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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Antonio Rossellino.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Antonio-Rossellino.
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. https://www.lagazzettaitaliana.com/history-culture/7845-the-terracottas-of-renaissance-florence.
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.” Metmuseum.org. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/192716.
Rossellino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child.” Art Object Page. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.469.html.
“Tabernacle Frame.” Oxford Reference. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803101822637.
The Terracotta Madonna and Child. “ACUA Museum Collections New Museum Collection.” Washington D.C, 1960.
“What Is Terracotta?” Wonderopolis. Accessed April 2, 2022. https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-terracotta.
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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
The following is a selection from Catholic University student Katie Coyle’s class paper on the Ivory Triptych, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Coyle’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.
To understand the Renaissance and its global connections, one should look at a specific period object and its cultural influences. Although focused in Italy, the Renaissance encompassed cultural influences across the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, Africa, and the East and involved a combination of materials, styles, and images from various cultures and artistic traditions. The Ivory Triptych found in the Catholic University Special Collections is a visual representation of important elements of this global Renaissance. It is large at 42 ¾ by 33 ⅝ inches, depicting various Gospel scenes. Special Collections notes indicates it to be one of the largest known ivory triptychs. It is made of wooden panels covered with carved ivory elements displaying scenes of Christ, Mary, and various saints. Two small side panels in the front are fastened by two locking devices to keep them shut when necessary. Metal pieces are attached on the back wood panels to attach the piece to a wall as a hanging decoration. The artist and creation date are unknown, but it has been identified sixteenth century French. The donor, Rev. Arthur T. Connolly, an avid traveler and one of the most prominent benefactors represented in Special Collections, gifted it to Catholic University on May 5, 1917.
The original donation remarks include a description of the figural scenes and specific symbolic representations of the Ivory Triptych. It also contains a reference to its original placement (before being collected) as part of the back of a church altar, though the church or location in France is unknown. It was meant to be viewed most often in its open state because the elaborate and skillful decoration, including all of the ivory elements, are only visible when it is fully open. Although the Ivory Triptych originally served within a faith-based context of worship as a church altarpiece, it is now an object of curiosity and instruction. Since 2001, the Ivory Triptych has been loaned out to several Catholic University faculty members and placed in campus offices where it is a decorative object. Removing a fine art object like this from its original context presents challenges to research who made it and for what purpose. Attempting to understand its original role and placement is important to know its true context within its specific historical setting.
In the sixteenth century, African ivory was particularly rare, especially within France, making it highly desirable for religious art. During the Renaissance, an increasing desire for exotic materials like ivory helped develop a strong trade network connecting Africa, Europe, and the East. Along with this, stylistic ideas spread and deepened cosmopolitan connections. Christian elites used art objects like small diptychs and triptychs in their homes for private worship. Larger ivories like the Ivory Triptych would be commissioned by the wealthy for various churches. Commissions were a vital aspect of Renaissance-era art as a way for artists to sell their work and for patrons to demonstrate their class standing. Art selected by the wealthy and displayed for the public in an open setting like a church, the IvoryTriptych would be on the altar for viewing with its imagery highlighting Gospel stories for a mass audience that was not literate.
Other French ivory objects from the same period include plaques, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs. For example, the Diptychwith Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, ca. 1350, depict the life of Christ and various saints. Scenes of the Annunciation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, Presentation in the Temple, and the Resurrection are all present in the small 10 by 8 ⅚ inch diptych. The Ivory Triptych fostered a sacred atmosphere where onlookers could participate in Gospel scenes. The Adoration of the Magi and the Flight into Egypt are located in the top of the left panel. The bottom of the left panel features Christ’s Baptism and the Agony in the Garden. The top of the right panel portrays the Betrayal of Christ and the Carrying of the Cross. In the bottom right, the Entombment and Resurrection of Christ are portrayed. All of the side panels are divided into these four sections, with a column or jardiniere (floral planter) diving the section into two halves, each with a biblical story. The center of the triptych is Christ crucified with Mary directly below the cross on a pedestal. On her left are St. John the Baptist and St. Margaret of Antioch, and St. John the Divine and Mary Magdalene are on her right. Above the carved figures are ivory stars and bishops’ coats of arms. These symbols were easily recognizable to any viewer, regardless of literacy and social class.
Symbolism within the scenes points directly to an Eastern influence as devout Christians aimed to connect with a distant land and ancient past. Artists used symbols associated with the assumed story settings. In the Flight to Egypt the Holy Family approaches a distant setting with large palm trees in a rocky desert, symbols assumed to portray Egypt. The ornamentation on the wood and the ivory elements framing the scenes also shows a distinctly Eastern influence. On the side panels above each scene, geometric shapes in curves and points are imposed, reflecting the common use of Islamic patterns where figural imagery and depiction in a religious context were forbidden. Westerners were able to partially understand the necessary concept of ornamentation for the sake of worship and fascination with these unique styles of decoration took hold in Italy and France. By the time of the sixteenth century, Islamic decorative quality combined with French architectural tradition, can be seen in the architectural elements in the central panel of the Ivory Triptych. The detailed ornate style of the pinnacles and spires surrounding Christ are representative of the Islamic tradition of decoration and geometric elements. Along with many of the other art objects in the Catholic University collection, the Ivory Triptych points to a universality of Renaissance influence that stretched beyond Italy.
Baxandall, Michael. ‘Conditions of Trade,’ Painting and Experience. pp. 1-27.
Belting, Hans. ‘Perspective as a Question of Images’ Paths between East and West,’ Florence and Baghdad, 2011. pp. 13-25; 42-54.
Brotton, Jerry and Jardine, Lisa. ‘Exchanging Identity: Breaching Boundaries of Renaissance Europe,’ Global Interests: Renaissance Art between East and West, Reaktion, 2000. 11-62.
The following is a selection from Catholic University student Annaliese Haman’s class paper on a piece of Renaissance-era Italian art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Haman’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by Special Collection’s Dr. Maria Mazzenga. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.
When choosing a piece to research from the Catholic University Archives’ collection, I did not know where to begin. Certain pieces, such as the antique furniture, held a certain mystery and intrigue about them; they were also unique. The few triptychs available were of immediate interest as I have a fondness for altarpieces. However, I wanted to research something simple and fairly straightforward, so I looked at the few paintings available in the collection.
The Madonna with Child, Saints, and Angels oil painting on wood (Fig. 1) caught my attention, firstly because of its proximity to my dormitory. Having easy access to this piece immediately was a bonus. Yet as I examined the piece further, it continued to grow in its benefits. The piece needs restoration, but even with its cracks and damage, it was in very good condition and seemed worth pursuing for my projects.
Going to the Catholic University Archives for my designated research time sparked many interesting thoughts. I was glad that the archives did indeed have files on my piece. Though much of my file consisted of inventory records, there was a great deal of substance on the provenance of this painting. It originally belonged to Jeane Dixon. Dixon was a rather interesting character. She was born in 1904, and she was a devout Roman Catholic and a prophet. This was self-described but was attested to by many people around her. Her supposed psychic abilities garnered her fame and fortune. Dixon resided in Washington D.C. with her husband, who was involved in real estate and automobiles. She had many friends in high places and most importantly with respect to this painting, she was a friend of Monsignor James Magner, an administrator at Catholic University and a collector of art and historical objects. Magner donated much of his collection to the University’s Special Collections.
Ruth Montgomery’s book, A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon notes that Dixon first saw Madonna with Child, Saints, and Angels at the 1939-40 World’s Fair. The painting later showed up in Washington, D.C. where Dixon saw it again. This time, she bought the piece. She held on to it for many years, though it was kept at a friend’s house. When she began looking to donate it, Msgr. Magner leaped at the opportunity to acquire it. She agreed to donate the painting to Catholic University in her husband’s name and honor.  This new object of the university was a great point of pride: “Catholic University was so proud of its acquisition that it later exhibited the painting on a television program and reproduced its likeness on the school’s official Christmas cards.”
Both Montgomery’s book and correspondence in the archives note the acquisition of the painting. The book notes the supposed artist of the piece for the first time: “Innocenzo da Imola’s sixteenth-century painting of the Madonna and Child in a nativity scene…” This tells us that when Dixon purchased the painting, the artist’s identity was known.
Many inventory documents support Innocenzo as the artist. He was Italian, living between 1490 and 1545, and he worked primarily in Bologna, though he did spend some time in Florence. His work shows this Florentine influence through his formation of composition. According to Oxford Art Online, many of Innocenzo’s works were focused on the Madonna and Child with varied saints. This painting seems to fit right in with his known repertoire. It is unknown where the initial connection to him was made; there is no signature that can be seen in the present day; perhaps it was visible in 1939-40, but no known documentation exists confirming this. How Innocenzo became connected to this piece is missing from the provenance.
One document in the archives contains an appraisal. Here we get a name for the piece, The Madonna with Child, Saints and Angels. It is rather generic for a work of art, but many Renaissance pieces followed this type of structure of a Madonna and Child in a nativity scene surrounded by either the shepherds or various saints depending on the purpose of the painting. This appraisal helps provide many details about the piece, and gives weight to Imola’s name. “If it is, indeed, a work of Imola, it is an important find.” This appraisal also notes the date of the gift, the Summer of 1956.
A 2016 letter from Christopher Daly to Archives staff member, Katherine Santa Ana, and Art Department professor, Dr. Nora Heimann, provides a great deal of previously unknown information on the painting. He references the piece as, Nativity with Saint Genesius, Saint Blaise, a Young Martyr, and the Archangel Raphael with Tobias. The three previously unidentified saints and angels are named. Their attributes are easily visible, so it is not too difficult to figure out who they are. Having a firm statement of their identities is a great addition to our knowledge of the piece.
What is most interesting about Daly’s letter is his bold claim that Innocenzo is not the artist. “As mentioned, I believe the painting is a characteristic work by Ranieri di Leonardo, formerly known as ‘The Master of the Crocefisso dei Bianchi.’” Daly proceeds to give some information about Ranieri, namely, that he was Pisan and active in Lucca between 1502 and 1521. In his letter, Daly explains how he connected this Nativity with Ranieri. “Although CUA’s painting is heavily repainted, the composition and stiffly-posed figure types as well as some morphological details, such as the round, fleshy faces and the bony fingers, are legible…” which he connected to Ranieri’s work.
Daly wrote and published a chapter in the book Filippino Lippi: Beauty, Invention and Intelligence. Daly’s chapter is titled Filippino Lippi: Reconsidering Lucchese Painting after Filippino. What is most beneficial about this chapter is that many other paintings by Ranieri are given as examples in this chapter on Lucchese school painting. These paintings help to solidify this Virgin and Child as an Italian painting. The two attributed artists do strongly support its Italian origins, but having substantial examples of other Italian paintings from the same school helps to provide a greater understanding of how this painting fits into the style and techniques of its time. Daly gives a summary description of the painting before explaining how he connected this piece to Ranieri when it had been attributed to Innocenzo da Imola.
Not only are Ranieri’s characteristic bloated and restrained figure types clearly visible through the altarpiece’s heavily repainted surface, its unusual iconography – with a group of saints flanking a Nativity group rather than the customary Virgin and Child – allows it to be identified with the ‘Nascita di nostro Signore con l’arcangelo Raffaele e altri Santi,’ commissioned from Ranieri by the operai of San Tommaso in Pelleria, Lucca, on 26 March 1510.
In his research on this piece, Daly was able to find the contract that connected it to Ranieri. The reason this piece has connections to the Church is that the Church had a chapel dedicated to St. Genesius. The Church had also previously contracted Ranieri to create another altarpiece. Contracts hold keys to discovering many of the intricacies of Renaissance paintings. They can explain the globalization of the works, along with the localization. Yet within that localization, there can still be found aspects of the globalization of the cultures of the time.
This painting was commissioned by an Italian church to an Italian artist. And to further limit the scope of this painting, it was a church local to the artist. And yet this supposed limitation does not mean the painting does not exhibit the globalization of the world. Looking at the fabrics in the piece, little details in their patterns come out. Saint Raphael (Fig. 2) has a subtle pattern of little golden dots on his clothes. His collar also sports this gilding. Yet these are not the grand patterns and designs of the Netherlandish painters. In fact, these clothes are in a contemporary style.
The setting of this nativity is not the traditional setting of Bethlehem. As the Renaissance progressed, artists began using more and more motifs and settings that placed scenes and saints in the contemporary world. Though there are only two slim windows of viewing, a lovely green countryside can be seen in the background, behind Saint Genesius and Saint Raphael respectively. Part of this countryside can be seen in Figure 2. There is also the climbing vine along the front entrance of the stable. It could possibly be native or live in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas, but it is much more likely that this was a vine native to Italy, and possibly the Lucca region specifically. That stable also has much more of an Italian style to it than something built in ancient Judea. The round arch and the smooth walls without any indication of stonework or woodwork appear to be stucco.
At this point is it worth noting that Daly commented that this painting had been repainted and reworked. These details could have been added later, to achieve this same effect of bringing the Holy Family and the Nativity to Italy. This possibility cannot be fully answered without an x-ray look at the painting and a more detailed study by experts. And yet this painting exhibits a beautiful and traditional scene that shows how the Renaissance and its artists recognized the importance of seeing day-to-day settings in the context of important events. And how fitting that this piece would be found at a World’s Fair, a modern example of the great global exchange that the Renaissance began in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
 Ruth Montgomery, A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon (New York: Bantam Books, 1965), 137.  Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 138.  Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 139.  Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 137.  Any information about Innocenzo da Imola comes from The Getty website and Oxford Art Online.  Unknown author, inventory document from approximately 1981.  Christopher Daly, “Letter to Ms. Katherine C. Santa Ana and Dr. Nora Heimann,” (letter, collection of The Catholic University of America Archives, 2016).  Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016.  Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016.  Christopher Daly, “Filippino Lippi: Reconsidering Lucchese Painting after Filippino,” in Filippino Lippi: Beauty, Invention and Intelligence, ed. Paula Nuttall, Geoffrey Nuttall, and Michael Kwakkelstein, (Leiden: Brill, 2020), 316.  Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016.
Daly, Christopher. “Letter to Ms. Katherine C. Santa Ana and Dr. Nora Heimann.” Letter, Collection of The Catholic University of America Archives, 2016.
Daly, Christopher. “Filippino Lippi: Reconsidering Lucchese Painting after Filippino.” In Filippino Lippi: Beauty, Invention and Intelligence, edited by Paula Nuttall, Geoffrey Nuttall, and Michael Kwakkelstein. 297-321. Leiden: Brill, 2020.
Montgomery, Ruth, A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon. New York: Bantam Books, 1965.
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 and edited by Special Collection’s Dr. Maria Mazzenga. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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)
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Guest blogger Katherine DeFonzo is a Graduate Library Pre-Professional (GLP) working in the Semitics/ICOR Department at Catholic University.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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