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: Unlocking the History Behind Quentin Metsys’s (Massys) ‘Pieta’ at Catholic University

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Pieta, late 15th or early 16th century, oil on wood. Special Collections, Catholic University of America.

The following is a selection from Catholic University student Christopher Vitale’s class paper on the Pieta, a piece of Renaissance-era art held by Special Collections at the University. Mr. Vitale’s piece was submitted as an assignment for Professor Tiffany Hunt’s course ART 272: The Cosmopolitan Renaissance and edited by University Archivist William J. Shepherd. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

I was a little anxious at being informed that I would be required to select and study an object of Renaissance art from the Catholic University Special Collections. I reflected that I am a studio art major so maybe it would be a good idea to choose an object that relates to my artistic practice. I strongly identify as a painter, and specifically as an oil painter, as it is truly my passion. I also realized the spiritual nature of this project. Before all else, I am a Roman Catholic. Expressing and engaging with my religious beliefs is both the foremost joy and the pinnacle duty of my life. A marriage between my artistic attractions and my religious objectives yielded the ultimate result of my selection: the late 15th or early 16th century Pieta by Quentin Metsys (or Massys), a stunning work of Christian-based Northern Renaissance oil on wood painting.

Letter from Arthur Connolly to Thomas J. Shahan, June 1, 1924. Special Collections, Catholic University.

The accession file from Special Collections reveals the historical information relating to the Pieta’s provenance. Of particular interest is a handwritten letter addressed to Bishop Thomas J. Shahan, the fourth rector of the University and an auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Baltimore, sent by Rev. Arthur T. Connolly on December 17, 1919. Connolly assured Bishop Shahan that he would send “the painting of the Virgin [and] dead Christ by Quentin [Metsys]” shortly. Five days later, on December 22, the Bishop’s secretary returned a letter confirming that the Bishop’s office had received Connolly’s note and would “look out for the shipments referred to.” These details help us answer fundamental questions that should accompany any inquisitive mind when viewing or thinking about a historical piece of art, such as, “Why is this Renaissance painting here? How did it get here? Where did it come from?”

Quentin Metsys (Massys), St. Anne Altarpiece, 1507-08, oil on wood, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels.

Looking more closely at those handwritten letters reveals additional clues, though it is nearly impossible to recognize every word due to Arthur Connolly’s scribbled handwriting, akin to cracking the code of ancient hieroglyphs. In a secondary letter dated June 1, 1924, Connolly explained that he would again send art objects, among these “an ivory figure of St. Ann and the Blessed Virgin, an Irish made silver crucifix and pedestal… and, interestingly, “a very fine painting of Saint Peter by Guercino” (i.e. the distinguished Italian Baroque artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri). By encouraging Shahan to use the Pieta as a point of measurement, Connolly underscored his perception of the elevated nature of the Metsys piece and demonstrated that he was intent on presenting Shahan, and the wider University community, with ‘the cream of the crop’ in respect to historical artworks. The fact that Connolly and Shahan were writing and sending successive, handwritten notes to each other, and that Connolly addressed Bishop Shahan with affectionate language suggests that the pair were friends, which is why these sorts of objects wound up at Catholic University.

Quentin Metsys (Massys), Lamentation of Christ, 1511. Wikicommons.

After all, that is precisely what friends do-they send things to each other. Today, of course, we have text messages, phone calls, emails, and Amazon delivery services that enable us to exchange conversations, information, and gifts with one another instantaneously, but in the early 20th century, a prime way to maintain friendships was by swapping physical correspondence letters and gifting things the other might care about or which might be useful towards a more ambitious end, such as amassing a University collection. Bishop Thomas Shahan was also the founder of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, an influential American house of worship and a monumental sanctuary for religious artworks (today it holds the largest collection of contemporary ecclesiastical art in the United States). Donating art objects would fuel the archives, libraries, collections, and exhibits of the University, which in turn serve to strengthen the institution as a center for research, academic discourse, and historical preservation. It’s benefactors like Connolly who were responsible for filling the catalogs with objects and artworks which increase the University’s visibility within Academia.

Rembrandt Self-Portrait Etching. 17th Century. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Documents and memos in the accession file disclose that the painting was moved around a couple of times, it eventually found a home in Nugent Hall, which is both the private residence of the university president as well as the headquarters for his offices. It is currently displayed in a spacious and finely decorated sitting room complete with couches, armchairs, and coffee tables. Also featured in that room is a small portrait etching by Rembrandt. Since Rembrandt is among the most honored and influential figures in art history, my theory is that the Pieta functions, like the Rembrandt, to impress visitors of the president, serves as a testament to the University’s academic and historical legitimacy, and underscores both the theological roots and artistic strengths of the institution

What the object file also includes is a short biography of Metsys by Stanley Ferber from the McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Art. Ferber wrote that Metsys employed “a conscious archaism, both sensitive and perceptive, which he ultimately synthesized with late-15th-century Italian developments, especially those of Leonardo.” Though the Pieta depicts a moment of violence and sorrow as a bloodied Christ has been removed from the Cross and placed in his Blessed Mother’s arms, there is an undeniable sense of peace and a visual softness in the rendering of the figures and the overall composition. This accompanies the attention to detail characteristic of Flemish art, as articulated by the three crosses on the hill far in the distance behind the Virgin, with tiny figures standing at their base, as well as the crown of thorns, the nails, and the sponge soaked in wine that appear in the foreground of the piece. In addition to helping me better conceive of the nature of Renaissance art, my research into the object and its file has allowed me to develop a deeper appreciation for the application of historical artworks in a modern context

The 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: 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: Creative Catechism the Manternach-Pfeifer Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Archivist’s Nook: Catholic University’s Sisters of Life Collections

March for Life Program Journal, January 22,1990 edition. March for Life Memorabilia, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Special Collections at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., is happy to announce the receipt in September of the donation of eight small collections of Pro-Life archival materials from The Sisters of Life of New York City. While the Sisters decided to donate the bulk of their archives, centered on the Joseph Stanton Papers, to Harvard’s Schlesinger Women’s History Library, it is nevertheless gratifying for Catholic University to host at least a portion of this valuable archive dedicated to an issue of vital importance to the American Catholic Church.

Natural Family Planning Pamphlet, n.d. Natural Family Planning Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

The Sisters of Life are a uniquely American, Roman Catholic religious institute, following the Augustinian rule.  It is both a contemplative and active religious community, dedicated to the promotion of pro-life causes. Their abbreviation S.V. stands for Sorores Vitae, which is the Latin version of their name. They were founded under the auspices of John O’Connor (1920-2000), the Cardinal-Archbishop of New York in 1991, when eight women gathered in New York to begin the new community. Since then, they have grown to over a hundred Sisters from across the globe, in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Spain, and the Philippines. They have also expanded missions from their birthplace in New York beyond to Denver, Stamford, Philadelphia, Washington, and Toronto.

Secular Feminist Publication, Spokeswowan, November 1, 1979. Catholic and Other Periodicals Collection. Special Collections, The Catholic University of Amerca.

The new collections at Catholic University total fifty-one boxes, over sixty linear feet, covering the 1970s to 2000. They include the Abortion Parental Consent Legal Research Case Files from the University of St. Thomas Law School, the Center for the Rights of the Terminally Ill Collection, The Long Island Grass Roots Pro-Life Collection, March for Life Memorabilia, National Right to Life News Complete Collection, Natural Family Planning Archival Collection, Pro-Life Movement Newsletters and Periodicals, and various rare Catholic and other periodicals.

Report Newsletter, July/August/September 1990 Edition. Center for the Rights of the Termininally Ill Collection. Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Each of these collections will be processed, primarily by student workers and practicum volunteers, to create online finding aids (inventories), joining those presently on the Special Collections website.(1) We also plan to craft a Pro-life research guide to the related materials. For more information on these and other collections, including another order of homegrown sisters, please contact us at https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/archives/about/contact-us.html 

 

(1) Special thanks to Brandi Marulli, both for visiting the Sisters of Life in person in 2020 to assess their records, and for her help with this blog post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Pre-Vatican II Pamphlet Spotlight – Getting into the Christmas Spirit!

As we approach the Fourth Sunday of Advent, many of us are preparing for Christmas in a variety of ways. Everything from putting up decorations and baking cookies to attending Mass more frequently and receiving the Sacrament of Confession on a more regular basis. This is a season of penance and abstinence, joy and hope! To celebrate this most holy season, the Catholic University Special Collections would like to share a number of beautiful items from our Pre-Vatican II Pamphlet Collection! These small yet stunning pieces give us a glimpse into Christmas past, a peek into the traditions and observances of Catholics before the Second Vatican Council. Although I will only be focusing on five of our pamphlets, this post is in no way exhaustive of our collection. I invite you to take a look through our online database, which you can browse through our over 12,000 pamphlets: https://libraries.catholic.edu/special-collections/rare-books/pre-vatican-ii-pamphlets.html

Christmas – the Gift of God!

Christmas – the Gift of God!, 1951. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The first pamphlet that I would like to feature is from the Paulist Press. Written in 1951 by Rev. James M. Gillis, C.S.P., this brief booklet packs quite the punch! Fr. Gillis outlines the historical and theological background of Christmas, with each section addressing a particular question or controversy. He answers hard-hitting questions such as “Is Christmas Pagan?”, “Christ or Bacchus?”, and “Is God a Sphinx?”[1]. Each section is not terribly long, but Fr. Gillis is able to address common misconceptions regarding the holy-day with deft and depth. Theologically hefty, this little pamphlet explains Christmas within the Catholic context, drawing on the Church Fathers, writings of the Saints, and the teachings of the Magisterium. The pamphlet concludes with the lyrics to a number of popular Christmas songs hymns, the majority of which are still enjoyed today, including “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “O Holy Night” and “The First Noel”.

The Gifts of Christmas

The Gifts of Christmas, 1943. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.
The Gifts of Christmas, 1943. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The second pamphlet that I would like to draw to your attention is from our sub-collection of pamphlets for children. This one was written by Rev. Daniel A. Lord S.J., who features heavily in our pamphlet collection, in 1943. This pamphlet is downright gorgeous, filled with full-color illustrations and pop-outs that are surely engaging for children (and this technician!). The pamphlet recalls the Nativity story in an easy to understand way, while also pointing to Christ’s presence in the Mass and the story of St. Nicholas. The illustrations make use of paper windows and a three-dimensional Christmas tree, making it seem almost like a picture book!

The Christmas Lamb

The Christmas Lamb, 1942. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

This pamphlet is another work of Fr. Lord’s, being published in 1942 by The Queen’s Work. Although this one is not as colorful as the last pamphlet, the cover is richly decorated with gold ink, and depictions of the Blessed Mother and Baby Jesus surrounded by lambs and angels. Fr. Lord retells the Nativity story, but in a very poetic way, almost lyrical. It seems that this pamphlet was meant to be given as a gift to someone, as there is space to write one’s name in the front cover after “That the Lamb of God may be The Joy of Your Christmas is the sincere hope of:” [2]. What a wonderful alternative to a traditional Christmas card!

Devotions for the Christmas and the Epiphany Season

Devotions for Christmas and the Epiphany Season, 1954. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

This fourth pamphlet was written by Rev. Philip T. Weller in 1954 and published through Saint Pius X Press in Berwyn, Maryland. A slightly less ornate pamphlet than the previous three, but nonetheless, still beautiful with a green cover featuring a delightful rendering of the Nativity. Inside, the text is more technical than our other examples, this being a prayer service outline with the words spoken by the priest celebrating and the responses of the congregation. It also includes instructions for the congregation as when to stand, kneel, and sit, along with instructions for the priest. The pamphlet directs the Celebrant to “place[s] the image of the Infant in its place, kneels and incenses the Crib, and says the following prayer:”[3]. The pamphlet ends with the Magnificat, O Salutaris, Tantum Ergo, the Divine Praises, and finally the Star of the Sea prayer.

The King’s Jongleur: A Medieval Christmas Play in Three Acts

The King’s Jongleur, 1936. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.
The King’s Jongleur, 1936. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

The last pamphlet that I will be featuring is different from the rest, but that is why I think it is worth mentioning! Written by Sister Mary Donatus in 1936 for The Catholic Dramatic Movement, this pamphlet is a script of a short play. The play focuses on an Abbey preparing for its Midnight Mass, but they are visited by a jester, who although at first seems to be causing trouble, is later revealed to have the purest heart and receives a blessing from the Infant Jesus. A short yet sweet play about charity and belief during Christmas, this is just one of the many plays in our pamphlet collection. 

This is just a small taste of thousands of pamphlets that we house in our collection, we have an assortment of material ranging from prayer and the Sacraments, to Catholic dating and perspectives on social issues. If you would like to know more, or would like to schedule an appointment to come visit our collection, please contact us at (202) 319- 5065 or lib-archives@cua.edu

 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy Holidays from our families to yours!

 

 

[1] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, Paulist, 501.

[2] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, Lordy, 70.

[3] ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University, American Catholic Pamphlets and Parish Histories, 1902, 88.

The Archivist’s Nook: Upon This Granite Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Works Cited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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