The Archivist’s Nook: Upon This Granite Block

The center spread from the September 23, 1920 foundation stone laying program is heavy on American imagery. Note the parallel between the dome of the future Shrine and the dome of the Capitol building, the inclusion of indigenous Americans, and the border of state seals.

This week marks one hundred years since the foundation stone for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception was laid on September 23, 1920. But, like Rome, the Shrine wasn’t built in a day. In this blogpost, I’ll focus on the early history of the Shrine—from its inception up until the intermission in its construction beginning in 1931.

“IDEA MANY YEARS OLD” pronounced the Salve Regina Press, the publisher of the Shrine’s fundraising bulletin, on August 1, 1924; after the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of the Immaculate Conception, had been designated as the patroness of the United States in 1847, whispers of a “fitting architectural symbol of this dedication” supposedly occurred at the Second Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in 1866 and surfaced again at the Third Plenary Council in 1884. The establishment of a national Catholic university in 1887 only lent urgency to the matter of a patronal church. When The Catholic University of America first opened in 1889, the campus community patronized the chapel in Caldwell (then-known as Divinity) Hall. As early as July 1910, Thomas Joseph Shahan, the fourth rector of the University (1909–1928), expressed his desire for a full-fledged University Church: “Professors and books shed a dry light,” he explained (himself a professor), “but a glorious Church sheds a warm emotional, sacramental light” (Letter to Mr. Jenkins). Dubbed the “Rector-builder,” Shahan championed much of the campus construction in those days—perhaps to a fault: “A university is a society of men, not buildings,” chided his successor, Monsignor James H. Ryan (Nuesse 171; Malesky 90). In any case, the Shrine was his pride and joy. In 1913, Pope Pius X gave Shahan his blessing along with $400 (Tweed 49).

The foundation stone was lucky to survive its journey from New Hampshire to Washington, D.C., which got dicey in Maryland. Shahan is pictured standing right of center. To the left is his secretary, the Rev. Bernard A. McKenna.

By at least one account, the fact that the foundation stone arrived in one piece for the festivities seven years later was a miracle; it was driven more than 1,500 miles from New Hampshire down to Washington, D.C. (taking a very winding path) on the back of a new-fangled green and gold “Auto Truck” whose brakes supposedly failed at one point during the journey. The donor of the stone, James Joseph Sexton, remarked “how lucky we were to travel so far […] without accident,” adding “I shall always reverence the Blessed Virgin Mary as I have told many […] how she protected us at Perryville Road when our Auto Truck dashed down the hill at fully 40 miles an hour” (“On This Day in History“).

Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, presided over the laying of the foundation stone—as he had on numerous other occasions at the University (including the inaugural event on May 24, 1888, when the cornerstone of Caldwell Hall was laid). The next day, The Washington Post described the ceremony as “one of the most notable religious events ever witnessed in the National Capital,” and reported that “10,000 persons thronged the university campus to view the spectacle” (“Vast Shrine Is Begun“). But conspicuously absent from the crowd that day were some of the Shrine’s earliest and most ardent supporters: laywomen like Lucy Shattuck Hoffman who made up the National Organization of Catholic Women (NOCW) (Tweed 35).

The earliest architectural plans for the Shrine, ca. 1915–1918, were Gothic in style. The decision to abandon this aesthetic alienated the Shrine’s first laywomen supporters.

Hoffman had played a prominent part in the prehistory of the Shrine (between 1911 and 1918), not only as the founder of the NOCW but also as the mother of an established architect who in 1915 submitted the “plaster model of Gothic design” pictured in many of the Shrine’s early promotional materials (Tweed 32). As such, Hoffman apparently took for granted the fact that her son would get the commission. But in 1918, the University’s Board of Trustees decided to abandon the Gothic in favor of a Romanesque design. For whatever reason, the devoted members of the NOCW were not made privy to the Trustees’ decision and were left instead to read about it in the same fundraising periodical they helped distribute (Tweed 33). Hoffman felt betrayed. The members of the NOCW’s New York chapter resigned in solidarity, and just like that, one of the first national organizations of Catholic women “abruptly disbanded” (Tweed 34).

Interestingly, the foundation stone was laid “only thirty-six days after women won the right to vote,” but the climate at the ceremony was not celebratory (Tweed 17). In his sermon that afternoon, the bishop of Duluth accused women of “seeking a freedom that is excessive” (“Vast Shrine Is Begun“). His apparent lack of support for women seems incongruous given that the Shrine was not only marketed explicitly to “America’s Marys,” but was also in large part the product of women’s fundraising efforts.

In the absence of any traditional American ecclesiastical style, the architectural firm Maginnis and Walsh felt that “the U.S. cultural condition allowed—even demanded—freedom to experiment” (Tweed 25). Hence the “Byzantine beach ball” we know today (Tweed 5). Some have suggested that Shahan and the architects rejected a Gothic design because the National Cathedral, already underway in the District of Columbia, was Gothic. Others have suggested that they sought an alternative design because Gothic structures took too long to build—an ironic objection, considering the Shrine was only completed “according to its original architectural and iconographic plans” upon the dedication of the Trinity Dome mosaic in 2017: four score and seventeen years after the foundation stone was laid in 1920 (“Dedication of the Trinity Dome“).

Unidentified laborer poses with the foundation stone on December 15, 1923, during the construction of the crypt church. Note that the date inscribed in Latin on the stone follows the Roman calendar; it reads “eight days prior to the first of October,” which translates to September 23. Thanks to Shane MacDonald for consulting with me!

Construction on the crypt level did not actually begin until three years later, in 1923. The first public Mass was held in the crypt church on Easter Sunday in 1924. Later that year, the Salve Regina Press reported: “In this crypt, incomplete though it is, already ordinations have been held and thousands of pilgrims have attended Mass, often said while the hammers of workmen punctuated the singing of the priest” (“Glories of the Crypt“). Presciently, the closing paragraph of the same August 1, 1924 issue of the Salve Regina Press exactly predicts future delays: “When the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will be completed is as much a problem as the great cathedral-builders of the Middle Ages faced. Business depressions, wars—many things—may intervene.”

For years, Shahan and his secretary, the Reverend Bernard A. McKenna, were the “two master minds” of the Shrine project, but shortly after Shahan’s death in 1932, McKenna—the Shrine’s first director—returned to his pastoral work in Philadelphia (Tweed 29–30). The loss of leadership was compounded by the onset of the Great Depression and the United States’ eventual entry into WWII; the project lay dormant after the crypt level was completed in 1931.

Aerial view of the CatholicU campus, ca. 1931. As local historian Robert P. Malesky notes, the Shrine at that time “was perhaps the lowest, flattest functioning church in the United States.”

For more than two decades the lower church evoked the “Half sunk” Ozymandias; at one time, the bishop of Reno complained that it “remained a shapeless bulk of masonry half-buried in the ground” (Tweed 42). Following a 23-year hiatus, construction resumed in 1954 and the superstructure was formally dedicated on November 20, 1959. For more on that story, stay tuned for the centennial in 2059!

Although the foundation stone isn’t visible from the outside, you can see it by visiting what is now the Oratory of Our Lady of Antipolo, or #17 on the page-two map from this 1931 guide book.

 

Works Cited

“Dedication of the Trinity Dome,” https://www.nationalshrine.org/history/#timeline.

“Glories of the Crypt,” The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Salve Regina Press, August 1, 1924). Thomas Joseph Shahan Papers. Collection 69, Box 39, Folder 6.

“Idea Many Years Old.” The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (Salve Regina Press, August 1, 1924). Thomas Joseph Shahan Papers. Collection 69, Box 39, Folder 6.

Letter to Mr. Jenkins, dated July 28, 1910. Thomas Joseph Shahan Papers. Collection 69, Box 39, Folder 6.

Malesky, Robert P. The Catholic University of America. Arcadia, 2010.

Nuesse, C. Joseph. The Catholic University of America: A Centennial History. CUA Press, 1990.

“On This Day in History,” September 23, 2019, https://www.nationalshrine.org/blog/on-this-day-in-history-the-laying-of-the-basilicas-foundation-stone/

Tweed, Thomas A. America’s Church: The National Shrine and Catholic Presence in the Nation’s Capital. Oxford, 2011.

Vast Shrine Is Begun,” The Washington Post, September 24, 1920. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Collection. Collection 48, Box 9, Folder 1.

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: Anti-Catholic History Resources in Special Collections

Letter from a Romish priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and instructed in the Romish faith, by Francois Seguenot, Boston, 1729, Rare Books, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Catholic University’s Special Collections Department has a vast quantity of documents which encompass the sentiment of Anti-Catholicism in America that spans from colonial times to the dawn of the twenty-first century. Our rare books collection includes eighteenth century works such as Letter from a Romish Priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and was instructed in the Romish faith by Francois Seguenot (1729) and A specimen of a book, intituled, Ane compendious booke, of godly and spiritual sangs,collectit out of the Scripture,with sundrie of other ballates changed out of prophaine sangs, for avoyding of sinne and harlotrie by Robert Wedderburn (1765). Nineteenth century examples include Popery: the foe of the church and of the Republic and Popery Unmasked, while the twentieth century contributes entries such as Priest Baiting and Jesuits: Religious Rogues. Additionally, we have archival documentation on the 1834 burning of the Ursuline Convent in Massachusetts, as well as Anti-Catholic Literature that was collected during the 1928 presidential campaign. The Catholic response to counter this bias included a newspaper column titled Catholic Heroes of the World War, 1928-1933, and the National Council of Catholic Men’s Catholic Hour radio and television programs.

Anti-Catholicism in America grew from the attitudes of Protestant immigrants who were fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England whose doctrines aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. Anti-Catholic rhetoric such as the Biblical Anti-Christ and Whore of Babylon was derived from the theological heritage of the Reformation which criticized the perceived excesses of Catholic clerical hierarchy in general and the Papacy in particular. Theological differences were compounded by secular xenophobia and feelings of nativism towards these increasing numbers of Catholic immigrants, particularly those coming from Ireland and later, eastern and southern Europe and Latin America. Catholic support for the American Revolution helped alleviate notions of the inherently treasonable nature of Catholicism. George Washington staunchly promoted religious tolerance as a means of public order. He suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army while our reliance on Catholic France and Spain for military aid helped reduce anti-Catholic rhetoric. By the 1780s, Catholics were extended legal tolerance in many states and the anti-Catholic tradition of Pope Night was discontinued.[1]

An account of the Conflagration of the Ursuline Convent. Boston 1834. Ursurline Convent Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America

Anti-Catholicism peaked in the mid nineteenth century as Protestant leaders accused the Church of being an enemy to republican values. The Catholic Church’s silence on the subject of slavery also raised the ire of northern abolitionists. In 1836, Maria Monk was published to great commercial success. It was the most prominent of many scurrilous pamphlets that were published even though it was later revealed to be a fabrication. Numerous supposedly former priests and nuns went on an anti-Catholic lecture circuit telling lurid tales that usually involved sexual depravity and dead babies. Intolerance again exploded in 1834 when a mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The resulting nativist movement morphed politically into the Know Nothing Party, which unsuccessfully backed former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate in 1856. But during the Civil War, widespread enlistment of Irish and German immigrants into the Union Army, as well as the dedicated service of priests acting as chaplains and nuns serving as nurses, help demonstrate Catholic Patriotism.

After the Civil War ended, tensions were again raised by a proposed amendment to the Constitution which stipulated that no public money could be used to support any sort of religious school. Although President Ulysses S. Grant supported this amendment, it was defeated in 1875. However, it was used as the basis for dozens of successful state amendments that prohibited using public funds for parochial schools. The early 20th century brought about a new appreciation of Catholicism, especially in western states where Protestantism had not yet become deeply ensconced. Examples of this show how California celebrated the history of Spanish Franciscan missions, which later became popular tourist attractions and in the Philippines, which was newly occupied by the United States, Catholic missionary efforts were praised. Catholic mobilization efforts during World War I by the National Catholic War Council and the Knights of Columbus were also appreciated by many non-Catholic Americans.

Anti-Catholic political cartoon of the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election. Anti-Catholic Literature Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Nevertheless, anti-Catholicism continue to rage in the interwar years as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) continued to argue that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that parochial schools prevented Catholics from becoming loyal Americans. In 1922, Oregon voters passed the Oregon School Law, which mandated attendance at public schools. The law outraged Catholics and in 1925 the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 1928, Democrat Al Smith of New York became the first Roman Catholic to gain a major party’s nomination for president. Many Protestant ministers warned that the nation was at risk because Smith would take secret orders from the Pope. Another strike against Smith was his opposition to Prohibition, which had widespread support in rural Protestant areas. Despite his loss, Democratic voting surged in large cities as ethnic Catholics, including recently enfranchised women, went to the polls to defend their religious culture. Catholics made up a major portion of the New Deal Coalition that Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted four years later and which continued to dominate national elections for decades.

The Second World War and the Holocaust brought religious tolerance to the fore. Despite Eleanor Roosevelt’s feud with the Archbishop of New York, Francis J. Spellman, over federal aid to Catholic schools, the 1950s promoted a unified front against communism. National leaders appealed to the common values of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike. The so-called ‘Catholic Question’ continued to be a key factor that affected voting in the 1960 Presidential Campaign. To allay Protestant fears, Catholic John F. Kennedy, who narrowly won the office, kept his distance from Church officials and publicly stated “I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me.”[2] After 1980, historic tensions between evangelical Protestants and Catholics dissipated as the two groups often saw themselves allied in regard to contentious social issues like abortion and gay marriage. By 2000, Catholics made up about one half of the Republican Coalition with the rest being comprised of a large majority of white evangelicals.

John F. Kennedy receiving Catholic U’s Gibbons Medal, 1956. Although pictured prominently with Church members here, Kennedy would distance himself from his faith when running for President four years later. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Please see the new Catholic University of America Library Research Guide on Anti-Catholic Resources which are held in our Special Collections and was created by William J. Shepherd and Amanda Bernard.

[1] Pope Night was an anti-Catholic holiday celebrated annually on November 5 in colonial America. It had evolved from Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain that commemorated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 by prominent Catholics to blow up the British Parliament. The rowdy celebration included drunken street brawls and the burning of the Pope in effigy.

[2] NPR Web site at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

[3] As always, special thanks to TSK.

The Archivist’s Nook: Long Live Organized Women

This August will mark the one hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which states that no citizen of the United States shall be denied the right to vote “on account of sex.”

First National Convention of the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW), 1921. The text accompanying the photograph specifies that, “The picture printed herewith was taken on the grounds of the White House” (NCCW, Box 184, Folder 2). Second from right: Mrs. F. E. Mackentepe, Province of Cincinnati. Fourth and fifth from right: Mrs. W. J. O’Toole, Province of St. Paul; and Mrs. Teresa M. Molamphy, Province of Philadelphia.

The history of women’s suffrage is closely allied with the abolitionist and the temperance movements of the early 19th century—antebellum struggles in which women figured prominently (especially women guided by religious principles). In the aftermath of the Civil War, women’s suffrage gained momentum, but its activists were divided among several rival organizations: most notably, the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) and the American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA). The 1890 founding of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) braided the NWSA and AWSA together—presenting a united front that propelled women’s rights agitation into a mass movement. Arguably, though, the more radical National Woman’s Party (NWP)—which was formed in 1916 and made the controversial decision to continue picketing the White House despite the war effort—played the decisive role in getting a constitutional amendment passed.

If the zeitgeist of the Progressive Era (1890-1920) was the coalescence of social, political, and economic reform movements into bureaucratic organizations, then women’s suffrage embodied it. Not coincidentally, many organizations of Catholic laywomen also trace their roots to the turn of the 20th century. The Catholic University of America (CUA) Archives is the official repository for several prominent organizations of Catholic laywomen, including the Christ Child Society (1887, chartered in 1903), the Daughters of Isabella (1897), the Catholic Daughters of the Americas (1903), the National Conference of Catholic Charities (1910), the International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (1914), and the National Council of Catholic Women (1920).

Three early board members of the NCCW, all also pictured in the preceding photograph of the First National Convention. Clockwise from left: Mrs. Teresa M. Molamphy, Province of Philadelphia; Mrs. W. J. O’Toole, Province of St. Paul; and Mrs. F. E. Mackentepe, Province of Cincinnati. See NCCW, Box 185, Folder 8.

Although Christian goodwill informed much of the moral impetus behind reforms of the Progressive Era, that Christianity was often of a decidedly Protestant variety. The 19th and early 20th centuries were marked by fierce prejudice against Catholics, which was only exacerbated by the dramatic uptick in Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants in the 1890s. The upshot: Catholics mirrored the wider trends of the Progressive Era in their own sphere.

The Catholic University of America (CUA) has direct ties to three of the above-listed organizations of Catholic laywomen. Brief overviews follow in chronological order.

A pair of glasses rests on a page of the Proceedings of the First National Conference of Catholic Charities held at The Catholic University of America, September 25-28, 1910. See Catholic Charities USA, Box 237, Folder 27.

The National Conference of Catholic Charities—today’s Catholic Charities USA—was founded on the campus of Catholic University in 1910. As Dr. Maria Mazzenga, Curator of the American Catholic History Research Center, notes in this 2017 blog post, “Catholic laywomen dominated the early membership.”

The International Federation of Catholic Alumnae (IFCA), founded in 1914, was headquartered in Washington, D.C. on the campus of CUA until the 1960s. Upon the completion of the IFCA finding aid in 2013, University Archivist and Head of Special Collections W. J. Shepherd explained IFCA’s “deep connections to Catholic University as benefactors”—most notably through the endowment of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Chair in Education.

Meanwhile, the National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) ran the National Catholic School of Social Service between 1921 and 1947—a women’s school which was officially folded into the men’s school at CUA after many years of parallel association. As we commemorate the centenary of women winning the vote, the NCCW, established in 1920, is also celebrating its one hundredth anniversary.

For more on Catholic women, please see the research guide Special Collections — Catholic Women Resources.

The Archivist’s Nook: “A Shepherd in Combat Boots”: The Life of Father Emil Kapaun

Father Emil Kapaun, a military chaplain who died tragically as a prisoner of war in Korea in 1950, was known as “a shepherd in combat boots,” a perplexing phrase at first blush. How does one reconcile the image of the humble shepherd with that of a soldier in combat boots? Father Kapaun, who was declared a Servant of God in 1993 by Pope John Paul II, embodies both the fighter and the shepherd.

A portrait of Father Emil Kapaun, Servant of God. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

Born on April 20, 1916 to German and Bohemian Catholic parents just outside of Pilsen, Kansas, young Emil grew up laboring on the 160-acre farm where his family raised cows, chickens, pigs, and grew wheat and corn. Summers on the Kansas plains were sweltering hot, and winters, bitterly cold. Serving as an altar boy at Pilsen’s St. John Nepomucene Church, young Emil was influenced in his Catholic faith by the church’s pastor, Father John Sklenar. Witnessing the fervency of his faith as a boy, Father Sklenar, along with his parents, Bessie and Enos Kapaun, apparently marked Kapaun as a priest from a young age. Though young Emil began high school and college at Conception Abbey in northwest Missouri when he was 14, he returned home in the summers to work the fields with his father, brother, and members of the Pilsen farming community. His concentration on his studies was intense, and he did so well in his classes that he was known by his schoolmates as “the Brain.”[1]

Father Emil Kapaun attended The Catholic University of America, 1946-1948. He’s pictured here, left, under the sign. Image used courtesy of the Diocese of Wichita.

After completing his training at Kenrick Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri in 1940, Kapaun was ordained a diocesan priest and assigned to the parish in which he’d grown up. But he had a taste for studying military and political affairs in Europe and elsewhere, writing to his brother Eugene about conflict in Europe throughout his time in the seminary. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he witnessed men his own age leaving Pilsen for service and notified his Wichita diocese bishop, Christian Herman Winkelmann, that he felt called to work as a military chaplain. The bishop refused, however, instructing him to remain as Assistant to Father Sklenar at St. John Nepomucene. He followed the events of the war, writing about them in his diary, noting the call for chaplains. He began volunteering part time at the military airfield at nearby Herington, Kansas, and wrote letters to local soldiers. His letters, sermons, and talks to soldiers interwove faith and military service. To one group, his biographer William Maher notes, he preached, “…a Catholic soldier will have his heart set on obedience and faithfulness to duty to service of his country and through that service, to the honor and glory of God.”[2]

Father Kapaun remained at the parish where he had grown up, but he didn’t feel comfortable replacing the priest who had been there more than 50 years, and to whose ways the parishioners had become accustomed. He again petitioned Bishop Winkelmann:

When I was ordained, I was determined to ‘spend myself’ for God. I was determined to do that cheerfully, no matter in what circumstances I would be placed or how hard a life I would be asked to lead. That is why I volunteered for the army and that is why today I would a thousand times rather be working deprived of all ordinary comforts, being a true ‘Father’ to all my people, than by living in a nice comfortable place with with my conscience telling me that I am an obstacle to many.[3]

Bishop Winkelmann finally agreed to allow Father Kapaun to train for a military chaplaincy. Kapaun began his military career in August, 1944 in a class of 145 chaplains. In addition to rigorous physical training involving long marches and calisthenics, Kapaun studied chemical warfare and military sanitation. He enjoyed military life, writing to a friend, “They want to toughen us up in a hurry and I really enjoy it.”[4] Among other things, he learned that he had to promote the religious life of everyone in his unit (no matter the faith tradition), travel from outpost to outpost among scattered troops, and comfort the sick and wounded, all of these instructions he put to use not only during World War Two, but in the Korean War as well. He eventually ended up serving in the China-India-Burma theatre of war operations, also traveling to Bermuda, the Azores, Casablanca, Tripoli, and New Delhi, celebrating mass and ministering to soldiers, refugees, and civilians during this time.[5]

Father Kapaun wrote his master’s thesis on religious schooling in U.S. Secondary Schools, and completed his degree in 1948. This is an image of his thesis’s cover page from the University Archives.

After receiving orders to return to the U.S. in April, 1946, Kapaun conferred with his bishop on furthering his education. He began studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. in 1946. A master’s degree in education from the University would qualify him to teach at both Catholic and public schools in Kansas.

But alas, the military life still called him. He wrote his bishop in 1948 that “I believe I should offer myself for work in the Armed Forces, especially in this crisis.”[6] The crisis to which he referred was the uptick in tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over land access to West Berlin. The U.S. responded to the Soviet blockage of the city with its “Berlin Airlift” of supplies to the citizens of the former German capital. He reentered military service in 1948, and after a period of service in U.S.-occupied Japan in 1950, he was assigned to duty as chaplain of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment early in the Korean War. As chaplain, he ministered to the dead, heard confessions, and celebrated mass using the hood of a jeep as an altar.

Kapaun’s story has inspired devotion. For the past 11 years, a pilgrimage is held in his hometown of Pilsen, Kansas in late May. This pamphlet held in the University’s pamphlet collection recounts his story.

Kapaun saved 15 soldiers by dragging them to safety during the Battle of Unsan in November, 1950. He was captured by Chinese soldiers on November 2, 1950, and sent to a prison camp, where he died from illness and malnutrition. For his service and bravery, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama in 2013 (the 60th anniversary of the end of Korean War). In 1993, Pope John Paul II made Father Kapaun a servant of God, the first stage on the path to canonization.

View the website devoted to Father Kapaun’s Canonization: https://catholicdioceseofwichita.org/father-kapaun/

 

 

[1] William L. Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, Chaplain Emil Kapaun of the 1st Cavalry Division (Shippensburg, PA: Burd Street Press, 1997), chapter 1,38.

[2] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 45-49.

[3] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[4] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 54.

[5] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 56.

[6] Maher, A Shepherd in Combat Boots, 68.

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Lawrence Flick – Medical Crusader and Catholic Historian

As historians, archivists, and librarians, we address many subjects, including the history of disease. As the world of 2020 faces the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it is worthwhile to consider another serious infectious disease that afflicted the world more than a century ago—and the man who, after surviving his own diagnosis of the disease, dedicated himself to its prevention and treatment.  The disease is tuberculosis, which primarily affects the lungs with bacteria spread person to person through tiny droplets released into the air through coughing and sneezing. The person who pioneered the research and treatment of this deadly disease was Dr. Lawrence Francis Flick (1856-1938). A devout Roman Catholic and German-American from western Pennsylvania, Flick was a dedicated medical doctor as well as a serious historian of his Church. His papers, which reside in the Special Collections of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D. C. document his work in both his fields of interest.

Portrait of Dr. Flick as First President of the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA) in 1920. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The ninth of twelve children, Flick was born on August 10, 1856, near Carrolltown in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. His parents were German immigrants with roots in Bavaria, John Flick and Elizabeth Sharbaugh (or Schabacher). He was educated at St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. It was also an adjunct to a Bavarian Benedictine Monastery, which trained priests for the order as well as the Pittsburgh diocese. After contracting Pulmonary Tuberculosis, the version that affects the lungs, Flick was forced to drop out and return home to recuperate. Somewhat better but still in poor health, Flick enrolled at Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College in 1877, the same year that the college became one of the first teaching medical colleges in the United States. Flick graduated in 1879 as a medical doctor and interned at Blockley, the Philadelphia charity hospital. Flick also devoted several years to curing himself, including a tour of the American west and eating an experimental diet. Apparently cured by 1883, Flick returned permanently to Philadelphia and had a remarkable career as a specialist in tuberculosis, and its prevention and treatment.[1]

Anti Tuberculosis poster of the American Lung Association, ca. 1930s, Courtesy of the Museum of Health Care.

Flick’s studies prompted him to argue that the disease was contagious and not hereditary, which contradicted the current school of thought. His efforts to isolate ‘consumptives,’ as those suffering from tuberculosis were then called, in special hospitals known as sanitariums, and to register their cases, was controversial, and opposed by many within the medical profession. Between 1892 and 1910, Flick’s efforts to educate the public prompted him to found the Pennsylvania Society for Prevention of Tuberculosis; the Free Hospital for Poor Consumptives; the Henry Phipps Institute for the Study, Prevention, and Treatment of Tuberculosis, where he was President and Medical Director from 1903 to 1910; and a sanitarium at White Haven, Pennsylvania, that he directed until 1935. His fellow Roman Catholics from all levels of society were generous in their contributions and assistance. Flick was also a promoter of the National Association for Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (1904) and of its International Congress on Tuberculosis (1908). In addition to his fight against Tuberculosis, Flick was also in the forefront of combating the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918 in Philadelphia.

A roadside historical marker honoring Dr. Flick erected in 1959 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission on Route 219 North, near Carrolltown, some 400 yards west of his birthplace. As a child I lived a few miles away and would frequently pass this sign while out driving with my family. Imagine my surprise years later, when beginning work as an archivist at Catholic University, to find we had the papers of this notable homeboy! [3] Photo courtesy of The Historical Markers Database.
Flick was the author of several books, including Consumption, A Curable and Preventable Disease (1903) and Tuberculosis, A Book of Practical Knowledge to Guide the General Practitioner of Medicine (1937). He also wrote many articles and book reviews that were published in The Ecclesiastical Review and the Catholic Historical Review. The latter published his 1927 magisterial article on Prince Demtri Gallitzin, the so called ‘Apostle of the Alleghenies,’ who did so much to bring the Catholic religion to the inhabitant of Flick’s native Western Pennsylvania. Flick died in Philadelphia July 7, 1938, and was buried in the cemetery of Old St. Mary’s Church. His son, Lawrence F. Flick, Jr., was a writer and editor of some note and two of Flick’s daughters wrote biographies of their father

What lesson then does Flick have for us in these times of uncertainty brought on by this pandemic? He is an example of how one person can make a difference in research, education, and, most importantly, the treatment of a terrible disease that resulted in its eventual mitigation. Flick said “Tuberculosis takes only the quitters,” those who got discouraged and gave up the struggle.[2] Flick was a fighter who would not be defeated. Perhaps someone reading this blog post will be such a person, a new Flick to defeat the Coronavirus, or some other as yet unheard of pestilence. We can only hope.

[1] James J. Walsh. ‘Dr. Lawrence F. Flick,’ The Commonweal, August 26, 1938, p. 445.

[2] Raymond Schmandt. ‘The Friendship between Bishop Regis Canevin and Dr. Lawrence Flick of Philadelphia,’ The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine (61:4), October 1978, pp. 284-286.

[3] Special Collections at CUA also houses the records of many Catholic organizations fighting disease and disaster, including the National Catholic War Council, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Also, thanks to TSK and staff for their assistance.

The Archivist’s Nook: Sr. Bowman Goes to Washington

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Sr. Bowman’s life was one rich with literature, music, education, and spirituality. A scholar and teacher to elementary- to college-age students – and even bishops. Bowman contributed to Catholic education, liturgy, and experience through her outreach and writings on music and education. And like Father Cyprian Davis, she was both an educator of and advocate for the Black Catholic experience – its creativity, art, history, and contributions to the Church.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Born in 1937 and raised in Canton, Mississippi, Bertha Bowman converted to Catholicism at the age of nine – convincing her parents to do likewise. By the age of 15, she decided to join the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, taking the religious name “Thea” or “of God”. She entered her postulancy at the order’s motherhouse in La Crosse, Wisconsin in 1953. Having witnessed police brutality and mob actions against members of her community growing up, Bowman’s parents were understandably nervous about their young daughter departing to join an all-white order. In a 1989 interview, Bowman recounts that her father warned her, “They’re not going to like you up there, the only black in the middle of all the whites.” Her response: “I’m going to make them like me.”[1]

While Bowman struggled with discrimination and health issues during the next decade of her life, she would quickly prove herself a skilled educator, serving with her order in Wisconsin, and later, her home state of Mississippi. Arriving at Catholic University in the late 1960s, she entered Washington at a key moment in the post-Vatican II Church, Civil Rights Movement, and Women’s Rights Movement. As a Black Catholic religious sister, she was well placed to speak to the overlapping issues of all three movements.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

During her tenure in Washington, Bowman gained further insight into her identity as an African-American religious sister. Her connections with the broader Church and global African community – both the diaspora and African students – reignited a passion that she would carry with her throughout the remainder of her life. She not only established the first class on Black literature on campus, but she became an advocate for African-American Catholicism beyond Catholic University. She soon became a speaker of the experience of the African community with the Catholic Church, both the trauma of the past and present as well as the creative output of the present and future.  Rhetoric and music were key interests of Sr. Bowman, both of which informed her approach to her teaching and spiritual practices. As she told CUA Magazine in 1990:

While studying literary theory, methodology and criticism at CUA I began to realize the extent to which music encodes values, history and faith of my people. While studying medieval ballads, I read an author who said the oral literary tradition no longer exists. I wrote a paper showing how the oral tradition is alive and well in the black community and how music is a way we have of preserving history and teaching values.

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

Bowman’s passion for teaching, rhetoric, and music was exemplified in the presentations she offered both on and off campus during her time in DC. She delivered a 1968 address on Black education at Howard University.[1] As recalled by the CUA English faculty, Bowman would perform African-American Gospel spirituals in traditional regalia for her fellow Catholic University students and faculty. These performances would then be followed by a talk on the rhetorical purpose of the performance’s various components from the words to the physical gestures.[2]

As both a MA and later doctoral student in English language and literature, she wrote her MA thesis (1969) and doctoral dissertation (1972) on St. Thomas More’s A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation. She was drawn to the rhetorical style of this text that More composed during his time imprisoned in the Tower of London.

Title page for Sr. Bowman’s 1972 dissertation

After finishing at Catholic University, Bowman returned to Mississippi, continuing to serve as an educator and advocate. She not only remained involved with her local communities, but traveled the nation (and world) speaking about Black music and literature within the Catholic Church. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1984, one of her final lectures was before the U.S. Catholic bishops in 1989. During this talk she performed an African-American spiritual, and invited the assembled bishops to stand, hold hands, and sing along. Bowman passed away in 1990, but her legacy of teaching, outreach, and advocacy continues as represented by her cause for canonization and scholarships in her name.

[1] Smith, Charlene & John Feister. Thea’s Song: The Life of Thea Bowman. Orbis Books, 106-9.

[2] Smith & Feister, 38.

The Archivist’s Nook: George Washington Sleeps Here – Special Collections of Catholic University

A page from the 1790 exchange in print between American Catholics and President George Washington. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

While not a Roman Catholic, George Washington (1732-1799), renowned military leader of the American Revolution and groundbreaking first President of the United States, instead was a moderate Anglican in faith. However, throughout his life he socialized with many Catholics, ranging from the prominent Carroll family of Maryland to his many French and Polish born army officers, such as the Marquis de Lafayette and Kosciuszko. Washington also once attended a Catholic mass in Philadelphia and contributed funds towards the construction of a Catholic church in Baltimore. As Commander-in-Chief, he diplomatically banned the raucous anti-Catholic Guy Fawkes celebration in November of 1775.[1] Washington subsequently evolved into a mythic ‘Father of His Country,’ with Americans of every stripe honoring his memory and collecting relevant documents, art, and other memorabilia. American Catholics have certainly been part of this process. The President’s Day national holiday is a fitting time to take a look at the many Washington related collectable items housed in the Special Collections of The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C.

Copy of the Landsdown Portrait of Washington that was on display for several decades in Mullen Library. It is now in storage pending restorative work. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

The Rare Books Department of Special Collections includes two notable Washington items. The first is a 1790 exchange of addresses with American Catholics, bound together with an 1857 edition. John Carroll of Maryland was selected as the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States in 1789, the same year Washington became the nation’s first President. As one of his first official acts as bishop, Carroll wrote an address in March of 1790 on behalf of American Catholics congratulating the President on his office and complimenting him on his “respect for religion” and “unwearied attention to the moral and physical improvement of our country.”  In reply, he assured Catholics they were “equally entitled to the protection of civil Government” as well as thanking them for their Revolutionary War service. The second is a 1921 pamphlet titled George Washington and the Constitution of the United States authored by James Gibbons, Cardinal Archbishop of Baltimore and a founder of Catholic University. In it Gibbons extolled the virtues of The Constitution “as the greatest instrument of government that ever passed” and argued that by securing its adoption Washington “made all mankind his debtor forever.”

A piece of Cambridge Elm Tree associated with Washington, currently on display in the Aquinas Hall, Room 101, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

The University Museum also has two interesting Washington related items. The first, originally thought to be the famous 1796 Landsdown Portrait by Gilbert Stuart or a Stuart sanctioned copyist, now appears to be one of possibly four or five apparently rogue copies by English born American landscape artist William Winstanley. After being on display in The Catholic Club of New York, it was donated to Catholic University ca. 1940 by Cardinal Francis Spellman. The second, is an alleged piece of the elm tree in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where, according to local legend, Washington assumed command of the Continental Army on July 3, 1775, during the Siege of Boston against the British. Sadly, the tree was chopped down in 1923.  However, a thousand pieces were salvaged as relics and distributed to interested parties. Father John J. Ryan gifted a piece to Catholic University in 1924, with an attending plaque stating it was “Presented by the city of Cambridge.”

National Catholic Celebration of the George Washington Bicentennial, May 28, 1932, at Catholic University. Special Collections.

The records of both the University Archives and The American Catholic History Research Center contain materials documenting the participation of Catholics in the bicentennial celebration of Washington’s birth. The George Washington Bicentennial Commission, established in 1924 by a joint resolution of the Congress of the United States and signed by President Calvin Coolidge, sponsored a series of nationwide celebrations in 1932 to the 200th anniversary. The Commission presented Washington on national, state, and local levels as farmer, soldier, and statesman rather than the largely fictitious caricature of popular culture. The National Catholic celebration was held on Memorial Day, 28 May 1932, at Catholic University, with nearly 60,000 people attending. A military field mass conducted in the Stadium as the service was broadcast from coast to coast on radio.[2] Finally, the Archives’ popular Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact comic book collection, widely distributed in Catholic parochial schools, includes their colorful take on the familiar story of the eventful life of the young Washington published in a 1947 issue.[3]

‘Young George Washington,’ Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact, vol. 2, n. 13, February 18, 1947. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

For more on Catholics and the American Revolution see also the July 3, 2016 Catholic News Service story.

[1] https://www.catholicstand.com/george-washington-catholics/

[2]George Washington Bicentennial Observance Collection Inventory, Catholic University.

[3]Thanks to TSK and MM.

The Archivist’s Nook: An Apostleship of the Laity – The St. Vincent de Paul Society

An Apostleship of the Laity: The St. Vincent de Paul Society

Later this month, a mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. At that time, members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul will gather in celebration of their 175th year of existence. Though the Society’s name comes from their patron Saint, Vincent de Paul, a seventeenth century servant of the poor, Ozanam was the chief force behind the establishment of the organization in Paris, France, in 1833. As such, the Society became a member of the Vincentian Family, a group of Catholic organizations that includes the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul.

On January 26th, 2020, a 30” x 20” mosaic of Blessed Antoine Frédéric Ozanam will be dedicated in the Vincentian chapel or “Miraculous Medal Chapel,” of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington, D.C. The above is a likeness of the 4,000 stone mosaic.

Ozanam took his Catholic teaching seriously. A scholar of Catholic social doctrine, he was once accused of being all talk and no action. His response was to found a group of men whose goal was direct service to the impoverished of Paris. Soon after the founding, the members carried food and other necessities directly to the homes of the poor. Key to the Society’s identity is the “apostleship of the laity,” hence members were parish based and comprised of lay members who ministered to their own communities. Their 1834 annual report noted that:

We understand very well that charity must be done in secret, that the work must be unobtrusive. Here we are not strangers to one another; what we have done has been accomplished with the cooperation of one another. The principal end of our association is to do everything with one heart and one soul, of a sort that we recount to one another the different services we have delivered not to be adulated but to give advice and mutual encouragement, to give better service.[1]

“Frédéric Ozanam Accepted the Challenge of 1833,” cover, (Society of St. Vincent de Paul United States, 1933). This pamphlet commemorates the centennial of the establishment of the Society in the United States, emphasizing that they “accepted the challenge” to the lay apostleship to serve those in need.

Reflecting the necessity for such services, particularly in a rapidly industrializing world, the Society expanded rapidly outside of France. When Bishop John Timon of Buffalo, serving in St. Louis at the time, visited France and saw the work of the Society, he went about establishing the group’s first conference in St. Louis, Missouri in 1845.[2]

The Society’s rule called for “visiting the poor in their dwellings” and the distribution of “moral and religious books” especially to children, but in the United States, these activities expanded from activities like supplying food to needy families and distributing rosary beads to running thrift shops, day nurseries, and youth camps, visiting nursing homes, among other activities.

Modern photograph of the interior of the “Old Cathedral of St. Louis, Missouri, birthplace of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of the U.S.

The National Council in the United States began sponsoring foreign Councils in third world countries with its twinning program during the 1970s-1990s. Long-serving executive secretary Dudley Baker served thirty years, from 1955-1985, and helped establish many modern charitable organizations. Baker not only aided several presidents during his tenure, but also helped to modernize the society in America. Though the society in America has focused on disaster relief throughout its history, a greater emphasis has been placed on this recently, especially through the training of Rev. Ronald Ramson and the National Council’s Charity Seminars.

 

The Society is organized into five levels. The first level is the International Council in Paris, France that oversees the organization throughout the world. The second level is the National Council, which oversees each individual country’s society. The third level is the Diocesan Councils, of which there are 51 in the United States that oversee individual Councils in the society. The fourth level is the District council which oversees all the individual conferences throughout the United States. Lastly, at the fifth level are the conferences, based on the parish level. Headquartered in St. Louis, the Society has nearly 100,000 members in the U.S., and more than 800,000 members worldwide.

Thousands of young people from cities across the country have attended St. Vincent de Paul camps. Here, boys from Detroit learn to use the bow and arrow, circa 1970s.

The Society’s records offer an extensive collection of organizational files, but includes also publications and audio-visual equipment from the society. Among the files are organizational correspondence, records from executive meetings, yearly reports and bulletins, membership files for the society and regional files from different councils, and financial files for the Society’s thrift stores. Many of these materials date back to the beginning of the Society in the United States. Also, there are videotapes and audiotapes of society meetings.

 

See the finding aid for the records of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul here

For blogposts on other Catholic charitable activities, see these posts on Monsignor John O’Grady, pioneer in Catholic charity: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9465/ and https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/9315/ as well as this post on the history of the National Catholic School of Social Work at The Catholic University of America: https://www.lib.cua.edu/wordpress/newsevents/10957/

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Raymond Sickinger, Antoine Frédéric Ozanam (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), chapter 3, “The Society of St. Vincent de Paul,” 61-62.

[2] The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History, Michael Glazier and Thomas Shelley, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1997) p. 1249-1251.:

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Two Emperors and a Baby: The Strange Journey of the Iturbide-Kearney Papers

Our tale begins with the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. Our key figure is that of Agustín de Iturbide, who reigned as the emperor of Mexico from 1822 to early 1823, following the ten-year period of warfare and instability that culminated in Mexican independence. Iturbide, who advocated breaking away from Spain, also embraced monarchy and strong ties to the Catholic Church. Initially popular and a successful unifier of diverse groups favoring independence, Iturbide I was forced to abdicate in March 1823 as a result of corruption and opposition to monarchism within the government and the general population. He left for Europe with his family, but was executed in 1824 after returning to Mexico in answer to requests from his supporters to free the country from Spanish forces remaining in Veracruz and a possible reinvasion. Iturbide’s overthrow and the abolition of the empire did not prevent his supporters from viewing his family as an imperial one.

Flag of the First Mexican Empire, 1822-23. Agustin Iturbide I designed the flag of the first Mexican Empire in 1821, the colors of which are still used today, while the coat of arms has changed over time. The three colors of red, white, and green originally represented the three guarantees of the Plan of Iguala, the act declaring Mexican independence from Spain: Freedom, Religion, and Union. In the place of the Spanish emblem for Mexico, the first Iturbide resurrected the Tenochtitlan symbol for Mexico City, an eagle perched on a cactus holding a snake in its beak. With it, he hoped to link the upcoming Mexican Empire with the old Aztec version.
Plan de Iguala, 1822, also known as the Plan of the Three Guarantees, was Mexico’s final stage in its war for independence from Spain. The Plan was crafted by Agustín de Iturbide and Vicente Guerrero. The Archives holds many documents related to the Iturbide family and the Mexican War for Independence, including an original copy of the Plan de Iguala. A digital copy of the Plan in its entirety can be found here.

Agustín de Iturbide y Green was the son of Emperor Agustin’s second son, Ángel María de Iturbide y Huarte (1816 –1872), who met his mother, Alice Green, while serving as an attaché of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. Green (1836–1892) was the daughter of Captain John Nathaniel Green, granddaughter of U.S. Congressman and Revolutionary War Colonel Uriah Forrest, and great-granddaughter of George Plater, the sixth Governor of Maryland.

Born in 1863, Agustín de Iturbide y Green was Ángel and Alice’s only child, which bestowed significance on the boy, at least in the eyes of Maximilian I, the European Habsburg-descended emperor of the Second Mexican Empire installed by France’s Napoleon III in 1864. But Maximilian’s power was unstable from the beginning, with his regime requiring continuous French military support amid repudiation among the local Mexican population. In an effort to curry favor with the Mexicans, he compelled Ángel and Alice Iturbide to cede their two-year-old son Agustín as a future heir, believing that having a child of imperial Mexican lineage as an heir would increase his legitimacy.

An undated photo of Agustín de Iturbide y Green, image taken by a student at Georgetown University.

Timing is everything, as they say—the U.S. was so preoccupied with its Civil War that it barely reacted to the French invasion of its southern neighbor, at least initially. France withdrew the forces propping up Maximilian in 1866 partly because the post-Civil War U.S. beqan asserting the terms of the Monroe Doctrine, and partly for its own reasons, with the forces of Mexico’s Benito Juarez eventually overthrowing the European emperor. Maximilian was arrested and executed in June of 1867.

But what of young Agustín de Iturbide y Green? Perhaps you are wondering about how Ángel and Alice managed to hand over their only son to an emperor installed by the French? Well, first, they were certainly convinced that their son, the grandson of the first emperor of independent Mexico, was part of a new imperial lineage based on European practices of succession. Failing one of Agustin I’s own children succeeding him as emperor (imperial Mexican forces lacked the military power to back up such a claim, while Napoleon III put French troops behind Maximilian), perhaps they saw it as the best option at the time—setting their son up as a future emperor. We do not know their exact thinking for sure. They did receive a pension for handing over the child. However, Alice quickly became distraught by the absence of her son, and went about trying to get him back. She and Ángel were exiled after her pleas for the return of her son fell on deaf ears in Maximilian’s court. They eventually came back to the U.S., where Alice appealed to Secretary of State William Seward, who told her that he could do nothing, as she had signed adoption papers, but nonetheless worked diplomatic channels to arrange a visit in Europe between Alice and Maximilian’s wife, Empress Carlota (Charlotte of Belgium) to return her child. Carlota, too, rejected Alice’s entreaties.

When it was clear to Maximilian that he was doomed, he sent the then four-year-old Agustín to Havana, Cuba, to be reunited with his parents. They returned to Washington, D.C., where Ángel and Alice worked at the Mexican embassy. After his Father died in 1872, Alice raised Agustín, who eventually became a professor of languages at Georgetown University. Two years after Alice died in 1892, Agustín married a British woman, Lucy Eleanor Jackson, though the marriage did not last.

Louise Kearney Iturbide, 1915, photograph taken by Agustín at the time of his marriage to Louise.

As an adult, Agustín lived near the family of Louise Kearney, a D.C.-born daughter of the Brigadier General James Kearney. When he began showing interest in Louise over her sister, Estelle, the latter did everything she could to keep the two apart. Louise writes in her account of their meeting, “there is no trouble like family trouble, and nothing more incurable than the mental disease of jealousy,” the sisters “were too closely united to be pulled apart without pain.”[1] Despite her family’s disapproval, Louise and Agustín married on July 5, 1915. They remained married until his death in 1925 from tuberculosis. Louise would live until 1967.

As for how the papers ended up at the Archives: Louise Kearney loved to travel. Msgr. James Magner, who performed many roles on campus and left the Archives a substantial museum collection, often took groups around the world to see a variety of holy sites. Louise accompanied one such group to Europe in 1950 and became friends with Magner. Louise donated the Kearney-Iturbide collection to the Archives via the Magner collection.

Please see the Finding Aid to the Iturbide-Kearney Papers.

For more on Louise Kearney’s family, see our post on her great grandfather, Alexander Louis Joncherez.

[1] “Autobiography,” Iturbide-Kearney Family Papers, American Catholic History Research center and University Archives, see digitized copy of Louise Kearney’s account.