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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gifted Academic

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

Loving Wife

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

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

Carmelite Nun

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

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

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

For more information, or to learn more about how to access the Frances Nevins collection, please email Special Collections at lib-archives@cua.edu. 

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

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

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

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

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

Antonio Rosselino

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

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

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

Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels.

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

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

Basilica of San Marco, Venice.

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

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

Works Cited

“Antonio Rossellino.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 31, 2022. 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 Archivist’s Nook: Ivory Triptych – Renaissance on Display

Ivory Triptych, France, 16th century, New Museum Collection (NMC280), Special Collections, Catholic University.

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.

Diptych with Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity. Special Collections, Catholic University.

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 Ivory Triptych would be on the altar for viewing with its imagery highlighting Gospel stories for a mass audience that was not literate.

Betrayal of Christ and Carrying of the Cross. Special Collection, Catholic University.

Other French ivory objects from the same period include plaques, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptychs. For example, the Diptych with 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.

Christ with Mary and Saints. Special Collections, Catholic University.

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.

Bibliography

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.

Chapuis, Julien. “Gothic Art,” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2002.

‘Diptych with Scenes of the Life of Christ and the Virgin, Saint Michael, John the Baptist, Thomas Becket, and the Trinity,’ The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.

Guérin, Sarah M. “Ivory Carving in the Gothic Era, Thirteenth–Fifteenth Centuries,” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2010.

‘History of the University Museum Collection: Rev. Arthur T. Connolly,’ University Libraries, Washington DC: The Catholic University of America.

‘Ivory Triptych,’ ACUA Museum Collections: New Museum Collection, Washington DC, June 1995.

‘Remarks, No. Museum 1292,’ Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, October 17, 1927.

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: A Tale of Two Artists – A Traditional Attribution or a Forgotten Master?

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.

Figure 1: The Madonna with Child, Saints, and Angels, circa 1500-1550.

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.[1] 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. [2] 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.”[3]

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.[4]

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.[5] 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.”[6] 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.’”[7] Daly proceeds to give some information about Ranieri, namely, that he was Pisan and active in Lucca between 1502 and 1521.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.

Figure 2: detail, The Madonna with Child, Saints, and Angels, circa 1500-1550

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.[11] 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.

 

Notes:
[1] Ruth Montgomery, A Gift of Prophecy: The Phenomenal Jeane Dixon (New York: Bantam Books, 1965), 137. [2] Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 138. [3] Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 139. [4] Montgomery, Gift of Prophecy, 137. [5] Any information about Innocenzo da Imola comes from The Getty website and Oxford Art Online. [6] Unknown author, inventory document from approximately 1981. [7] Christopher Daly, “Letter to Ms. Katherine C. Santa Ana and Dr. Nora Heimann,” (letter, collection of The Catholic University of America Archives, 2016). [8] Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016. [9] Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016. [10] 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. [11] Daly, “Letter to Santa Ana and Heimann,” 2016.

 

Bibliography
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 Archivist’s Nook: “A Puzzle, Wrapped in a Conundrum, inside a Perplexity” – Papal Relief to Russia

Winter in Russia. Fr. Edmund Walsh with two assistants and a Russian boy being fed by the Papal Mission. 1922. NCWC/USCCB OGS Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University

As explained in a previous blog post, Special Collections at The Catholic University of America consists of four departments: rare books, museum, university archives, and the manuscript collection, otherwise known as The American Catholic History Research Collection. Although ‘manuscript’ literally means handwritten, ‘manuscript collection’ is used by archivists, curators, and librarians to refer to collections of mixed media in which unpublished materials predominate, including correspondence, meeting minutes, typescripts, photographs, diaries, and scrapbooks. This describes personal papers but also the institutional records of our outside or non-Catholic University donors such as Catholic Charities USA, National Catholic Education Association (NCEA), and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), including their earlier incarnations like their World War I era National Catholic War Council. Among the USCCB records the most important are those of the Office of the General Secretary (OGS), sometimes called the Executive Department, and these contain the American Catholic Church’s involvement in almost every major issue of the twentieth century.

Food Remittance slip in both Russian and English, 1922. NCWC/USCCB OGS Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

One of the most fascinating episodes recounted and inventoried in the OGS records, replete with detailed documents and photographs, is that of the American Catholic participation in the Papal Relief Mission to Russia, 1922-1923. Churchill’s famous 1939 quip defining Russia as “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma,” (1) could be aptly paraphrased as “a puzzle, wrapped in a conundrum, inside a perplexity” when applied to the Papal Relief Mission of a decade and a half earlier. This was the first international aid mission of the Roman Catholic Church, undertaken to alleviate the starving children of Bolshevik Russia, the core of the nascent Communist Soviet Union, the emerging archenemy of the Catholic Church. The Famine of 1921-1923, focused in areas of the Volga, Ukraine, and northern Caucasus afflicted as many as 16 million people, perhaps killing as many as 5 million. It is with bitter irony that we mark this one hundredth anniversary with a renewed war with attending death and destruction, not to mention looming hunger, in this same sad corner of Eastern Europe.

Food Kitchen in Krasnodar, Russia, 1922. NCWC/USCCB OGS Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Prior to the famine, Russia had suffered three and a half years of World War I and the Civil Wars of 1918–1920 with millions of casualties, both military and civilian. The various warring elements arbitrarily seized food from civilians to supply their armies and deny it to their enemies. The Bolshevik government requisitioned supplies from the peasantry offer little in exchange, prompting peasants, especially the more wealthy ones, called Kulaks, to reduce crop production and sell any surplus to the Black Market. Initially aid from outside Soviet Russia was rejected. The American Relief Administration (ARA), formed to help victims of starvation of World War I, offered assistance to Lenin in 1919 on condition that they hand out food impartially, but Lenin refused this as interference in Russian internal affairs. He was, however, convinced by this as well as other famines and unrest to reverse policy and permitted relief organizations to bring aid. The ARA had an organization set up in Poland relieving famine that had started there in late 1919.

Vatican pamphlet describing the Papal Mission’s work, 1922. NCWC/USCCB OGS Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Under the auspices of the ARA, headed by Commerce Secretary and future President, Herbert Hoover, the Papal Relief Mission to Russia by 1922 was feeding approximately 158,000 persons a day. The pivotal figure between American Catholics and the Roman Curia, and subsequently between the Vatican and the Bolsheviks, was Edmund Aloysius Walsh, S.J., founder of the first American School of Diplomacy, at Georgetown University. (2) Walsh served as papal emissary in charge of this mission, which, among other duties, entailed liaising with the ARA, keeping the Vatican informed, and negotiating with the Bolsheviks regarding the church’s position within a communist society. Stateside, Walsh was backed by the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC), ably led by Paulist priest and Catholic University alum, John Burke, who helped focus American Catholic relief efforts. Overall, Walsh’s experience provides a firsthand view of the Bolshevik world view and insight into the manner in which the Bolshevik Revolution was understood, or not understood, by the Vatican. Therefore, in spite of the good will that the mission’s success earned for the Vatican, efforts to establish diplomatic relations ultimately failed because the gulf between Catholicism and Communism was too great.

For more information on how to access NCWC/USCCB records, please contact us at lib-archives@cua.edu

(1) See also Churchill by Himself (2013), Chapter 10, Russia, page 143, Broadcast, London, 1 October 1939.

(2) For more on Edmund Walsh, see also McNamara, Patrick (2005). A Catholic Cold War: Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., and the Politics of American Anticommunism. New York: Fordham University Press and Marisa Patulli Trythall, ‘”Russia’s Misfortune Offers Humanitarians a Splendid Opportunity”: Jesuits, Communism, and the Russian Famine, Journal of Jesuit Studies, 2018 (5:1), pp. 71-96.

(3) Thanks to SM, BM, and HK for their assistance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Curation, Campus, and the Classroom

Special Collections has shared the University’s treasures with many classes from many schools and departments over the years: History, Library Science, Religious Studies, Anthropology, and Education among them. While we often use our museum collection materials for instructional purposes, we were privileged with our first visit from a class in the Department of Art, Rome School of Music, Drama and Art just this semester.

Professor Tiffany Hunt brought students from her course, ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance, to Special Collections this month to explore pieces dating from the 1400-1600 period. Because many of the University’s works of art hang in the classrooms, offices, and corridors of the school, this archival visit was actually a campus tour. Professor Hunt’s goal was to have students embark “on an object-based art history research project that begins with a deep engagement, slow looking, and critical analysis of 11 art objects from the early modern period (1300-1600).”

Professor Tiffany Hunt uses the University’s art collection to instruct ART 272 students in the Archives reading room in Aquinas Hall, February, 2022.

The University’s museum collection, from which the pieces were drawn, is comprised of more than 5,000 objects, with the first donations of museum items dating to before the school  opened in 1889. Up until 1905 the collection was displayed in Caldwell Hall. Starting in 1905 and continuing until 1976 parts of the collection were either displayed in McMahon Hall or Mullen Library, or were put into storage. In 1976 the university museum collection was put under the management of the archives and the collection was housed in Curley Hall vault, with items being used in campus exhibition or loaned to campus offices to be displayed and enjoyed as office decoration. The students in ART 272 focused on objects currently housed in Special Collections repositories, the archives’ reading room, Curley Hall, Salve Regina Hall, and Nugent Hall.

 

Catherine Coyle, one of ART 272’s students, notes that “the pieces I saw in the collection helped to illustrate the theme of connectivity of objects and styles that we have been discussing in the course.” Underscoring the “cosmopolitan” aspect of the course, Coyle notes that “all of the objects in the collection are connected to the era of the Renaissance in Italy, but they also visualize the movement of influences across the Mediterranean and even the East. The experience of having the ability to see these connections firsthand through the objects gave me the opportunity to fully see how expansive the Renaissance was.”

Some are surprised at the beauty and abundance of  furniture present in the Museum collection. This piece, which students examined as part of the Cosmopolitan Renaissance class, is a Spanish antique wood cabinet dated ca. 1550-1600.

 

Some students were surprised at the scope of the objects in the University’s collections. Annaliese Haman observed that “the furniture pieces surprised me. I knew that furniture had much to say about the time it was created as well as the materials available, but after the brief discussion and visit to the Archives, I was more intrigued by furniture and its uses for research and for its uses during the Renaissance.”

Students examine a terra cotta Madonna and child by Antonio Rosselino ca. 1450-70. The piece is located in Curley Hall.

 

Haman chose a painting of the Madonna and Child hanging in Salve Regina Hall for her deep analysis. Why that particular painting? I asked her. “it was close to my dorm,” she wrote,”and I wanted to research a painting. Because this piece is located in Salve Regina, I can go and view it on a frequent basis which was wonderful to be able to do. After I learned St. Genesius was pictured in the piece, I got very excited, as I have a special devotion to him.”

 

 

 

In fact, Haman recounts some of the painting’s colorful history, including a connection to the psychic, astrologer, and Washington, D.C. resident, Jeanne Dixon (1904-1997). You can read more about the ART 272 students’ adventures with their various works on Professor Hunt’s course website here: https://hunttl.wixsite.com/website. Additionally, we will publish selected works by the students here at The Archivist’s Nook in the coming weeks.

ART 272 student Annaliese Haman chose to examine this Madonna and child painting hanging in Salve Regina Hall, for which she found a rich and interesting history.

Sources:

  1. Professor Tiffany Hunt, The Cosmopolitan Renaissance website: https://hunttl.wixsite.com/website
  2. Email communications between Maria Mazzenga, Catherine Coyle (March 14, 2022), and Annaliese Haman (April 8, 2022).

 

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Many Voices, One Church: Archiving the Cultural Diversity Committee of the USCCB

Hannah Kaufman is a Graduate Library Pre-Professional (GLP) at The Catholic University of America, who also works in Special Collections.

Since starting my position as the new archives GLP, I have been working on the finding aid for the USCCB/NCCB Secretariat for Cultural Diversity. Having never created a complicated finding aid before, I took one look at the 25 boxes that made up the collection (with more, Catholic University archivist John Shepherd assured me, possibly on the way) and felt a little overwhelmed. However, after spending a little time browsing other finding aids and getting acquainted with the boxes themselves, I began to feel a little better.
This collection could be easily divided into two distinct ‘series’ or categories within which archival material is organized. Although all diversity task forces were merged under a new Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church, the Hispanic Catholics and Black Catholics subcommittees of USCCB were originally their own distinct entities and are thus easy to differentiate. Armed with a preliminary inventory done by a former practicum student, I set to work identifying which boxes contained which materials. A few things quickly stuck out to me. The materials devoted to Hispanic Catholics were generally older, and there were fewer to sort through. My still lingering trepidation over the amount of material I would be working with was certainly a part of my decision when deciding how to organize the collection, but in the end the materials’ age was what convinced me to put it first. All of the Hispanic Catholic materials date from the seventies and early eighties, with only a few exceptions. Meanwhile, the Black Catholics materials issue from the eighties up to the early two-thousands. Although within the series, material organization is prioritized alphabetically, I decided to organize the series chronologically, as it felt more intuitive to have the older organization first in the finding aid.
The Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs (directed by Paublo Sedillo for the duration of the papers currently held in the Catholic University Archives) came as a result of one of the recommendations of the First Encuentro. It called for the then USCCB Division for the Spanish Speaking be upgraded to that of a special office directly under the USCCB’s General Secretary. The Encuentros were events designed as a way of reaffirming the Hispanic Catholics’ place in the faith, both for themselves, and for the Catholic Church. Encuentros often spawned other events which drew off the energy the anticipation for these events wrought, such as the pilgrimage to the Shrine of Guadalupe, in Mexico, 1984. Each event culminated in the creation of a pastoral document presented to the church, with a plan for creating a more welcoming environment within the church for Hispanic Catholics, as well as expanding involvement within Hispanic Communities. A significant amount of materials in this collection are devoted to the planning and production of these Encuentro events.

Logo used for the Third Encuentro in 1985 which appeared on posters, pamphlets, and facilitator guidebooks to name a few.

 

But the Secretariat for Hispanic Affairs did much more than plan Encuentros. Other examples of material one can find in these records include campaigns to protect migrant workers, to fight against welfare cuts, to push for positive immigration reform, and to denounce racist policies. There are also pastorals, papers, and a large collection of audio visual materials containing, among other things, Spanish liturgy and sermons.

Bishop Patrick Flores, the First Mexican-American Bishop, addresses the First Encuentro, June 1972.

The Secretariat of African American Affairs papers hold some content similar to that of the Hispanic Affairs papers, in that it consists of the efforts of a group of people which had historically not been prioritized by the Catholic church working together to amplify their voices. These papers contain talks and interviews given or conducted by Beverly Carroll, surveys on the numbers of Black priests serving in the United states, and records of both Bishops’ Committee on African American Catholics materials and National Black Catholic Congresses.

 

 

The later National Black Catholic Congresses was numbered in homage to the Colored Catholic Congresses held in 1889. As there were five of these, the numbering of Black Catholic Congresses started at number six, to show that they were building off the work done in 1889.

Additionally, the collection deals with issues being faced by Black Americans both inside and outside of the church. There are several folders devoted to the effects of racism and ways to combat it, as well as the AIDS crisis, by which Black people were disproportionately affected. The collection contains ways to combat and ameliorate these issues, both through legislation and volunteer work, as well as through community support and prayer for victims.

A leaflet from the Maryland Teachers Association for Black History Month in the African American History Month 2000 folder of this collection.

There are also records for events and information distributed by the Secretariat of African American Affairs for Black History month, and research and materials on Black theology and Black liturgy, as well as publications such as The African Bible, or the Black Biblical Heritage, all of which seek to celebrate Black Catholics and demonstrate that their place in the faith has been there since its very beginnings.
Looking over my finding aid, you may notice that the first half, devoted to the Secretariat of Hispanic Affairs, is intensely specific. It seems almost as though each file has been labeled individually and put in its own folder. That’s because this is mostly what I did. As an archivist in training, I fell victim to the same mistake many new archivists do: over processing. This collection is important; I knew that and I didn’t want to miss anything, or cause a researcher to miss anything, through my negligence. By the time I reached the Beverly Carroll files, I knew better. Ms. Carroll was assiduous with her filing, and all the folder titles for the second half of the finding aid are predominantly of her own making. Indeed, it was Mrs. Carroll’s careful filing (she often wrote the location of the paper she wanted to preserve on the corner of the page with a ballpoint pen) which helped me realize I should be focusing more on the original order. This is not to say that Mr. Sedillo was not well organized, rather that sometimes you need something spelled out for you (in the corner of a page. With a ballpoint pen). After I realized this, I simply removed paper clips and staples and re-foldered them into acid free folders. I learned a few important lessons here. The first is to trust researchers to be able to find what they’re looking for, and the second is to learn when you can trust the original owner of the work you’re processing as well. After all, Mrs. Carroll had a good system, one that made sense to her and that she was careful to preserve. Why destroy that, when that organizational context adds so much to each piece of the collection?
One of the primary functions of an archive is to hold recorded history, so that someone can come back years later and examine that history. I cannot help but think about this purpose in conjunction with these two groups’ work to be recognized as they deserve in the Catholic church, to assert that they have always been valuable members of the Catholic community. They have always been here, and this collection is yet another resource that people can point to as documented evidence of a long term commitment by Black and Latinx Catholics to their committees, to their faith, and to themselves.

Marquette Archives. (n.d). Inculturation Task Forfces Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. [Finding Aid]. Inculturation Task Forces Records of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI. https://www.marquette.edu/library/archives/Mss/ITF/ITF-sc.php
Sharpe, R., (1997). Black Catholic Gifts of Faith. U.S. Catholic Historian, 15(4), 29-55. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25154603
Tampe, L.A. (2014). Encuentro Nacional Hispano de Pastoral (1972-1985): An Historical and Ecclesiological Analysis [Unpublished doctoral dissertation/master’s thesis]. The Catholic University of America. https://cuislandora.wrlc.org/islandora/object/etd%3A417/datastream/PDF/view.
Tilghman, M. T. (2021, November 29). Former USCCB official and leading voice for Black Catholics dies at 75. Catholic Standard. https://cathstan.org/news/us-world/former-usccb-official-and-leading-voice-for-black-catholics-dies-at-75.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.) Cultural Diversity in the Church. https://www.usccb.org/committees/cultural-diversity-church.
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.) Timeline 1917-2017. https://www.usccb.org/about/usccb-timeline-1917-2017

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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