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. The students used art from the University collections for their papers.

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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.

The Archivist’s Nook: Saving Black Catholic History – The Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers

Guest blogger, Dr. Cecilia Moore, is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Dayton and faculty member of the Degree Program for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana. Dr. Moore with Dr. C. Vanessa White of the Catholic Theological Union and Fr. Paul Marshall, S.M., Rector of the University Dayton, co-edited Songs of Our Hearts and Meditations of Our Souls: Prayers for Black Catholics, St. Anthony Messenger Press (2006).

Dr. Cecilia Moore with Father Cyprian Davis, taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

In August 2015, Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow, Father Kenneth Taylor, and I spent four days in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  We were there to sort, curate, and pack more than 40 years of archives documenting the lives of black Catholics in the United States that Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. saved.  When we made the plans to do this work, we expected that Father Cyprian would be working alongside us, but he had died that May. Graciously and generously, Archabbot Justin Duvall, O.S.B.  allowed us to go forward with the plan and agreed to cover the shipping costs.    By the time we finished, Father Taylor had a van full of boxes containing the archives of the National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus (NBCCC) to be donated to the Archives of the University of Notre Dame. There were also boxes of documents destined for the Archives of Xavier University of Louisiana for the Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS) Collection and for the Black Catholic Theological Symposium (BCTS) Collection, a small collection of documents for the Archives of the University of St. Thomas for the National Office of Black Catholics Collection, and a very large of pile of boxes containing documents, ephemera, papers, books, and material culture, that are now the Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. Papers of  the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, part of Special Collections at the Catholic University of America.

How and why we came to do this work started a year earlier when Dr. Bellow and I visited Father Cyprian at Saint Meinrad in July 2014.  We both had studied with him at the IBCS and later became his colleagues as we joined the IBCS faculty and then served as IBCS administrators.  Over our years working together at the IBCS, we became friends with Fr. Cyprian, but it had been while since we had enjoyed his fine company in person.

Taken by Kathleen Dorsey Bellow at St. Meinrad in December 2014.

During our visit, Fr. Cyprian hosted us for refreshments and conversation in his spacious and comfortable office. It was filled with books, journals, works-in-progress, photographs of family and friends, and art.  It was the place where he wrote class lectures, homilies, articles, talks, and of course, The History of Black Catholics in the United States.  It was also where he engaged in his love of reading and conversation.  We had the best time with him.  Among the many things we discussed were his work revising The History of Black Catholics in the United States, politics, movies, books, and the need to find permanent homes for the NBCCC and BCTS archives which he had served as archivist for since 1968 and 1978 respectively.  These archives were held in a storage room in the basement of the Saint Meinrad Seminary Library.  When we volunteered to help him complete this mission, Father Cyprian gladly accepted our offer.

We returned to St. Meinrad in December 2014 to assess the work we needed to do. At that time, Father Cyprian took us to the storage room and we got our first look at the historical treasures he had saved over the past 46 years.  And, he had saved quite a lot.  A wall of deep shelves was loaded with large and small boxes of formal documents, letters, magazines, newsletters, bulletins, memos, conference programs, newspaper articles, books, tapes, films, photographs, event programs, manuscripts, notes, cards, etc.  It was amazing.  We spent hours taking boxes down and looking at their contents with Father Cyprian.  What a trip down “memory lane.” We knew many of the people attached to or responsible for the history that we held in our hands.  Many of the women and men at the heart of the contents of these archives had died, so we spent time remembering them, what made them fit for the battles they fought on behalf of black Catholics, and the personal qualities that made them so memorable and missed.  Others were still living, and we had a good time looking at their younger selves and discussing how their ministries in the black Catholic community had changed over the years in emphasis, intensity, and status. As we did this preliminary assessment, it became clear that there was a lot in the Saint Meinrad Library storage room that did not properly belong to the NBCCC, the BCTS, or the IBCS.

Cyprian Davis at his work. Courtesy of St. Meinrad Abbey.

There was a fourth archives that was hard to define because it was so eclectic.  It contained things that Father Cyprian had either written or helped to write and edit.  It documented the people and the places that over the past 50 years that had called on Father Cyprian to “tell” them their history.  Letters and cards revealed the vast network of people, from many different backgrounds, who reached out to him – to send him things that they thought were important to black Catholic history that he could use to write more of the history, to seek his advice about their work on black Catholic history, to tell him how much his work meant to them, their students, and their parishes, or to challenge him on points of the history he had written.  There were also dissertations, theses, conference papers, and articles written by people who were directly inspired to pursue research in black Catholic history by Father Cyprian.  By the end of the day, it was clear that Father Cyprian had an archives that needed a permanent home too.

When we suggested this to him, he demurred at first, but after thinking about it for a while he agreed with us and told us that he wanted his papers to be donated to the Catholic University of America.  He was happy that this trove of primary and secondary sources would assist future generations of historians committed to black Catholic history to continue researching, writing, and teaching an-ever more contextualized and rich history of Catholics of African descent in the United States.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Archivist’s Nook: CUA’s Patriarch of Patristics

Photo courtesy of The Catholic University of America School of Theology and Religious Studies

As indispensable and central to Catholic University as Caldwell Hall, the School of Theology and Religious Studies has been an inseparable part of the identity of the University from its first days. But what makes up a good Theology School? The only way to ensure the proper cultivation of our future scholars and clergy is to provide them with the most distinguished professors.

The Johannes Quasten Medal for Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies is awarded to those who dedicate their lives to the study of religion and who demonstrate unparalleled leadership within their respective fields, both within Catholic University and in the wider theological world, It is only fitting to explore the life of the man behind the award to fully understand the impact that he has had both on the School and the study of Christianity. 

Johannes Quasten was born on May 3rd, 1900 in Homberg-Niederrhein, Germany. After his years in primary school, Monsignor Quasten attended the University of Muenster where he earned his Doctorate in Christian Archaeology in 1927. Only the year before, in 1926, Msgr. Quasten was ordained a priest, thus beginning his scholarly and priestly journey all at once. Ever the jet-setter, in 1929 Father Quasten trekked to Rome to study at the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archeology. It was this further specialization that allowed him to go on research digs and participate in projects in Italy, North Africa, France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Holland, and Croatia.

Msgr. Quasten at his desk, enjoying some conversation! ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

It was during an archaeological dig in North Africa that Msgr. Quasten was approached about joining the faculty of The Catholic University of America. In 1938, our intrepid globe-trotting priest joined the Catholic Cardinal family! A tough but fair professor, Msgr. Quasten wrote prolifically about his specialty — early Christian history, liturgy, and patristics. He churned out book reviews, articles, and papers, but none compared to his magnum opus Patrology. Showcasing his expert knowledge and years spent in the field, this three-volume mammoth outlines the writings and contributions of the Early Church Fathers.

The first courses that Msgr. Quasten taught at CUA in 1938. ACHA Records, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Msgr. Quasten served as the Dean of the School of Sacred Theology from November 1945 until 1949. He was also awarded a Cardinal Spellman Medal in 1960 and was granted a Doctor of Humane Letters in 1976 from The Catholic University of America. It was this same year, 1976, that he was promoted to “Monsignor” with approval from Pope Paul VI. He later returned to his native Germany where he died on March 18th, 1987. 

Msgr. Quasten’s adventures took him all around the world, but his legacy is very much alive here at The Catholic University of America. He has made his mark by teaching countless academics and clergy, but the most tangible result of that legacy is the Johannes Quasten Medal which is given out each year. First established in 1985, the Medal is “the only academic award given by The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies” (trs.cua.edu). On January 27th of this year, the School held the annual ceremony, granting the Medal to Dr. Mark Smith of the Princeton Theological Seminary. 

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

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

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

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

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

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

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

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

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

Photo courtesy of: Sister Thea Bowman Cause for Canonization

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

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

Title page for Sr. Bowman’s 1972 dissertation

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

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

[2] Smith & Feister, 38.