The Archivist’s Nook: Christopher J. Kauffman – American Catholic Historian

Guest blogger Tricia Pyne. Ms. Pyne is director of the Associated Archives at St. Mary’s & University in Baltimore, MD. She earned her doctorate in U.S. history from The Catholic University of America. Dr. Kauffman was on her dissertation committee.

Dr. Christopher J. Kauffman, educator, scholar, mentor, husband, father, colleague, and friend passed into the hands of God on January 30, 2018.

Dr. Kauffman was the youngest of four children born to Dr. Daniel E. Kauffman and Bernice O’Brien, in St. Louis, Missouri. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandfather after the premature death of his father. He attended parochial schools before entering St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, where he earned his B.A. Graduate studies at St. Louis University followed, where he earned a M.A. and Ph.D.

His first meaningful foray into U.S. Catholic history was through a series of institutional histories he was commissioned to write. The first was a two-volume history of the Alexian Brothers (1976) followed by histories of the Knights of Columbus (1982), the U.S. Province of the Society of St. Sulpice (1989), the founder of the Glenmary Home Missioners (1991), the U.S. Catholic healthcare system (1995), and the Marianists in the United States (1999). The writing of institutional histories was a genre Dr. Kauffman not only mastered, but helped to transform.

Dr. Christopher Kauffman poses near a few of his many Catholic histories. (Image: Special Collections, The Catholic University of America)

While researching and writing these works, he also served as general editor for two highly-regarded series, the six-volume Makers of the Catholic Community (Macmillan), commissioned for the bicentennial of the establishment of the U.S. Catholic hierarchy and published in 1989, and the nine-volume American Catholic Identities: A Documentary History (Orbis Books) published over the period 1999-2003. If his institutional histories had established him as one of the field’s leading historians, the influence of these two series was even more far-reaching. Both encompassed a broad range of topics associated with U.S. Catholic life that represented the evolution of the field’s historiography with volumes dedicated to the issues of gender, race, ethnicity, regionalism, spirituality, Catholic thought and practice, and episcopal leadership. Makers of the Catholic Community signaled the sea change that had been occurring within the field with its shift from traditional ecclesiastical history to the new models of social history. American Catholic Identities reflected his ongoing commitment to recognizing the diverse experiences of the people that comprise the U.S. Catholic community.

In September 1989, Dr. Kauffman began another important phase of his life when he entered academia with his appointment to The Catholic Daughters of the Americas Chair in American Catholic History at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., a position he held until his retirement in 2008. In this role, he instructed undergraduates and graduate students in the classroom and served on the committees of many M.A. theses and Ph.D. dissertations.

His greatest contribution to the profession, however, began when he took over as editor of the U.S. Catholic Historianin 1983, a position he held for the next 30 years. This was not the first journal he had been associated with in his career. While in St. Louis, he had served as associate editor of Continuum, the journal founded by his close friend and mentor, Justus George Lawlor. The experience helped prepare him for this new undertaking. To describe Dr. Kauffman as an editor, or the U.S. Catholic Historian, as a journal, however, does not convey what he achieved through this publication or what it came to represent to the profession. He used the journal, with its distinctive thematic format, to promote new scholarship, provide a forum for diverse and frequently underrepresented voices, encourage dialogue across disciplines, and challenge both contributors and readers to examine issues from new perspectives.

Dr. Kauffman poses with several books he edited as part the Makers of Catholic Community series he edited in this 1990 photo. (Photo by Denise Walker, Catholic University Archives)
Baltimore Archbishop William Borders gifts Pope John Paul II with the series of books edited by Dr. Kauffman and published in 1989, Makers of the Catholic Community. (Image courtesy Archdiocese of Baltimore)

Dr. Kauffman’s contributions to the profession were recognized with his election as president of the American Catholic Historical Association in 2004 and at a conference organized by the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism the following year aptly entitled “The Future of American Catholic History.” His gifts to the larger Catholic community in his role as historian will be longer lasting. Through his commitment to exploring what he described as “the interaction between religion and culture and between faith and lived experience so as to provide an integrated perception of the organic character of Catholic life” he helped to broaden and enhance how we understand the U.S. Catholic experience. To honor his memory and continue his legacy, an effort is underway to fund the Christopher J. Kauffman Prize in U.S. Catholic History with the American Catholic Historical Association. The prize is to be awarded to the author of a monograph that provides new and/or challenging insight to the study of U.S. Catholic history. Please contribute today at: https://achahistory.givingfuel.com/make-a-gift-to-the-acha.

 

 

 

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