The Archivist’s Nook: Reflecting The Renaissance – Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Moira McCoy’s class paper on Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation, a piece of Renaissance-era Italian art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. McCoy’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

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Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation is a prime example of the movement of Renaissance art from the late fifteenth century into the present-day world. This terracotta relief sculpture, currently displayed at The Catholic University of America, has very little documentation prior to its donation to the University in 1960 by Mr. Arthur T. Roth. This piece was created for a Florentine audience, but we might ask how the message of this art piece changed throughout time and location.

Figure 1: Metal Plaque shown on the wooden shelf of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation as displayed at Catholic University of America.

The Annunciation’s archival file in Special Collections offers a foundation for research. Though Robbia’s Annunciation is not extremely well documented, readers do get a general idea of the artist, the donor, and other aspects through the file. There is no signature of the artist that tells us for certain that this is an original Andrea della Robbia, though the metal plaque on the bottom of the sculpture is associated with the Florentine sculptor (Figure 1). This sculpture has little known transaction prior to its donation to the University in 1960. There appears to be no documentation of how Roth, a prominent New York banker, purchased the Robbia sculpture, indicating that the piece may have itself been a gift to him.

Along with the file is information about the artist, Andrea della Robbia. His role as a sculptor under the influence of his uncle, Luca, lead us to understand that the Florentine artist’s pieces were to attract the local audience. Personal research shows that there is very little evidence of Robbia pieces in the western world today, indicating that they were primarily meant for the Italian viewers of the fifteenth century. There is no confirmed date of completion of Andrea’s Annunciation, nor is there information on this specific piece on public online sources. When viewing the object file, the date of execution is vaguely indicated as “fifteenth century (?).” Of the pieces in Florence today, there is a highly designated purpose that these pieces fulfill. Andrea della Robbia appears to be a sculptor of religious scenes primarily, as most pieces are in correlation with religious institutions. Many of these pieces remained in Florence due to the sculpture type, as they are attached to their original space, and removal would be difficult.

Figure 2: Front view of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation, terracotta relief, late fifteenth century, Catholic University of America.

The Annunciation appears to the viewer in a semi-circular arch with a peaked top, (Figure 2). At first glance, viewers may find this piece to have little detail due to the dominating white-blue color tones of the sculpture. The deep, muted blue provides a background to the whitened figures of Mary and Gabriel, as well as other features such as the dove, flowers and vase. This blue background is also the deepest layer of the relief whereas the white objects and figures appear in the higher relief layer. But why use these two tones as the main colors of the piece? It is believed that the cerulean blue and ivory white color scheme is a trademark of the Robbia workshop founded by Luca della Robbia, Andrea’s uncle. These colors are functional and unique colors which mark all pieces from the Robbia. In other pieces, such as Luca della Robbia’s Resurrection (Figure 3), we are sampling the earlier model of this blue-white glazing technique that is constant in all Robbia works, including a brighter green to the work for forestry and brightness. A secondary claim as to why these colors are utilized is in the remembrance of the Florentine aesthetic of the Renaissance. The memory of Florentine Renaissance leaves us with the idea of Humanism and the imagery of the Florence artists’ personal touch. Nineteenth-century essayist Walter Pater wrote on Luca della Robbia’s use of blue and white terracottas, stating that “…nothing brings the real air of a Tuscan town so vividly to mind as those pieces of pale blue and white earthenware . . . like fragments of the milky sky itself, fallen into the cool streets, and breaking into the darkened churches..” (1) which reinforces the statement that the use of these duochromatic palettes in the Robbia art space are reminiscent of the Florentine art style and appeal to the fifteenth century audience. The last claim is the significance of the subjects, and the importance of these colors in a religious sense. Though there is a paragraph on the religiosity of the scene ahead, it is important for researchers to understand how the light blue is seen in many different versions of the Annunciation pieces, from Northern territory artists such as van Eyck to the Italian Fra Angelico. The blue is often associated with Virgin Mary whereas the white is to symbolize the purity of the Annunciation scene, with iconography of white lilies and a dove. Overall, it is important to note that something as simple as the color palette connects to the location of Florence, the iconography of religious symbols and figures to the individualism of the artist.

Figure 3: Luca della Robbia, Ressurection, polychromed and glazed terracotta,1442-1445, Duomo di Firenze.

A major feature of Andrea della Robbia’s artwork and style is his material use and glazing techniques. Terracotta is a form of clay-based material that is fired under extreme heat to solidify into a ceramic texture. This clay is found in many parts of the world, such as Asia, the Mediterranean & Africa, and is used in pieces from sculptures to brick making. Its application in Renaissance art was popularized by Ghiberti and Donatello during the early fifteenth century (2). Terracotta was used for two main reasons. First, the Mediterranean region where it existed was accessible to Florentine artists. Second, the clay material was easily pliable for artists of the era. The soft shape of the material allowed artists to decorate and create free flowing shapes very different from metals, marble, and other resources. Andrea was introduced to the making of terracotta sculpture while an apprentice to his uncle Luca. Luca’s innovation of developing glazed and colored terracotta that, when fired with glazes, would fuse with the clay underneath and result in brightness and shine. Furthermore, Andrea’s improvement in the creation of these enameled figures was to leave the face, hands and other parts bare. The emphasis of polychrome, or multiple colors, on Andrea’s pieces gives the Florentine artist a sense of individuality within the della Robbia workshop.

Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation was made as a religious motif that includes all of the classical iconography of the biblical scene of the Annunciation of Mary with Gabriel. The event takes place when Gabriel the Angel descends to the Virgin Mary and announces that she will bear the child of the Holy Spirit, reiterated in the Book of Luke. The Holy Spirit is symbolized by a dove or rays of light in these scenes whereas the inclusion of white lilies is the symbol of the Virgin Mary, indicating her purity. Specifically in Andrea’s Annunciation, we see all four of these characters. Gabriel and Mary face each other with a vase of lilies filling the space between them. Above head, a swooping dove represents the Holy Spirit. Even if the viewer does not know the name of the art piece, these subjects tell the story of the Annunciation. In the Renaissance eye, the Annunciation scene was popularized to portray the old to new transition through the world, just as the change from the Old to New Testament. More importantly, the Annunciation connects with the Renaissance ideology of a new age of religion and mankind. Appealing to the Franciscan ideals of contemplation upon art, Andrea conceived many of his pieces to the influence of Franciscans in Florence during the Early Renaissance period. Contemplation of art allows the viewer to meditate on the Annunciation scene, which can evoke the reliving of the biblical event to the viewer and give a sensational understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role during the Renaissance era. Furthermore, the role of Gabriel could be the concept of Renaissance, or rebirth, who is appointing new changes upon the Virgin Mary, symbolizing the European society of the times.

The function of this art piece is to appeal to the religious perspective of its audience. Though we do not know the original location of this piece, many parts of this terracotta sculpture tell us that this was made for a religious institution and serve the purpose as a religious piece. Other than the obvious iconographic traits of this piece, the shape also indicates an interesting aspect. The arching shape with the semi-pointed top, known as a tympanum, is noticeably similar to the shape of Luca della Robbia’s piece Resurrection, a terracotta piece that is found above the left sacristy in the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Fig. 3). The shape of tympanums have changed drastically through time and with the ideas of reconnecting with the classical Roman features, the shapes of the Andrea and Luca della Robbia pieces act not only as a symbol of Renaissance art, but also gives researchers some insight that Andrea’s Annunciation may have been originally placed or created as a tympana for a religious site or church. What appears as a little detail actually gives lots of context to the religious function.

Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation allows viewers to gather insight as to how important documentation is for pieces of historical artwork. With the thin file and little to no information on the actual piece itself, the interpretation of the piece relies on the audience members to recognize the iconography and biblical importance of this scene. Being able to comprehend the symbolic message of this terracotta sculpture was a task for this viewer, as it was a noticeably religious scene and would have been reinforced by the original location. The world of Florentine Renaissance highlights the importance of rebirth and return to the humanistic view of antique Greek and Roman society. The Renaissance was a new turning point for Europeans in means of politics, society, literature and philosophies and though that time has passed, the significance of Andrea della Robbia’s Annunciation has not lost its importance, but merely been lost to time and underappreciation for the original Florentine piece.

Sources:
(1) Pater, Walter The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Literature, February 1873. Page 63-72

(2) Victoria and Albert Museum, “Italian Terracotta Sculpture,” Italian Terracotta Sculpture (London September 4, 2013)

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Processing the Papers of CatholicU’s First Law Dean

William C. Robinson, 1896. John Joseph Keane Collection

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

What more fitting collection for the university archives to have than one of Catholic University’s own founding members: William C. Robinson. Judge Robinson was a founder, professor, and dean of the Columbus School of Law, then known as The School of Social Sciences. After a 27-year long career as a law professor at Yale, he left his comfortable position to move to Washington, D.C. (somewhat reluctantly, due to health concerns: he was in his sixties at the time!) to ensure the founding of a law school at the university of his faith. His personal papers include a great collection of his correspondence with John Keane in their planning of the school, and many of his notes on the law for the courses he taught.

William Callyhan Robinson was born on July 26, 1834 in Norwich, Connecticut (Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, p. 421). Robinson was raised Methodist, but after graduating from Dartmouth he entered the General Theological Seminary, where he studied for the Episcopal Ministry. In 1857 he graduated from the Seminary and married his first wife, Anna Elizabeth Haviland. He became a missionary of a parish in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and then a rector in Scranton. In the early 1860s, Robinson converted to Catholicism and left his position as a clergyman. Had he not been married, Robinson likely would have become a Catholic priest.

In 1891, Bishop John Keane wrote to Judge Robinson about founding a school of social sciences at The Catholic University of America (Ahern, P. H., 1949, p. 98). Robinson had great interest in establishing a law school in CUA, as both a proud Catholic and long-serving practitioner and professor of the law. However, he was unsure what effects the climate of D.C. would have on his health, a man accustomed to the New Haven atmosphere. Moreover, he had a comfortable position at Yale—whose law school he helped bring back from the brink of extinction—and he was in his middle age at the time. Bishop Keane was persuasive, though, and Robinson was absolutely committed to the founding of the school. Later on, Robinson would write to a friend about the difficult work involved in bringing the School of Social Sciences into being, and stated that “The creation of a University is not the task of sinecures” (Jackson, F. H., 1951, p. 60). Robinson taught law at CUA until his death on November 6, 1911. He gave his last lecture on the Friday before his death.

Example of some of the contents of the collection. Box 6.

The Papers of William C. Robinson were interesting to process for this first-year Library and Information Science student. Sometime prior to the Fall semester of 2021, the papers had been sorted into acid-free folders, placed in Hollinger boxes, and a finding aid was started and then abandoned. Many small notebooks were left unfoldered and unsorted in their boxes. Additionally, some of the materials in the last boxes had sustained fire damage, which happened prior to donation to the archives. The larger of these items – three bound volumes – were wrapped in acid-free paper. Staples, pins, and paperclips were left in the papers. A group of extra-long papers that were folded in half remained as such.

I started my work with many questions and a general understanding of archival work. Why leave metal fasteners – susceptible to rust – in these papers that are more than 100 years old? Why leave these folded papers folded rather than flatten them to ease researcher use? How do I handle unsorted notebooks with no clear chronological order? What in the world do I do with fire damaged paper? Since then, I’ve learned a lot about MPLP: More Product, Less Process, as well as more about the competing needs of archivists’ resources and researcher’s needs. With this information I’ve learned to understand the previous processor’s work as though they were explaining it to me through time. With the papers stored in both acid-free folders and boxes, and stored in a climate-controlled environment in the university archives, rusting metal fasteners is less of a concern and would serve more to take time away from other, more necessary work in processing the collection. Unfolding papers that have been folded for such a long time and of such an age (more than 100 years at least), unfolding would require humidification and perhaps a professional conservator; concerns of time, money, and other resources means that we can leave the papers as they are. Those same concerns apply to various unsorted notebooks: the time and money involved in trying to sort items that may not have a clear order even after extended effort tells archivists that we can apply MPLP here, too. As for the fire damaged items, I had to approach that as its own beast.

One of the fire-damaged ledgers. Box 17.

Some items were loose papers singed on the sides; some items were large bound volumes singed on the edges, effectively sticking the pages together; and some were smaller notebooks with fire damage that did not stick the pages together as with the larger volumes. I researched what archivists and/or conservators could do to improve singed materials. Much of my research turned up what to do with recent fire damage, which in most situations would be followed by water damage from sprinklers, the fire department, or any other water-suppression system designed to stop the fire. These materials were damaged in 1977, in Judge Robinson’s personal library. His grandson, John B. Robinson, donated the items to The Catholic University of America with both party’s full knowledge of the state of the items. They are long dry. I had already re-foldered the loose papers from their manila envelopes into acid-free folders and boxes before I understood the MPLP process, and that the papers were probably fine in their envelopes. You live, you learn. The large bound volumes are still wrapped in the acid-free paper they were in when I found them.

Regardless, I am glad that I sorted some of these items into more Hollinger boxes. The last box, box 17, was a bit heavy and very full. Especially considering nearly all of these items had some level of fire damage, having all of them stacked on each other in a heavy banker’s box that may be troublesome for some to lift, I think sorting them out into three boxes (two Hollinger and the original banker’s box) will help to prevent unnecessary handling of the items. Boxes 17, 18, and 19 can be handled individually, so any use of box 17 won’t result in needing to move or rearrange items from 18 or 19 to ensure they all fit back in the box. Additionally, one non-damaged item in box 17 is Judge Robinson’s leather diploma case. It is a little worn with age, but no fire damage, and the contents inside are in good condition (rolled tightly, though, so handle with care!).

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Working with Judge Robinson’s papers hands-on gave me so much more insight into archival accessioning, processing, and description and access than I could have had solely in the classroom. In the beginning of the semester, I was intimidated by the size of the collection and how much work I needed to do to sort through every paper. In hindsight, a 17-box collection is a good beginner’s introduction – not too big, not too small – and I know now that I don’t have to examine every piece of paper. Thinking about how to arrange the collection for future researchers felt like a lot of responsibility for a first-time processor. That’s why I am so grateful to the processor before me, who showed me through their actions and restraint what archival work we should prioritize first and what we can prioritize last, if we get to it. If I could change one thing now, I would have worked on the papers more slowly. Since I had the full semester to work on these papers, there was not as much of a time limit on completing the processing and creating the finding aid with EAD as there would be for a professional archivist. I’ve had the great opportunity to work in the archives at my pace focused entirely on one collection, which I understand now is not every archivist’s experience. 

The papers themselves are fascinating, and available for further examination in the CUA archives! In addition to his work on founding CUA’s law school and other work in the law, you can find the work he did tracing his genealogy, personal and professional correspondence, and various financial and other papers accumulated in the course of his lifetime. Please take a look at Judge Robinson’s papers if you get the chance.

References

Ahern, P. H. 1916-1965. (1949). The Catholic University of America, 1887-1896; the rectorship of John J. Keane. Catholic University of America Press, 1948 [c1949].

Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn. (Third edition). (1883). Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company. https://books.google.com/books?id=gqMgAAAAMAAJ=PA421#v=onepage=false

Jackson, F. H. William C. Robinson and the Early Years of the Catholic University of America, 1 Cath. U. L. Rev. 58 (1951).

The Archivist’s Nook: Creative Catechism the Manternach-Pfeifer Way

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

Sister Janaan and Father Pfeifer in a casual moment at one of their events in the late 1960s or early 1970s. A chance encounter at Catholic University in 1963 would be the catalyst that brought these two like-minded individuals together, beginning a four-decade partnership. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

As part of my coursework I was given the opportunity, in place of a traditional final research paper, to formally arrange and process the Janaan Manternach and Carl J. Pfeifer Papers, which had been acquired by the CUA Archives from 2020 through early 2021. I am thrilled to share that the collection, which spans some 70 years, now has an online finding aid.

As was discussed in an earlier Archivist’s Nook post by guest author Tricia Campell Bailey, the collection includes a mix of both personal and professional items and documents, with the former focusing on the couple’s personal lives and relationships, both individually and jointly, including their choices to be released from their religious vows after they developed a call to marry in 1976. However, the largest portion of the collection can be found in its extensive holdings related to their professional activities, most notably their groundbreaking work in revising formal religious education’s use of the Baltimore Catechism, focusing instead on making the lessons, morals, and foundations of the Catholic faith accessible and relatable for everyone.

A flyer for one of the many workshops they facilitated over the years, both jointly and individually. The freedom expressed in the topics to be covered demonstrates a sharp contrast to the rigid memorization and recall of the Baltimore Catechism, ca. 1970, Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The Baltimore Catechism’s question and answer format (of which the standard edition has 421 and the abridged edition 208) is familiar to anyone who grew up attending Catholic school or CCD classes through the 1960s, as it was in effect the text for US Catholic instruction as far back as 1885. Traditional instruction using this text involved students memorizing and repeating a series of questions and their provided responses, which ranged from simple statements such as #6: “Q. Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next” through more complex concepts such as #339 “Q. What benefits are derived from the communion of saints? A. The following benefits are derived from the communion of saints:—the faithful on earth assist one another by their prayers and good works, and they are aided by the intercession of the saints in heaven, while both the saints in heaven and the faithful on earth help the souls in purgatory”.

While the Baltimore Catechism provided an extremely detailed breakdown of the core teachings and beliefs of the Catholic faith, what religious education teachers, such as Sister Janaan and Father Pfeifer, discovered during their instruction was that while their young students may have been able to successfully repeat these memorized phrases, they weren’t demonstrating a real understanding or connection. Taking a chance, Sister Janaan began quietly experimenting with new teaching approaches, most notably incorporating art, poetry, and music into her lessons, such as using religious-themed paintings to help children visualize abstract mysteries and pillars of the faith and short, simple songs and poetry writing exercises to give them space to voice their own understandings and questions. In a draft of the introduction to her 1982 collaboration with Carol Dick entitled The Gift of Me: Songs for Children (a copy of which is available in the collection), Manternach sums up this belief when she states, “Songs have a power that no other medium has for freeing children into meaning and feeling. Songs sung have the power to unite, to teach, to heal, to relax and to make events into celebrations and/or solemn occasions.”

The cover of a pamphlet promoting the 1977 trade publication of Pfeifer’s Photomeditations series. While the collection does not include a copy of this book publication, its holdings do include copies of the full weekly series, including photographic prints and accompanying text. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Similarly, Father Pfeifer was influenced by his interactions with Fr. Aloysius Heeg, SJ, who he met during his studies in the School of Divinity at St. Louis University, and instilled in him the importance of using pictures, stories, and free questioning in catechesis teaching, and would lead directly to his personal interest in photography. Years later Pfeifer would extend the approaches he used in his formal classroom into his Photomeditations series, appearing as a weekly National Catholic News Service syndicated column from 1974-1980 and published in book form in 1977. While some of the photos include religious imagery, such as rosary beads and crosses, the majority simply depict singular images of everyday things, places, and people that may normally be overlooked or taken for granted. The accompanying text, unique to each photo, asks readers to “meditate” on the image and the emotions, feelings, or lessons it may bring to their minds, allowing them the space to make connections to the teachings of their faith in their own way and time.

As a couple, Manternach and Pfeifer never lost their sense of creativity and playfulness, continuing to see the importance in even the simplest of creative pursuits, such as the satisfaction of finishing a jigsaw puzzle. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Together Manternach and Pfeifer would turn these quiet experiments into a national revolution in religious education through the publication of their Life, Love, Joy and This is Our Faith textbook series and other educational resources. However, this creative approach extended beyond simple materials or publications; for them the label “Creative Catechesis” was a mindset more than anything, one that formed the foundation of many of their talks and workshops over their nearly 3 decades of professional work, and not a one-size fits all approach. The creation, in their honor, of the Creative Catechist Award by their long-time publishing company Silver, Burdett, & Ginn in 2001 offers no better testament to their legacy. Growing in faith involves more than being able to repeat a system of beliefs; sometimes it involves quiet reflection on a story with a simple message, for as they so clearly reminded their audience in an April 2001 workshop handout in response to the question: Why Use Story?: “Jesus used it all the time.”

The Archivist’s Nook: Amalia Steinhauser – Housekeeper and World Traveler.

Guest blogger Katherine DeFonzo is a Graduate Library Pre-Professional (GLP) working in the Semitics/ICOR Department at Catholic University. 

Amalia Steinhauser with her brother, Cleophas Steinhauser, and some of his fellow Franciscan friars in Egypt, 1912. Semitics/ICOR Collection

Many researchers have made use of correspondence and other records from the Papers of Professor Henri Hyvernat, a founding faculty member of The Catholic University of America and an early contributor to the collections that now comprise the University’s Semitics/ICOR Library. Less well known is an individual who was ever-present in the Professor’s life and worked closely with him for many years. Miss Amalia Steinhauser served as Hyvernat’s housekeeper while he resided near the University at 3405 12th St. NE in Brookland during the early years of CUA. Amalia’s story comes to life when one examines the years of extant correspondence (1910-1925) between her and Professor Hyvernat, now housed in The Catholic University of America Archives, part of Special Collections.

Amalia was born in Germany in 1868 to William and Maria Steinhauser, née Binig. Census records seem to suggest that Amalia and her younger sister Martha arrived in the United States sometime during the mid-1890s. It is possible that Amalia’s brother Cleophas, a member of the Franciscan order based in Egypt and fellow scholar in the field of Oriental Languages was the one to introduce her to Hyvernat. Because she was his housekeeper and friend, Professor Hyvernat came to know and care for the members of Amalia’s family. Amalia visited Martha and her family in Philadelphia on more than one occasion, and Martha’s children spent the summer of 1921 in Brookland. Although fluent in English, Amalia’s letters (especially her earlier ones) reveal a tendency toward a German pronunciation of certain words. She does not explicitly address whether this caused difficulties for her in the years following World War I, when anti-German sentiment in the United States was on the rise.

Hyvernat’s house at 3405 12th St. NE in Brookland, c. 1900. Semitics/ICOR Collection

While some might assume that the role of housekeeper was a limiting one for Amalia, her position enabled her to travel to an extent that would have been uncommon for many women of her time. Letters written between Amalia and Hyvernat in 1912 illuminate some of Amalia’s experiences abroad. She visited various cities in the Middle East as well as Cairo in Egypt during this year, as well as several major cities in Western Europe before visiting friends in her native Germany and then back to the United States. She returned to Europe in 1923: her letters show that she traveled to Paris in the late summer and stayed there for significant amounts of time throughout the next two years. While Amalia organized travel arrangements for Hyvernat, the professor did the same for her as well: in 1925, he arranged for her lodgings with a group of Sisters during an anticipated upcoming visit to Rome. Amalia also had the opportunity to travel to other parts of the United States. She frequently inquired after the individuals traveling or working with Professor Hyvernat, assuring him of her prayers for their health and providing news related to their many mutual friends in Washington, D.C.

Certain acquaintances of Amalia appear frequently enough throughout her correspondence that they merit special consideration. One such person is Miss Antoinette Margot (1842-1925), a Catholic convert who arrived in Brookland after having served as a nurse alongside close friend Clara Barton, the well-known nurse who would go on to found the American Red Cross. Across the street from Professor Hyvernat’s residence on 12th St NE stands St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, a parish established in 1896 that would grow significantly during the years encompassing Hyvernat and Amalia’s correspondence. Hyvernat and Antoinette Margot were responsible for the founding and construction of this Church, which became a focal point of social life in Brookland during the years when Amalia and Professor Hyvernat resided on 12th Street. Amalia assured Hyvernat that she frequently looked in on their elderly neighbor, sometimes assisting her with household chores. Amalia herself was responsible for cleaning and obtaining household necessities; keeping track of finances; and overseeing the essential upkeep of the house, a task that included bringing coal to warm the house during the colder months of the year. She also took it upon herself to complete various improvement projects around the house.

Antionette Margot, ca. 1870s. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Hyvernat remains such a deeply felt presence in the Semitics/ICOR Library because he donated many of the first items that became part of the Collection and contributed to some of the volumes that continue to be most widely used by students, visiting researchers, and others. Few are aware that other objects became part of the Semitics/ICOR Collection due to the generosity of Amalia. She not only donated items initially acquired by her brother Cleophas but also artifacts that she had selected herself (not necessarily for their scholarly significance). Accession records that reveal which items Amalia obtained provide some insight into her personal taste. For example, she obtained a medieval Arabic lamp from Nazareth while traveling in April 1912 and received a Byzantine lamp from the Benedictine Fathers of Jerusalem that Hyvernat later donated to the Museum. She also donated an elfstone from the Synagogue of Tiberius near Athens; specimens of mosaic from Jericho; and rolled pebbles from the Dead Sea. These records place Amalia as a donor along with the prominent scholars with whom Hyvernat continually corresponded: at one point she mentions speaking with Mrs. Dickens, a fellow contributor to the lamp collection in the Semitics/ICOR Library. In this way, Amalia’s passing references to these individuals in her letters become more than mere observations or polite questions related to their well-being. She was a donor in her own right, one who contributed to the rapid expansion of Catholic University Museum collections during the early years of the institution.

Amalia passed away in October of 1944 in Philadelphia after having lived there for about six months. She was buried in Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery in the city along with her other family members, and a service was held at St. Bonaventure’s Church. Amalia’s niece, Marie Baum, served as the executrix of Amalia’s will and made certain that designated funds were used to support the ICOR Library at a time of great transition after the death of Hyvernat three years earlier. It seems of deep significance that Amalia continually signed her letters to Hyvernat with the closing, “Your Humble Servant in Christ.” Perhaps nothing else taken from Amalia’s letters reveals more profoundly the way in which she perceived of herself and the work in which she was engaged for Father Hyvernat.

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.

 

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: The Manternach-Pfeifer Papers – Life, Love, and Joy Their Way

Cover of the 1991 Teacher’s Edition of This Is Our Faith. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Guest author Tricia Campbell Bailey is a graduate of the Catholic U. Library and Information Science (LIS) Department.

Before I returned to school to become an archivist, I spent 20 years as a journalist and corporate communications specialist. Much of that time was spent on science and technology writing; I quickly learned how to break down technical information clearly and how to find the “hook” that lurks in every story beneath the technical details and scientific jargon. In fact, the most important lesson I learned as a writer was: There’s no such thing as a boring assignment.

Happily, when I took on my first archival project as a CUA graduate student, I learned that that lesson applied to archival work, as well. And last month, when I returned to CUA as a part-time archives assistant, I discovered it all over again. Every boxful of papers and every crumpled photograph tells a story. On the surface, this story is about two religious educators and business owners — but it’s also about faith, love, and living life on one’s own terms.

The collection, newly acquired by the Catholic University Archives, is the personal papers of Janaan Manternach and Carl Pfeifer, who revolutionized Catholic education for children beginning in the 1960s. Together they wrote multiple religious education textbooks and curricula, along with many columns, books, and articles about the best way to teach children about the Catholic faith.

Revamping the Catechism

Until the 1960s, religious instruction in the U.S. was based on the Baltimore Catechism, which used a rote question-and-answer format that many children found difficult to engage with. However, many Catholics today learn about their faith very differently — largely due to Manternach and Pfeifer’s work.

In the late 1950s, the National Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Center became aware of Sister Mary Janaan (born Shirley Marie Manternach), a young Franciscan sister from Dubuque, Iowa who incorporated poetry, art, and music into her religion class at an inner-city Chicago school. In 1960, she was reassigned to Washington, D.C. to study Religious Education at The Catholic University of America — and to work with CCD Director Rev. Joseph Collins on a textbook series to replace the Baltimore Catechism.

Pfeifer and Manternach (third and fourth from right) at a conference in Rome, ca. late 1960s or early 1970s (pre-1976). Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Three years later, in a graduate class at CUA, Sister Mary Janaan met Father Carl Pfeifer, a young Jesuit priest and teacher from St. Louis. He shared her interest in making religious education more accessible to children, and she eventually proposed to the CCD Center that he be assigned to work with her on the textbook project. This sparked a professional and personal partnership that was to last for more than 40 years.

“I Could Not Live Without Him”

From 1963 to 1975, Sr. Manternach and Fr. Pfeifer were co-assistant directors of the CCD Center, where they not only authored the Life, Love, Joy textbook series but also represented the Center to diocesan directors nationwide; consulted for various Church religious education groups; and were instrumental in the creation of the National Conference of Diocesan Directors (NCDD). In 1975, they left to form their own freelance writing business, also called Life, Love, Joy.

Together, they traveled to dioceses across the country introducing the series and training catechists. For example, notes from Manternach’s notebook point to her love of using art and music in her teaching, and to finding ways to engage children through stories: “The Bible’s not enough! Generate spinoffs – poetry – music – story – art/culture rises up around it – multiple tellings.”

But by this time, they were discovering something else — their successful professional partnership was becoming something more. In 1976, both Sr. Manternach and Fr. Pfeifer requested and received permission to be released from their vows, and they were married on November 20, 1976. In her personal writings from the early 1980s, Manternach notes candidly, “I decided to marry him because gradually I became aware that I could not live without him.”

Leaving religious life caused some temporary backlash against the two in the Church, but their success as catechists and devotion to their work earned them forgiveness, and they continued to be influential in the religious education movement even as laypeople.

Pfeifer and Manternach in front of their home in Arlington, VA., December 1985. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

A Life of Love and Joy

 In addition to the Life, Love, Joy series, which was revised many times (it was later known as the Silver Burdett Religion Program, Growing in Faith, and finally This is Our Faith), the couple wrote syndicated columns for many Catholic publications and traveled extensively to present workshops and lectures. In 1985, both Pfeifer and Manternach received their Doctor of Ministry degrees from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.

Far beyond their passion for their work, however, the collection’s extensive amount of correspondence reveals the human side of the couple. An entire box of the collection is reserved for Manternach and Pfeifer’s holiday newsletters, which they circulated to their wide-ranging circle of friends and family at Christmas and Easter. Despite the initial controversy around their transition from religious life, two bulging folders contain well-wishes for their 1976 wedding. Both stayed in regular touch with their families in the Midwest. And although they were unable to have children of their own, they doted on their four godchildren. Extensive correspondence from the early 2000s shows that Manternach and her goddaughter Angela communicated almost daily, often through multi-page handwritten letters and photo collages.

In the early 2000s, Pfeifer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and he and Manternach returned to Manternach’s home state of Iowa to care for him and for her elderly mother. Pfeifer died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2007; Manternach, now in her 90s, lives on her own in Dubuque, about 25 miles from her hometown of Cascade. She remains active as an author; most recently she published I’d Do it All Over Again and I’d Do it Better: A Caregiver’s Journey through Alzheimer’s (ACTA Publications, 2020).

The Manternach/Pfeifer collection has not yet been fully processed, but work is underway and a full online finding aid will be available. This collection is a rare glimpse into two people who spent decades passionate and joyful about their faith — and about one another. Their lives and work can best be summed by a quote from Manternach found scrawled in a notebook with other thoughts on catechesis: “Hope is part of the structure of most of our existence.”

Works Cited

Manternach, D. (n.d.). Janaan Manternach and Carl J. Pfeifer. Biola University. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.biola.edu/talbot/ce20/database/janaan-manternach-carl-pfeifer

Carl Pfeifer Obituary, 1929-2007. (2007, July 15). The Washington Post. https://www.legacy.com/amp/obituaries/washingtonpost/90699372

The Archivist’s Nook: The Priestly Labors of John M. Hayes

Guest author is Steve Rosswurm, Professor of History, Emeritus, at Lake Forest College, and author of The FBI and the Catholic Church (2009), The CIO’s Left-Led Unions (1992), and Arms, Country and Class (1987). 

Fr. John M. Hayes, n.d. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory, recently named the first Afro-American cardinal of the Church, more than once has pointed to Monsignor John M. Hayes (1906-2002) as the cleric who inspired him to become a priest.  Prior to that, Hayes also had “attracted” another young man to the Catholic priesthood: the sociologist and novelist Father Andrew Greeley, who dedicated Golden Years, part of the O’Malley family saga, to the monsignor.

Hayes did much in Chicago besides influencing Gregory and Greeley.  He served for years at St. Carthage, where he first encountered the Gregory family, and for even longer at Epiphany from he retired in 1976.  He was involved in the civil rights movement – heading up a group of priests who went to Selma in 1965 – and other social justice issues.  He was named a monsignor in 1963.

The four years that Hayes spent at the Social Action Department (SAD) of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, though, are often forgotten. This installment of the archivist’s nook focuses on his tenure there.

For two reasons, Hayes was the only person the SAD considered for their new position.  First, as a Chicago labor priest mentored by Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand, he had actively supported union organizing drives and strikes.  Hayes, moreover, had taught at Catholic labor schools and participated in the Catholic Worker movement.  His talk in 1938 at Summer School for Social action for Priests not only nicely summarized the possibilities for social-action work for priests, but also solidified his reputation throughout the country.

Fr. Raymond McGowan, Director of the NCWC Social Action Department, with Linna Bresette, and two unidentified men, n.d. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Second, Hayes was well suited for SAD’s future plans.   It had spear-headed the Church’s turn to the Catholic working class that had begun in 1935.  This move, a way to “restore all things in Christ” by implementing Catholic social teaching as laid out in Rerum Novarum (1891) and Quadragesimo Anno (1931), focused on educating and supporting clerics in the drive for unionization in industries where Catholics comprised a large proportion of workers.  As a way of doing this, the SAD had organized and overseen priests’ labor schools throughout the country.  It also had acted as a clearing house and organizing center for labor priests’ local activities, especially in the industrial heartland.  The SAD staff, including Monsignor John A. Ryan and Father Raymond McGowan, were spread thin by the time Hayes arrived in 1940.

Hayes accomplished at least three significant things during his tenure at the SAD from 1940 through early 1944.  One of his first acts proved to be the longest lasting and most significant.  On December 1, 1940, the first issue of Social Action Notes for Priests appeared.  For clerics only, this newsletter connected labor priests throughout the country, keeping them informed, notifying them of resources, boosting their spirits, and, influencing their thinking.  By June, 1944, about 700 were on the subscription list; that number more than doubled in the next two years and continued to grow well into the 1950s.

Second, Hayes engaged in an extraordinary correspondence with labor priests throughout the country.  In an effort to search out the names of priests interested in social action, he wrote inquiry letters to many areas of the country.  He also sent out detailed questionnaires concerning clerical labor activity and provided summary reports in Social Action Notes.

A later issue of Social Acton Notes for Priests. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Much of Hayes’ correspondence, though, originated in response to letters from throughout the country.  Labor priests, both veterans and novices, wrote to him because he had information and answers.  Hayes provided advice, shared resources and contacts, spread the news about successes and defeats, and offered encouragement. When necessary, moreover, he intervened in the internecine warfare that periodically broke out in Catholic labor circles.

Amidst all this work, finally, Hayes produced a remarkable paper: “Priests and Reconstruction – a Few Thoughts.”  Derived from Hayes’ immersion in CIO organizing campaigns in Chicago, his study of current economic conditions, and his work with Hillenbrand, “Priests and Reconstruction” decisively re-conceptualized Catholic thinking about society and salvation.

Catherine Schaefer; Fr Raymond McGowan, Fr George Higgins. n.d. Special Collections, Catholic University

Hayes began with “radical evils” in America’s “economic side of life” because they were both “fundamental and causative.”  The “physical results” of these evils – some institutional and others individual – were an “inequitable distribution of property” and “inadequate incomes.”  The “resulting spiritual loss” was sizeable: “economic immorality” involved “at least in some cases, serious sin;” “the working out of the system” leaves “people so materially depressed as to handicap virtuous living” or “impels the well-to-do and others to obsession with business or dishonesty and injustice.”  “[S]piritual losses” were “accentuated” among the “poor” and ‘reformers,’ Hayes argued, when the Church was “indifferent to, or ineffective in, attacking the causes, not to speak of alleviating existing hardships.”

How ought the Church and its clergy respond?  “[I]ndividual righteousness,” of course, deserved attention, but, drawing upon Papal teaching, Hayes argued that “We should influence social-economic life, directly and indirectly.”  It was true that “Church exists” to “unite men with God in Heaven,” but this was a “long earth-bound process.”  The work of “building a good natural order” could “not be distinguished in practice” from that of “enhancing supernatural life.”

Hayes’ assertion that the road to salvation was a “long earth-bound process” meant not a retreat from the world into spiritual enclaves, but rather a courageous encounter with it was an extraordinarily important insight and breakthrough.  “Priests and Reconstruction” more generally indicated the theological and sociological bases upon which the Church would operate for the next decade or so.

Hayes, however, was not at the SAD during that period.  Sometime in late 1943 or early 1944, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, so, at his doctor’s recommendation, he went to San Antonio, which the pro-CIO Bishop Robert E. Lucey headed.  There, after recovering, he taught at Incarnate Word University, served as Lucey’s social action director, and regularly wrote columns for the diocesan paper.  In 1953, he returned to Chicago.

Coda.  Another Chicago priest, Father George Higgins, replaced Hayes at the SAD and remained there until 1980.  For many of those years, he chaired the department.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University’s C.C. Chang and Why We Encourage You to Know Him

Our guest blogger is Tian Atlas Xu, who is a student worker at the University Archives and a PhD candidate in US history at the Catholic University of America. His research examines the role of white intermediaries between non-white minorities and the administrative state in turn-of-the-century United States. He has received support from various research institutions, including the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. 

 

A man and his tornado machine caught our attention; a trans-Pacific life story was discovered behind the scene.

Dr. Chang’s interview in The Catholic University’s Envoy magazine, published in February 1973, was one of several rare accounts of his immediate reflection after the 1972 visit. Courtesy of ACUA.

The story begins in an ordinary afternoon last winter, when my supervisor brought a dated Catholic University magazine, the Envoy, to a dimly lit back office at Aquinas Hall. As the only Asian person working in the University Archives, I was simply intrigued to see an Asian face in that magazine. The article that caught our attention was entitled “Scientist Views Change in China,” and the scientist in question was Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang, a prestigious Chinese American scholar at Catholic University in the 1960s and 70s. The publication date was February 1973, one year after President Richard Nixon’s historic visit to mainland China. It was also several months after the scientist’s first trip to his country of birth in more than two decades. 

At that time, archives staff had been aware of Dr. Chang’s scientific achievements. After all, his photo with the tornado machine, a simulator of natural tornadoes to study “peculiar elements responsible for near-the-ground destruction,” has appeared in the University’s course catalogs and documentary histories since the late 1960s. We also knew he had co-founded the Space Science and Applied Physics Department at Catholic in 1963, and that he had laid the foundation of the University’s long-term partnership with NASA. According to the administrative accounts, students enjoyed his classes; and from his pictures with the tornado machine, he was clearly enjoying the passionate love affair between a lab and its creator. The 1973 article was not meant to add anything new.

But it did, in totally unexpected ways. We soon realized that Dr. Chang’s visit to China in 1972 was part of a larger-than-life moment in US-China relations: after more than two decades of intellectual blockade, it was the first time that a large number of American scientists and their colleagues in mainland China engaged in direct conversation with each other. More importantly, we discovered that Dr. Chang had witnessed many moments like this in his life. He was a village kid who carved his way into a warlord-sponsored Chinese university in Manchuria; at the age of twenty-three, he saw the mighty Japanese Imperial Army occupied his fertile but helpless motherland; he fled to Beijing with his schoolmates and, as a young lecturer in aeronautics at Tsinghua University, developed one of the first monoplanes in China with his Chinese colleagues; and in the 1940s, he became a student of Theodore von Karman, a key figure in the development of aeronautical sciences, not only in the United States, but also in the China as we know it today. The list goes on and on.

Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang and the Tornado Machine. Courtesy of ACUA.

We set out to piece together his life story through documents in English and Chinese. It was the early months of the pandemic, and Covid-19 was called by all kinds of names hostile to Chinese and Chinese Americanness. The pandemic caught the trans-Pacific academic community in the middle, and a new campaign for the decoupling between Chinese and American scientists appeared on the horizon. But at the same time, the turbulent experience of Dr. Chang and his generation of Chinese American scientists beckon to us all the more.

Dr. Chieh-Chien Chang and the Tornado Machine. Courtesy of ACUA.

His generation tells a story of difficult choices during the Cold War, of the damage done, not only by the revolutionary culture in China, but also by McCarthyism and xenophobia in the United States. It turns out that the tornado machine was a small piece of Cold War history, not about confrontation and fear, but about a Chinese American’s personal identity struggle and heartfelt yearning for peace: in the 1960s, Dr. Chang chose to move on from his earlier research of missiles, planes and military satellites; his attention turned towards the lives impoverished by natural disasters on the planet earth, such as tornadoes. His right to choose was profoundly American, yet his freewill bent towards love for both China and the United States. 

Dr. Chang (second row, first from the left) and his peer Chinese scientists during their studies at Cal Tech, early 1940s. Courtesy of the Online Museum of Chinese Academicians.

What was initially designed as a blogpost quickly develops into an online exhibit. Our technician braved the archives to dig up nuggets of Dr. Chang’s experience at Catholic in the 1960s and 70s. The scattered memories of him in American and Chinese sources were sifted and carefully knitted to recapture a trans-Pacific life that had touched on many. Emails were exchanged between us and Dr. Chang’s alma mater, the Northeastern University of China, which, after his unwavering mediation since retirement, had restored its long-lost name in 1993. We learned about his exile with other Chinese scholars during the Second World War and the group’s forced migration from the Bohai Bay to the mountainside of Tibet; we saw his sunny smile in the early 1940s, when he stood with a group of young Chinese scientists celebrating a wartime US-China alliance at Pasadena, California. We even discovered the picture of a symposium banquet in plasma physics in 1963, right here in Washington, where Dr. Chang, a typical husband of the Second World War generation, seemed to be the only scholar to bring his wife to the occasion. 

Plasma Space Sciences Symposium Banquet on June 13, 1963. This symposium marked the beginning of Dr. Chang’s career at Catholic University. Courtesy of ACUA.

We are now sharing these details with you. The online exhibit takes you to forgotten times and unfamiliar territories, where an aspirant young engineer built his career at a time of war and national humiliation. It also provides fresh insights into the history taking place here in America, a land of opportunities that offered this Chinese American the environment to thrive while driving many others away. It confirms that, at the Catholic University of America, Dr. Chang’s transnational career came to its most prominent fruition. Correspondence from Washington, Beijing, and Taipei competed in his Pangborn Hall office, and his busy itinerary connected friends and colleagues of two continents. The exhibit does not give easy answers to scholars’ choices amidst political storms and international strife. But one thing is certain: to attract more transnational talents like Dr. C.C. Chang, America must stick to the generous principles that have inspired them to come and persuaded them to stay. 

Find our new exhibit on Dr. Chang here.

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Saving Black Catholic History – The Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers

Guest blogger, Dr. Cecilia Moore, is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton and faculty member of the Degree Program for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Dr. Moore with Dr. C. Vanessa White of the Catholic Theological Union and Fr. Paul Marshall, S.M., Rector of the University Dayton, co-edited Songs of Our Hearts and Meditations of Our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics, St. Anthony Messenger Press (2006).

Dr. Cecilia Moore with Father Cyprian Davis, taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

In August 2015, Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow, Father Kenneth Taylor, and I spent four days in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  We were there to sort, curate, and pack more than 40 years of archives documenting the lives of black Catholics in the United States that Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. saved.  When we made the plans to do this work, we expected that Father Cyprian would be working alongside us, but he had died that May. Graciously and generously, Archabbot Justin Duvall, O.S.B.  allowed us to go forward with the plan and agreed to cover the shipping costs.    By the time we finished, Father Taylor had a van full of boxes containing the archives of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) to be donated to the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. There were also boxes of documents destined for the Archives of Xavier University of Louisiana for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) Collection and for the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS) Collection, a small collection of documents for the Archives of the University of St. Thomas for the National Office of Black Catholics Collection, and a very large of pile of boxes containing documents, ephemera, papers, books, and material culture, that are now the Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers of  the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, part of Special Collections at the Catholic University of America.

How and why we came to do this work started a year earlier when Dr. Bellow and I visited Father Cyprian at Saint Meinrad in July 2014.  We both had studied with him at the IBCS and later became his colleagues as we joined the IBCS faculty and then served as IBCS administrators.  Over our years working together at the IBCS, we became friends with Fr. Cyprian, but it had been while since we had enjoyed his fine company in person.

Taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

During our visit, Fr. Cyprian hosted us for refreshments and conversation in his spacious and comfortable office. It was filled with books, journals, works-in-progress, photographs of family and friends, and art.  It was the place where he wrote class lectures, homilies, articles, talks, and of course, The History of Black Catholics in the United States.  It was also where he engaged in his love of reading and conversation.  We had the best time with him.  Among the many things we discussed were his work revising The History of Black Catholics in the United States, politics, movies, books, and the need to find permanent homes for the NBCCC and BCTS archives which he had served as archivist for since 1968 and 1978 respectively.  These archives were held in a storage room in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  When we volunteered to help him complete this mission, Father Cyprian gladly accepted our offer.

We returned to St. Meinrad in December 2014 to assess the work we needed to do. At that time, Father Cyprian took us to the storage room and we got our first look at the historical treasures he had saved over the past 46 years.  And, he had saved quite a lot.  A wall of deep shelves was loaded with large and small boxes of formal documents, letters, magazines, newsletters, bulletins, memos, conference programs, newspaper articles, books, tapes, films, photographs, event programs, manuscripts, notes, cards, etc.  It was amazing.  We spent hours taking boxes down and looking at their contents with Father Cyprian.  What a trip down “memory lane.” We knew many of the people attached to or responsible for the history that we held in our hands.  Many of the women and men at the heart of the contents of these archives had died, so we spent time remembering them, what made them fit for the battles they fought on behalf of black Catholics, and the personal qualities that made them so memorable and missed.  Others were still living, and we had a good time looking at their younger selves and discussing how their ministries in the black Catholic community had changed over the years in emphasis, intensity, and status. As we did this preliminary assessment, it became clear that there was a lot in the Saint Meinrad Library storage room that did not properly belong to the NBCCC, the BCTS, or the IBCS.

Cyprian Davis at his work. Courtesy of St. Meinrad Abbey.

There was a fourth archives that was hard to define because it was so eclectic.  It contained things that Father Cyprian had either written or helped to write and edit.  It documented the people and the places that over the past 50 years that had called on Father Cyprian to “tell” them their history.  Letters and cards revealed the vast network of people, from many different backgrounds, who reached out to him – to send him things that they thought were important to black Catholic history that he could use to write more of the history, to seek his advice about their work on black Catholic history, to tell him how much his work meant to them, their students, and their parishes, or to challenge him on points of the history he had written.  There were also dissertations, theses, conference papers, and articles written by people who were directly inspired to pursue research in black Catholic history by Father Cyprian.  By the end of the day, it was clear that Father Cyprian had an archives that needed a permanent home too.

When we suggested this to him, he demurred at first, but after thinking about it for a while he agreed with us and told us that he wanted his papers to be donated to the Catholic University of America.  He was happy that this trove of primary and secondary sources would assist future generations of historians committed to black Catholic history to continue researching, writing, and teaching an-ever more contextualized and rich history of Catholics of African descent in the United States.

The Archivist’s Nook: Father George T. Dennis: Scholar and Engaged Priest

Guest blogger, Professor Árpád von Klimó, of The Catholic University of America History Department teaches Modern European and World History at the University. He has done research in different fields of Modern and Contemporary European history. Most recently, he has edited the Routledge History of East Central Europe (together with Irina Livezeanu) and published two monographs: “Hungary since 1945” (Routledge, 2018) and “Remembering Cold Days. The Novi Sad Massacre, Hungarian Politics and Society since 1942” (Pittsburgh UP, 2018). 

His research on Father Dennis is part of a broader project related to the history of the University’s History Department. He sees this history as a mirror of the past of an institution that has always profited from a fruitful tension between church and world, between priests and laymen. This story has not been told yet but this project seeks to tell it, in the process providing us with profound insights into the identity of the University, knowledge essential for its future. Since 2015, student apprentices, faculty, and archivists have begun to compile, sort, publish, and analyze archival materials related to the department of history, its professors and students. This project is part of a new program of undergraduate apprenticeships in history (course HIST 494) in which students learn practical research, analytical, editorial and publication skills.  Throughout this course, students learn how to manage unexplored mines of “big data,” to hone research and writing skills, and in the process gain insights into how many generations have experienced life and learning on this campus.

*** 

In the 1971 yearbook of The Catholic University of America (the University was informally referred to as “C.U.” at the time), a quotation accompanied the photo of Jesuit Father George T. Dennis, representing the History Department:

Father George T. Dennis, S.J., from the Catholic University Cardinal Yearbook, 1971.

“The Speech and Drama Department represents about all that the rest of the city knows about CU. The University plays little or no role in the development of the community, yet it has facilities, leadership potential, and a great deal more to offer. ‘Neutrality’ is only the position of some administrators and, as is fairly obvious, does not represent the feeling of the University’s faculty or students. If the University does not loudly let its real stand on vital issues be known, it might as well relocate to some remote spot on the planet.”[1]

Father Dennis spoke about the necessity and duty of the University to be present in the District and to be actively engaged in helping to solve its political and social problems. These were immense after the riots and political turmoil of the Vietnam Years and in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. He would do his part, teaching urban youth for many years, while teaching Byzantine and Medieval History and doing research as a renowned scholar. Obituaries in  The Catholic Historical Review and The Dumbarton Oaks Papers have talked about his scholarly achievements and mentioned his activities with urban youth of Washington, D.C. 

George T. Dennis was 44 years old when he came to Catholic University in 1967 from Loyola University, Los Angeles, to work as editor of the Corpus Instrumentorum Inc., while teaching Byzantine History at the department. The Corpus was an international encyclopedic project, based on the re-organized staff of the New Catholic Encyclopedia (published until 1967), which was housed on the campus of the University between 1967 and 1971.[2] When the enterprise fell apart, Father Dennis became a full member of the department which took over his salary which had been mostly paid by the Corpus project.

The case of Father George T. Dennis also shows how a professor of the University could follow his academic career as a famous historian of Byzantium and be an activist on- and  off-campus at the same time. When he complained about the “neutrality” of the administration on questions of social injustice in his quotation for the 1971 Yearbook, he also expressed his conviction that the majority of the faculty and the students were with him in regard to social activism and the metropolitan community.

In the fall of 1970, Father Dennis was elected to head the Neighborhood Planning Council (NPC) for Northwest Washington where he lived in a small community of Jesuits. The NPC was organizing programs to help struggling youth in the area and negotiated with the DC government to improve their situation. Father Dennis jokingly declared that he preferred “to proportion his life between the Northwest Area and the Byzantine Empire.” In 1971, Father Dennis as head of the NPC, protested the declaration of a curfew in the city. Read more about Father Dennis, the NPC , and the curfew in the November 19, 1971 issue of The Tower (p.4).  

On theological questions, Father Dennis came out as a “dissenter” who, in 1968 together with the theologian Charles Curran (who later left the University), publicly criticized Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Read more on this in The Tower, April 18, 1969 (p.10)     

Later, in the mid-1980s, Father Dennis, spoke out against what he saw as the politicization of the church; he was especially critical of some bishops’ engagement in campaigns against abortion.  See his September 22, 1984 letter to The Washington Post for more.  

Eight years later Father Dennis criticized the founding of a library that served as predecessor to the Saint John John Paul II National Shrine, accusing him of having been “consistently hostile to genuine academic spirit and practice.” See more in the See more in the November 20, 1992 issue of The Tower (p. 6).

Father Dennis, indeed, could never have been suspicious of “neutrality” which he thought was the position of “a few administrators” of the university, as he said in 1971. But his critique of what he thought went wrong in church and society, was not his main mission. He was an active reformer who tried to help the most vulnerable members of society. When he engaged with struggling inner-city youth, he did this without revealing his own scholarly and priestly background.  The teenagers he helped with their homework and with their day-to-day problems, called him simply “George”, and “he preferred it that way”, as one obituary stated.[3]

Dr Matina McGrath, who teaches at George Mason University, was a graduate student of Father Dennis. She remembers him as an “academic mentor and a dear friend.”[4] As others, Dr McGrath was impressed by his humility: “One would never know the depth of his scholarly interests or the reputation he had among his Byzantine colleagues if he just met him hurrying to class, winded from riding his bike, straightening his hair. He loved to make his undergraduate classes fun, and was pleased beyond words when he figured out how to incorporate sounds and images in his power point presentations (I can still see him smile when he told me he had lions roaring when he showed a rendering of the imperial throne with all its mechanical contraptions). Even before electronic media, he would show up to class with bits of chain mail, helmets, miniature soldiers and siege equipment to liven up the lessons on Byzantine History. Without a doubt he was one of the most popular professors in the history department at CUA.”[5] 

One of his last wishes was to donate his scholarly library to the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv, another sign of his wide-spread interests and his giving personality.

[1] Catholic University of America ’71 Yearbook, Washington, DC: CUA Press,  p. 134.

[2] Choice, February 1979, 1560.

[3] Email from Dr. Lawrence Poos, 7 July 2020.

[4] Email from Dr. Matina McGrath to author, 9 July 2020.

[5] Email from Dr. Matina McGrath to author, 9 July 2020.