Posts with the tag: Catholic University

The Archivist’s Nook: The Provenance and Providence of a Public Historian

This semester, we said goodbye to Dr. Timothy Meagher, University Archivist and Curator of the American Catholic History Collection at The Catholic University of America. In addition to his service as University Archivist, Meagher was Associate Professor with the Catholic University History Department, where he regularly taught Irish-American and immigration history. Though we will miss him at the Archives, we know he will be happily plugging away at his magnum opus in his “retirement”: a comprehensive history of Irish America.

Provenance is a word archivists love. It refers to the origin of a collection of archival materials, yes, but embedded in those origins is identity. For this reason, archivists use provenance as an organizing principle for their records and collections. In other words, we try to maintain and organize materials as faithfully as we can to the intention of the original creator and/or organizer of the collection, in order to preserve the integrity and identity of the collection itself.

Dr. Timothy Meagher at his desk when the University Archives was still in the Mullen Library Building. A generous grant from NCSSS Professor Dorothy Mohler enabled a move to a larger facility in Aquinas Hall, which Meagher and then Assistant Archivist W. J. Shepherd oversaw.

Meagher’s own origins are manifest in his career. Certainly, his own Irish and Catholic ancestry inspired his study of Irish America. But he also occupied a unique position as both an academic historian and a public one.  While completing his Ph.D. in history at Brown University in the early 1980s, he taught history in his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. But after four years, that job ended and he found himself unemployed. “There were no historian jobs,” he says of the time. So he improvised. There was a position as Assistant Archivist at the Archdiocese of Boston Archives. “Jim O’Toole was there, a historian himself getting a Ph.D. from Boston College.” The two formed a lasting friendship, with O’Toole becoming a prominent scholar of both archival practice and American Catholicism and who in fact, has served on our archives’ advisory board since its inception in 2002. For Meagher’s part, he saw that there were potentially multiple uses for the skills of a historian.

A 2003 photo of Meagher and Dr. Yuki Yamazaki, a former history student at Catholic University and employee of the Archives, examine an artifact from our collections, a Japanese anti-Christian edict dated from 1682.
Archivist’s favorite: Meagher especially appreciates these vestments worn by Archbishop John Carroll. Ordained in 1790, Carroll was the first bishop and archbishop in the United States. The vestments date to ca. 1750-1800.

In the late 1980s, Meagher made his way from Boston to Washington, D.C., where he had years earlier graduated with his Bachelor’s in History from Georgetown University. His interest in public history was now heightened by both his work in archives and a concurrent rejuvenation in the museum field, especially in the area of exhibition and public programming. He speaks fondly of his work with the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he served as Program Officer until accepting his post at Catholic University. The NEH required those who worked in public history institutions to work directly with relevant scholars in the academy, “we had historians and museum people coming in and evaluating the quality of the exhibits we funded—there were some great conversations.”

Having spent seven years making humanities scholarship accessible to broader audiences, Meagher decided it was time to move on. He was particularly interested in the museum collection at the University Archives when he began working here in 1997. From the start, his primary mission was using the archival materials in our collections to teach history to a variety of audiences. “There was a move within the Catholic Church at that point to save material culture.” At the time, few in the field of Catholic archives knew much about preserving sacred objects, so Meagher organized the Saving Sacred Things conference in 1999 to address the matter.

In 2018, the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives received the American Catholic Historical Association’s (ACHA) Distinguished Service Award. From left, ACHA President Father Richard Gribble, Meagher, Reference Archivist Shane MacDonald, and Education Archivist Maria Mazzenga attend that year’s annual meeting to receive the award.

Drawing from his experiences working with professionals in a range of cultural institutions, Meagher expanded the Archives’ outreach and educational programming dramatically. “I was aware that there were other places doing public outreach in archives. I knew people at NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] and other places who put together educational packets using their archival materials.” So he worked with staff and teachers to put together packets related to a variety of aspects of Catholic history for Catholic high school students with materials from our archive. These formed the basis of the now fully digital American Catholic History Classroom an online education site featuring hundreds of digital documents, photos, and teaching resources. “We were trying to teach young people how historians solve historical problems. To look at source material and figure out what happened. We tried to do it with this material related specifically to Catholic life. No one else was doing it on a broad basis. A whole dimension of American life, we wanted to fill it with good history. Our collections lend themselves to understanding national Catholic history.”

Today, the Archives’ outreach and educational programming is thriving.  Thank you, Professor Meagher!

 

The Archivist’s Nook: Cataloging the Library’s History

Postcard depiction of the Mullen Library, 1920s.

“Library Too Heavy! Will Sink in 10,000 Years!” exclaimed a tongue-in-cheek Tower article from 1927, calling on all students to help relocate the library building to a more stable location. The Library the article was referring to was the John K. Mullen of Denver Memorial Library, then under construction. With its marble and limestone edifice and ability to hold one million volumes, the students were perhaps only half-joking when they stated that it may sink! For Catholic University students of the time were used to a far more humble library.

For nearly a century, Mullen Library has been a hub of campus life, so it may be hard to imagine a time when it was not a fixture on the campus. While the Library as an institution – and not just its current building – has existed since the day the University welcomed its first students, it has not always possessed such a beautiful home all to itself.

First located in the basement of Caldwell Hall (then called Divinity Hall), the Library started life humbly. But as the University expanded, so did the need of its students and faculty for books. It quickly outgrew its Caldwell offices and relocated to the ground floor of McMahon Hall in 1908. But even with this move, the Library was finding itself continuing to encounter issues with space.  By the early 1920s, the University Librarian Joseph Schneider was storing excess books in the basement of the gym. Fortunately, a new chapter in the Library’s history was about to begin.

The Caldwell Library, 1896 (L); McMahon Library, 1917 (R). Which location would you prefer to study in?

In 1921, the founder of the Colorado Milling and Elevator Company, John K. Mullen, provided a donation of $500,000 to construct a new home for the Library. A committee was organized in 1924 to select the designs for the building, with construction beginning in 1925. The building itself would open during the fall of 1928.

The construction of this new central library fit in with the fourth rector Thomas J. Shahan’s vision for Catholic University. Known as the “Builder Rector,” under Shahan’s tenure (1909-1928), the University experienced an explosion of construction, including Graduate Hall (now O’Connell), Maloney Hall, Salve Regina, the gymnasium (today’s Crough Hall), and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Murphy & Olmsted architectural rendering of Mullen Library, 1924.

Murphy & Olmsted Architects was selected to design the new library Frederick Vernon Murphy – the “Murphy” in the firm’s title – was the first professor of Catholic University’s Department of Architecture. Starting at Catholic in 1911, Murphy would become the unofficial “University Architect” in helping make Shahan’s vision a reality. He had lent his expertise to the design of all the buildings mentioned above, save the Shrine!

The new Library building would be constructed of Kentucky limestone and Massachusetts granite, with concrete work performed the prolific John J. Earley. The Library’s cornerstone was laid on April 22, 1925. The ceremony included introductory remarks by Shahan, Patrick Cardinal Hayes, and Rev. Dr. Peter Guilday. Emphasizing Shahan’s monumental vision for the campus – and the new library’s role in it – Guilday drew attention to the symbolic alignment of the library with the National Shrine, then also under construction:

“The sun going down to rest in the evening casts across the greensward of our campus a last ray of splendor that falls athwart two buildings…At one end of this golden axis is the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception now being raised to the glory of the Blessed Mother of God by her loving children of the United States, and at the other, this enduring monument.”

Photo reads, “Crypt of National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of America, D.C., Oct. 27, 1925.” The construction of Mullen Library can be seen in the distance on the right.

While originally planned with wings for the stacks, funding issues necessitated the building be opened in 1928 with only the front and central portions and the basement levels complete. The additional wings were not completed until 1958, three decades after the library first opened its doors. Interestingly, this project was part of a second wave of construction blossoming on campus, including McGivney, Pangborn, McCort-Ward, and additions to Caldwell and Curley Halls.

It is best we bookend this post with the original 1927 Tower article. While Mullen Library would not open for another year, the students were already playfully reflecting on its promise of alleviating the space and storage issues of the long-standing library facilities. While an elaborate parody piece, it showed that the students wished to see this palace to knowledge survive for 10,000 years, even if it meant they had to carry it across campus to more secure spot!

Special thanks to Katherine Santa Ana, for her research on the topic of this blog. Read more about the construction and early history of Mullen Library here: https://cuexhibits.wrlc.org/exhibits/show/mullenhistory/construction

The Archivist’s Nook: Soaring Sister Spike, The Flying Nun of CU

Actress Sally Field as Sister Bertrille in the ABC television series, The Flying Nun, 1967-1970. Courtesy of ABC Photo Archives via Getty Images.

For people of a certain age, or a taste for vintage television, the term ‘Flying Nun’ evokes memories of youthful actress Sally Field bedecked in an elaborate nun’s habit flying through the skies like a super heroine in a zany television series of same name during 1967-1970. The original Flying Nun, a 1926 graduate of Catholic University who became a licensed airplane pilot and World War II aeronautics instructor, bore little resemblance to the former Gidget star. Mary Ann Kinsky (1894-1985) of Zanesville, Ohio, daughter of George Kinsky and Scholastica Kiel, became a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity, based in Mantowoc, Wisconsin, and achieved national fame as ‘The Flying Nun’ in the late 1930s. She was also known privately as ‘Spike.’

Sister Aquinas, Kinsky’s religious name, graduated from St. Nicholas High School, Zanesville, making her first vows in 1914 and perpetual vows in 1923. She earned a bachelors’ degree at the Catholic Sisters College of The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., in 1926, with a major in Physics and a minor in Mathematics. In 1943, she obtained a masters’ degree in the same fields from Notre Dame University. Teaching was her vocation as she spent over three decades in the classroom, including over twenty years at St. Ambrose High School, later Ironwood Catholic, in Michigan, which closed in 1985.

Sister Aquinas, ‘The Flying Nun,’ with a model P-38 in her classroom at Catholic University where she taught a summer Civil Aeronautics Authority course in 1943. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In addition to teaching, she served as a science expert writing junior high textbooks for the Commission on American Citizenship at Catholic University, 1945-1950, while also writing elementary school text books for the Green Bay Diocese, where she also served as Supervisor, 1948-1969. In the 1960s she authored a series of science textbooks for grades 1-8, known as the Christian Social Living Series-Science with Health and Safety. She served briefly as Science Education Consultant for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, 1969-1971, and then returned to teaching in Zanesville at St. Nicholas Elementary School, suffering a stroke in 1977. She retired to Holy Family Convent, Manitowoc, where she remained active until her death in 1985.

Catholic University Class Announcements, Summer Session, 1943, listing Sister Aquinas ‘Air Age’ Courses. American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Most notably in a long and full life of ninety one years, Sister Aquinas received her pilot’s license in 1938 from the airport manager at Manitowoc, the first nun in history to do so. Inevitably, newspapers dubbed her ‘The Flying Nun,’ a moniker she kept ever after. In 1942, at Ironwood, a state school inspector reviewing courses decided she would be an asset in the national war effort and asked her to go to Washington to instruct recruits in pre-flight training. Over the next two years, including the summer of 1943 at her Alma mater, Catholic University, Spike taught aerodynamics, navigation, radio operation, meteorology, maintenance, and physics to hundreds of trainees.

U.S. Air Force T-33 training jets, 1949. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Thereafter, military officials praised her with awards and citations, in particular was the U. S. Air Force Citation noting her outstanding contributions to national security and world peace presented to her in 1957 during a ceremony in Washington, DC. That same year she became the first nun to ride in an Air Force operational jet in a North American Air Defense Command T-33 trainer, along with co-piloting other Air Force planes. Finally, CBS Television profiled her in a play, ‘The Pilot’, which aired November 12, 1957. So, the next time you hear a U.S. Air Force plane screaming through the sky imagine the spirit of Sister Aquinas aka Mary Ann Kinsky aka ‘Spike’ aka ‘The Flying Nun’ soaring alongside.

The Archivist’s Nook: CU’s Labor Chiefs


Catholic University Faculty: Carroll D. Wright, first U.S. Commissioner of Labor (1885-1905), courtesy of the U.S. Labor Department, and Charles P. Neill, second Commissioner of Labor (1905-1913), University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Several previous posts from The Archivist’s Nook explore the rich American labor history resources at Catholic University, especially those that have been digitized. Of course, labor history is intertwined with the history of business, economics, and government. One recent post focused on the first U.S. Secretary of Labor, William B. Wilson, who served 1913-1921 in the presidential cabinet of Woodrow Wilson (no relation). While not a Catholic, William B. Wilson was nevertheless closely allied with Catholic labor leaders John Mitchell and T. V. Powderly.  Remarkably, long before Catholic University held the collections of Mitchell and Powderly or was home of the ‘labor priest,’ its founding faculty of Economics were the first two federal labor commissioners, Carroll D Wright (1840-1909) and Charles P. Neill (1865-1942), who headed the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1885-1913, predecessor to Wilson’s U.S. Department of Labor.

Wright and Neill met at Catholic University where Neil was full time Instructor in Economics (later Professor) and department chair, 1896-1905, while Wright was a part-time Lecturer on Social Economics, 1895-1899, then honorary professor of Social Economics until 1904.[i] Among the early courses taught by Neill and Wright were Special Topics in Economics and several related to Statistics and Labor,[ii] many of which are still offered in 2019 in the Economics Department, part of the School of Arts and Sciences. Since 2013, Catholic University has also been the home of the Tim and Steph Busch School of Business and Economics offering a wide range of coursework in Accounting, Business, Entrepreneurship, Finance, Management, and Marketing.

McMahon Hall at Catholic University, home of the Economics Department where Wright and Neill taught classes. Year-Book of the Catholic University of America, 1898-1899. Washington, D.C., 1898, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

After the Civil War, amidst calls for a national labor agency, the first state bureau opened in Massachusetts in 1869. However, accusations that early officials promoted labor activism induced the governor to appoint Wright as new bureau chief in 1873. A war veteran, patent attorney, and former state senator, Wright‘s inexperience with statistics and labor problems was overcome by his renowned impartiality.[iii] In 1884, Congress created and the President approved a federal Bureau of Labor. President Chester Arthur passed over several candidates for commissioner from various labor organizations, most notably Terence V. Powderly of the Knights of Labor, and selected Wright in January 1885. Reappointed by successive presidents over the next twenty years, Wright built a reputation as a famous social scientist by focusing on factual investigation to create innovative reports on such issues as tariffs, unemployment, strikes, and wages as well as the condition of women, children, blacks, and immigrants. In 1893, he was also made Superintendent of the Census. Late in his career Wright taught at Harvard and was President of Clark College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

President Theodore Roosevelt, facing a major coal strike in Pennsylvania in 1902, appointed a commission to investigate, including Carroll D. Wright as Records, Charles P. Neill as Assistant Recorder. Another member was John Lancaster Spalding, Bishop of Peoria and a founder of Catholic University. Photographs courtesy of Raleigh DeGeer Amyx and Wikicommon.

The second Commissioner of Labor, Charles Patrick Neill, a child of Irish immigrants born in Illinois, graduated from Georgetown University in 1891, earned a doctorate in economics and politics from Johns Hopkins University in 1897, and, as mentioned above, was on the CU faculty, 1896-1905. In 1902, Neill was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to serve as assistant recorder (Wright was recorder) of the Anthracite Coal Strike Commission addressing a major strike in eastern Pennsylvania. Shortly thereafter, in 1905, Roosevelt selected Neill to succeed Wright as Commissioner of Labor. President William Howard Taft reappointed him in 1909 and Woodrow Wilson appointed Neill Commissioner of Labor Statistics in 1913 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics was established within the new Department of Labor. Neill provided federal mediation services in railroad labor disputes and his investigation of the meat packing industry, prompted by Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, resulted in a federal inspection law in 1906. In addition, his detailed report on child labor provided a basis for congressional legislation.

Letter from Wright to Neill about his prospects of becoming next commissioner, December 15, 1904. Charles P. Neill Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

After his departure from the Department of Labor later in 1913, Neill specialized as an arbitrator working for the Southeastern Railways, 1915-1939, and the United States Railroad Board of Adjustments, 1919-1921. He also promoted industrial safety and workmen’s compensation laws. His charitable work included serving as a member of the Board of Charities of the District of Columbia, and was Director of the National Catholic School of Social Service, 1921-1922. He had positions of leadership in professional societies like the American Statistical Association and was honored by Notre Dame with the Laetare Medal in 1922. A small collection of Carroll D. Wright’s Papers can be found at Cornell while the Archives at Catholic University houses the Charles P. Neill Papers while records of the U.S. Department of Labor and predecessor Bureau of Labor are at the National Archives. 


[i] Hooker, John J. ‘Seven Decades of Economics,’ The Catholic University of America Bulletin (33: 4), April 1966, pp. 11.

[ii] Annual Report of the Rector of The Catholic University of America, March 1896, p. 35; Year-Book of the Catholic University of America, 1896-1897, pp. 52-53.

[iii] Goodberg, Joseph P. and Moye, William T. The First Hundred Years of the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985, p. 7, 11.


The Archivist’s Nook: CU Classicist James Marshall Campbell

This week’s post is guest-authored by Ronnie Georgieff, a graduate student in Library and Information Science at Catholic University.

Monsignor James Marshall Campbell devoted his life to The Catholic University of America (CUA) as a student, professor in the Greek and Latin Department, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, his contributions shaped the lives of many. His collection is comprised of 8 boxes that consist of research notes, sermons, homilies, lecture notes, articles, course outlines, photographs, newspaper clippings, correspondence and prayer books.

Msgr. James Marshall Campbell. University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives

Campbell was born on September 30, 1895 in Warsaw N.Y., and was educated at Hamilton College (1913-1917) to receive his B.A. in Greek, Princeton University (1917-1918), and then The Catholic University of America (1920-1923) where he received his M.A and Ph.D. in Greek. He prepared for the priesthood at the Sulpician Seminary, now the Theological College, and was ordained on January 14, 1926. He was a brilliant academic, who had a particular love for the classics. He became a professional assistant in the classics (1920-1921), then an instructor  (1921-1927), an associate professor of Greek civilization (1927-1932) and finally a professor of Greek (1932).  He was fluent in English, Attic Greek, Latin, German, and French, and his professional studies included advanced Attic Greek composition, ancient Greek tragedy, Greek philosophy, ancient history, history of classical philosophy and Greek fathers. In addition, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, the American Philological Association, and the Medieval Academy of America. His research and teaching material reflected his scholarly passion, writing several books, articles, and contributions. Most notably, he wrote his master thesis on ‘The Question of the Origins of Tragedy’ (1920), wrote his doctoral thesis on ‘The Influence of the Second Sophistic on the Style of the Sermons of St. Basil’ (1922), ‘The Greek Fathers’ (1929), ‘The Confessions of St. Augustine: Books I-X’ (1931), A Concordance of Prudentius’ (1928-9), and ‘Los Padres Giegos’ (1948).

Title page of Campbell authored article. Campbell Papers, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

Campbell served as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1934) until he retired (1966). He was also the Director of the Pacific Coast Branch of the Summer Session (1932-1970), helped develop a plan of concentration for the curriculum which is partially modeled off the Princeton preceptorial system, and even cut out football at Catholic University as an intercollegiate sport. This was not the only grievance that he caused, and a number of academic controversies created a rift between the College of Arts and Sciences faculty and Campbell. There was even a walkout in February of 1966 and it was soon followed by a petition for the replacement of the Dean in March 1966. As a priest and later a monsignor, he was a chaplain at Holy Cross Academy and Dumbarton College while simultaneously working at CUA. He was also named a Domestic Prelate of His Holiness Pope John XXIII (1959). He died the evening of March 25, 1977 at St. Joseph’s Home of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Campbell at work. University Photograph Collection, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

It was not until I processed this collection as part of a library science practicum that I learned about Msgr. Campbell and his contributions to CUA. His passion in academia as well as his administrative leadership showcase a remarkable individual who through both his small and large contributions is an inspiration to follow your passion and lead with excellence. See the Msgr. James Marshall Campbell finding aid.

The Archivist’s Nook: The CatholicU Campus Coffin Cavalcade

The 1930s Tower mastered early clickbait headlines.

Imagine you are heading out to Homecoming, visiting with returning alumni and catching the football game. There are numerous events you wish to catch during the weekend, but one in particular that all your friends are talking about…the “annual coffin parade.” Checking the student newspaper for more details on this strange event, you learn that during the match against the Western Maryland (now McDaniels) Green Terror, “on Saturday morning, C.U. cheerleaders will drag the casket out on the field…for the edification of the Terror team and rooters.” Do you decide to attend?

Sometimes when one is digging through the archives, one unearths all manner of buried tales. The tradition of the so-called “Western Maryland Coffin” is one such a tale. Similar to the Old Oaken Bucket of Indiana-Purdue or the Michigan-Michigan State Little Brown Jug, the Western Maryland-Catholic coffin was a rivalry trophy handed off between the schools. Whoever won the grudge match each season would carry off the macabre reward to their home campus. While the tradition of such trophies is not unusual, the choice of object is certainly eyebrow-raising.

The November 14, 1935 Tower reports the origins for this curious tradition as follows:

The annual homecoming event between the Green Terrors of Western Maryland and the Flying Cardinals, of Catholic U. brings to light one of the those hoary tales of tradition that the “old boys” love to retell. It has to do with the famous Western Maryland Coffin. Now way back yonder in 1913, when the Terrors first met with the Cards, one of the C.U. carpenters who was evidently imbued with the C.U. victory spirit thought the best thing to do with the Terrors who were to be beaten, was to bury them, so he went to work and built the coffin.

With a score of 17-6 in favor of Catholic, the coffin seems to have done the trick and remained on campus. The two teams would not meet on the gridiron again until 1924, with the coffin reemerging. However, this time, the Terror defeated the Cardinals. Rather than surrender the coffin to their victorious rivals, it is reported that:

[Coach Eddie] La Fond and some of his cohorts stole the object of the argument – the coffin…after beating around the bush, La Fond admitted the theft, but said that it was impossible for him to return the article because he has mislaid it.

St. Thomas Hall, looking perfectly like the scene of a spooky story.

Lest you think that a coffin’s shadow had passed from the campus, the lost trophy was located a decade later! In 1934, the Tower exclaimed, “The Terrors’ Ghost Coffin, Aged Sarcophagus Unearthed,” declaring that the superintendent of maintenance had located the long-lost coffin in the basement of St. Thomas Hall.

St. Thomas Hall, also known as the Middleton House, was the oldest structure on the campus. Originally built as a summer cottage (named Sidney) in 1803 by newspaperman Samuel Harrison Smith, who had relocated to Washington at the invitation of President Thomas Jefferson. (During this period, Smith would host many dignitaries at the House, including Jefferson and James and Dolly Madison.) Sold in the 1830s to James and Erasmus J. Middleton, father and son respectively. With the surrounding land purchased for the new Catholic University in 1886, the House became a residence, first for the Paulist Fathers from 1889 until 1914, and later a dormitory for lay students until 1933. From that date, until its demolition in 1970, it housed the School of Social Service…and apparently a misplaced coffin.

After its rediscovery in 1934 – and some quick repairs – the coffin was triumphantly paraded around campus during the following week’s pep rally events. And despite a Terror victory (2-0) over the Cardinals that fall, the Western Maryland team seemed uninterested in carrying off the coffin, with the Tower declaring that, “Catholic University is particularly proud of the fact that this coffin has never left the C.U. campus.”

The following season, the Cardinals would win against the Terrors (19-6) and go on to win the 1936 Orange Bowl. Eddie LaFond, the once tomb raider, was by this point the longstanding and nationally recognized head of the University’s boxing, football, and basketball programs.

Eddie LaFond (center) at the Orange Bowl, 1936.

With the Orange Bowl win and the tradition of the casket well-established, the student press trumpeted the presence of the coffin during the fall semester of 1936. The homecoming events even advertised a halftime show, which included “the annual coffin parade.” But the parade was not to be that year or any years after. In the dead of night, the coffin vanished days before the big game. The Tower was quick to blame Western Maryland, stating, “This conclusion was drawn quite logically because of the fact that it would be of value to only the Green and Gold [Terror] followers.”

However, while this archivist plans to check further into the whereabouts of these legendary trophy, there is a part of me that believes the coffin is still stashed away somewhere on campus…

The Archivist’s Nook: The Tower Reports, You Decide

Twelfth anniversary issue, November 1, 1934, detailing efforts to bottle up ace Western Maryland (known since 2002 as McDaniel) football player, one of my imagined kinsmen, William Leroy ‘Bill’ Shepherd (1911-1967). Shepherd nevertheless led his team to victory over Catholic U. in Brookland Stadium two days later. The Tower Archive Online.

American student newspapers began appearing on Ivy League campuses such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in the 1870s. It took a while longer for their Catholic colleagues to follow suit, with the founding of the Tribune at Marquette University in 1916, The Hoya at Georgetown University in 1920, and The Tower at The Catholic University of America in 1922.  Named after the center tower portion of Gibbons Hall, the latter debuted on October 27, 1922 as a four page weekly intending to “serve no individual, no group, no class; it is a publication in the interests of all students.” It also eloquently stated “The Tower is now a living being on the Campus, and will be kept as such only thru the wholehearted co-operation of all the students.” ¹

With a price of ten cents per copy or $1.50 a year, the Tower was initially funded by the University and later by the student government, but also increasingly by advertising.² It became more independent over time and in the 1960s reported in the midst of the tumult over University attempts to fire dissident professor Fr. Charles Curran for teachings contrary to the Church and the resulting student strike on campus. Tower reporters were also front and center for such notable events as the historic visits of presidents and popes to campus, including Franklin Roosevelt in 1933 and John Paul II in 1979. Interestingly, in the 1970s and 1980s, before the advent of email, the unclassified section, where students could print anonymous messages for $1, was quite popular.

Pope Francis during Papal visit, September 23, 2015, for first ever canonization on American soil, of St. Juniperro Serra. The Tower Online.

Cartoon by Tower news staffer and future Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Class of 1960, January 10, 1958 issue. ‘The Tower Archive Goes Digital’ Brochure, 2009.

The first editor was W. T. Keavny, Jr., Class of 1923, a Law major from Connecticut. Jimmy Cassidy, Class of 2018, a Media and Communication Studies Major from Maryland, who has served since 2017, is the 123rd editor. The first woman to be editor was Mimi Reisman, Class of 1957, a biology major from Pennsylvania.³ Many student contributors went on to later fame (or infamy), including renowned photographer Fred Maroon, Oscar winning actor Jon Voight, Pulitzer prize winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, Washington Post Sunday editor James Rowe, former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ed Gillespie, and problematic NBC news anchor Brian Williams.

The print edition of The Tower has changed size several times in its venerable history: twelve by nineteen inches from 1922-1923 to 1925-1926; fourteen by twenty one inches from 1926-1927 to 1931-1932; seventeen and one half by twenty three inches from 1932-1933 to 1941-1944; eleven by seventeen inches from 1946-1947 to 1972-1973; eleven by fifteen inches for 1973-1974 to 2003-2004; and twelve by twenty three inches 2004-2005 to the present. The Tower transitioned to a digital layout in 2003 and in practice has become increasingly digital-only, with occasional print issues as advertising revenue permits.

University archives staff worked in 2008 with several campus departments, including Mullen Library and the Student Association General Assembly, as well as an outside digitization company, Olive, to get archived copies of the newspaper digitized and accessible online. The years 1922-1991 had previously been microfilmed, so these were relatively easy for Olive to scan. Print copies for 1992-2003⁴ were digitized and the combined digital collection web site went live in 2009. Additional years have been added thereafter so that coverage on the Olive site is currently 1922-2013. The most recent years can be accessed on The Tower’s web site. The library stores backup digital copies and the Archives retains three sets of print copies whenever possible.

The first April Fool’s issue, The Towel, with prank headlines and other absurdities was published in 1927. Above is a humorous example from 2009: ‘Catholic University March Madness,’ with reference to an apparently overachieving student named Wynn.


¹ The Tower, 10-27-1922, pp. 1, 4.

² The Tower, 10-24-1997, p. 1.

³ The Tower, 1-14-1955, p. 1.

The Tower, 4-16-2004, p. 3.

The Archivist’s Nook: The Brutal Archives

1920s CUA Brochure to Prospective Students from the CUA Archives Photographic Collection Ca. 1887-1999: Box 71, Folder 7.

The construction of a Brutalist building at The Catholic University of America marked a departure from the existing architectural style previously seen at CUA and it was a departure from original conceptions of the growth of the university taking shape in a form that resembled a medieval village.

How did this shift in architecture challenge the ideas of public space? Was it a social experiment that was well suited to the academic environment?

I recently chatted with Eric Jenkins, a Professor of Architecture at Catholic University’s School of Architecture and Planning to get the answer to this question:

It was very expressionist; a lot of architects in the 70s were not concerned with making a typical campus, such as Yale, with its unified and orderly sense of space; they were concerned with making a modern statement” This modernist statement was invoked in the form of Aquinas Hall, the current home of The Catholic University of America Archives and 1 of 4 Brutalist expressions currently on campus.

The grand entrance stairway consists of a set of angulated right vertices and rectilinear striations of concrete whose descent to a planular surface of alternating rectangles adds an ethereal level of depth to the viewer’s field of vision.

Washingtonians are organically familiar with the Brutalist Aesthetic, due to the ubiquity of Government Brutalism in Washington D.C. In fact, The District is home to extremely beautiful examples of the Brutalist architectural style. From the trip to work, to the work place itself, a Washingtonian’s daily routine is saturated by the atmospheric essence of Béton Brut, which can be seen in the ceilings of the Metro’s cavernous stations and seen deep within the bowels of Downtown.

Washington’s Brutalist buildings are a communique of power, impenetrability, and the performative use of materials to create a remarkable psycho-social demarcation through jarring exaggerations in building scale that coerce the viewer to process the architectural form from a macroscopic perspective, in what Professor Jenkins noted as “object-oriented landscaping, in which the building becomes a landscape object.”

The atrium central staircase is an act of paradox: an acute involution of inflexible materials around a softer hexagonal social area presenting an unusual mix of refined textiles and raw materials.

Brutalism was the Federal Government’s de rigueur style during the 1970s; but tucked away at The Catholic University of America, a new player entered the field, in the form of a quieter, more pensive expression that emerged in divergent transition to the Federal Government’s translation of the Brutalist aesthetic.

In 1965, candidates for the Master of Arts in English, at The Catholic University of America, were asked during their comprehensive examinations to ruminate on a complexly layered observation made by Mark Shorer in the foreword of Society and Self in the Novel, a 1955 treatise edited by Shorer in which he made the following annunciation:

“…the problem of the novel has always been to distinguish between these two, the self and society, and at the same time to find suitable structures that will present them together.”

The central staircase appears dramatic in the morning sunlight due to the striking contrasts created by the deep shadows of the opposing faces.

From an interdisciplinary standpoint, the ontological consideration of the parallels, partitions and implications of what is real, what is imagined, and what can become, is one of the core considerations of designing a building—in other words: how to reconcile between anthropocentricity and design aesthetics to create a unified conversation between these aspects that are at times in harmonious communication and at other times in discordant miscommunication. The design of CUA’s Aquinas Hall squares this circle because the building was not designed through a psycho-social lens but rather as a form of psycho-geographical praxis in which scale is downplayed and the viewer’s gaze is shifted to the granular level. In this context, the juxtaposition of raw, coarse, unpolished, imperfect, cacophonous materiality results in theatric, unexpected geometries.


A melodic, psychogeographic exploration of the geometry and materiality of the Brutalist home of The Catholic University of America’s Archives.

Images and video of Aquinas Hall are by the author, Juan-Pablo Gonzalez.

The Archivist’s Nook: A Different Aria – Opera, NBC, and CUA

Costuming prep for The Juggler
Costuming prep for The Juggler. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

This week’s post is guest authored by Marielle Gage, a CUA graduate student in History.

“My, how times have changed!”

Who hasn’t heard some variety of that phrase, if perhaps not in as stilted, “proper” phrasing as above? It’s often an overwrought sentiment, immediately followed by a “when I was your age…” or nostalgia of times past (that everyone complained about at the time) now seen through golden lenses. But in some cases, the sentiment is more than fair.

Take, for example, television. A hundred years ago, no one owned a television. Even thirty years later, during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt relied on the radio, not television, to broadcast his “fireside chats” to the nation. And ten years after that, there were three regular channels broadcasting, one of which had no problem dedicating four Sunday afternoons to opera in the summer of 1959.

A scene from The Cage
A scene from The Cage. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

That’s right. The same year the Grammy Awards were first broadcasted on NBC, that same station approved the broadcasting of four one-act operas, written by and starring CUA faculty, students, and alumni, at 12:30 pm on each of the four Sundays of May. The impetus wasn’t from the higher-ups within the National Broadcasting Channel, but rather from the National Council of Catholic Men, who had a partnership with NBC to broadcast, on radio and on television, a weekly “Catholic Hour” in which presenters could explain, examine, or defend the Catholic faith. CUA’s own Fulton J. Sheen was a frequent participate in the broadcasts; he and others would expound on themes such as the Virgin Mary, racism, the last words of Christ, labor, or marriage. Perhaps wishing to change up the formula, the NCCM commissioned the four one-act operas from CUA’s music department faculty in late 1958. While a couple of different themes were suggested (the early correspondence hints frequently of a retelling of Guadalupe, but is frustratingly vague on any details, and the idea was later dropped), the final four operas were: Dolcedo, the last day of an atheistic philosopher now in the care of nuns (music by Emerson Meyers, libretto by Dominic Rover, O.P.); The Cage, the story of an elevator operator who desperately wishes to travel, but feels trapped caring for his invalid and verbally abusive mother (music by George Thaddeus Jones, libretto by Leo Brady); The Decorator, a glimpse into the life of a middle-class mother trying so hard to be fashionable (music by Russell Woollen, libretto by Frank and Dorothy Getlein); and The Juggler, a retelling of the “clown of God” legend (music by William Graves, libretto by Arch Lustberg).

Filming Dolcedo. School of Music Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives.

While none of the operas, perhaps, are must-see classics (The Decorator, in particular, is a bit heavy-handed), it still must have been an adventure for the CUA students who participated and watched the productions. Unfortunately, little remains of any publicity or retrospectives within the CUA community concerning the operas. The surviving letters and photographs, then, remain a tantalizing glimpse at a curious moment in CUA’s musical history, and of American cultural history in general, from a time when it was not inconceivable that a portion of the American population would choose to spend their Sunday afternoons watching opera.

The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space

trailer being removed
Trailing into the sunset. Perhaps not as (un)dramatic as it looks, however: The trailers were gutted and many of the furnishings were donated to Community Forklift for discount resale and to other charitable organizations serving homeless veterans.

University archivists save university stuff.  Our mission entails preserving university-related historical materials that enable us to make observations about our school across time.  This includes the physical space of CUA.  The Archives holds files and blueprints detailing the history of most every building of the University, and even some that no longer exist.

Which brings me to the recent trashing of the trailers.  Back in the 1990s, twenty-six trailers were placed on Curley Court to house an overflow of students—this was before the grand Opus Hall was built to accommodate the incoming numbers.  This past March, however, it was time to remove those trailers, and especially for those of us here on the upper campus who pass by the units daily, it was something of an event. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Trashing the Trailers – A Short Genealogy of a Space”