Posts with the tag: Bishops’ Conference of the United States

The Archivist’s Nook: The Manternach-Pfeifer Papers – Life, Love, and Joy Their Way

Cover of the 1991 Teacher’s Edition of This Is Our Faith. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Guest author Tricia Campbell Bailey is a graduate of the Catholic U. Library and Information Science (LIS) Department.

Before I returned to school to become an archivist, I spent 20 years as a journalist and corporate communications specialist. Much of that time was spent on science and technology writing; I quickly learned how to break down technical information clearly and how to find the “hook” that lurks in every story beneath the technical details and scientific jargon. In fact, the most important lesson I learned as a writer was: There’s no such thing as a boring assignment.

Happily, when I took on my first archival project as a CUA graduate student, I learned that that lesson applied to archival work, as well. And last month, when I returned to CUA as a part-time archives assistant, I discovered it all over again. Every boxful of papers and every crumpled photograph tells a story. On the surface, this story is about two religious educators and business owners — but it’s also about faith, love, and living life on one’s own terms.

The collection, newly acquired by the Catholic University Archives, is the personal papers of Janaan Manternach and Carl Pfeifer, who revolutionized Catholic education for children beginning in the 1960s. Together they wrote multiple religious education textbooks and curricula, along with many columns, books, and articles about the best way to teach children about the Catholic faith.

Revamping the Catechism

Until the 1960s, religious instruction in the U.S. was based on the Baltimore Catechism, which used a rote question-and-answer format that many children found difficult to engage with. However, many Catholics today learn about their faith very differently — largely due to Manternach and Pfeifer’s work.

In the late 1950s, the National Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) Center became aware of Sister Mary Janaan (born Shirley Marie Manternach), a young Franciscan sister from Dubuque, Iowa who incorporated poetry, art, and music into her religion class at an inner-city Chicago school. In 1960, she was reassigned to Washington, D.C. to study Religious Education at The Catholic University of America — and to work with CCD Director Rev. Joseph Collins on a textbook series to replace the Baltimore Catechism.

Pfeifer and Manternach (third and fourth from right) at a conference in Rome, ca. late 1960s or early 1970s (pre-1976). Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

Three years later, in a graduate class at CUA, Sister Mary Janaan met Father Carl Pfeifer, a young Jesuit priest and teacher from St. Louis. He shared her interest in making religious education more accessible to children, and she eventually proposed to the CCD Center that he be assigned to work with her on the textbook project. This sparked a professional and personal partnership that was to last for more than 40 years.

“I Could Not Live Without Him”

From 1963 to 1975, Sr. Manternach and Fr. Pfeifer were co-assistant directors of the CCD Center, where they not only authored the Life, Love, Joy textbook series but also represented the Center to diocesan directors nationwide; consulted for various Church religious education groups; and were instrumental in the creation of the National Conference of Diocesan Directors (NCDD). In 1975, they left to form their own freelance writing business, also called Life, Love, Joy.

Together, they traveled to dioceses across the country introducing the series and training catechists. For example, notes from Manternach’s notebook point to her love of using art and music in her teaching, and to finding ways to engage children through stories: “The Bible’s not enough! Generate spinoffs – poetry – music – story – art/culture rises up around it – multiple tellings.”

But by this time, they were discovering something else — their successful professional partnership was becoming something more. In 1976, both Sr. Manternach and Fr. Pfeifer requested and received permission to be released from their vows, and they were married on November 20, 1976. In her personal writings from the early 1980s, Manternach notes candidly, “I decided to marry him because gradually I became aware that I could not live without him.”

Leaving religious life caused some temporary backlash against the two in the Church, but their success as catechists and devotion to their work earned them forgiveness, and they continued to be influential in the religious education movement even as laypeople.

Pfeifer and Manternach in front of their home in Arlington, VA., December 1985. Manternach-Pfeifer Papers, Special Collections, Catholic University.

A Life of Love and Joy

 In addition to the Life, Love, Joy series, which was revised many times (it was later known as the Silver Burdett Religion Program, Growing in Faith, and finally This is Our Faith), the couple wrote syndicated columns for many Catholic publications and traveled extensively to present workshops and lectures. In 1985, both Pfeifer and Manternach received their Doctor of Ministry degrees from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.

Far beyond their passion for their work, however, the collection’s extensive amount of correspondence reveals the human side of the couple. An entire box of the collection is reserved for Manternach and Pfeifer’s holiday newsletters, which they circulated to their wide-ranging circle of friends and family at Christmas and Easter. Despite the initial controversy around their transition from religious life, two bulging folders contain well-wishes for their 1976 wedding. Both stayed in regular touch with their families in the Midwest. And although they were unable to have children of their own, they doted on their four godchildren. Extensive correspondence from the early 2000s shows that Manternach and her goddaughter Angela communicated almost daily, often through multi-page handwritten letters and photo collages.

In the early 2000s, Pfeifer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, and he and Manternach returned to Manternach’s home state of Iowa to care for him and for her elderly mother. Pfeifer died of complications from Alzheimer’s in 2007; Manternach, now in her 90s, lives on her own in Dubuque, about 25 miles from her hometown of Cascade. She remains active as an author; most recently she published I’d Do it All Over Again and I’d Do it Better: A Caregiver’s Journey through Alzheimer’s (ACTA Publications, 2020).

The Manternach/Pfeifer collection has not yet been fully processed, but work is underway and a full online finding aid will be available. This collection is a rare glimpse into two people who spent decades passionate and joyful about their faith — and about one another. Their lives and work can best be summed by a quote from Manternach found scrawled in a notebook with other thoughts on catechesis: “Hope is part of the structure of most of our existence.”

Works Cited

Manternach, D. (n.d.). Janaan Manternach and Carl J. Pfeifer. Biola University. Retrieved February 18, 2021, from https://www.biola.edu/talbot/ce20/database/janaan-manternach-carl-pfeifer

Carl Pfeifer Obituary, 1929-2007. (2007, July 15). The Washington Post. https://www.legacy.com/amp/obituaries/washingtonpost/90699372

The Archivist’s Nook: YOU Should Read the Catholic Press – Why?

Cover of a booklet issued by the newly established Press Department of the Bishops’ Conference issued in the 1930s. The booklet explains the function and reach of the Department to readers.

The first national Catholic press in the U.S. formed in 1911 with the Catholic Press Association.  Its purpose was to stabilize advertising services and to start a national news service, which it did, called the News Bureau.  By 1915 it was gathering news and developing newsletters from Rome, London and Washington, D.C. as a subscription based service for its member publications, which were primarily diocesan and independent Catholic newspapers in the U.S.  In 1919, just after the formation of the National Catholic Welfare Council (NCWC), today known as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the NCWC Press Department absorbed the function of the Catholic Press Association, stabilizing and promoting the dissemination of news of interest to Catholics nationally.  Its aim was to publish news of national and international interest to Catholics in the United States—news that was often ignored in the mainstream press. Subscribers to the news service—local or special interest Catholic news outlets—would supplement their own content with the Press Department’s news, editorial features, and picture services in their own publications under the name NCWC News Service. The NCWC News Service changed its name in the 1960s to the National Catholic News Service or NC News, then again in 1986 to its current name, Catholic News Service (CNS) to reflect its mission to cover world news of relevance to Catholics.¹

Justin McGrath served as the founding director of the new Catholic News Service (then called the Press Department of the National Catholic Welfare Conference), from 1920 until 1932. He brought with him connections and experience from previous stints with The New York Times and The San Francisco Examiner.

This new national Catholic press focused on matters of interest to Catholics nationally, particularly those matters that the mainstream press ignored or reported from a non-Catholic and often anti-Catholic perspective. One 1922 NCWC News Sheet, for example, reported in October of that year that the Ku Klux Klan was asserting that “because Columbus was a Catholic,” Leif Ericson should be considered “the real discoverer of America.” The KKK’s view held that Columbus’s Catholicism disqualified him from a role in the history of European colonization, and that Leif Ericson’s Nordic background made him qualified for a special place in that history. The news sheet countered that in fact, Leif Ericson was a Catholic anyway so the KKK’s plan to dethrone Columbus based on religious grounds was futile—not an argument that would be seen in the mainstream press because the mainstream press freely expressed anti-Catholic sentiment as well. Other topics heavily covered by the Catholic press in these years concerned the persecution of priests and nuns in Mexico and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939. Church figures in the U.S. felt that the U.S. government was not doing enough to counter anti-Catholic violence in the 1920s Cristero War, and in contrast with many non-Catholic Americans, were more sympathetic to the pro-Catholic Franco regime in Spain than they were to the Soviet backed Popular Front.²

This map of subscribers nicely displays the reach of the relatively young Catholic news agency in the 1930s. Note that there were several correspondents based overseas, reflecting the global church.

Additionally, the NCWC News Service covered the Catholic angle of topics popular in mainstream media as well. In 1944, for example, the News Service reported on Japanese Catholic internees and on the ways the U.S. liberation of Guam resulted in the reopening of one of the island’s Catholic churches. A March, 1959 news release reported on John F. Kennedy’s assertion that “there is no conflict between being a Catholic and meeting your constitutional obligations as an officeholder.”³

Back in the 1950s and 60s printing plates were used to make hardcopy newspapers. This zinc plate was used by the Catholic News Service to impress an image of Pope John XXIII signing the papal bull commencing the start of the Second Vatican Council.

With a current incarnation that is more global in reach than ever, almost every English language Catholic newspaper in the world uses CNS, including more than 200 American Catholic newspapers and websites, radio, and video broadcasters as well as news broadcasters in more than 60 countries. As an editorially independent and financially-self-sustaining division of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, CNS has created several media outlets, including Origins, the documentary service created in 1971 that chronicles the history of the church through full texts of speeches, encyclicals, and other documents. It offers online book reviews, as well as movie, television, and gaming reviews from a Catholic perspective as well. Finally, CNS provides images and news graphics in digital and print format and produces daily video from Washington and Rome.

To view our finding aid for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Communications department and Catholic News Service, see our finding aid: http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

For more on local Catholic newspapers, see the Catholic News Archive:  https://thecatholicnewsarchive.org/


¹ N.C.W.C. News Service press release, 10/30/1944, 3/5/1959, held at the USCCB archives which holds National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service/Catholic News Service archival records.

² See our finding aid:  http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

³ For a short history of Catholic News Service, see our finding aid to their papers here:  http://archives.lib.cua.edu/findingaid/ncnews.cfm

See “The N.C.W.C. News Sheet,” releases: October 30, 1922, Benedict Elder, “Ku Klux Show Ignorance In Proposal to Substitute Ericson for Columbus”; December 12, 1927 “Priest Hanged, Nun Is Shot In Mexico, Letters Reveal,” held at the USCCB archives which holds National Catholic Welfare Conference News Service/Catholic News Service archival records.