will remember my time here most vividly through the lens of these special encounters and the people I had the privilege to share them with.

The Archivist’s Nook: From Manila to Madrid – Montavon’s Legal Department Goes Global

William Montavon, ca. 1940s.

In 1901, a young man named William F. Montavon (1874-1959) finished his studies at Catholic University in order to marry his wife, Mary Agnes Burrow. Little did he how the next 50 years would be a whirlwind of international travel, legal advocacy, and global upheaval. To understand the story of Montavon is to understand the story of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) Legal Department. For 26 years, between 1925-1951, Montavon would serve as the director of the fledgling department, shaping its mission. For the American Catholic Church of the time, Montavon was regarded as “the Law.”

Montavon’s path to the NCWC was an indirect one. From 1902-1915, he served as the superintendent of schools in the Philippines. At the end of his tenure, he took an appointment as U.S. Commercial attaché to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. From there he became the executive representative for the International Petroleum Company in Peru. Returning to the United States in 1925, he obtained the directorship of the Legal Department. With two decades experience abroad, Montavon was poised to turn the Legal Department’s focus from exclusively domestic issues to one contemplating the broader world.

Originally established in 1919 as a NCWC office, the Legal Department worked to track and advise Catholic dioceses and organizations on changes to state and federal law. It also served to represent the NCWC in the courts of law and public opinion. Among its most frequent areas of concern were (and continues to be) educational reform, tax policy, civil rights, immigration, and marital legislation. From the very beginning, the department has been at the forefront of legislative and legal battles over the role of parochial schools in the United States and their relations with both state and federal governments, including in the landmark Oregon School Case.

Flyer on the Spanish Civil War collected by Montavon.

Under Montavon’s directorship, the department expanded to include work on the behalf of Catholics abroad and the vulnerable domestically. The department entered into the complicated diplomatic situation surrounding the Mexican Cristero War (1926-1929) and its aftermath throughout the 1930s. Montavon himself traveled to Mexico to report on the situation of the Church in the countryside. This trip, and its ensuing report, was instrumental in the Mexican government’s decision to allow the return of the clergy and legal public worship. Pope Pius XI awarded Montavon the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1929 for his work in Mexico.

This period also witnessed the department’s advising and reporting on the status of religious legislation and freedoms throughout the various Latin American republics, Haiti, and the Philippines. Through Montavon’s service as a NCWC News Service correspondent in Spain in 1931, the Legal Department soon became closely involved in Spanish events throughout the 1930s, in particular the Spanish Civil of 1936-1939.

The department also worked on domestic social policies, including the growing number of eugenics, sterilization, and birth control bills emerging in state legislatures across the country throughout the interwar period. Simultaneously, Montavon led efforts to oppose the enactment of a national quota system as specified in the Immigration Act of 1924. Questions of tax policy and draft enactment also emerged as pressing issues for the Church throughout Montavon’s tenure.

Massachusetts Senator David I. Walsh (left) with Montavon (right).

By the 1930s, with the Great Depression ongoing, the department kept its associates abreast of developments with governmental relief efforts and the changing role of the federal government in the economic and domestic spheres. Of particular import to the department was New Deal legislation that began to fundamentally impact both the social mission and employer status of the Church. In addition to supporting workforce relief efforts, the department closely followed developments in Social Security legislation and how it impacted clergy and Church staff. As the clouds of war gathered in the last half of the decade, the topic of Selective Service became of increasing importance to the NCWC as the draft status of seminarians remained uncertain. With Montavon testifying before Congress on numerous occasions, the department worked to better define the draft eligibility and social security expansion, as well as working to spread knowledge about the need for relief in war-torn parts of the world.

In the post-war period, the Legal Department continued much of its prior work, but took a greater role in civil rights and refugee legislation and legation. Montavon retired from the Legal Department in 1951, with countless well wishes arriving from dioceses across the country and world.

The Archives holds the following collections mentioned in this post:

The William Frederick Montavon Papers

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of General Counsel/Legal Department

The Archivist’s Nook: Connecticut Catholic in Washington, 1917

O’Connell Family, ca. 1911.Robert Lincoln O’Connell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

One hundred years ago, American entry into the First World War transformed the nation’s capital from a sleepy Southern crossroads into a modern hub of administration commensurate to an emerging first class world power. It was here a young Catholic soldier wrote his family, primarily his mother and sisters, back in their hometown of Southington, Connecticut. That man, Robert Lincoln O’Connell, whose archival papers, including a digital collection, reside in the archives at The Catholic University of America (CUA) and briefly alluded to in two previous blog posts, ‘For God and Country’ and ‘World War I on Display,’ contain seven letters he wrote from April to August 1917 addressed from Washington Barracks, now Fort McNair. ‘Rob,’ as he was known to his family, described his initial training in and around Washington, D.C. as a combat engineer, or sapper, for service in the First Engineer Regiment of the First Infantry Division of the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in France.

O’Connell (1888-1972), a native of Wareham, Massachusetts, was the eldest of five children of Daniel and Mary O’Connell, immigrants from Ireland and Wales, respectively. By 1900, the O’Connell family had moved to the town of Southington, Connecticut, near Hartford and less than 100 miles from New York City. The family attended St. Thomas Roman Catholic Church and the 1910 federal census lists father Daniel as a “laborer” in an “iron mill” and son Robert as “laborer” in a “hardware shop.” Rob O’Connell enlisted in the U.S. Army at Fort Slocum, New York, on April 14, 1917, and shortly thereafter transferred to Washington Barracks where he spent the next three months training as a machinist in Company C, First Battalion, of the First Engineers. His unit also spent time along the Potomac River on the grounds of the Belvoir Estate that had served since 1912 as a rifle range and summer camp for the training of Army engineers.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recruiting poster, 1917.

In O’Connell’s April 28, 1917 letter, he told his mother details of settling in after his recent enlistment and commented on the visit of Marshal Joseph Joffre, famous hero of the Battle of the Marne, who spoke at the Army War College, adjacent to Washington Barracks, the day before. “All clothes had to be sent to the disinfecting plant to prevent spreading disease among so many men…. Gen. Joffre and his party visited the post yesterday. I seem to be hungry all the time, in spite of three sq. meals.”  Writing in mid-May, he complained to his mother about the Washington newspapers, presumably the Washington Post and Washington Star, although he appeared impressed by D.C.‘s sites and scenes. “This city has trees along the main streets. I never saw a place like it. I have not seen Mr. Lud, the President, yet. But I have seen the principle buildings and the Wash. Monument, which you can’t help seeing, it is so tall.” 

Apparently, ‘Mr. Lud’ was a nickname for President Woodrow Wilson, perhaps an obscure reference to the legendary British king and founder of London. Writing his mother again on May 31, he explained the training of engineers at Washington Barracks. “They had racing and other sports between the companies…We lost the tent-pitching by a few points…The sergeant was sore at losing and yelled at us as we marched off the field.”

Washington Barracks, 1917. U.S. Army Military History Institute.

In June, he told his mother “There was a black and white scrap up the street, last night.” An African-American woman had an argument with a soldier and “she hit him with a beer bottle.” This was probably not an isolated incident as the August 10 Washington Post said the Secretary of War directed “a number of saloons in Four-and-a half street southwest may be closed because of their proximity to the Washington barracks.” Another letter home, also written in June, addressed to his sister Ellen, described field training on the grounds of the future Fort Belvoir. “I have just put in the hardest two weeks of my life, I guess, down at the rifle range. It is about twenty miles below Washington, on the Potomac… passengers on the passing steamers probably wish they were camping out there. But when we (A, B and C companies), got there two weeks ago last Monday, there were no tents and lots of brush and weeds and hard work…For two days we worked around camp and lugged and tugged and sweated and wondered why we had ever wanted to leave our happy home at the Barracks.” Combat engineers learned to construct field works and pontoon bridges. They also had to fight as regular infantry when the need arose, hence training in the use of firearms. “Half the company shot in the forenoon while the other half worked in the pits, pushing the targets up into view and pointing out each hit with a long stick… I fired in the morning and managed to get in with the higher ones on the score.”

Robert Lincoln O’Connell to his mother, Mary O’Connell, July 3, 1917. Robert Lincoln O’Connell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

O’Connell wrote his mother on July 3 expressing confidence in himself as well as contempt for those who had not met the standard. “The captain told us last week that eight or ten men would be left behind because they were too stupid or weren’t considered fit to go with the regiment to France. I won’t be in that bunch if I can help it, as there is some honor in going over but only a disgrace in being a castoff. When the news first got out a month ago, that we were going to France, some of the fire-eaters were delighted, until the officers explained what they would have to do…It was no news to me and if I go, I will do the best I can. This life is a wonderful bracer and I am glad I joined.” The last letter, addressed to his mother in early August, was written a few days departure for France. “Would you care to make the trip down and risk finding us gone?” There is no record his family made the trip to see him. The First Engineers left Washington on August 6 and embarked for France from Hoboken, New Jersey, the following day. O’Connell and his fellow engineers were now at war and a future blog post will explore their time at the front in 1918.

The Archivist’s Nook: Monsignor John O’Grady and the Making of Modern Catholic Charity

Though this undated photo is probably posed, John O’Grady was raised by farmers in Ireland, and served farmers and others as a priest in the Diocese of Omaha, Nebraska. Monsignor O’Grady is pictured on the right.

For all of his gregariousness, Monsignor John O’Grady is one of the lesser-known leaders in twentieth century American Catholic history. And yet, he is one of the founders and organizers of what is today known as Catholic Charities, USA, one of the largest charitable organizations in America, and of CARITAS, which carries the mission to serve and advocate for the poor globally.

Like many a priest in the early twentieth-century United States, O’Grady was born in Ireland. “In the beginning there was Ireland,” he once noted, “I smile as I write these words, remembering many of my fellow priests whose behavior from time to time is an assumption that these words are the first words of Genesis.” Indeed, many Irish families of the nineteenth century expected that one of their sons would become a priest, and the O’Gradys were no exception. Upon his birth on March 31st, 1886, Margaret O’Grady later told her son that “then and there” it was decided that young John would be a priest.¹ After attending All Hallows College in Dublin from 1902-1909, O’Grady spent three years serving as Assistant Pastor at the Cathedral in Omaha Nebraska.

O’Grady came from a family of impoverished farmers in County Clare, a circumstance that made him sensitive to the plight of those in similar circumstances in the United States. Even in his earliest years as a priest, his interest in working not only with his parishioners, but with the poorest of Omaha drove him. As he put it, “I had always been very much interested in people and curious about life, and so I found myself sitting around talking to the families which belonged to our parish about many things; their problems, their interests, their hopes, their plans…” Soon, O’Grady found himself frequenting impoverished neighborhoods, courts, juvenile detention homes in search of situations in which he could offer advice and advocacy.²

Three key founders of Catholic charity in the United States. From left, Monsignor Joseph Kerby, Catholic University Rector Thomas Shahan, and Monsignor John O’Grady.

O’Grady had been told about the work of Monsignor John A. Ryan, the Catholic University professor who had authored an influential book, A Living Wage, and was intensely interested in both the economic and social side of charity. When his Bishop, Richard Scannell, wanted to send O’Grady for further schooling in Germany, O’Grady requested that he send him to The Catholic University of America instead. O’Grady did indeed form an important intellectual relationship with John Ryan at the University, but his first mentor was another professor, sociologist Monsignor William Kerby. Kerby was considered the founder of what was called “scientific charity” in Catholic circles, which is what the emerging profession of social work called training for the field of social work. At the time, the idea of training individuals in sociology, economics and various aspects of charitable care was something that not everyone accepted.

After directing his training in sociology, economics and the social sciences at Catholic University and the University of Chicago, Monsignor Kerby set O’Grady to the work of coordinating members of the local Catholic charitable groups, particularly the St. Vincent de Paul Societies, in cities throughout the United States. Monsignor John J. Butler, of Catholic Charities of St. Louis Missouri was a particularly good mentor for O’Grady, who claimed that Butler “is a man who knows how to get things done and he does it quietly.” Bishop Thomas Shahan, Rector of Catholic University, was also a crucial supporter, as were lay Vincent de Paul charity workers Thomas Mulry and Edmond Butler, and Rev. D.J. McMahon of New York.³

Collectively, this group was instrumental in forming the core of the National Conference of Catholic Charities, renamed Catholic Charities, USA in 1986. Over the next decade the NCCC grew into an association of lay volunteers, and to a lesser extent, professional social workers and clergy. Catholic laywomen dominated the early membership, while the leadership was comprised of members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

A National Conference of Catholic Charities program, September, 1918. From the records of Catholic Charities USA, CUA Archives.

While the organization’s first president, Shahan, and its first secretary, Kerby, were instrumental in laying out the broader goals of the NCCC, O’Grady, was more aggressive and strategic in his leadership of NCCC. Kerby was courteous and reticent about his role in the establishment of the national organization, and maintained strong organizational relationships with the early leadership and lay volunteers of NCCC. O’Grady, who served as secretary in 1920 and remained at the helm of the NCCC for the next 41 years, sought to extend its influence through further cultivation of professional charity workers and the strengthening of the diocesan branches. A central figure in the professionalization of Catholic social workers, he promoted the establishment of the Catholic University School of Social Work to train them, serving as its first dean from 1934 until 1938. O’Grady, moreover, actively sought to exercise influence in government where public policy affecting Catholic charity was concerned, meeting with countless government figures on issues related to child welfare, housing, and rural poverty. By the time he left the helm of the NCCC in 1961, the organization was a national force in charity work and offered an authoritative voice in public welfare policy. It remains that today.

A finding aid for the papers of Monsignor John O’Grady can be found here.

A finding aid for the papers Monsignor William Kerby can be found here.

A finding aid for the papers of Bishop Thomas Shahan can be found here.

A finding aid for the records of Catholic Charities USA can be found here.


¹Quote from “Come Now, Monsignor,” unpublished memoir of O’Grady by Saul Alinsky, Monsignor John O’Grady Papers, chapter 1, p. 1, box 22, folder 6, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

²“Come Now, Monsignor,” pps. 19, 24.

³“Come Now, Monsignor,” chapter 4, p. 2; see also Dorothy Brown and Elizabeth McKeown, The Poor Belong to Us; Catholic Charities and American Welfare (Harvard University Press, 1997).