Posts with the tag: Catholic University History

The Archivist’s Nook: Processing the Papers of CatholicU’s First Law Dean

William C. Robinson, 1896. John Joseph Keane Collection

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

What more fitting collection for the university archives to have than one of Catholic University’s own founding members: William C. Robinson. Judge Robinson was a founder, professor, and dean of the Columbus School of Law, then known as The School of Social Sciences. After a 27-year long career as a law professor at Yale, he left his comfortable position to move to Washington, D.C. (somewhat reluctantly, due to health concerns: he was in his sixties at the time!) to ensure the founding of a law school at the university of his faith. His personal papers include a great collection of his correspondence with John Keane in their planning of the school, and many of his notes on the law for the courses he taught.

William Callyhan Robinson was born on July 26, 1834 in Norwich, Connecticut (Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, p. 421). Robinson was raised Methodist, but after graduating from Dartmouth he entered the General Theological Seminary, where he studied for the Episcopal Ministry. In 1857 he graduated from the Seminary and married his first wife, Anna Elizabeth Haviland. He became a missionary of a parish in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and then a rector in Scranton. In the early 1860s, Robinson converted to Catholicism and left his position as a clergyman. Had he not been married, Robinson likely would have become a Catholic priest.

In 1891, Bishop John Keane wrote to Judge Robinson about founding a school of social sciences at The Catholic University of America (Ahern, P. H., 1949, p. 98). Robinson had great interest in establishing a law school in CUA, as both a proud Catholic and long-serving practitioner and professor of the law. However, he was unsure what effects the climate of D.C. would have on his health, a man accustomed to the New Haven atmosphere. Moreover, he had a comfortable position at Yale—whose law school he helped bring back from the brink of extinction—and he was in his middle age at the time. Bishop Keane was persuasive, though, and Robinson was absolutely committed to the founding of the school. Later on, Robinson would write to a friend about the difficult work involved in bringing the School of Social Sciences into being, and stated that “The creation of a University is not the task of sinecures” (Jackson, F. H., 1951, p. 60). Robinson taught law at CUA until his death on November 6, 1911. He gave his last lecture on the Friday before his death.

Example of some of the contents of the collection. Box 6.

The Papers of William C. Robinson were interesting to process for this first-year Library and Information Science student. Sometime prior to the Fall semester of 2021, the papers had been sorted into acid-free folders, placed in Hollinger boxes, and a finding aid was started and then abandoned. Many small notebooks were left unfoldered and unsorted in their boxes. Additionally, some of the materials in the last boxes had sustained fire damage, which happened prior to donation to the archives. The larger of these items – three bound volumes – were wrapped in acid-free paper. Staples, pins, and paperclips were left in the papers. A group of extra-long papers that were folded in half remained as such.

I started my work with many questions and a general understanding of archival work. Why leave metal fasteners – susceptible to rust – in these papers that are more than 100 years old? Why leave these folded papers folded rather than flatten them to ease researcher use? How do I handle unsorted notebooks with no clear chronological order? What in the world do I do with fire damaged paper? Since then, I’ve learned a lot about MPLP: More Product, Less Process, as well as more about the competing needs of archivists’ resources and researcher’s needs. With this information I’ve learned to understand the previous processor’s work as though they were explaining it to me through time. With the papers stored in both acid-free folders and boxes, and stored in a climate-controlled environment in the university archives, rusting metal fasteners is less of a concern and would serve more to take time away from other, more necessary work in processing the collection. Unfolding papers that have been folded for such a long time and of such an age (more than 100 years at least), unfolding would require humidification and perhaps a professional conservator; concerns of time, money, and other resources means that we can leave the papers as they are. Those same concerns apply to various unsorted notebooks: the time and money involved in trying to sort items that may not have a clear order even after extended effort tells archivists that we can apply MPLP here, too. As for the fire damaged items, I had to approach that as its own beast.

One of the fire-damaged ledgers. Box 17.

Some items were loose papers singed on the sides; some items were large bound volumes singed on the edges, effectively sticking the pages together; and some were smaller notebooks with fire damage that did not stick the pages together as with the larger volumes. I researched what archivists and/or conservators could do to improve singed materials. Much of my research turned up what to do with recent fire damage, which in most situations would be followed by water damage from sprinklers, the fire department, or any other water-suppression system designed to stop the fire. These materials were damaged in 1977, in Judge Robinson’s personal library. His grandson, John B. Robinson, donated the items to The Catholic University of America with both party’s full knowledge of the state of the items. They are long dry. I had already re-foldered the loose papers from their manila envelopes into acid-free folders and boxes before I understood the MPLP process, and that the papers were probably fine in their envelopes. You live, you learn. The large bound volumes are still wrapped in the acid-free paper they were in when I found them.

Regardless, I am glad that I sorted some of these items into more Hollinger boxes. The last box, box 17, was a bit heavy and very full. Especially considering nearly all of these items had some level of fire damage, having all of them stacked on each other in a heavy banker’s box that may be troublesome for some to lift, I think sorting them out into three boxes (two Hollinger and the original banker’s box) will help to prevent unnecessary handling of the items. Boxes 17, 18, and 19 can be handled individually, so any use of box 17 won’t result in needing to move or rearrange items from 18 or 19 to ensure they all fit back in the box. Additionally, one non-damaged item in box 17 is Judge Robinson’s leather diploma case. It is a little worn with age, but no fire damage, and the contents inside are in good condition (rolled tightly, though, so handle with care!).

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Working with Judge Robinson’s papers hands-on gave me so much more insight into archival accessioning, processing, and description and access than I could have had solely in the classroom. In the beginning of the semester, I was intimidated by the size of the collection and how much work I needed to do to sort through every paper. In hindsight, a 17-box collection is a good beginner’s introduction – not too big, not too small – and I know now that I don’t have to examine every piece of paper. Thinking about how to arrange the collection for future researchers felt like a lot of responsibility for a first-time processor. That’s why I am so grateful to the processor before me, who showed me through their actions and restraint what archival work we should prioritize first and what we can prioritize last, if we get to it. If I could change one thing now, I would have worked on the papers more slowly. Since I had the full semester to work on these papers, there was not as much of a time limit on completing the processing and creating the finding aid with EAD as there would be for a professional archivist. I’ve had the great opportunity to work in the archives at my pace focused entirely on one collection, which I understand now is not every archivist’s experience. 

The papers themselves are fascinating, and available for further examination in the CUA archives! In addition to his work on founding CUA’s law school and other work in the law, you can find the work he did tracing his genealogy, personal and professional correspondence, and various financial and other papers accumulated in the course of his lifetime. Please take a look at Judge Robinson’s papers if you get the chance.

References

Ahern, P. H. 1916-1965. (1949). The Catholic University of America, 1887-1896; the rectorship of John J. Keane. Catholic University of America Press, 1948 [c1949].

Alumni Record of Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn. (Third edition). (1883). Press of the Case, Lockwood & Brainard Company. https://books.google.com/books?id=gqMgAAAAMAAJ=PA421#v=onepage=false

Jackson, F. H. William C. Robinson and the Early Years of the Catholic University of America, 1 Cath. U. L. Rev. 58 (1951).

The Archivist’s Nook: On Presidents and Parades, Part II: Bush and Biden

Image of Msgr. John A. Ryan behind US President Franklin D. Roosevelt at his January 20, 1945 Inaguration.

In January 1945, Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth inauguration was held on the White House lawn. The ongoing Second World War called for a scaled-back ceremony. Catholic University faculty member Fr. John A. Ryan was present and provided the benediction at this event. The 1945 swearing-in, highlighted in our records on past inaugurations, provides a precedent for the scaled-back ceremonies that occurred this week.

Typically the city of Washington bustles with the excitement of a presidential inauguration, with thousands of spectators gathering along the National Mall, hoping to catch sight of the new (or re-elected) President. But this year’s inaugural ceremonies were smaller due to COVID-19. So while we can’t safely attend a typical inauguration in DC this year, we can reflect on the person at the center of it all and how they are represented in the history of Catholic University. The inauguration of Joseph R. Biden represents the second time a Catholic has been sworn into the highest office in the United States, and also now represents another chapter in the long history of visits by presidents (current and future) to the Catholic University campus.

Then-Senator Joe Biden in today’s Aquinas Hall, 1978.

Like his fellow Catholic Commander-in-Chief, John F. Kennedy, Biden also paid a visit to Catholic University as a young senator! While Kennedy came to campus in 1956 to receive the Cardinal Gibbons Medal, Biden’s three known visits all involved speaking to students and parents about contemporary politics and the role of Catholic faith in 1970s America.

In September 1973, during his first year in the Senate, Biden was invited to campus by the Graduate Student Association. Addressing a crowd in Caldwell auditorium, Biden spoke about the state of American politics and the many critiques of politicians. In February 1974, Biden would again return to campus as a guest speaker during a Sunday brunch on Annual Parents’ Visitation weekend. Unfortunately, we have no reports on what he told the assembled parents over their waffles and coffee.

George H.W. and Barbara Bush, with then-CUA President Rev. William J. Byron, S.J., 1989.

In November 1978, the inaugural National Conference of Catholic College and University Student Government Leaders was held at Catholic University. A student-led conference, its 85 attendees from across the nation met in the then-Boy’s Town Center (today’s Aquinas Hall, and home to our archives!). The conference was opened by Biden, who provided a discussion on “a Catholic’s posture in contemporary America.” The student newspaper, The Tower, reports that the attendees listened to Biden discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in the politics of the late 1970s.

While Biden’s three visits to campus represent the last time a (future) President came to campus as of this writing, other Presidents such as George H.W. Bush would show their support for the school. President Bush would attend the inaugural Cardinal’s Dinner – a fundraiser for the University – which was held off campus in 1989. And perhaps there are guests and students who have walked the campus recently who will someday serve in the Oval Office?

Learn more about all the Presidential visitors to campus by checking out our video here.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Small World of E. Francis Baldwin

 

The 1883 Sykesville B&O Station on the bank of the Patapsco River was, until recently, Baldwin’s Station & Pub. The building has been celebrated for its “lively Queen Anne jumble of gables” (Lewis xvi). Drawing by Wiley Purkey from the author’s personal collection.

Because I commute all the way from Sykesville, Maryland down to the Catholic University campus, it took me a while to realize that the “E. F. Baldwin” responsible for the University’s first new construction was in fact the same E. F. Baldwin after whom my favorite local restaurant was named. Small world! Sadly for me, Baldwin’s Station & Pub was sold to new owners this past summer, but they’re still running a restaurant out of the historic train station.

It turns out E. Francis Baldwin (1837–1916)—as his name often appears; the E. stood for Ephraim—was a prolific architect.

Among Baldwin’s most iconic extant works are the “four-block-long” B&O Camden Station Warehouse, which baseball fans might recognize as the backdrop to the Baltimore Orioles’ ballpark at Camden Yards; the Point of Rocks B&O Station (“to many, the quintessential Victorian railroad station”); and the 22-sided B&O Passenger Car Shop in Baltimore—“oftentimes erroneously referred to as a ‘roundhouse’”—which the B&O Railroad Museum now calls home (Avery 60; Harwood xiv; Avery 54).

Clockwise from upper left: the B&O Camden Station Warehouse (1898), the Point of Rocks B&O Station (1875), and the 22-sided B&O Passenger Car Shop (1884)—home of the B&O Railroad Museum. All photographs courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Meanwhile, in the CatholicU universe, Baldwin is remembered as the architect of Caldwell Hall and McMahon Hall—the first two buildings constructed after the University was established in 1887. Today, Caldwell and McMahon are the two oldest extant buildings on campus. Baldwin attended the cornerstone laying ceremony for Caldwell on May 24, 1888 and saw it through to completion in 1889. A year later he was asked to oversee the construction of McMahon, which was completed in 1895.

Long story short, Baltimore was the common factor in Baldwin’s career with both the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the Catholic Church. During Baldwin’s lifetime, Baltimore was the “mother of American railroading,” but before and since that time the city has been recognized as “the locus of the first Catholic diocese in America” (Harwood xi; Lewis xv). Baldwin’s decision to base his architectural firm in Baltimore had important repercussions; on the one hand he “became the principal architect for the Catholic Church in Maryland,” but on the other hand he found that “his radius of action” was largely restricted to “the reach of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad”—sealing his fate as “a parochial rather than a national figure” (Lewis xv).

An important “bread-and-butter account” in his early architectural career, the B&O remained Baldwin’s biggest client from the early 1870s through the late 1890s; he became for all intents and purposes its “house architect,” much like his mentor John Rudolph Niernsee (1814–1885) before him (Avery viii; Lewis xvi). Diagnosing Baldwin as a “chronic Baltimorean,” Michael J. Lewis explains Baldwin’s relative obscurity compared to his first partner, Bruce Price, who left the firm in 1873, enjoyed a distinguished career as a domestic architect, and is supposed to have influenced the far-more-famous Frank Lloyd Wright: “But for this [Price] had to move to New York—a choice that Baldwin, constrained by the bonds of patronage and clientele, could not make” (Lewis xvii).

The 1890 University Station at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The station was demolished sometime in the 1970s to make way for the Metro. Upper photograph from the University Photograph Collection, Box 41, Folder 1. Lower photograph courtesy of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Unfortunately, the building that best represents the marriage of Baldwin’s work for the B&O and the Catholic Church is no longer with us. Built in 1890, University Station at CatholicU was razed and replaced by the Brookland–CUA Metro Station sometime in the 1970s. University Station was one of only a handful of B&O stations executed in the Richardsonian style—named after Baldwin’s contemporary Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886). In November 1889—the same month that Caldwell Hall was dedicated—the B&O offered to build the young University a “neat and convenient” station out “of blue Georgetown stone so as to harmonize with the handsome university building.” As Carlos P. Avery points out in his definitive history of Baldwin, “That harmony was ensured, of course, because E. Francis Baldwin was the architect for both buildings” (Avery 41).

According to Avery—who spent about as many years researching Baldwin as Baldwin spent working on B&O projects—the University’s first rector, John J. Keane, personally prepared the plans for Caldwell Hall (then-known as the Divinity Building) after rejecting all of the proposals that had previously been submitted as part of a design competition (Avery 81). As an aside, one of the competitors was fellow Baltimore architect George A. Frederick (1842–1924), who Avery variously describes as Baldwin’s “arch-rival” and “nemesis” (Avery vii).

In his history of Keane’s rectorship (1887–1896), Patrick H. Ahern credits Baldwin with putting Keane’s plans in “working shape” (Ahern 34). Letters from Baldwin to Keane reveal Baldwin’s role in introducing a number of pragmatic measures—perhaps the most notable of which was the decision to use “Georgetown gneiss rock, with Ohio sandstone trimmings” instead of brick (Ahern 34). In a letter dated September 5, 1887, Baldwin at first politely acquiesces to Keane’s request to execute the building in brick but then goes on to

“strongly recommend the substitution of stone in place of brick, for the reason that brick, in a few years, will become rusty and shabby, rendering painting almost a necessity which then becomes a mortgage in the shape of renewal every 5 to 10 years—whilst stone is rather improved by age, as time and weather combine to add color and picturesqueness to its already most substantial and enduring character. The extra cost of stone would be about 3% on the cost of the building, amounting to not much more than one painting of the brick walls” (Baldwin 5–6).

In short, Facilities can thank Baldwin for sparing them the trouble of having to paint the exterior of Caldwell for the last 130 years!

Architectural drawing of the Divinity Building (a/k/a Caldwell Hall) by Baldwin. Not everyone was a fan of the design; an early resident once denigrated it as “an asylum with a brewery attachment” (Nuesse 165). From the University Photograph Collection, Box 33, Folder 2.

This brings me to one of Baldwin’s greatest strengths as an architect, which unfortunately also seems to be the other main reason for his relative obscurity today. Although I’ve focused on his work for the B&O and CatholicU, the truth is that “he worked on a large number of projects for a wide-ranging clientele—secular and ecclesiastical, public and private, commercial and social” (Avery vii). In other words, Baldwin was extremely versatile—even chameleon-like. No doubt, his versatility came at the expense of developing a signature style; it’s not really feasible to point to a Baldwin the way you could a Van Gogh; but does that constitute an artistic failure on Baldwin’s part? As I’ve learned more about Baldwin in the last few weeks, I’ve been impressed by the way he somehow shaped the regional landscape without leaving his fingerprints all over it. He seems to be everywhere and nowhere. In Lewis’s estimation, Baldwin belonged to the class of humble Victorian architects who simply “felt their task was to serve their clients ably and responsibly, to translate their programmatic requirements into durable, efficient, and fashionable designs, and to guard their clients’ money zealously” (Lewis xv). Perhaps nothing better supports this characterization than the aforementioned September 5, 1887 letter to Keane, which Baldwin signed “Your Obedient Servant.”

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Anna Kresmer, MSLIS—Archivist at the Hays T. Watkins Research Library of the B&O Railroad Museum—for helping me obtain many of the photographs included in this piece.

References and Further Reading

Ahern, Patrick H. The Catholic University of America — 1887–1896 (The Rectorship of John J. Keane). Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1949.

Avery, Carlos P. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond. Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003.

Baldwin, E. Francis. Letter to Catholic University Rector John J. Keane. 5 September 1887. Box 1, Folder 7. Office of the President/Rector. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington D.C.

Harwood, Herbert H., Jr. Foreword. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond, by Carlos P. Avery, Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003, pp. xi–xiv.

Lewis, Michael J. Introduction. E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond, by Carlos P. Avery, Baltimore Architecture Foundation, 2003, pp. xv–xvii.

Lord, Charles K. Letters to Catholic University Rector John J. Keane. 29 November 1889 and 13 January 1890. Box 1, Folder 2. Office of the President/Rector. The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, Washington D.C.

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

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

The Archivist’s Nook: CatholicU’s First Residents: A “Grotesque” History

Ever notice these two on top of Caldwell? They seem be just as surprised to be up there!

While walking across campus, have you ever looked up? The first residents of campus are still present, peering down…

Since the very opening of the University, every generation of Cardinals has studied and graduated under the watchful eyes of Caldwell Hall. And we do mean eyes, as the exterior of the building has been home to dozens of stone faces since the opening of the building in 1889. Walking along the west side of the façade, you can find numerous “grotesques” peering out. Grotesques, similar to gargoyles, are stone faces adorning a structure. While gargoyles are specifically designed to serve as water spouts, grotesques primarily decorative.

How many faces can you see here?

While we have little information on why the designs on Caldwell were selected, we do know that on March 9, 1888, the Baltimore-based architectural firm of Baldwin and Pennington contracted the stonework of the building to Bryan Hanrahan. Presumably Hanrahan made the decisions on the designs himself, likely with consultation with University officials. But as is often the case with gargoyle or grotesque designs, the artist may have drawn inspiration from the faces, stories, and peoples that surrounded them.

Is it just me or is that Grover Cleveland?

While we can’t say for sure what inspirations there may have been for any of the visages, this author has a sneaking suspicion that one of the faces was inspired by then-President Grover Cleveland. After all, Cleveland did attend the cornerstone-laying of Caldwell Hall in 1888, giving ample opportunity for the artist to see him up close (and providing a connection to the building). 

There are perhaps too many faces – both inside and outside – of Caldwell to catalog in one blog post! But some of the highlights include an figure sticking out their tongue and a person hiding behind a book (see the image at top). While the interior of Caldwell may appear more dignified, with only a few stern faces holding up the columns in the main stairwell, the exterior is a “grotesque” landscape!

But Caldwell is not the only ornamented structure on campus – several other buildings have design features that may be missed at first glance. Look closely at McMahon Hall for the ornate stone vine work that traces the building. Or the next time you pass by the doorway into Mullen Library, look for the Zodiac symbols that grace its entrance (just one of many engravings on the library’s exterior). You will even find figures looking out across campus in and on numerous other buildings on campus – some of which this author may not even be aware of! There is hardly enough room in this post to detail them all, but perhaps you can explore a sample of them yourself via a scavenger hunt by following this link

While one face is the most noticeable here, how many can you see?

And do share any faces you find hidden among the stones! Learn more about one alumnus, Jay Hall Carpenter, and his own work with sculpture and grotesques at the National Cathedral in this Mullen Library exhibit!

The Archivist’s Nook: Father George T. Dennis: Scholar and Engaged Priest

Guest blogger, Professor Árpád von Klimó, of The Catholic University of America History Department teaches Modern European and World History at the University. He has done research in different fields of Modern and Contemporary European history. Most recently, he has edited the Routledge History of East Central Europe (together with Irina Livezeanu) and published two monographs: “Hungary since 1945” (Routledge, 2018) and “Remembering Cold Days. The Novi Sad Massacre, Hungarian Politics and Society since 1942” (Pittsburgh UP, 2018). 

His research on Father Dennis is part of a broader project related to the history of the University’s History Department. He sees this history as a mirror of the past of an institution that has always profited from a fruitful tension between church and world, between priests and laymen. This story has not been told yet but this project seeks to tell it, in the process providing us with profound insights into the identity of the University, knowledge essential for its future. Since 2015, student apprentices, faculty, and archivists have begun to compile, sort, publish, and analyze archival materials related to the department of history, its professors and students. This project is part of a new program of undergraduate apprenticeships in history (course HIST 494) in which students learn practical research, analytical, editorial and publication skills.  Throughout this course, students learn how to manage unexplored mines of “big data,” to hone research and writing skills, and in the process gain insights into how many generations have experienced life and learning on this campus.

*** 

In the 1971 yearbook of The Catholic University of America (the University was informally referred to as “C.U.” at the time), a quotation accompanied the photo of Jesuit Father George T. Dennis, representing the History Department:

Father George T. Dennis, S.J., from the Catholic University Cardinal Yearbook, 1971.

“The Speech and Drama Department represents about all that the rest of the city knows about CU. The University plays little or no role in the development of the community, yet it has facilities, leadership potential, and a great deal more to offer. ‘Neutrality’ is only the position of some administrators and, as is fairly obvious, does not represent the feeling of the University’s faculty or students. If the University does not loudly let its real stand on vital issues be known, it might as well relocate to some remote spot on the planet.”[1]

Father Dennis spoke about the necessity and duty of the University to be present in the District and to be actively engaged in helping to solve its political and social problems. These were immense after the riots and political turmoil of the Vietnam Years and in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. He would do his part, teaching urban youth for many years, while teaching Byzantine and Medieval History and doing research as a renowned scholar. Obituaries in  The Catholic Historical Review and The Dumbarton Oaks Papers have talked about his scholarly achievements and mentioned his activities with urban youth of Washington, D.C. 

George T. Dennis was 44 years old when he came to Catholic University in 1967 from Loyola University, Los Angeles, to work as editor of the Corpus Instrumentorum Inc., while teaching Byzantine History at the department. The Corpus was an international encyclopedic project, based on the re-organized staff of the New Catholic Encyclopedia (published until 1967), which was housed on the campus of the University between 1967 and 1971.[2] When the enterprise fell apart, Father Dennis became a full member of the department which took over his salary which had been mostly paid by the Corpus project.

The case of Father George T. Dennis also shows how a professor of the University could follow his academic career as a famous historian of Byzantium and be an activist on- and  off-campus at the same time. When he complained about the “neutrality” of the administration on questions of social injustice in his quotation for the 1971 Yearbook, he also expressed his conviction that the majority of the faculty and the students were with him in regard to social activism and the metropolitan community.

In the fall of 1970, Father Dennis was elected to head the Neighborhood Planning Council (NPC) for Northwest Washington where he lived in a small community of Jesuits. The NPC was organizing programs to help struggling youth in the area and negotiated with the DC government to improve their situation. Father Dennis jokingly declared that he preferred “to proportion his life between the Northwest Area and the Byzantine Empire.” In 1971, Father Dennis as head of the NPC, protested the declaration of a curfew in the city. Read more about Father Dennis, the NPC , and the curfew in the November 19, 1971 issue of The Tower (p.4).  

On theological questions, Father Dennis came out as a “dissenter” who, in 1968 together with the theologian Charles Curran (who later left the University), publicly criticized Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Read more on this in The Tower, April 18, 1969 (p.10)     

Later, in the mid-1980s, Father Dennis, spoke out against what he saw as the politicization of the church; he was especially critical of some bishops’ engagement in campaigns against abortion.  See his September 22, 1984 letter to The Washington Post for more.  

Eight years later Father Dennis criticized the founding of a library that served as predecessor to the Saint John John Paul II National Shrine, accusing him of having been “consistently hostile to genuine academic spirit and practice.” See more in the See more in the November 20, 1992 issue of The Tower (p. 6).

Father Dennis, indeed, could never have been suspicious of “neutrality” which he thought was the position of “a few administrators” of the university, as he said in 1971. But his critique of what he thought went wrong in church and society, was not his main mission. He was an active reformer who tried to help the most vulnerable members of society. When he engaged with struggling inner-city youth, he did this without revealing his own scholarly and priestly background.  The teenagers he helped with their homework and with their day-to-day problems, called him simply “George”, and “he preferred it that way”, as one obituary stated.[3]

Dr Matina McGrath, who teaches at George Mason University, was a graduate student of Father Dennis. She remembers him as an “academic mentor and a dear friend.”[4] As others, Dr McGrath was impressed by his humility: “One would never know the depth of his scholarly interests or the reputation he had among his Byzantine colleagues if he just met him hurrying to class, winded from riding his bike, straightening his hair. He loved to make his undergraduate classes fun, and was pleased beyond words when he figured out how to incorporate sounds and images in his power point presentations (I can still see him smile when he told me he had lions roaring when he showed a rendering of the imperial throne with all its mechanical contraptions). Even before electronic media, he would show up to class with bits of chain mail, helmets, miniature soldiers and siege equipment to liven up the lessons on Byzantine History. Without a doubt he was one of the most popular professors in the history department at CUA.”[5] 

One of his last wishes was to donate his scholarly library to the Ukrainian Catholic University of Lviv, another sign of his wide-spread interests and his giving personality.

[1] Catholic University of America ’71 Yearbook, Washington, DC: CUA Press,  p. 134.

[2] Choice, February 1979, 1560.

[3] Email from Dr. Lawrence Poos, 7 July 2020.

[4] Email from Dr. Matina McGrath to author, 9 July 2020.

[5] Email from Dr. Matina McGrath to author, 9 July 2020.

The Archivist’s Nook: War Comes to Campus – CatholicU Students in a Time of Crisis

Catholic University Receives War News Calmly

WWII Memorial, originally dedicated in McMahon Hall in 1945. Made by local sculptor, Frank Zuchet, it reads at the top, “We ask a memento for these students of the university who have died in service of their country”.

So reads the main headline of the December 12, 1941 Tower — the first issue of the Catholic University student newspaper published after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. But reading into the article it headlines, and the many articles and letters that are in this same issue, one finds a variety of emotions on display beyond just “calm.” Many members of the campus community expressed fear and anger, patriotism, or even disinterest. This particular issue is a symphony of emotions and uncertainty. Students, faculty, and staff report hopes for peace, desire for revenge, or even attempts at making jokes. Columns advocated for a quick response by the college student to the crisis facing the nation and world. Rumors swirled about what would happen. The uncertainty about the length and severity of the conflict, or even if universities would be able to continue operating the same way in the short- or long-term weighed on many minds in December 1941 and in the months and years ahead.

In hindsight, it is easy to assume that everyone understood what was happening at the time and shared in a collective response. The hindsight of history has provided us with a perspective of the days and weeks following the US entry into World War II that can be uniform and seem well-planned, with every person and institution on the same page. But people and history are seldom so simple and clear-cut. And looking through the student-led Tower during the war years reveals the anxieties, hope, adjustments, and ultimate triumph of the campus community in the face of a global challenge.

Catholic University War Bonds Fundraiser in Mullen Library, 1943

To better understand their place and how their university may respond, students turned to the last major global conflict — World War I. The Tower reports efforts to understand how campus offices functioned and how groups such as the “Student Army Training Corps” operated at the time. Articles reflect on students enlisting and highlighted the way students rallied both to the nation and to the campus during the “Great War.” The paper also took pride in highlighting the service of WWI veterans among the current faculty and alumni community. In its column “C. U. Men of Yesteryear,” the focus shifted from job promotions and weddings to reporting largely on military enlistments. In the August 20, 1943  issue, the Tower casually reported on Class of 1912 alumni: 

Major-General Terry Allen, who so successfully commanded the first U.S. Infantry Division in North Africa, is currently leading the same outfit in the Sicily Campaign. 

Generals Omar Bradley (left), Terry de la Mesa Allen (center), and Dwight Eisenhower (right) pictured on November 10, 1944 in Grenzhof, Germany.

But it was not all focused on the war fronts, as campus life did continue. Changes to college life during the war years were anticipated, with a November 1942 Tower article discussing rumors about changing academic calendars, adjustments to how classes may be taught, and even shifting commencement dates. As the author put it: 

It indicated that the men in charge of the war effort, having solved the major problems connected with transferring the processes of civilian life to the methods of total war, were coming round to putting an end to the difficulties of the position of the colleges in war time.

As the war continued throughout the early 1940s, material and demographic changes occurred on campus. In addition to some dances and social gatherings, USO training sessions were held and military exercises occurred on campus. Publications like the Cardinal Yearbook were suspended from 1944-1947, and more women were able to enroll on campus.

1517th Army unit specialized training program at Catholic University, August 1943, marching in front of the now-vanished Albert Hall

As recounted in an earlier blog, the admittance of women to Catholic University was still relatively new and often limited to programs in the School of Nursing. But with so many male students enlisting, women began to take more active roles on the campus. In early 1943, for example, nine School of Nursing students joined the Tower staff as its first women members. But these writers were not merely replacements meant to keep the newspaper afloat, they were active agents shaping the future of the campus.

Among the nine writers, columnist and member of the Tower business staff Margaret Clarke ‘44, wrote:

It seems that throughout history women are facing some form of competition, some barrier, some challenge. Just in the past World War I days the women of the entire nation faced a challenge when they tried to gain the legal right to vote. But they overcame this challenge, and the country really doesn’t seem any worse today for it…Maybe if the few of this University would come to the realization that the women, too, belong to the University, that they are worthy of having an interest in what goes on about them on their campus. And yes, they have a right to partake in the various campus activities…maybe some day the few will learn to accept these students – and the University really won’t seem any worse then for it.

Catholic University War Bond Drive in McMahon Hall, 1943.

Despite the war ending in 1945, it would take several years for certain pre-war elements of campus life to return. For example, the Shahan Debating Society ceased operations during the war years and only returned in 1946. But other changes were fast and permanent. Women were more prevalent and active in the campus community. Not to mention, the G.I. Bill also led to an increased enrollment, dramatically ballooning the size of incoming classes. And with this increased enrollment came more and more new programs on the campus, from the School of Music to aerospace studies.

But students did not forget the war. Many of those present on the campus in the late 1940s and beyond were veterans. Memorials, both in print and in stone and wood, were established to remember the students and alumni who had passed away in the conflict. 

The November 12, 1946 sports page in the Tower memorialized those lost in the war. The caption reads: “The Editors of The Tower dedicate this potion of our paper to men of C. U. who made the supreme sacrifice, in World War I, and II, and whose names would have appeared on this page in various activities.”

During a time of great upheaval and uncertainty, Cardinals expressed various emotions and turned to the past to understand present challenges. But once the initial shock wore off, members of the campus community rallied both on and off campus, finding ways to win the day and build a University community adapted to the times. While sacrifices were made, opportunities also arose as the campus emerged out of the war years having forged new ways forward. Out of the crucible of crisis, Catholic University’s students adapted and persevered.