Posts with the tag: Oregon School Case

The Archivist’s Nook: Announcing a New Online Resource about the History of American Catholic Schools, 1893–1993

This groovy button was produced by the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania for Catholic Schools Week in 1974. This year, Catholic Schools Week 2021 will run from Jan. 31 to Feb. 6.

With the launch of One Hundred Years of Catholic Schools (1893–1993), I’m pleased to announce the formal completion of a project that I’ve been working on since last spring. The latest addition to the American Catholic History Classroom, One Hundred Years of Catholic Schools (1893–1993) is an online resource that explores the history of American Catholic schools at the elementary and secondary levels between the 1890s and the 1990s. (See this illustrated timeline for a rundown.) Featuring a selection of documents and objects from Catholic University’s Special Collections (chiefly the American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives), the site is meant to offer an introductory overview of the topic with an eye towards promoting primary source literacy.

Better yet, it comes just in time for Catholic Schools Week 2021! Between the 1890s and the 1990s, the advent of Catholic Schools Week in 1973 signified an important change in tune. When they were first established in the late nineteenth century, Catholic schools offered a religious minority safe haven from the Protestant-dominated and overtly prejudiced public schools. But for a multitude of reasons coalescing around Vatican II, community-based schools catering to Catholic immigrants began to fade out in the mid twentieth century. As enrollments fell and operating costs rose, Catholic Schools Week came on the scene under the guise of a “self-help” project. The idea was to rebrand Catholic schools not as a last resort for a persecuted minority, but as an enticing alternative approach to education for anyone who lacked confidence in the public school system. The operative word was “choice.” This year, the annual promotional campaign is being held from Sunday, January 31st to Saturday, February 6th. (As an aside, February 6th also happens to be my grandma Rosemary Hogg’s 95th birthday; she earned her degree in library science at Catholic University in 1981).

Now, I’d be the first to admit that studying the development of America’s second-largest school system can be dry. In general, I’ve hoped to imbue the institutional history of American Catholic schools with some personality. Perhaps the strongest example from the site is this January 21, 1935 letter to the National Catholic Welfare Conference (today’s USCCB), in which Mrs. H. C. Schmidt of Rogers City, Michigan describes the school bus situation for her six-year-old daughter:

… We have had quite a time about the Bus calling for our child. Some of the members of the School Board claim that they are not compelled to transport a child attending the Parochial Schools. However after earnestly pleading with them, they agreed to take her into town but she is compelled to walk from the Public School to the Catholic School which is a distance of about one mile. It hardly seems fair. The child is cold when she gets off the Bus and has to start on her long walk. Then again she walks to the Public School at night and she is cold when she starts on her long drive. The winters are very severe here.

Handwritten letter dated January 21, 1935 from Mrs. H. C. Schmidt of Rogers City, Michigan to the NCWC regarding her six-year-old daughter who must walk a mile to and from her parochial school to catch the bus at the public school.
Handwritten letter dated January 21, 1935 from Mrs. H. C. Schmidt of Rogers City, Michigan to the NCWC regarding her six-year-old daughter who must walk a mile to and from her parochial school to catch the bus at the public school.

The issue of bus transportation was just one facet of the debate over the constitutionality of public funding for private schools, which hinged on the Establishment Clause; in the next decade it would reach the Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education (1947).

On top of pathos, Mrs. Schmidt’s letter includes an interesting allusion to “K.K.K. lawmakers”—making it a rich primary source that demands to be understood in its historical context. Although the Ku Klux Klan is commonly associated with the American South, it was active throughout the North and Northwest in the 1920s and 1930s; it’s notable that the Schmidt family resides in Michigan, where in 1920 a referendum on compulsory public education received a surprising amount of support—foreshadowing the events in 1922 that led to the most famous of all Supreme Court cases having to do with Catholic schools. The Oregon School Case (the subject of another Classroom site!) grew out of a Klan-backed bill requiring most school-age children to attend public schools. Writing ten years after the Supreme Court unanimously declared the Oregon School Law unconstitutional in 1925, Mrs. Schmidt gives us a glimpse into her ongoing struggle.

Through glimpses like these, I hope future users will come to appreciate the history of American Catholic schools as I eventually did: as an underdog, coming-of-age story.

The Archivist’s Nook: Anti-Catholic History Resources in Special Collections

Letter from a Romish priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and instructed in the Romish faith, by Francois Seguenot, Boston, 1729, Rare Books, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Catholic University’s Special Collections Department has a vast quantity of documents which encompass the sentiment of Anti-Catholicism in America that spans from colonial times to the dawn of the twenty-first century. Our rare books collection includes eighteenth century works such as Letter from a Romish Priest in Canada to one who was taken captive in her infancy, and was instructed in the Romish faith by Francois Seguenot (1729) and A specimen of a book, intituled, Ane compendious booke, of godly and spiritual sangs,collectit out of the Scripture,with sundrie of other ballates changed out of prophaine sangs, for avoyding of sinne and harlotrie by Robert Wedderburn (1765). Nineteenth century examples include Popery: the foe of the church and of the Republic and Popery Unmasked, while the twentieth century contributes entries such as Priest Baiting and Jesuits: Religious Rogues. Additionally, we have archival documentation on the 1834 burning of the Ursuline Convent in Massachusetts, as well as Anti-Catholic Literature that was collected during the 1928 presidential campaign. The Catholic response to counter this bias included a newspaper column titled Catholic Heroes of the World War, 1928-1933, and the National Council of Catholic Men’s Catholic Hour radio and television programs.

Anti-Catholicism in America grew from the attitudes of Protestant immigrants who were fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England whose doctrines aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. Anti-Catholic rhetoric such as the Biblical Anti-Christ and Whore of Babylon was derived from the theological heritage of the Reformation which criticized the perceived excesses of Catholic clerical hierarchy in general and the Papacy in particular. Theological differences were compounded by secular xenophobia and feelings of nativism towards these increasing numbers of Catholic immigrants, particularly those coming from Ireland and later, eastern and southern Europe and Latin America. Catholic support for the American Revolution helped alleviate notions of the inherently treasonable nature of Catholicism. George Washington staunchly promoted religious tolerance as a means of public order. He suppressed anti-Catholic celebrations in the Army while our reliance on Catholic France and Spain for military aid helped reduce anti-Catholic rhetoric. By the 1780s, Catholics were extended legal tolerance in many states and the anti-Catholic tradition of Pope Night was discontinued.[1]

An account of the Conflagration of the Ursuline Convent. Boston 1834. Ursurline Convent Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America

Anti-Catholicism peaked in the mid nineteenth century as Protestant leaders accused the Church of being an enemy to republican values. The Catholic Church’s silence on the subject of slavery also raised the ire of northern abolitionists. In 1836, Maria Monk was published to great commercial success. It was the most prominent of many scurrilous pamphlets that were published even though it was later revealed to be a fabrication. Numerous supposedly former priests and nuns went on an anti-Catholic lecture circuit telling lurid tales that usually involved sexual depravity and dead babies. Intolerance again exploded in 1834 when a mob burned the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The resulting nativist movement morphed politically into the Know Nothing Party, which unsuccessfully backed former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate in 1856. But during the Civil War, widespread enlistment of Irish and German immigrants into the Union Army, as well as the dedicated service of priests acting as chaplains and nuns serving as nurses, helped demonstrate Catholic Patriotism.

After the Civil War ended, tensions were again raised by a proposed amendment to the Constitution which stipulated that no public money could be used to support any sort of religious school. Although President Ulysses S. Grant supported this amendment, it was defeated in 1875. However, it was used as the basis for dozens of successful state amendments that prohibited using public funds for parochial schools. The early 20th century brought about a new appreciation of Catholicism, especially in western states where Protestantism had not yet become deeply ensconced. Examples of this show how California celebrated the history of Spanish Franciscan missions, which later became popular tourist attractions and in the Philippines, which was newly occupied by the United States, Catholic missionary efforts were praised. Catholic mobilization efforts during World War I by the National Catholic War Council and the Knights of Columbus were also appreciated by many non-Catholic Americans.

Anti-Catholic political cartoon of the 1928 U.S. Presidential Election. Anti-Catholic Literature Collection, Special Collections, The Catholic University of America.

Nevertheless, anti-Catholicism continue to rage in the interwar years as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) continued to argue that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that parochial schools prevented Catholics from becoming loyal Americans. In 1922, Oregon voters passed the Oregon School Law, which mandated attendance at public schools. The law outraged Catholics and in 1925 the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. In 1928, Democrat Al Smith of New York became the first Roman Catholic to gain a major party’s nomination for president. Many Protestant ministers warned that the nation was at risk because Smith would take secret orders from the Pope. Another strike against Smith was his opposition to Prohibition, which had widespread support in rural Protestant areas. Despite his loss, Democratic voting surged in large cities as ethnic Catholics, including recently enfranchised women, went to the polls to defend their religious culture. Catholics made up a major portion of the New Deal Coalition that Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted four years later and which continued to dominate national elections for decades.

The Second World War and the Holocaust brought religious tolerance to the fore. Despite Eleanor Roosevelt’s feud with the Archbishop of New York, Francis J. Spellman, over federal aid to Catholic schools, the 1950s promoted a unified front against communism. National leaders appealed to the common values of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews alike. The so-called ‘Catholic Question’ continued to be a key factor that affected voting in the 1960 Presidential Campaign. To allay Protestant fears, Catholic John F. Kennedy, who narrowly won the office, kept his distance from Church officials and publicly stated “I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me.”[2] After 1980, historic tensions between evangelical Protestants and Catholics dissipated as the two groups often saw themselves allied in regard to contentious social issues like abortion and gay marriage. By 2000, Catholics made up about one half of the Republican Coalition with the rest being comprised of a large majority of white evangelicals.

John F. Kennedy receiving Catholic U’s Gibbons Medal, 1956. Although pictured prominently with Church members here, Kennedy would distance himself from his faith when running for President four years later. Special Collections, Catholic University.

Please see the new Catholic University of America Library Research Guide on Anti-Catholic Resources which are held in our Special Collections and was created by William J. Shepherd and Amanda Bernard.

[1] Pope Night was an anti-Catholic holiday celebrated annually on November 5 in colonial America. It had evolved from Guy Fawkes Night in Great Britain that commemorated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 by prominent Catholics to blow up the British Parliament. The rowdy celebration included drunken street brawls and the burning of the Pope in effigy.

[2] NPR Web site at https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

[3] As always, special thanks to TSK.

The Archivist’s Nook: From Manila to Madrid – Montavon’s Legal Department Goes Global

William Montavon, ca. 1940s.

In 1901, a young man named William F. Montavon (1874-1959) finished his studies at Catholic University in order to marry his wife, Mary Agnes Burrow. Little did he how the next 50 years would be a whirlwind of international travel, legal advocacy, and global upheaval. To understand the story of Montavon is to understand the story of the National Catholic Welfare Conference (NCWC) Legal Department. For 26 years, between 1925-1951, Montavon would serve as the director of the fledgling department, shaping its mission. For the American Catholic Church of the time, Montavon was regarded as “the Law.”

Montavon’s path to the NCWC was an indirect one. From 1902-1915, he served as the superintendent of schools in the Philippines. At the end of his tenure, he took an appointment as U.S. Commercial attaché to Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. From there he became the executive representative for the International Petroleum Company in Peru. Returning to the United States in 1925, he obtained the directorship of the Legal Department. With two decades experience abroad, Montavon was poised to turn the Legal Department’s focus from exclusively domestic issues to one contemplating the broader world.

Originally established in 1919 as a NCWC office, the Legal Department worked to track and advise Catholic dioceses and organizations on changes to state and federal law. It also served to represent the NCWC in the courts of law and public opinion. Among its most frequent areas of concern were (and continues to be) educational reform, tax policy, civil rights, immigration, and marital legislation. From the very beginning, the department has been at the forefront of legislative and legal battles over the role of parochial schools in the United States and their relations with both state and federal governments, including in the landmark Oregon School Case.

Flyer on the Spanish Civil War collected by Montavon.

Under Montavon’s directorship, the department expanded to include work on the behalf of Catholics abroad and the vulnerable domestically. The department entered into the complicated diplomatic situation surrounding the Mexican Cristero War (1926-1929) and its aftermath throughout the 1930s. Montavon himself traveled to Mexico to report on the situation of the Church in the countryside. This trip, and its ensuing report, was instrumental in the Mexican government’s decision to allow the return of the clergy and legal public worship. Pope Pius XI awarded Montavon the Knight Commander of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1929 for his work in Mexico.

This period also witnessed the department’s advising and reporting on the status of religious legislation and freedoms throughout the various Latin American republics, Haiti, and the Philippines. Through Montavon’s service as a NCWC News Service correspondent in Spain in 1931, the Legal Department soon became closely involved in Spanish events throughout the 1930s, in particular the Spanish Civil of 1936-1939.

The department also worked on domestic social policies, including the growing number of eugenics, sterilization, and birth control bills emerging in state legislatures across the country throughout the interwar period. Simultaneously, Montavon led efforts to oppose the enactment of a national quota system as specified in the Immigration Act of 1924. Questions of tax policy and draft enactment also emerged as pressing issues for the Church throughout Montavon’s tenure.

Massachusetts Senator David I. Walsh (left) with Montavon (right).

By the 1930s, with the Great Depression ongoing, the department kept its associates abreast of developments with governmental relief efforts and the changing role of the federal government in the economic and domestic spheres. Of particular import to the department was New Deal legislation that began to fundamentally impact both the social mission and employer status of the Church. In addition to supporting workforce relief efforts, the department closely followed developments in Social Security legislation and how it impacted clergy and Church staff. As the clouds of war gathered in the last half of the decade, the topic of Selective Service became of increasing importance to the NCWC as the draft status of seminarians remained uncertain. With Montavon testifying before Congress on numerous occasions, the department worked to better define the draft eligibility and social security expansion, as well as working to spread knowledge about the need for relief in war-torn parts of the world.

In the post-war period, the Legal Department continued much of its prior work, but took a greater role in civil rights and refugee legislation and legation. Montavon retired from the Legal Department in 1951, with countless well wishes arriving from dioceses across the country and world.

The Archives holds the following collections mentioned in this post:

The William Frederick Montavon Papers

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office of General Counsel/Legal Department

The Archivist’s Nook: The First Catholic Action Hero

Photo-Young Burke-Paulists
Fr. John Burke, the young, vigorous, visionary priest ready to face the challenges of the twentieth century, ca. 1899. Paulist Archives.

June 6, 1875, is the birthday of the widely influential New York City born John Burke, a Catholic University of America (CUA) educated priest (.S.T.B. 1899; S.T.L., 1901) of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle, a religious community known as the Paulists. Burke saw a convergence of both American and Catholic values that inspired his visions of a national church. He was editor of The Catholic World, 1904-1922, where he promoted social reform via articles by CUA professors William J. Kerby and John A. Ryan. Burke also supported national organizations, helping establish the Catholic Press Association in 1911 and, in 1917, founding both the Chaplain’s Aid Association to supply priests for the military and the National Catholic War Council (NCWC), subject of an earlier blog post, to coordinate Catholic efforts with the government during the First World War. It’s not difficult to imagine why I call Burke, honored by church and state, The First Catholic Action Hero!

Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.
Fr. John Burke with board members of the National Council of Catholic Women, a group founded under his leadership as part of the NCWC, though now an independent entity in the twenty first century, 1920. USCCB Executive Department/Office of the General Secretary Records, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives of The Catholic University of America.

Burke directed operations that mobilized Catholic lay persons, monitored legislation, and undertook postwar reconstruction. He also created an ecumenical advisory group to the government on maintaining morality in military camps. The War Department thereafter recognized Burke with the Distinguished Service Medal. In 1919, and in succession to the War Council, the American hierarchy created the National Catholic Welfare Council (later Conference), also known (confusingly) as the NCWC, to promote Catholic social work, education, and immigration through a secretariat in Washington, D.C. headed by Burke as general secretary. The newly reconstituted NCWC immediately faced a major act of organized anti-Catholicism with the Oregon School Bill of 1922 declaring children could only attend public schools. Supported by the Ku Klux Klan, this was an assault against freedom of education in general and parochial schools in particular. Burke mobilized a broad spectrum of opposition, including the ACLU, and the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the Oregon School Bill in 1925.

Mural by Polish born artist (who taught at CUA) Jan Henryk de Rosen of James, Cardinal Gibbons blessing Fr. John Burke at the USCCB Building, 4th Street, Washington, D.C., 2016, courtesy of Katherine Nuss, USCCB Information and Archive Services.

Having interacted with President Woodrow Wilson as head of the War Council, Burke engaged his successors in matters of import to American Catholics, ranging from congratulating Warren G. Harding for a 1922 speech on religious toleration to providing advice to Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, respectively, over conflicts in Mexico in 1927 and Haiti in 1929. Burke was an enthusiastic supporters of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal economic reforms. Burke actually wrote the drafts of several FDR letters to American prelates as well as the speech he gave at Notre Dame University in 1935. Most notably, Burke conferred with the President at the White House in August 1936 on how to deal with the stinging attacks that another Catholic priest, Charles Coughlin, was making against Roosevelt during the 1936 presidential campaign.

The Vatican recognized Burke’s work with an honorary Sacred Theology doctorate in 1927 and appointment as a domestic prelate (monsignor) in 1936, shortly before his death.  His sudden passing on October 30, 1936, shocked both the Catholic community and the nation and he was widely mourned. A collection of his personal papers is part of the Paulist Order’s archives, though research access is currently problematic at best. Fortunately, the records of both the National Catholic War Council and National Catholic Welfare Conference (now known as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) Office of the General Secretary), are housed and readily accessible at the CUA Archives.