The Archivist’s Nook: Love Letters and Library Science – Processing the Dolores Brien-Leo Dolenski Collection

Our guest blogger is Erika D’La Rotta, a graduate student in Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University of America, who completed her LIS practicum at Special Collections in the Fall 2023 Semester.

Dolores Brien and a 1966 letter she wrote to Leo Dolenski. Special Collections, Catholic University.

During the Fall semester, as part of my Archives Management coursework, I had the opportunity to participate in a 50 hour practicum with William John Shepherd, CUA’s Archivist and Head of Special Collections. My project was to arrange and process a small collection of letters, the Dolores Brien – Leo Dolenski Collection, which was generously donated to CUA in 2022 by Mary Ann Holthaus, a long-time friend. The collection contains weekly correspondence between Dolores Brien and Leo Dolenski from 1965-1974, in which they discuss their concerns about the Church, share ideas about their professions, and contemplate contemporary topics of interest.

Dolores was involved in the Grail, a Catholic Women’s Movement and spent time at Grailville, Ohio. Later in her professional career and for the majority of the letters, she was the Director of Career Planning at Bryn Mawr. Leo was a priest and taught Sociology. Their correspondence over ten years dealing with their concerns about the Church and contemporary issues led to their marriage. The collection also contains some newspaper clippings and magazine articles that the two attached to their letters throughout the years.

Leo Dolenski and a 1966 letter he wrote to Dolores Brien. Special Collections, Catholic University.

The opportunity to have hands-on work simultaneously with the classroom learning enhanced my educational experience. I have never worked within the Library and Information Science (LIS) field, but the classroom curriculum provided me with the foundational knowledge, network, and tools that I then applied the concepts on this project.

At the beginning, processing an archival collection seemed daunting! On my first day, I just stared at my box of unprocessed material wondering why I thought hands-on experience was a better option than writing a research paper; however, once I opened the box and looked through the letters to assess the collection, I knew I made the right decision. As I went through the entire collection, I made sure not to rearrange anything. It took me a while to come up with a plan for arranging and describing the collection. Once, I had a processing plan, I reviewed it with John to make sure I was on the right track.

I set out to arrange the collection in one series, arranging the correspondence chronologically by date in three month increments into acid-free folders to minimize the bulkiness of each file folder. The process of reorganizing the collection into 38 folders was a little tedious and extremely time consuming. My organization system included labeling each folder with the collection title, folder title, collection number, box number, and the folder number onto each folder. After labeling all the folders, I realized I had made a mistake with the folder numbers, which required me to start all over! Thank goodness for erasers. Erasing and renumbering took some time, but it was a lesson learned to slow down and always use a pencil. Additionally, I had to remove rusty paper clips from the letters, replacing them with new clips to limit the damage to the paper while preserving the order of the letters. My decision to replace the paper clips was to help keep the pages of the letters together. Fortunately, I managed to remove the old paper clips without tearing any of the letters!

After I arranged the collection, I moved on with developing a finding aid in ArchivesSpace to facilitate future research on this collection. Up to this point, CUA has never utilized ArchivesSpace for its collections, so I was excited to be a part of the Special Collections Department as they were transitioning from Encoded Archival Description (EAD) to ArchivesSpace!

My favorite part of the practicum was being around the Special Collections staff and LIS students. It gave me an opportunity to learn from more than one person and build professional relationships I would not have been able to otherwise.

Special thanks to Hannah Kaufman for scanning letters and photographs. For question about how to access this collection or any others, please visit our contact page.

The Archivist’s Nook: Rare opportunities at Rare Books

Our guest blogger is Alexus Eudell, a graduate student in Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University of America, who completed her LIS practicum at the Rare Books in the Summer of 2023.

Photo Credit: Hannah Kaufman

I began my internship with the Rare Books department with Alex Audziayuk, the Rare Books Librarian, on June 7, 2023. My last day was August 9, 2023. I completed 120 hours during my time there. In the Rare Books department, my main project was the Clementine Library. The Clementine Library is a collection named for Pope Clement XI, one of the most distinguished members of the Albani family of Urbino and Rome. The library consists of about ten thousand books and pamphlets, and they date as early as the late 14th century to the early 19th century. Catholic University received the books in 1928. Catholic University holds one third of the collection, another third is in Italy, and the last third of the library was lost at sea many years ago.

With the Clementine Library, I was responsible for transferring the information and data from the handwritten catalog sheets about each individual book and pamphlet into a Google Sheets platform. The purpose of this was to prepare for the hopeful, eventual digitization of the collection; the department hopes to make information about the library available to be viewed through Catholic University’s online library catalog. I have helped the department transfer several folders of documents, with each folder containing about fifty to a hundred sheets in each.

When I was not working with the Clementine Library, I assisted Alex in other tasks for the Rare Books department. One of the things the department does, like many other libraries and information institutions, is keep track of and digitize old records regarding the department. I helped scan in several large folders of information pertaining to the rare books department and everything it has done over the years, such as: rare book class curriculums, grant requests, presentations, end of year progress reports, budgeting information, acquisition standards and procedures, and other documents.

Photo Credit: Hannah Kaufman

It was very interesting to see work from previous years, because I got to see how the department was run and what employees were doing to take care of the books and to expand the collection. Seeing the old course syllabi was also interesting, as I will be taking the Rare Books course in the upcoming fall semester, and I’ve heard great things about the course from my classmates in my Special Collections course, so I’m excited to experience it firsthand.

A mini project that I also worked on during my time in the department was with basic processing of new materials into the collection. The Catholic University of America’s Rare Books department received several boxes of pamphlets and books from other libraries that no longer wished to keep those items in their own collections. The pamphlets and books given to the university were focused entirely on some aspect of religion and religion-based groups and events. To organize them, I sorted the books in alphabetical order by publisher. The topics of the books ranged from everything, such as marriage expectations for men and women, conference overviews, prayers and songs, eugenics, the KKK, children’s expected behavior, etc. There was a wide range of publishers in the boxes, but several were very popular, such as: The Queen’s Work, The Paulist Papers, The Catholic Truth Society (with branches in New York, London, Ireland, Chicago, and San Francisco), Ave Maria Press, and Our Sunday Visitor. This was the last mini project that I worked on.

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My favorite part of the internship were the times I was able to actively handle materials. Something Alex mentioned when I started is that a lot of people have this misconception of the rare books department and believe that rare book and special collections librarians are always rushing around acquiring new materials and touching the books and doing this or that, but the reality is very different. Usually, the average day for a person working in a library involves sitting at a desk answering phone calls, sending and responding to emails, and conducting research. With the Clementine Library, the only time I physically touched the books were when Alex and I had to go find several books on the shelf to figure out why seven books had the same call number.

Photo Credit: Hannah Kaufman

Aside from handling the books, I did really enjoy learning new things almost every day. The handwritten catalog information about the Clementine Library were all in Latin, as the books were mostly written in Latin, with some books being in other languages (German, Hebrew, French, etc.). Although I can’t quite read Latin, I have found myself being able to catch a few words here and there. A lot of the words are either very similar to the English language or closely resemble another language, such as the words libri in Latin and libro in Spanish, or the words theologica in Latin and theology in English.

Something that people may think about the Clementine Library is that it’s a collection that focuses solely on religion, but that is far from the truth. The books were about many different things, such as poetry, medicine, history, languages, etc. I really enjoyed seeing what the Albani family enjoyed reading many years ago.

Clementine Collection

This practicum emphasized the importance of paying attention to details. As I mentioned above, there were instances where the same call number was assigned to multiple books. What this means is that multiple books had the exact same identification tag on them that identified where they were on the shelves. This was something that had to be fixed immediately, as it could cause issues for future researchers; they would search for one specific book using the call number and get seven completely unrelated books in their results. As I was inputting information, I noticed that I had typed the same call number several times and went back to review the documents. Bringing it to Alex’s attention, we had to go to the basement storage facility to track down every single book that had the same call number to identify what the problem was. The books in question were a set of pamphlets that were grouped together on the shelves and given the exact same identification number. To fix a problem like that, Alex and I had to open the books and identify the date of publication. That publication date would go at the end of the call number to make a clear, separate difference between the other books in the set.

The only thing about the internship that I struggled with was the chill in the room. The room is kept at a certain temperature and humidity to ensure the books remain in the best condition possible, so it is cold all the time. This is not something that anyone can change, but it does take some getting used to. If I had to give advice to incoming rare books workers, my first warning would be for them to bring a sweater.

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Clementine Library volumes

The first competency that really stuck out to me during my internship was the importance of negotiation and teamwork, and ethical management. Alex explained to me how items are acquired in the department and the necessary steps needed to verify everything the department received before it officially accepted it into its collection. Every item must have a clear chain of ownership. The details of ownership cannot be vague; heavy detail is preferred. The acquisition team is going to want to know where the book came from, the name of every person/institution that it belonged to, how much was paid for it, was the book altered in any way, is there a missing stamp of ownership from the previous institution that the item belonged to, is the title page inconsistent with other known copies of the book, etc. These questions must be answered because the university wants to avoid accepting an item that was obtained illegally, and they want to avoid paying a lot of money for a fraudulent book. There have been instances where an individual will steal an item from another library/institution and attempt to sell the book to make a profit. People have tried to alter books to make them resemble other editions so that the book would be worth more. Libraries work closely with verified rare book dealers and vendors to decrease the amount of fraud in the field. Each branch asks these questions to cover all their bases and to maintain credibility as trustworthy, reliable rare books specialists, even if that means spending weeks making phone calls and emails to track down every bit of information about a book.

Another objective that I developed an understanding of was the history and importance of the profession to the world. Libraries and information institutions share a common responsibility: capturing the diverse human experience and making that knowledge accessible. This is a very delicate line to walk because the diverse human experience will have things that are uncomfortable. There are items in the library that focus on heavy topics, such as racism. However, that’s not the overall message that the library is presenting to patrons. The purpose of the collection is to show all of history, the good and the bad, every perspective. This does not mean that the library or the university supports harmful statements and beliefs, just that they’re doing their duty of having the human experience documented. The Rare Books department at Catholic University does its best to capture the diverse human experience. In the Clementine Library, for example, a large amount of the books focus about Bibles and their contents. However, that is not the entire collection. The Clementine Library is a library that encompasses the books that the Albani family have owned and enjoyed since the 14th century. They weren’t just people who read Bibles and did absolutely nothing else. They read about poetry, romance, history, science, languages, politics, and other literature.

Photo credit: Hannah Kaufman

The contents of the books are not the only thing that can be educational. Even just looking at how a book was made in the 14th century as opposed to the late 18th century can tell someone a lot. With the department creating and maintaining that kind of environment, patrons can see what kind of topics and genres were popular a few centuries ago, which animals/materials were commonly used for book creation and binding, and see how those things changed over time.

Overall, I enjoyed my internship in the Rare Books department. I am very grateful for the opportunity that was given to me, and I enjoyed working with Alex, who is very knowledgeable and passionate about what he does in the department. This internship was a good introduction to the inner workings of a library for beginners, and I think it helped me gain a better understanding of what I can expect to see and experience as a library employee and what I want to do in the future.

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University Libraries Special Collections are happy to provide practicum opportunities to CatholicU students interested in obtaining hands-on experience at our Archives and Rare Books. Contact us at for more details. 

The Archivist’s Nook: Art Students at Work: Creating an Online Exhibit with Prints from Catholic University’s Special Collections

This post is by guest blogger Patricia Ortega-Miranda. Patricia Ortega-Miranda is a researcher, lecturer, curator, and Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art History & Archeology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She earned her Master’s degree in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin, and has held fellowships from important institutions such as the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas; the International Center for the Arts of the Americas at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. Patricia teaches Modern and Contemporary Art at the Catholic University of America and at the University of Maryland, College Park. She has organized various exhibitions featuring the work of internationally recognized contemporary Latin-American artists such as Carlos Martiel, Glenda León, and Daniela Libertad. 

Students of Museum Practices Today pose with Instructor Patricia Ortega-Miranda and the poster created by Connor Robeck for the exhibit, May 2023.

WORKERS: Exploring Labor in the Strishock Print Collection  is an online exhibition resulting from the collaborative work between students in the Art History Department at Catholic University and Special Collections. The idea of working collaboratively was central to my course Museum & Gallery Practices Today, which introduces students to various aspects of gallery and museum practices through a participatory methodology that seeks to foster collaboration, creativity, and criticality. In this course, students develop practical skills in, and generate critical approaches to, exhibition design and audience engagement programs, the two areas most radically impacted by the culture wars of the late 1980s, and the complex and constantly changing social and political landscapes that have emerged since. In this course students come into direct contact with the various processes involved in the development of an exhibition, and the idea is that each part of the exhibition would emerge quite organically out of our class discussions and assignments.

We began by conducting preliminary research about the Strishock Print collection itself and with the help of Maria Mazzenga and Shane MacDonald at Special Collections the students were able to inspect a number of these works and discuss the various printmaking techniques employed and how to determine the artistic and technical value of each print. We discovered that the collection contains works from quite a heterogeneous group of artists working in different parts of the world, in different styles and at different time periods. This was both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because there was not enough material to focus on a specific moment in this longer and transnational history of modernist printmaking. But it was an opportunity for the students to find connections between works, artists and contexts that were different and distant from one another. Yet, the heterogeneous character of the collection did capture the moment when a lot of European artists and printmakers migrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century. By the 1930s printmaking flourished in the United States, becoming one of the most important artistic and commercial practices all through the 1940s, the 1950s and well into the 1960s. This is the period that scholar Olga Viso calls the Golden Age of American Printmaking, and it is defined as such because of the unprecedented surge we see in printmaking practices and graphic arts in the United States indebted, in great part, to the influx of artists from Europe and the new institutional and commercial avenues for art. Printmaking was the privileged artform for American Modernism and it developed alongside muralism through portfolios, posters and illustrations commissioned by the US government as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

Dory Fisherman, by Raphael LeRoy (Tod) Lindenmuth (1930) is a woodcut or linocut featured in the online exhibition.

After the preliminary research students began to consider subject matter, and after much consideration they come up with the theme for the exhibition. During our brainstorming sessions students noted the presence of various genre such as landscape and portraiture, and the importance of place and the human figure. The students noticed that there was a connection between the surge in printmaking as an artistic technique in the United States and the fact that as an art form it became accessible to a lot of people. The humbleness of the medium was something the students found important and something that still held relevance today as new technologies promise to democratize art and support social and political causes. The collection’s heterogeneity granted students the opportunity to diversify their selection by considering gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality as identity markers that would enrich their approach to this social, economic, and cultural history of labor. The students identified workers as a historically relevant theme in art and one that was present throughout the collection. They also noted the importance of highlighting the artistic and technical value of the print, and their choices led to incredibly interesting discoveries about the multilayered, complex and at times uneasy history of labor. For example, the environmental, economic, and social impact of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s led many agricultural workers to abandon their farms during the Great Depression. This is explored by Elena Barton and Moira McCoy in the prints by German artist Hans Alexander Muller and American artist Stevan Dohanos. Shannon O’Doherty uncovered the connections between the rising and thriving of consumer culture in New York City during the 1930s and the moment when women started to join the labor force, while Katie Coyle wrote about the fishermen of New England and their struggles sailing on the dory boat.

Mother and Child, by
Alessandro Mastro-Valerio (1945) is a woodcut also featured in the online exhibition.

In some of the students’ selections labor as a subject matter is less conspicuous, yielding new approaches to this theme. Annaliese Haman rescued the work of a printmaker woman whose skills have been widely overlooked. Marian Hebert’s aquatint is not only a masterful print but reveals how the very concept of labor in the United States gave rise to myths and narratives of resilience that emerged with the occupation of the Western lands. From her part, Clara Hodsen brought to light the work of Austrian-Argentine painter and printmaker Mariette Lydis, whose own personal struggles as a bisexual Jewish woman who fled Europe during the first years of Nazi occupation informed the eerie subject matter of her prints. Gender appears as a central theme in the woodcut Mother and child by Alessandro Mastro-Valerio. In her text Elena Barton explains that it presents “motherhood as a symbol of universal beauty and fertility, this print establishes a parallel between breastfeeding and farming as both acts of care and love that connects humans to nature.” To enrich this history of labor students looked beyond the context of the United States and Europe, Connor Robeck’s text about the work of Japanese master ukiyo-e printmaker Utagawa Hiroshige revealed the fascinating story about the 53 stations of the Tokaido. According to Robeck the print shows “a hub of commerce and interchange, but one still deeply connected to the land.  People of all kinds come together to trade the fruits of their labor. This was common on the Tokaido, a highly important coastal road that acted as a place for people of all social statuses to travel and do their business. Because the Tokaido was typically traversed by foot, periodic rest stations were constructed. The 53 stations of the Tokaido were popular landmarks, and they proved a popular subject in the arts, as they provided a useful framework for showing their country’s rich culture and natural beauty.” Lastly, Moira McCoy’s text about Charles William Cain’s etching The Mahout explores the theme of labor in India, a colonial context that fascinated Western artists for centuries.


Poster created by Connor Robeck for the class’s online exhibit.

Among the many skills students developed working on this project the most important one was learning to write catalog entries. Although these are short texts, they required a lot of concision and the ability to synthesize. Connor Robeck, a studio art major and art history minor who specializes on digital art created the exhibition’s poster. His technical and artistic skills came through in his subtle and beautiful stylization of a print from the collection, emphasizing the use of stark contrasts that right from the beginning, he noted as a key and unifying element of most printmaking techniques. Since the second part of the course focused on audience engagement and programming, students explored various strategies and ideas for adding a community-focused element within the exhibition. After a brainstorm session, the idea came up to record interviews with workers around campus. In class we discussed the importance of involving public and audiences directly in the development of public programs in the context of museum exhibitions. I have found that working with a specialized collection, like the Strishock Print Collection, on an exhibition centered around the concept of collaborative curation is a powerful tool for teaching. First, because it allows students to come into direct contact with works of art, to understand their material and physical qualities and value in a profound way. And secondly, because it opens a window into the benefits and challenges of working collaboratively towards a common goal, to create something meaningful and valuable that can be shared with a larger audience and used as a teaching tool and to advance scholarship on the interconnected histories of printmaking and labor.

The Archivist’s Nook: John Webber’s Born-Digital Music Collection

Our guest blogger is Elyse Ridder, a graduate student in the joint program for Musicology (MA) and Library & Information Science (MLIS) at the Catholic University of America, and a student employee in the Catholic University Special Collections.

John Webber, courtesy of WebberMusic.

One of the biggest projects I have been privileged to work on as a student employee at the Catholic University Special Collections is the John Webber Music Collection. John Webber initially donated his collection to our archives in Spring 2021, with a variety of compositions written throughout his life. However, this collection is very different from a majority of the materials we possess in the archives. This is a born-digital collection, where Webber’s works are entirely contained through digital storage. There is no physical paper trail at all. As Webber is still composing today, we regularly receive updates from him with new compositions to add to his collection.

John C. Webber (1949- ) served in the Royal Marines Band Service for the UK Ministry of Defense from 1963-1972. Webber received an undergraduate degree from Rheinische Musikschule in flute performance (1974). Before traveling to the United States, Webber received FTCL and LTCL (post-graduate performance diplomas) diplomas in music theory and composition, and flute teaching, respectively. Once in the United States, he received his M.A. in music theory and composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (1976) and his DMA in music composition from The Catholic University of America (1979). With experience from graduate assistantships and fellowships, he proceeded to teach music theory, piano, and composition at a number of universities in the United States and United Kingdom. Webber has founded and conducted various orchestras, and his music has been performed on both radio and television in Europe and the United States. His music is published by Arsis Press, Anglo-American Music Publishers, and his own Webber Music.

External storage devices that contains Webber’s compositions.

Webber’s original donation consisted of one external storage device with over 100GB of used storage. It amounted to around 50,000 files and over 300 different compositions. To say it was a daunting task is an understatement, and there was so much to do. With 43 years of music in front of me, I wanted to ensure that all of Webber’s compositions were given equal attention and nothing was overlooked. My task involved processing/inventorying all of the music, categorizing each work, writing a finding aid using EAD, and then ensuring that it was uploaded and accessible online for the public to view.

During my initial inventory, I scrolled and opened hundreds of files while brainstorming on how to cohesively organize Webber’s music so it was easy to find items. After about six months of processing, I had managed to categorically list all of Webber’s 369 compositions by musical subject using a system similar to the Library of Congress’ musical subject classification. Webber’s musical collection contains two series: series one includes compositions written by himself, and series two is a collaboration between him and John Gehl. Series one has seventeen subseries, consisting of orchestral symphonies and solo instrumental music to opera and teaching methods. Series two only has one subseries: opera/musical theater. However, that was only one piece of the puzzle completed.

One of Webber’s latest compositions for chorus and orchestra, 2022.

The next step was creating a finding aid for this voluminous collection. Our finding aids were built around listing paper material collections, so we did not possess EAD that could accommodate born-digital items. Because of this, an entirely new finding aid had to be composed for Webber’s collection. For example, I had to measure the extent of the collection by gigabytes and file numbers instead of linear feet. Webber classified each of his compositions by a six digit file number, and each file can contain cover images, scores, instrument parts, finale files, relevant text, etc. So to organize it cohesively, I used Webber’s file numbers and grouped relevant materials with each file.

John Webber has committed his entire life to music and has spent over 40 years sharing his compositions with performers, listeners, and fellow music professionals. My goal for this project (and still ongoing today) has been to ensure that Webber’s music is labeled, categorized, and easily accessible for anyone who wishes to perform, view, research, or listen to his works.

The John C. Webber Music Collection finding aid may be found here:


“WebberMusic.” WebberMusic.

Webber, John. “Category: Webber, John.” IMSLP.,_John.

The Archivist’s Nook: Unburying and Archiving the Joseph Fahey Papers

Our guest blogger is Elyse Ridder, a graduate student in the joint program for Musicology (MA) and Library & Information Science (MLIS) at the Catholic University of America, and a student employee in the CUA Special Collections.

Joseph Fahey, courtesy of Manhattan College.

During my time as a student employee at the Catholic University Special Collections, I have explored a few collections, especially music collections, since that’s my specialty. However, during my Fall 2022 semester, I worked on a collection that was entirely different. Joseph Fahey donated his papers in 2016 and it contains his life’s dedication to peace studies, including his employment at Manhattan College, correspondence with individuals throughout a fifty year period, many peace events he attended, publications, travels, and much more.

Joseph Fahey is a Catholic theologian and peace studies scholar and activist. A graduate of Maryknoll Seminary and New York University, he is a co-founder of Pax Christi, USA and was named a Pax Christi Ambassador of Peace. He is also a co-founder and Chairperson of Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice. A long-time professor at Manhattan College (1966-2016), he created the College’s Peace Studies and Labor Studies programs.

His papers originally arrived in three boxes, and there was no perceived order to how items were organized within the boxes. Papers, documents, letters, etc. were not processed or sorted through. There were notes from previous students that attempted to unbury Fahey’s life work but they were incomplete. I ultimately decided on reordering every single item. I created a three step method to successfully restructure the Fahey Papers. This included: 1) inventorying the entire collection by creating a preliminary box list of every item; 2) reorganizing the collection into appropriate series, subseries, and folders; and 3) composing a finding aid for public accessibility.

Fahey saved this from his trip to the USSR in the early 1990s.

As I sifted through letters and documents spanning from the 1960s to 2010s, I started to visualize a way to organize everything. After I finished inventorying, I created a rough skeleton of my arrangement plan. It consists of three series, with distinct characteristics and subseries to find items faster. The first series consists of newspaper clippings, personal documents, photographs, letters, etc. The second series is the largest in the collection and contains five subseries. The subseries includes correspondence, articles, promotional materials, and publications from organizations such as Pax Christi and Manhattan College to Fahey’s travels abroad and published original works. The last series contains correspondence with notable people he met throughout his life, including Pete Seeger, Eileen Egan, and many more.

By creating piles, reordering everything within the boxes to the appropriate series, disposing of duplicates or damaged items (after proper review), creating new folders, and ordering items chronologically, I managed to get Fahey’s collection down from three boxes to two. Lastly, I created a finding aid using EAD after I finished reorganizing the entire collection.

Finished Collection of the Fahey Papers.

Joseph Fahey had a prolific career and life devoted to peace studies and the betterment of people across the globe. The more I delved into Fahey’s works, the more I wanted to represent his dedication and passion for world peace by ensuring his collection was respectfully and logically organized so it is accessible for everyone for many years to come.

The Joseph Fahey Papers finding aid is available online here.


Manhattan College. (2014). Joseph Fahey, PhD.

The Archivist’s Nook: Retracing the History of Right to Life Archival Collections

Our guest blogger is Rebecca Lemon, a Library and Information Science (LIS) student at Catholic University.

Last semester, as part of my Library and Information Science (LIS) coursework, I had the opportunity to arrange and process two small, related collections, the National Right to Life News Collection and the Long Island Pro-Life Collection , housed in the university’s Special Collections. Both collections were generously donated in 2021 to CUA by the Sisters of Life, a Catholic religious institute based in New York.

Copies of the National Right to Life News from 1984. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Since I had never processed any archival collections before, sitting down to look at the seven boxes of unprocessed materials in front of me felt rather daunting. I took it slowly, though, and began by simply looking through each box and trying to get a sense of what was there. It soon became clear that processing the National Right to Life News collection would be fairly straightforward. The collection contains all the issues of the National Right to Life News published between November 1973 (when it first began) and 1999. Arranging the collection, then, would be a simple matter of putting the issues in acid-free folders according to their date. The Long Island Pro-Life collection, on the other hand, was a very different story. Since this collection documents the grassroots pro-life movement on Long Island during the 1970s-1990s, it contains a wide variety of materials like pamphlets, newspaper and article clippings, newsletters, periodicals, correspondence, books, and other ephemera. Processing this collection appeared as if it would be much more complicated, so I decided to start with the National Right to Life News collection first and then move on to the Long Island Pro-Life collection after I’d had more time to think about the best way to arrange and describe it.

One of the event flyers in the Long Island Pro-Life Collection. Special Collections, Catholic University.

It took me only a few weeks to process and describe the National Right to Life News collection. I arranged the issues in acid-free folders and then labeled them for easy access, writing the collection title, folder title, and issue dates, as well as the collection number, box number, and folder number on each one. This not only makes it easy to locate the right folder at a glance, but also guards against the rare chance that a folder is inadvertently separated from the collection. In that event, enough identifying information is written on the folder itself to be able to locate its correct place.

Successfully processing the National Right to Life News collection gave me enough confidence to begin arranging the Long Island Pro-Life collection. Unlike the National Right to Life News collection, no clear order for arrangement was immediately apparent. I spent a good deal of time sifting through the collection, trying to discover any hints as to its organization that might have been left by the collector(s) of the materials. I found that, though there really was no particular order to the vast majority of the materials in the collection, there was a series of folders which had been labeled with handwritten names. So, I needed to be sure to preserve the general order of this series, but I was free to arrange the rest of the collection in whatever way would make its contents the most accessible. I decided that the best way of striking a balance between making the materials easily accessible and not overly disturbing the collection would be to organize it by format. I created five series in total: 1) Pamphlets, 2) Newsletters and Periodicals, 3) Newspapers and Newspaper Clippings, 4) Subject Files, and 5) Books. The process of sorting the materials into these series also helped me to glean some contextual clues about the origins of the collection. Although the collection was donated by the Sisters of Life, they were not the original collectors of the materials, and we unfortunately do not have any official documentation about the original collector(s). However, while going through the collection, I discovered that several of the newsletters, periodicals, and correspondence are addressed to Mrs. Mary Brennan or her family. The collection also contains some personal papers belonging to Mary Brennan, which document her active involvement in the leadership of the pro-life movement on Long Island during the 1970s-1990s. From this, we can infer that Mary Brennan was most likely the primary collector of the materials in the collection, and so we have indicated that in the finding aid for the collection.

Direct Line: The Long Island Birthright Newsletter. The Long Island Pro-Life Collection holds copies of this newsletter that were produced between 1973-1984. Special Collections, Catholic University.

As I learned through my experience with these two collections, archival processing has a lot to do with making educated guesses about the history and previous organization of the collection. The archivist must attempt to get inside the mind of the original collector(s) and find answers to the myriad questions that arise when processing and arranging the collection. For example, why did the collector(s) keep certain things and not others? Did they use a particular method of organization? If so, how can we preserve that method and yet make the materials easily accessible now for researchers in the present day? With a little patience and perseverance, the answers to these questions can be found by retracing the collection’s history through the clues left buried in the collection. In this way, boxes of unorganized papers cease to appear quite so intimidating and become instead an exciting mystery just waiting to be solved.

Interested in learning more about the items in these collections? Make an appointment with CUA Special Collections to come view the materials in person.

Works Cited:

National Right to Life Committee. (n.d.). National Right to Life News.

Shepherd, W. J. The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University’s Sisters of Life Collections, October 5, 2021.


The Archivist’s Nook: “Don’t be Crude” – Protecting the Earth like a Catholic

Our guest blogger is Julie Pramis, who is a graduate student in Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University of America. 

Catholics care about climate change (try saying that five times fast). Here in the archives we have a collection of papers from the Catholic Climate Covenant (CCC), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. focused on caring for the Earth. Founded in 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops helped form the non-profit in order to address climate change through Catholic social teaching:

Caring for creation and caring for the poor have been a part of the Catholic story since the beginning, but in recent years St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and especially Pope Francis have added a sense of urgency to their call for Catholics to act on climate change. (Our Story, Catholic Climate Covenant)

Example of research report but together by the CCC.

CCC has funded grants for climate change awareness campaigns across the country, held conferences, and published reports on the reality of climate change.

The St. Francis Pledge

Among their missions, perhaps at the forefront is the St. Francis Pledge. Anyone can take the St. Francis Pledge, from National Catholic Organizations to Universities to individuals. The pledge comes with a handy pdf with recommendations on how to reduce your carbon footprint.

In addition to their own business papers – from 2006 to 2016 – CCC collected magazines and newspapers that covered the cross-section of Catholics and environmentalism. Even several secular magazines were saved, among them Time magazine and two issues of Sports Illustrated (it’s about climate change – we swear!).

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Check out the finding aid here to learn more about the collection, or come to the archives for a visit!

The Archivist’s Nook: Frances Nevins – Gifted Academic, Loving Wife, Carmelite Nun

Cover image, Frances Nevins: Mid-Twentieth Century Carmelite by Joan Ward Mullaney, published 2009. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Our guest blogger is Sarah Zentner, a doctoral student in English at the Catholic University of America. She is researching the sacramental imagination in 19th-century British and American fiction, as well as the best chai tea latte in Washington, D.C.  

Good news for first-year students (and upperclassmen, graduate students, and faculty) who feel they don’t have their lives “figured out” just yet: you’re in good company. Frances Nevins (1930-1980), later known as Sr. Christine Marie of the Holy Spirit, OCD, lived several callings during her short life: gifted academic, loving wife, and finally, Carmelite nun. 

After Nevins’ death in December 1980, her longtime friend Joan Ward Mullaney, former Catholic University professor and Dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service, began gathering materials for a biography. But her quest to tell the story of Frances’ life didn’t end with the book’s publication in 2009. In August 2012, on the strength of the numerous personal testimonies, documents, correspondence, and spiritual writings she’d spent the last three decades collecting,  Mullaney formally opened the petition for Frances Nevins’ beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church.

F. Nevins Connecticut College Yearbook Photo, 1951. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

In this blog, we offer a brief sketch of the “very unusual holy person” that was Frances Nevins, as an encouragement for all those who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.

Gifted Academic

Nevins graduated from Connecticut College for Women in 1951. Professor Edward Cranz, who supervised her honors thesis on Nicholas of Cusa, called her “the most brilliant student I encountered in a lifetime of teaching,” while the former president of the American Cusanus Society, Gerald Christianson, declared her “clearly gifted” and apt for academic life. After earning her master’s degree in 1952 from Radcliffe College at Harvard, however, Nevins ceased her academic pursuits.

Loving Wife

F. Nevins and her husband, Paul Cawein, 1954. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Frances Nevins married Paul Cawein in an Episcopal ceremony in 1953. In a 1954 letter to friend Joy Nicholson, Paul writes that “…we are very happy. I just read back over the letter you sent to me before our wedding telling me of the fine wife I was getting. When I read it the first time, I thought that you were right, but now I can only say amen.” Shortly after their marriage, however, Frances claimed the Catholic faith in which she was baptized, while Paul refused to have their marriage blessed in the Church and would not agree to raise their future children as Catholics. Citing their “irreconcilable” religious differences, the couple split in 1955. Frances sought (and was granted) a divorce and an annulment in 1958.

Carmelite Nun

F. Nevins (Sr. Christine Marie of the Holy Spirit, OCD) on the day of her final vow profession, Carmel of Schenectady, Oct. 8, 1965. F Nevins Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Drawn more and more to the Catholic faith, Frances felt a spiritual calling to consecrate her life to God after her divorce. Thinking at first that she wanted to use her intellectual gifts in the service of others, she sought admission to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in New York, but soon realized she preferred a contemplative vocation to an active one. She entered the Schenectady Carmel in 1960 and professed her final vows in October 1965. For the next fifteen years, she lived a quiet life dedicated to prayer and the service of her community. She died on December 16, 1980, leaving behind a trove of spiritual writings that attest to a life of great virtue and love.

It may be many years before Frances Nevins is declared a Catholic saint, but in the meantime, she is a kind of “patron” for everyone who feels discouraged by a future that seems unclear, and an inspiration to those of us who still aren’t sure of what we’re called to do with our lives.

For more information, or to learn more about how to access the Frances Nevins collection, please email Special Collections at 

The Archivist’s Nook: How the Terracotta Madonna and Child Taught Me About the Renaissance

Terracotta Madonna and Child, Antonio Rosselino, 1550-70. Catholic University Special Collections.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Alessia Pecorella’s class paper on the terracotta Madonna and Child, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Pecorella’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by Special Collections Archivist Shane MacDonald. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

Before ART 272 Cosmopolitan Renaissance, I thought the Renaissance was just a definition in my high school history textbook. But throughout the semester, I have realized there is more than meets the eye during this influential period. The object I picked to study this semester was the terracotta Madonna and Child, created by Antonio Rossellino.

The terracotta Madonna and Child, according to the Catholic University Special Collections, is a plaque of the Madonna and Child in terracotta, encased in a tabernacle frame. Antonio Rossellino created the object between 1540-70. The object’s current location is in a Curley Hall Annex stairwell chapel. According to the object’s file, Frederick Jambes donated the piece, although there is correspondence with a Miss Jessie Jebiley as the potential donor. Based on the provenance history explained in the object file there is a lot of information of how the object got to campus, but not a lot of information about how the piece made its way to America in the first place.

Antonio Rosselino

The object’s creator, Antonio Rosselino, was born in Florence, Italy and is a “notable and prolific Italian Renaissance sculptor who was the youngest brother of the architect and sculptor Bernardo Rossellino” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Rossellino’s expertise was in portraits and combining architecture and sculpting. His greatest accomplishment is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in San Miniato al Monte, located outside of Florence. The figures Rosselino formed over time are recognized for their “strong form and intense characterization” (Encyclopædia Britannica) He is known for his recurring depictions of Madonna and Child, with examples displayed in museums all around the country.

Madonna and Child with Angels, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (left), and Madonna and Child, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (right).

One example is his marble Madonna and Child with Angels, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another is Rossellino’s marble Madonna and Child, located in the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. Comparing these two works with CatholicU’s terracotta piece by the same artist is fascinating, but by looking at another artist’s Madonna and Child piece, one can see the diverse and global influences on the Renaissance. An example of this can be comparing Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels to Rossellino’s terracotta Madonna and Child.

Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels.

The significant difference between these two pieces is that one is a painting, and another is a sculpture, but let us compare how Mary and Jesus are depicted in these pieces. In Duccio’s piece, Mary and Jesus, he “imitated two different tiraz textiles and the drapery of the back of Mary’s throne reflect contemporary Islamic fabrics used to furnish palaces and tents” (Mack, 2002). Tiraz is a line of Arabic calligraphy on the top sleeves of a robe or a hat. Duccio’s depiction of Mary and Jesus was rare in Italian art and caught positive attention in decades to come. While in Rossellino’s piece, Mary and Jesus are sitting in a very similar position, but their clothing is different. Their clothing has no tiraz, and it utilizes three primary colors of red, blue, and gold and is more simply draped. Mary and Jesus’ facial expressions are alike in these two pieces. Both figures express a sense of peace and calmness. Even as far as the detail of Mary looking over her left shoulder down at Jesus and Jesus looking into the distance is significant – it shows the artists may have been trying to create the same perspective. These two pieces are Renaissance art with elements of humanism and Catholicism represented, but also express the diversity of cultural influences on art in this period.

To dive even further into why The terracotta Madonna and Child is defined as Renaissance art is to explain what materials make up the piece. The object’s material is terracotta. When I initially thought of Renaissance sculptures, I thought only marble was used, but that is wrong. Various materials were used throughout the period to create beautiful sculptures. Terracotta is ceramic pottery used to make pots, pipes, bricks, and sculptures created by baking clay. The word terracotta in Italian means “baked earth”. Terracotta is thousands of years old, and one of its famous examples is the Terracotta Army in China. Classical antiquity was a favored trait of the Renaissance, and terracotta was a way to represent it. Italian sculptors in this time were known for using marble and bronze, but when demand for commissions increased, artists needed to produce artwork quicker and turned to terracotta. Specifically, Florentine artists like Rosselini were fond of utilizing this material. When using it, artists shape a three-dimensional form with their hands and instruments that is made hard and brittle when cooked in a kiln. The terracotta can be modified after drying by carving or engraving. Such works can range in color from dull ochre to a bright red, and were often painted to look like marble or bronze. These techniques traveled, and people all over Europe began to utilize terracotta for works of art.

Basilica of San Marco, Venice.

Finally, the terracotta Madonna and Child has a tabernacle frame around the sculpture. This frame’s design is one of the many details that define the terracotta Madonna and Child as a Renaissance object. A tabernacle frame is a form of an architectural picture frame that emerged in Venice and Tuscany in the fifteenth century. It was composed of a pair of pilasters that bordered the picture aperture, supported a frieze and pediment, and rested on a base. Even though tabernacle frames have similar shapes, I think the shape of the dome-like top of the tabernacle frame reminds me of the architecture of the Basilica of San Marco located in Venice. The design similarities are a connection I believe makes sense because tabernacle frames originated from Venice. In my opinion, the pillars of the frame invoke the columns of the Basilica. The tabernacle frame of the terracotta Madonna and Child is an identifiable feature of the object that connects it back to the Renaissance.

The terracotta Madonna and Child is one of the thousands of pieces of art created during the Renaissance. Through this one object, one can learn more about the Renaissance. The use of terracotta, the humanizing of Jesus and Mary, and the architecture behind the tabernacle frame all play a role in connecting this piece with the broader Renaissance. Created in sixteenth century Florence, it eventually was donated to the Catholic University in the twentieth century. And while displayed on the campus, it taught me about the Renaissance and I hope it can teach everyone else a little bit about it too.

Works Cited

“Antonio Rossellino.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 31, 2022.

Belting, Hans, and Deborah Lucas Schneider. Essay. In Florence & Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, 41–43. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University,2011.

Farago, Claire J. “Chapter 3.” Essay. In Reframing the Renaissance: Visual Culture in Europe and Latin America, 1450-1650, 69–70. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.

Fliegel, Stephen N. “The Terracottas of Renaissance Florence.” La Gazzetta Italiana. Accessed April 3, 2022.

Mack, Rosamond. “Oriental Script in Italian Paintings.” Essay. In Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600, 56–59. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Magner, James A. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, January 17, 1961.

McLeod, Alice H. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, December 28, 1960.

Ousterhout, Robert. Journal. “Flexible Geography and Transportable Topography,” The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art, 393-404. (published as Jewish Art 23-24 [1997-98])

Rosselino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child with Angels.” Accessed April 1, 2022.

Rossellino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child.” Art Object Page. Accessed April 1, 2022.

“Tabernacle Frame.” Oxford Reference. Accessed April 3, 2022.

The Terracotta Madonna and Child. “ACUA Museum Collections New Museum Collection.” Washington D.C, 1960.

“What Is Terracotta?” Wonderopolis. Accessed April 2, 2022.


The Archivist’s Nook: Unlocking the History Behind Quentin Metsys’s (Massys) ‘Pieta’ at Catholic University

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Pieta, late 15th or early 16th century, oil on wood. Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Christopher Vitale’s class paper on the Pieta, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Mr. Vitale’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by University Archivist William J. Shepherd. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

I was a little anxious at being informed that I would be required to select and study an object of Renaissance art from the Catholic University Special Collections. I reflected that I am a studio art major so maybe it would be a good idea to choose an object that relates to my artistic practice. I strongly identify as a painter, and specifically as an oil painter, as it is truly my passion. I also realized the spiritual nature of this project. Before all else, I am a Roman Catholic. Expressing and engaging with my religious beliefs is both the foremost joy and the pinnacle duty of my life. A marriage between my artistic attractions and my religious objectives yielded the ultimate result of my selection: the late 15th or early 16th century Pieta by Quentin Metsys (or Massys), a stunning work of Christian-based Northern Renaissance oil on wood painting.

Letter from Arthur Connolly to Thomas J. Shahan, June 1, 1924. Special Collections, Catholic University.

The accession file from Special Collections reveals the historical information relating to the Pieta’s provenance. Of particular interest is a handwritten letter addressed to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, the fourth rector of the University and an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Baltimore, sent by Rev. Arthur T. Connolly on December 17, 1919. Connolly assured Bishop Shahan that he would send “the painting of the Virgin [and] dead Christ by Quentin [Metsys]” shortly. Five days later, on December 22, the Bishop’s secretary returned a letter confirming that the Bishop’s office had received Connolly’s note and would “look out for the shipments referred to.” These details help us answer fundamental questions that should accompany any inquisitive mind when viewing or thinking about a historical piece of art, such as, “Why is this Renaissance painting here? How did it get here? Where did it come from?”

Quentin Metsys (Massys), St. Anne Altarpiece, 1507-08, oil on wood, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Looking more closely at those handwritten letters reveals additional clues, though it is nearly impossible to recognize every word due to Arthur Connolly’s scribbled handwriting, akin to cracking the code of ancient hieroglyphs. In a secondary letter dated June 1, 1924, Connolly explained that he would again send art objects, among these “an ivory figure of St. Ann and the Blessed Virgin, an Irish made silver crucifix and pedestal… and, interestingly, “a very fine painting of Saint Peter by Guercino” (i.e. the distinguished Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri). By encouraging Shahan to use the Pieta as a point of measurement, Connolly underscored his perception of the elevated nature of the Metsys piece and demonstrated that he was intent on presenting Shahan, and the wider University community, with ‘the cream of the crop’ in respect to historical artworks. The fact that Connolly and Shahan were writing and sending successive, handwritten notes to each other, and that Connolly addressed Bishop Shahan with affectionate language suggests that the pair were friends, which is why these sorts of objects wound up at Catholic University.

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Lamentation of Christ, 1511. Wikicommons.

After all, that is precisely what friends do-they send things to each other. Today, of course, we have text messages, phone calls, emails, and Amazon delivery services that enable us to exchange conversations, information, and gifts with one another instantaneously, but in the early 20th century, a prime way to maintain friendships was by swapping physical correspondence letters and gifting things the other might care about or which might be useful towards a more ambitious end, such as amassing a University collection. Bishop Thomas Shahan was also the founder of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, an influential American house of worship and a monumental sanctuary for religious artworks (today it holds the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the United States). Donating art objects would fuel the archives, libraries, collections, and exhibits of the University, which in turn serve to strengthen the institution as a center for research, academic discourse, and historical preservation. It’s benefactors like Connolly who were responsible for filling the catalogs with objects and artworks which increase the University’s visibility within Academia.

Rembrandt Self-Portrait Etching. 17th Century. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Documents and memos in the accession file disclose that the painting was moved around a couple of times, it eventually found a home in Nugent Hall, which is both the private residence of the university president as well as the headquarters for his offices. It is currently displayed in a spacious and finely decorated sitting room complete with couches, armchairs, and coffee tables. Also featured in that room is a small portrait etching by Rembrandt. Since Rembrandt is among the most honored and influential figures in art history, my theory is that the Pieta functions, like the Rembrandt, to impress visitors of the president, serves as a testament to the University’s academic and historical legitimacy, and underscores both the theological roots and artistic strengths of the institution

What the object file also includes is a short biography of Metsys by Stanley Ferber from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Art. Ferber wrote that Metsys employed “a conscious archaism, both sensitive and perceptive, which he ultimately synthesized with late-15th-century Italian developments, especially those of Leonardo.” Though the Pieta depicts a moment of violence and sorrow as a bloodied Christ has been removed from the Cross and placed in his Blessed Mother’s arms, there is an undeniable sense of peace and a visual softness in the rendering of the figures and the overall composition. This accompanies the attention to detail characteristic of Flemish art, as articulated by the three crosses on the hill far in the distance behind the Virgin, with tiny figures standing at their base, as well as the crown of thorns, the nails, and the sponge soaked in wine that appear in the foreground of the piece. In addition to helping me better conceive of the nature of Renaissance art, my research into the object and its file has allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for the application of historical artworks in a modern context