The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic Textbooks Beyond the Classroom

Madonna Speller, Grade 7, 1960. Commission on American Citizenship Records, 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.

For the past three months, I worked on a project to digitize publications of the Commission on American Citizenship of The Catholic University of America. During the 1938 Golden Jubilee of The Catholic University of America (CUA), Pope Pius XI sent a letter of congratulations to the American hierarchy. In this letter, he also gave the church leaders an assignment to create a curriculum for Catholic school students giving special attention to civics, sociology, and economics. The Bishops heeded the call, prompting CUA to create the Commission on American Citizenship. The Commission’s goal was to develop a school curriculum that educated elementary students on how to be both good American citizens and moral Catholics.

This is Our Parish, New Edition, 1952. Commission on American Citizenship Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

The Commission, founded by CUA faculty members Fr. Joseph M. Corrigan, Msgr. Francis J. Haas, and Msgr. George Johnson, went about creating textbooks to educate children on American history, literature, mathematics, citizenship, and Christian morals. Some of these works, such as the Madonna Speller series, would not be out of place in a public school, teaching writing, grammar, and spelling; while others like Faith and Our Freedom: This is Our Parish, dealt exclusively with Catholic religious teachings and how they apply to everyday life. Some books contained messages that were considered astonishing for their time. Faith and Freedom: These are Our People has the story of Eddie Patterson inviting his Chinese-American and African-American friends to his birthday party. While some of the language would be considered stereotypical today, CUA archivist Dr. Maria Mazzenga notes that at the time of the books publishing, Jim Crow and the Chinese Exclusion Act were still enforced.

During my time on this project, I was glad for the opportunity to create metadata and use a digital document repository such as Islandora, the software used by the Washington Research Libraries Consortium (WRLC). I had previously only worked with the scanning of documents, leaving the later steps to others, so it was interesting to deal with this part of the archival process. While it was time-consuming and required attention to detail using coding systems such as HTML and XML, the overall process was fairly simple. I believe that alone is an important and vital part of digital archiving. If these systems are to be adopted by libraries and archives, it is vital they be easy to use by both those who create them and those who use them for research.

A heartwarming scene, Faith and Freedom: This is Our Home, 1942, p. 26-27. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

At the same time, this project made me painfully aware of the limitations of digital technology. This project, which only involved scanning 19 works, the longest of which was around 250 pages, took me almost three months to complete. In contrast, the actual creation of metadata and uploading the files to Islandora only took around two days. While obviously larger digitization projects would involve more than just one person working on scanning, it is clear to me time and resources are the main obstacles for digital archiving. To remedy this, institutions might instead benefit by only focusing on certain collections for online digitization. Those items that are most visually interesting, such as the brightly colored and illustrated CAC texts, are some of the best candidates for digitization, as they are likely to draw attention and interest to the larger collection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA + .EDU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sources:

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

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

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