Since I had never processed any archival collections before, sitting down to look at the seven boxes of unprocessed materials in front of me felt rather daunting. I took it slowly, though, and began by simply looking through each box and trying to get a sense of what was there. It soon became clear that processing the National Right to Life News collection would be fairly straightforward. The collection contains all the issues of the National Right to Life News published between November 1973 (when it first began) and 1999. Arranging the collection, then, would be a simple matter of putting the issues in acid-free folders according to their date. The Long Island Pro-Life collection, on the other hand, was a very different story. Since this collection documents the grassroots pro-life movement on Long Island during the 1970s-1990s, it contains a wide variety of materials like pamphlets, newspaper and article clippings, newsletters, periodicals, correspondence, books, and other ephemera. Processing this collection appeared as if it would be much more complicated, so I decided to start with the National Right to Life News collection first and then move on to the Long Island Pro-Life collection after I’d had more time to think about the best way to arrange and describe it.
It took me only a few weeks to process and describe the National Right to Life News collection. I arranged the issues in acid-free folders and then labeled them for easy access, writing the collection title, folder title, and issue dates, as well as the collection number, box number, and folder number on each one. This not only makes it easy to locate the right folder at a glance, but also guards against the rare chance that a folder is inadvertently separated from the collection. In that event, enough identifying information is written on the folder itself to be able to locate its correct place.
Successfully processing the National Right to Life News collection gave me enough confidence to begin arranging the Long Island Pro-Life collection. Unlike the National Right to Life News collection, no clear order for arrangement was immediately apparent. I spent a good deal of time sifting through the collection, trying to discover any hints as to its organization that might have been left by the collector(s) of the materials. I found that, though there really was no particular order to the vast majority of the materials in the collection, there was a series of folders which had been labeled with handwritten names. So, I needed to be sure to preserve the general order of this series, but I was free to arrange the rest of the collection in whatever way would make its contents the most accessible. I decided that the best way of striking a balance between making the materials easily accessible and not overly disturbing the collection would be to organize it by format. I created five series in total: 1) Pamphlets, 2) Newsletters and Periodicals, 3) Newspapers and Newspaper Clippings, 4) Subject Files, and 5) Books. The process of sorting the materials into these series also helped me to glean some contextual clues about the origins of the collection. Although the collection was donated by the Sisters of Life, they were not the original collectors of the materials, and we unfortunately do not have any official documentation about the original collector(s). However, while going through the collection, I discovered that several of the newsletters, periodicals, and correspondence are addressed to Mrs. Mary Brennan or her family. The collection also contains some personal papers belonging to Mary Brennan, which document her active involvement in the leadership of the pro-life movement on Long Island during the 1970s-1990s. From this, we can infer that Mary Brennan was most likely the primary collector of the materials in the collection, and so we have indicated that in the finding aid for the collection.
As I learned through my experience with these two collections, archival processing has a lot to do with making educated guesses about the history and previous organization of the collection. The archivist must attempt to get inside the mind of the original collector(s) and find answers to the myriad questions that arise when processing and arranging the collection. For example, why did the collector(s) keep certain things and not others? Did they use a particular method of organization? If so, how can we preserve that method and yet make the materials easily accessible now for researchers in the present day? With a little patience and perseverance, the answers to these questions can be found by retracing the collection’s history through the clues left buried in the collection. In this way, boxes of unorganized papers cease to appear quite so intimidating and become instead an exciting mystery just waiting to be solved.
Interested in learning more about the items in these collections? Make an appointment with CUA Special Collections to come view the materials in person.
Our guest blogger is Julie Pramis, who is a graduate student in Library and Information Science (LIS) at the Catholic University of America.
Catholics care about climate change (try saying that five times fast). Here in the archives we have a collection of papers from the Catholic Climate Covenant (CCC), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C. focused on caring for the Earth. Founded in 2006, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops helped form the non-profit in order to address climate change through Catholic social teaching:
Caring for creation and caring for the poor have been a part of the Catholic story since the beginning, but in recent years St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and especially Pope Francis have added a sense of urgency to their call for Catholics to act on climate change. (Our Story, Catholic Climate Covenant)
CCC has funded grants for climate change awareness campaigns across the country, held conferences, and published reports on the reality of climate change.
Among their missions, perhaps at the forefront is the St. Francis Pledge. Anyone can take the St. Francis Pledge, from National Catholic Organizations to Universities to individuals. The pledge comes with a handy pdf with recommendations on how to reduce your carbon footprint.
In addition to their own business papers – from 2006 to 2016 – CCC collected magazines and newspapers that covered the cross-section of Catholics and environmentalism. Even several secular magazines were saved, among them Time magazine and two issues of Sports Illustrated (it’s about climate change – we swear!).
Check out the finding aid here to learn more about the collection, or come to the archives for a visit!
Scattered throughout Catholic University’s Special Collections are a range of resources related to the history of Mexico. We are happy to offer a new Library Guide to those materials. Here are a few of the highlights:
The National Catholic Welfare Conference, forerunner of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, became involved in U.S.-Mexican affairs just after its founding in the early 1920s. Mexico-related records can be found throughout this enormous collection, partly due to the migration of Mexican Catholics into the U.S. at the time, but also because the bishops were concerned with the unstable political conditions in that country leading to persecution of Catholics in the 1920s. The archives, which holds the NCWC/USCCB records, contains a series of records known as the “Mexican Files,” Subseries 1.4, of the NCWC/USCCB Office of the General Secretary, which document the precarious position of the church in Mexico and attempts by U.S. Catholic authorities to stabilize such conditions. The Office of the General Secretary files also contain various materials throughout related to Mexican relations and migration which one can find by doing a simple search of the finding aid.
Established in 1920, the NCWC Press Department provided the Catholic press, radio, and eventually, television in the United States and other countries with news, editorial, feature, and picture services gathered and prepared by professional journalists and released under the names NCWC News Service and Noticias Catolicas (in Spanish and Portuguese for Latin America). Both services were designated by the abbreviation (NC) and the former later known as the Catholic New Service (CNS). Administrative files include correspondence, general subscriber files, obituary files for prominent Catholics, and miscellaneous publications and press releases. The NCWC/CNS finding aid can be found here.
Included are digital copies of the Catholic News Service Press releases, La Esperanza of Los Angeles (ca. 1929-1954), The Monitor of San Francisco, and several other publications publishing Mexico-related articles.
Agustín Iturbide y Green (1863-1925), grandson of Emperor Agustín Iturbide I (1783-1824), was born in Mexico City during the French occupation of the country in 1863. Desiring a Mexican heir, Emperor Maximilian I, an Austrian by birth, arranged to adopt the younger Iturbide, then two years old, in 1865. Following the collapse of Maximilian’s regime in 1867, young Agustín was reunited with his birth parents in Havana, and resided with his mother in the United States until 1875 before leaving to study in Brussels. Agustín remained in Europe for many years before returning once again to attend graduate school in Washington, D.C. He was awarded a master’s degree in Linguistics from Georgetown University in 1884.
Iturbide returned to Mexico in 1887 to enter the Military Academy in Chapultepec. Although he had aspirations for a storied military career, his criticisms of the Porfirio Díaz regime in both a New York newspaper and in personal correspondence resulted in his being court-martialed in 1890. Convicted of insubordination, he was sentenced to one year in prison and was subsequently exiled.
Financially ruined and grieving for his mother, who passed away during attempts to salvage the family fortune, Iturbide moved to Rosedale to teach Spanish and French at Georgetown University. It was there, that he met Louise Kearney, who would become his wife in 1915. The Kearneys were a prominent Washington family whose ancestors had emigrated from Ireland in the late 1700s.
Iturbide continued to teach until his death from tuberculosis in 1925. Louise Kearney lived the rest of her life in a small P Street apartment and became friends with Catholic University procurator Msgr. James Magner, to whom she entrusted this collection in 1957.
This collection contains original documents from the Iturbide family from Emperor Agustin Iturbide I’s reign until the death of his grandson, Agustín Iturbide y Green, including correspondence, Mexican governmental documents, military medals and coins, newspapers, magazines, and portraits. The Kearney section contains correspondence and portraits from Louise Kearney, Iturbide’s wife from 1915 until his death.
Note that this collection is digitized and all of the links to the digitized documents are in the finding aid.
A link to the Iturbide-Kearney papers’ finding aid can be found here.
The National Council of Catholic Women (NCCW) was established in 1920 as an initiative of the Lay Organizations Department of the NCWC. One to three women represented each of the 114 dioceses of the time. As the first federation of Catholic women’s organizations, the NCCW was able to provide a unified voice for the thousands of independent Catholic women’s organizations that existed in the United States, to offer resources for united actions, to ensure official Catholic representation in national movements, and to stimulate the local efforts of the women’s organizations.
The NCCW records span 1917-2000 and consist of administrative records and minutes, correspondence, national and international project notes, publications, photographs, and scrapbooks. While there are over 200 boxes of records in this collection, one can do a search for Mexico-related materials; specifically, series 7 (International Organization Affiliations, 1919-1984), boxes 111-142 (especially 115-116) contain materials related to the NCCW’s involvement with international organizations. A link to the NCCW finding aid can be found here.
A selected list of texts from our Rare Books collection related to the history of Mexico can be found here.
A full list of Mexico-related resources from Special Collections can be found in this Mexico-related Library Guide.
Wandering through the Rare Books stacks is always an adventure. The shelves hold all kinds of secrets, waiting for the right librarian to pull them, or the right researcher to request them. But on a rainy October afternoon, with Halloween on the mind, it is the witchcraft books that stand out to me.
The Rare Books selection of witchcraft volumes covers a wide range of fascinating topics: prophecy, astrology, somnambulism (which according to many of these volumes has some fairly magical connotations), and general folklore. If you’re having trouble with local witches tormenting you, Witches and the Second Sight in the Scottish Highlands, by John G. Campbell, published in 1902 may be able to offer you some relief. This book contains a near limitless selection of scenarios in which unsuspecting innocents might find themselves plagued by witches, and several practical solutions for ridding yourself of their evils. For instance, in the event that a witch is turning herself into a white hare and stealing your cow’s milk in the night (Don’t worry, it can happen to anyone), you need only put a bit of silver in your gun (a sixpence will work, or a silver button if you don’t have any obsolete currency on hand) before shooting at the hare. Naturally the silver is essential, for if you should forget to include it, the witch can easily use her powers to turn your weapon against you and you may find your gun exploding violently in your hand. Sound advice, and perhaps it’s better to follow the age-old ‘better safe than sorry’ and refrain from shooting at any hares unless you have silver in hand. Just in case.
Our next book, first published in 1896, is ominously titled The Devil in Britain and America and written by John Ashton on the grounds that “all modern English books on the Devil and his works are unsatisfactory.” He goes on to complain that most books redundantly cite the same examples of witchcraft and that, perhaps most importantly of all, “not one of them is illustrated.” Given this mission statement, it must come at no surprise that Ashton’s book is absolutely teeming with surreal little engravings with witches and devils, the odd and the obscene. The stories themselves come from all manner of sources, as Ashton proudly notes in his preface. (No ‘oft-repeated cases’ for him!) The material can range from an analytic (such as the word can be used in this situation) account of how witches are made, to a mid-seventeenth century English satirical ballad meant to demonstrate the devil as “sadly deficient in brains,” entitled, The Politic Wife or, The Devil Outwitted by a Woman, where one hapless man meets the devil (who introduces himself as ‘Dumkin the Devil.’) and is saved by his wife’s quick thinking. The book also contains what it claims to be the only known sample of the devil’s writing.
So far these books can be easily identified as the sort of things created for people who enjoy delighting in the taboo and the occult, stories meant to entertain and to thrill. Certainly there was an audience for them. The next work we’ll be looking at was actually given as a Christmas gift in 1930, so its handwritten inscription tells us. Ghost stories as Christmas gifts were not an uncommon tradition, especially in the Victorian era (think Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.) This one seems ideal for reading aloud around a fire on Christmas eve. It’s a slim little pamphlet, (coming in at 7 pages, and that includes its paper cover) printed in 1928 and entitled The Story of Mr John Bourne. It tells of how the titular character was made the manager of an estate, and how when he was near death, the chest which held the details to that estate rose and unlocked itself, only to relock itself again upon his death, so that try as they might, no one could ever open it there after. Certainly it’s an uncanny little story, but I don’t know that it’s something I would traditionally associate with witchcraft, were it not for the “abracadabra” slowly vanishing down the title page. So why shelve it amongst all these other definitely witchy books?
As it turns out, The Story of Mr John Bourne is actually an excerpt from a much larger work, bearing the self explanatory and rather lengthy title, Saducismus triumphatus, or, Full and plain evidence concerning witches and apparitions in two parts : the first treating of their possibility, the second of their real existence / by Joseph Glanvil. With a letter of Dr. Henry More on the same subject and an authentick but wonderful story of certain Swedish witches done into English by Anth. Horneck. Although the excerpt of this work as we have it preserved seemed intended more to cause fearful delight, much like the books we were just discussing, the purpose of the larger text was much less recreational and its effects far more terrifying. Joseph Glanvill was an English preacher and philosopher, who believed that without the threat of demons and witches, people would see no reason for religion. In fact, he went so far as to view a lack of belief in the supernatural as akin to atheism. The book, which sought to prove the assured existence of witches, was hugely popular, and thought to be an influence on religious leaders such as Cotton Mather, a New England preacher known for stirring up witchcraft hysteria during the Salem witch trials.
In fact, if you’re interested in putting Saducismus Triumphatus in the historical context of Cotton Mather and the Salem witch trials, our library also contains his account of some of the witch trials he attended as well as a defense of the guilty verdicts given to those accused. It appears in a book called Salem witchcraft: comprising More wonders of the invisible world, collected by Robert Calef; and Wonders of the invisible world, by Cotton Mather; together with notes and explanations edited by Samuel Fowler, a man who served as a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1853, as well as being known for his collection of books on witchcraft and American history which far surpasses our own modest assortment. The book juxtaposed Mather’s account with the first publication to ever publicly condemn the trials. Written by Robert Calef, the essay is in direct response to Mather’s and attacks both the injustice of the trials, and Mather’s own part in it.
Salem witchcraft is not the only book in our Special Collections on the topic of the Salem witch trials, and perhaps it is not unsurprising that this tragedy has captured the fascination of so many people for so long. As general opinion on witchcraft shifted, it seemed strange (macabre, even) that the contents of stories you read for thrills or give as Christmas gifts were once accusation enough to earn a death sentence. Regardless, the Special Collections witchcraft section represents the long standing fascination with witchcraft that has captured peoples’ imaginations for centuries, for better or for worse.
Prior, M. E. (1932). Joseph Glanvill, Witchcraft, and Seventeenth-Century Science. Modern Philology, 30(2), 167–193. http://www.jstor.org/stable/434078
William Bentley Ball (1916-1999), subject of a previous blog post and whose papers reside at Catholic University, was a Pennsylvania based constitutional lawyer and devout Roman Catholic, dubbed “God’s Litigator” and “Religious Freedom Fighter” by the Catholic Press (1). Ball argued nine cases and advised on more than two dozen others, primarily related to religious freedom and the First Amendment, before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Ball was also an artist, poet, and author.
As a young man, Ball was a devout Catholic, anti-New Deal activist, and U.S. naval officer in World War II. After the war, he studied law at the University of Notre Dame, taught at Villanova, and served as general counsel for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. His first case before SCOTUS was in 1967 when he entered a brief on behalf of U.S. Catholic bishops supporting the overturn of prohibits on interracial marriage in the celebrated Loving v. Virginia case. Ball achieved national attention with the 1972 Wisconsin v. Yoder case in which that state tried to force Amish children to attend high school when the latter’s belief system found that unnecessary. Ball represented the family in question, the Yoders, pro-bono, arguing before SCOTUS that this prevented defendants from performing their religious obligation, and the justices agreed 7-2.
Ball’s other most famous case was in 1993 with Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District in Arizona. James Zobrest (b. 1974) and his family were Pennsylvania transplants and Catholics who had moved to Arizona seeking the best possible education for the hearing impaired. Although many in the Deaf Community favor separate schooling, the Zobrests sought to mainstream their son, which required a daily on site sign language interpreter in the school to facilitate young James’ communication and learning. Public funding of these interpreters was not a problem so long as James attended public schools but when he transferred to a Catholic High School, Salpointe in Tuscon, said funding was denied by the Catalina Foothills School District, believing that it was a violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause, which generally prohibits the government from establishing, advancing, or giving favor to any religion. Arguing this was religious discrimination, the Zobrest family went to court.
The federal district court in Arizona held that furnishing a sign-language interpreter violated the First Amendment the interpreter would via sign language promote James’ religious doctrine at government expense. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision, stating that the interpreter would have been the instrumentality conveying the religious message with the local school board, in effect, sponsoring the religious school’s activities. The court admitted that denying the interpreter placed a burden on the parents’ right to free exercise of religion, but it was justified to ensure that the First Amendment was not violated. The Zobrests engaged the services of the progressive Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. Their lawyer, Thomas Berning, teamed up with the Conservative Catholic litigator, Ball, the latter working again on a pro bono basis, to take the case to SCOTUS. Incidentally, Ball’s daughter had been young Jim Zobrest’s first sign language interpreter before the family had left Pennsylvania. In their landmark case, Ball and Berning were supported by the Department of Justice on the basis of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), Missouri Synod Lutherans, Southern Baptist Convention, National Council of Churches of Christ, and the National Association of Evangelicals. In opposition, were the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League (2).
On February 24, 1993, the case was held before the Supreme Court. Ball argued that the school district’s refusal was a violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Chief Justice William Rehnquist authored the majority’s 5-4 opinion, ruling that the service of a sign-language interpreter in was part of a government program distributing benefits neutrally to disabled children under the IDEA regardless of whether the school was public, private, or religious. Rehnquist further held that the only economic benefit the religious school might have received would have been indirect and that aiding the student and his parents did not amount to a direct subsidy of the religious school because the student, not the school, was the primary beneficiary. The Supreme Court thus ruled that there was no violation of the establishment clause, and the decision of the Ninth Circuit was reversed. Zobrest vs. Catalinais a significant case because it marked a shift in the court toward interpreting the establishment clause to allow government-paid services for students who attend religiously affiliate nonpublic schools and was notably followed by Agostini v. Felton (1997), in which the court held that remedial services financed by federal funds under Title I could be provided in parochial schools.
Although Jim had graduated before the SCOTUS decision the family was nevertheless compensated for the thousands of dollars a year they had scraped together for his sign interpreters. For Ball, this was perhaps his finest victory in the twilight of his notable career. The definitive account of this notable piece of legal history is Bruce J. Dierenfield and David A. Gerber. Disability Rights and Religious Liberty in Education: The Story Behind Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2020. Much of the source material is available in the aforementioned papers of William Bentley Ball at Catholic U. For access questions, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(1) Bruce J. Dierenfield and David A. Gerber. Disability Rights and Religious Liberty in Education: The Story Behind Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2020, p. 104.
On October 27, 1922, the first issue of the CatholicU student-run newspaper, The Tower, was published. A four-page issue, it introduced itself to the campus with a focus on local events and academic fare. Named after the turret-like tower of Gibbons Hall – the paper’s first editorial offices – it has continuously operated for the past century, documenting campus life, debates, and changes. In a new exhibit, Special Collections is highlighting some of the ways The Tower has documented the history and culture of Catholic University. This exhibit can be seen in person in Mullen Library during the fall semester 2022 and viewed online here.
With 100 years and 129 editors-in-chief (1), The Tower has gone through as many changes as the campus has experienced. It has altered its masthead dozens of times, changed its formatting and size, and even shifted to an online version in the past few years. But its dedication to documenting the thoughts and lives of Cardinals has remained unaltered.
Far be it from this humble archivist to pontificate on the merits of student journalism, but I feel qualified to discuss the important role that campus newspapers like The Tower play in preserving and telling the history of the University and its inhabitants.
The Tower remains one of the key resources for studying the history and culture of the Catholic University campus, particularly the undergraduate experience on campus. With most of the student population changing approximately every four years, it is often difficult to document the lives of the ever-changing residents on campus. Student organizations rise and fall, issues of concern are debated and settled, and students matriculate and soon graduate. While our staff works to archive as much as possible, we cannot capture the full range of the ever-evolving student experience.
Having a weekly newspaper, written and edited by undergraduate students, is thus a rich source of information related to the culture of the campus. It provides ample documentation and reporting on social events, campus gossip, ongoing debates (both on- and off-campus), moments of change, and numerous stories that may otherwise be lost to history.
Our reference staff frequently uses the bound Tower collection and digitized collection to address inquiries about campus history, and we have even found amazing photos for social media or to share photos and stories with alumni.
June 19th, 2022 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the first Encuentro and, as it’s currently Hispanic heritage month, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on one of the events that have held an important part in shaping the modern Catholic Hispanic and Latino communities.
The word encuentro means ‘meeting’ in Spanish, but the Encuentros that have taken place periodically in the last fifty years have been far more than just a simple meeting. Leaders of the First Encuentro interpreted the word to mean a ‘coming together’ and this is exactly what they hoped to do for Hispanic and Latino Catholics. Initiated in part as a response to Vatican II reforms by a community that felt they were not being heard, the Encuentros were meant to provide a way to amplify the many voices, by combining them into one.
The First Encuentro (or Prima Encuentro) was held at Trinity college in 1972. Its results were encouraging. The Ad Hoc Committee charged with accessing the Encuentro document approved (at least conditionally) 50 of the 74 recommendations, with all the social concerns being accepted. According to Luis A. Tampe, “The First Encuentro viewed the Church as a work in progress and envisioned the Holy Spirit as guiding the Hispanic faithful so that the First Encuentro could be considered an expression of the sensus fidelium Hispanorum (the sense of the Hispanic faithful) and their reading of and responding to the signs of the times.”
The Second Encuentro, which took place in 1977, built upon many of the themes and resolutions of the First Encuentro, while also looking for ways in which to improve and grow its vision. Some notable additions to the Second Encuentro were the creation of a Youth Panel, to address concerns of the younger generation falling out of the faith, and discussions over how to ameliorate the plight of migrant workers, who were given little to no protection from U.S. law.
The Second Encuentro has been criticized by some as being somewhat chaotic and disorganized. However Pablo Sedillo, the head of the Secretariat of the Spanish Speaking of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushes back on this claim, saying of the disarray caused by so many unregistered people deciding to attend, “ I don’t attribute that to a lack of organization. I attribute that to just a community that was absolutely hungry to participate and tell [Church leaders] in a public forum how they felt about the Church. I really don’t see anything wrong with that.” Even disorganized as it was, the Second Encuentro provided an opportunity for Hispanic Catholics to have their voices heard by the Catholic Church.
In 1985, after many months of pre-planning, the Third Encuentro took place at Catholic University. Its focus was on growing inclusion, which sparked some fairly controversial debates. There were even discussions on whether or not women ought to be ordained. Excitement for the event sparked many other activities around which people could celebrate their faith, such as a pilgrimage to Guadalupe, which took place in 1984. Additionally, several smaller meetings were held after the Encuentro to insure that goals were being met and themes stayed relevant.
Continuing the prior themes of growing inclusion, the fourth Encuentro (or ‘Encuentro 2000’ as it was referred to due to its falling around the millennium) was designed as a means of increasing solidarity amongst other minority groups within the Catholic Church. Encuentro 2000 was as much a celebration of culture as it was a call to action.
The Encuentros are still happening; the last one was as recent as 2018. For many, they represent a unified effort for Hispanic and Latino Catholics to come together and make their voices heard. They brought out leaders in the community, and gave the people a sense of empowerment. They are a testament to a community committed to their culture and their faith, and to making sure others are admitted to it as well.
As the United States Catholic population boomed between 1890 and 1920, national Catholic institutions evolved to address their needs. A key player in these developments was the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Initially established in 1917 to coordinate Catholic activities related to the First World War, the National Catholic War Council evolved into the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC), the forerunner of today’s U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). At the heart of the story of the USCCB’s formation is a tale of how a hierarchical institution like the Catholic Church adapts itself to thrive in a pluralistic and democratic society. The archives holds the records of the USCCB, which clock in at over 1000 boxes of archival materials!
When the United States entered World War One in 1917, authorities called for volunteer participation by private individuals and organizations to support the war effort.
Among these volunteers was the Catholic Church, which was broadly perceived as an immigrant body whose patriotism was suspect and whose members were untested in their loyalties, at least from the non-Catholic perspective.
Responding to this challenge under the motto of “For God and Country,” American Catholics led by the Paulist Father John J. Burke created the National Catholic War Council in 1917. Father Burke (1875-1936) was the heart and soul of the newly emerging bishops organization. He saw a fundamental compatibility between the principles the U.S. was founded upon, and those of the Catholic Church. He believed that the principles of the Constitution would lead to Catholic truth if they were fully followed.
The War Council represented the first coming together of the American bishops in voluntary association to address great national issues affecting the Church. Burke would head the Council’s Committee on Special War Activities, which oversaw mobilization of lay men and women in the war. The War Council worked particularly with the Knights of Columbus to provide education and recreation to Catholic men serving in the war. Also, the Council set up Catholic settlement houses in cities across the country to improve the civic education of immigrants and urged every diocese and Catholic organization to set up their own “Americanization” programs.
Many in the American Hierarchy soon realized with Father Burke that this united and coordinated effort in wartime might be reorganized for use in promoting Church interests in peacetime. This resulted in the creation in 1919 of the National Catholic Welfare Council, which involved itself at the federal, state, and local levels of Catholic activity regarding legislation, education, publicity, and social action.
Monsignor William Kerby, a professor of sociology at Catholic University, was a huge advocate of the Catholic need to establish organizations parallel to those Protestant. He worried about “leakage” of professionals and intellectuals from the church into secular or Protestant society. He noted that America was a pluralistic society that offered a host of organizations competing for allegiances, but an indifference to religion might develop within such organizations. Establishing specifically Catholic versions would counter the development of this indifference, in Kerby’s view.
In 1919, the bishops met as an assembly to discuss the creation of a National Catholic Welfare Council. This was representative of the whole of the Catholic bishops. But not all bishops were on board, as they thought it might interfere with their diocesan prerogatives.
At that time, they established an administrative committee of 7 bishops, later expanded to 10, elected annually. The committee met periodically through the year, and operated a 5 branch Secretariat.
This Secretariat was initially run by Father Burke, who served as the General Secretary. Its functions were to oversee:
* An Immigration Bureau and Motion Picture Bureau to offer technical assistance to immigrants at ports of entry, and promote decency in the movie industry.
* A Social Action Department. This promoted Catholic views of civic education, industrial relations, and rural welfare through publications and speakers.
* A Department of Education that informed the public on Catholic education and dealt with educational matters, which were actually in ferment at the time, as there were many attempts to abolish parochial schools.
* A Legal Department to study state and federal legislation with a view to either removing anti-Catholic aspects, or making the Catholic position known.
* A Press Department provided subscribing newspapers, such as Catholic diocesan newspapers with a weekly set of articles covering national and international events from the Catholic angle.
* The Department of Lay Activities organized Catholic people across the country into the National Conference of Catholic Women (NCCW) and National Conference of Catholic Men (NCCM).
At this point, however, there was a problem with the emerging organization that illustrates its uniqueness. One of the members of the hierarchy, Cardinal William O’Connell of Boston, did not like this new organization. He and several bishops feared that it would impinge on their local authority. Though O’Connell temporarily stalled the evolution of the organization, by 1922 a clarification in the name entailing a shift from the word “council” to “conference” satisfied the authorities involved, and the name was changed to the National Catholic Welfare Conference. The organization had another name change and reorganization in the 1960s, and as of 2001, it has been known as the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
From 1922 through to the 1960s, this organization addressed a range of matters related to American Catholic life. A few examples of their influential work:
Catholic Social Justice. Just after the war, the Bishops’ Conference issued the Bishops Program for Social Reconstruction (1919). This was a plan for social reform written by Father John A. Ryan, a professor of Sacred Theology at Catholic University. Combining Progressive thought and Catholic theology, Ryan believed that government intervention was the most effective means of affecting positive change for his church as well as working people and the poor. The program advocated minimum wage legislation, the elimination of child labor, state-run insurance for the sick, unemployed, and elderly, and housing for returning veterans, among other things. Labeled “socialistic” by its critics in the 1920s, much of the Program was implemented during the New Deal years.
Monsignor Ryan himself was appointed the head of the NCWC’s Department of Social Action (or SAD). This department employed staff to travel the country and educate Americans on how Catholic social teaching spoke to industrial matters, living wage issues, and other economic and social issues. The Social Action Department became a kind of national Catholic information clearing house on matters of Catholic social justice as applied to American life.
Catholic Education. You may or may not know that the 1920s saw a national upswing in anti-Catholic activity. The KKK, for example, had millions of members and, in addition to being anti-Black, they focused their hate on Catholics and Jews. The KKK and other groups of anti-Catholics sought to abolish Catholic parochial schools in many states. The Education Department raised funds, hired lawyers, and mediated such cases successfully in the 1920s, ensuring that parochial schools could exist.
Immigration and Americanization. As you might imagine, the church was very interested in the immigrant population. By 1920, there were about 20 million Catholics in a total U.S. population of just over 106 million. Many of these were immigrants and the children of immigrants–over 3.5 million Catholics migrated to the United States between 1900 and 1920. Catholic immigrants created communities that differed considerably from the established Anglo-Protestant pattern. Few spoke English, and many were impoverished working-class laborers. Immigrants tended to congregate in urban areas with others from their country of origin, creating ethnic neighborhoods in the cities. These neighborhoods were shunned by the Protestant majority, who viewed them as breeding grounds for illiteracy, disease, immorality, and un-Americanism. The Catholicism practiced in these ethnic communities also drew suspicion, as it looked very different from the practices established by earlier Catholic settlers in the U.S. These immigrant Catholics focused on creating vibrant parish networks built around ethnic group identification.
Priests and religious orders were brought from European countries to minister to the new parishes. As these ethnic communities grew, churches, schools, charitable organizations, newspapers, hospitals, and other institutions sprouted around them. For example, in 1880, there were 2,246 parochial elementary schools with 405,234 students in the U.S.; by 1910 there were 4,845 parochial elementary schools and 1,237,251 students. A Department of Immigration was soon established to address issues related directly to immigration as well.
Media and popular culture. The NCWC established a Press Department specifically devoted to Catholic information.
Established in 1920, the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC) Press Department provided the Catholic press, radio, and eventually television in the United States and other countries with news, editorial, features, and picture services prepared by professional journalists and released under the names NCWC News Service. Most dioceses had their own newspapers, focused on local Catholic affairs. But the NCWC Press Department covered issues of national significance, which the local papers ran as subscribers. This meant that Catholics could tell their own stories about themselves, rather than simply absorbing a Protestant dominated narrative. Hence, this organization helps generate a national Catholic and American identity.
The national idea is crucial here. There was no national and Catholic institution in existence that covered so many different facets of American life, prior to the establishment of the NCWC. And its creation was a product of the church’s adaptation to democratic life, with political institutions that required participation and advocacy of one’s view in a pluralistic society to survive.
Douglas J. Slawson, The Foundation and First Decade of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Press, 1992).
Elizabeth McKeown, “The ‘National Idea’ in the History of the American Episcopal Conference,” in Thomas J. Reese, S.J., Editor, Episcopal Conferences; Historical, Canonical & Theological Studies (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press).
A Finding Aid to the Records of the NCWC/USCCB housed at The Catholic University of America:
Our guest blogger is Sarah Zentner, a doctoral student in English at the Catholic University of America. She is researching the sacramental imagination in 19th-century British and American fiction, as well as the best chai tea latte in Washington, D.C.
Good news for first-year students (and upperclassmen, graduate students, and faculty) who feel they don’t have their lives “figured out” just yet: you’re in good company. Frances Nevins (1930-1980), later known as Sr. Christine Marie of the Holy Spirit, OCD, lived several callings during her short life: gifted academic, loving wife, and finally, Carmelite nun.
After Nevins’ death in December 1980, her longtime friend Joan Ward Mullaney, former Catholic University professor and Dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service, began gathering materials for a biography. But her quest to tell the story of Frances’ life didn’t end with the book’s publication in 2009.In August 2012, on the strength of the numerous personal testimonies, documents, correspondence, and spiritual writings she’d spent the last three decades collecting, Mullaney formally opened the petition for Frances Nevins’ beatification and canonization in the Catholic Church.
In this blog, we offer a brief sketch of the “very unusual holy person” that was Frances Nevins, as an encouragement for all those who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.
Nevins graduated from Connecticut College for Women in 1951. Professor Edward Cranz, who supervised her honors thesis on Nicholas of Cusa, called her “the most brilliant student I encountered in a lifetime of teaching,” while the former president of the American Cusanus Society, Gerald Christianson, declared her “clearly gifted” and apt for academic life. After earning her master’s degree in 1952 from Radcliffe College at Harvard, however, Nevins ceased her academic pursuits.
Frances Nevins married Paul Cawein in an Episcopal ceremony in 1953. In a 1954 letter to friend Joy Nicholson, Paul writes that “…we are very happy. I just read back over the letter you sent to me before our wedding telling me of the fine wife I was getting. When I read it the first time, I thought that you were right, but now I can only say amen.” Shortly after their marriage, however, Frances claimed the Catholic faith in which she was baptized, while Paul refused to have their marriage blessed in the Church and would not agree to raise their future children as Catholics. Citing their “irreconcilable” religious differences, the couple split in 1955. Frances sought (and was granted) a divorce and an annulment in 1958.
Drawn more and more to the Catholic faith, Frances felt a spiritual calling to consecrate her life to God after her divorce. Thinking at first that she wanted to use her intellectual gifts in the service of others, she sought admission to the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in New York, but soon realized she preferred a contemplative vocation to an active one. She entered the Schenectady Carmel in 1960 and professed her final vows in October 1965. For the next fifteen years, she lived a quiet life dedicated to prayer and the service of her community. She died on December 16, 1980, leaving behind a trove of spiritual writings that attest to a life of great virtue and love.
It may be many years before Frances Nevins is declared a Catholic saint, but in the meantime, she is a kind of “patron” for everyone who feels discouraged by a future that seems unclear, and an inspiration to those of us who still aren’t sure of what we’re called to do with our lives.
The following is a selection from Catholic University student Alessia Pecorella’s class paper on the terracotta Madonna and Child, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Ms. Pecorella’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by Special Collections Archivist Shane MacDonald. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.
Before ART 272 Cosmopolitan Renaissance, I thought the Renaissance was just a definition in my high school history textbook. But throughout the semester, I have realized there is more than meets the eye during this influential period. The object I picked to study this semester was the terracotta Madonna and Child, created by Antonio Rossellino.
The terracotta Madonna and Child, according to the Catholic University Special Collections, is a plaque of the Madonna and Child in terracotta, encased in a tabernacle frame. Antonio Rossellino created the object between 1540-70. The object’s current location is in a Curley Hall Annex stairwell chapel. According to the object’s file, Frederick Jambes donated the piece, although there is correspondence with a Miss Jessie Jebiley as the potential donor. Based on the provenance history explained in the object file there is a lot of information of how the object got to campus, but not a lot of information about how the piece made its way to America in the first place.
The object’s creator, Antonio Rosselino, was born in Florence, Italy and is a “notable and prolific Italian Renaissance sculptor who was the youngest brother of the architect and sculptor Bernardo Rossellino” (Encyclopædia Britannica). Rossellino’s expertise was in portraits and combining architecture and sculpting. His greatest accomplishment is the Chapel of the Cardinal of Portugal in San Miniato al Monte, located outside of Florence. The figures Rosselino formed over time are recognized for their “strong form and intense characterization” (Encyclopædia Britannica) He is known for his recurring depictions of Madonna and Child, with examples displayed in museums all around the country.
One example is his marble Madonna and Child with Angels, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Another is Rossellino’s marble Madonna and Child, located in the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. Comparing these two works with CatholicU’s terracotta piece by the same artist is fascinating, but by looking at another artist’s Madonna and Child piece, one can see the diverse and global influences on the Renaissance. An example of this can be comparing Duccio’s Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels to Rossellino’s terracotta Madonna and Child.
The significant difference between these two pieces is that one is a painting, and another is a sculpture, but let us compare how Mary and Jesus are depicted in these pieces. In Duccio’s piece, Mary and Jesus, he “imitated two different tiraz textiles and the drapery of the back of Mary’s throne reflect contemporary Islamic fabrics used to furnish palaces and tents” (Mack, 2002). Tiraz is a line of Arabic calligraphy on the top sleeves of a robe or a hat. Duccio’s depiction of Mary and Jesus was rare in Italian art and caught positive attention in decades to come. While in Rossellino’s piece, Mary and Jesus are sitting in a very similar position, but their clothing is different. Their clothing has no tiraz, and it utilizes three primary colors of red, blue, and gold and is more simply draped. Mary and Jesus’ facial expressions are alike in these two pieces. Both figures express a sense of peace and calmness. Even as far as the detail of Mary looking over her left shoulder down at Jesus and Jesus looking into the distance is significant – it shows the artists may have been trying to create the same perspective. These two pieces are Renaissance art with elements of humanism and Catholicism represented, but also express the diversity of cultural influences on art in this period.
To dive even further into why The terracotta Madonna and Child is defined as Renaissance art is to explain what materials make up the piece. The object’s material is terracotta. When I initially thought of Renaissance sculptures, I thought only marble was used, but that is wrong. Various materials were used throughout the period to create beautiful sculptures. Terracotta is ceramic pottery used to make pots, pipes, bricks, and sculptures created by baking clay. The word terracotta in Italian means “baked earth”. Terracotta is thousands of years old, and one of its famous examples is the Terracotta Army in China. Classical antiquity was a favored trait of the Renaissance, and terracotta was a way to represent it. Italian sculptors in this time were known for using marble and bronze, but when demand for commissions increased, artists needed to produce artwork quicker and turned to terracotta. Specifically, Florentine artists like Rosselini were fond of utilizing this material. When using it, artists shape a three-dimensional form with their hands and instruments that is made hard and brittle when cooked in a kiln. The terracotta can be modified after drying by carving or engraving. Such works can range in color from dull ochre to a bright red, and were often painted to look like marble or bronze. These techniques traveled, and people all over Europe began to utilize terracotta for works of art.
Finally, the terracotta Madonna and Child has a tabernacle frame around the sculpture. This frame’s design is one of the many details that define the terracotta Madonna and Child as a Renaissance object. A tabernacle frame is a form of an architectural picture frame that emerged in Venice and Tuscany in the fifteenth century. It was composed of a pair of pilasters that bordered the picture aperture, supported a frieze and pediment, and rested on a base. Even though tabernacle frames have similar shapes, I think the shape of the dome-like top of the tabernacle frame reminds me of the architecture of the Basilica of San Marco located in Venice. The design similarities are a connection I believe makes sense because tabernacle frames originated from Venice. In my opinion, the pillars of the frame invoke the columns of the Basilica. The tabernacle frame of the terracotta Madonna and Child is an identifiable feature of the object that connects it back to the Renaissance.
The terracotta Madonna and Child is one of the thousands of pieces of art created during the Renaissance. Through this one object, one can learn more about the Renaissance. The use of terracotta, the humanizing of Jesus and Mary, and the architecture behind the tabernacle frame all play a role in connecting this piece with the broader Renaissance. Created in sixteenth century Florence, it eventually was donated to the Catholic University in the twentieth century. And while displayed on the campus, it taught me about the Renaissance and I hope it can teach everyone else a little bit about it too.
“Antonio Rossellino.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Accessed March 31, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Antonio-Rossellino.
Belting, Hans, and Deborah Lucas Schneider. Essay. In Florence & Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, 41–43. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University,2011.
Farago, Claire J. “Chapter 3.” Essay. In Reframing the Renaissance: Visual Culture in Europe and Latin America, 1450-1650, 69–70. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
Fliegel, Stephen N. “The Terracottas of Renaissance Florence.” La Gazzetta Italiana. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.lagazzettaitaliana.com/history-culture/7845-the-terracottas-of-renaissance-florence.
Mack, Rosamond. “Oriental Script in Italian Paintings.” Essay. In Bazaar to Piazza: Islamic Trade and Italian Art, 1300-1600, 56–59. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.
Magner, James A. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, January 17, 1961.
McLeod, Alice H. Letter to Mr. Leon Medina. Washington, D.C: The Catholic University of America, December 28, 1960.
Ousterhout, Robert. Journal. “Flexible Geography and Transportable Topography,” The Real and Ideal Jerusalem in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Art, 393-404. (published as Jewish Art 23-24 [1997-98])
Rosselino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child with Angels.” Metmuseum.org. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/192716.
Rossellino, Antonio. “Madonna and Child.” Art Object Page. Accessed April 1, 2022. https://www.nga.gov/collection/art-object-page.469.html.
“Tabernacle Frame.” Oxford Reference. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803101822637.
The Terracotta Madonna and Child. “ACUA Museum Collections New Museum Collection.” Washington D.C, 1960.
“What Is Terracotta?” Wonderopolis. Accessed April 2, 2022. https://www.wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-terracotta.