Urban Trinity and #PopeinPhilly

While much of my work at Bryn Mawr moves my research on Catholic women and girls into the larger world of women’s education history — with a particular focus on the Seven Sisters colleges — this week I’ve been enjoying a return to my American religious history roots. With #PopeinPhilly just a few days away, I’ve been tweeting glimpses of the Catholic public culture I’ve been seeing around town (while carrying my Pope Tote, of course) and following Philadelphia-area colleagues who are using the occasion of the Papal Visit in their college classes.

Back in June, I was interviewed for History Making Productions’ new documentary “Urban Trinity: The Story of Catholic Philadelphia,” and last night I finally had a chance to screen the final product with some of the other contributing scholars. I was thrilled to see the hard work of producer and series creator Kate Oxx make its debut, and to watch so many friends and mentors share the story of American Catholic history with a broader audience.

As the trailer teases, “Urban Trinity” is a terrific film, and I’m proud to have had a (very small) part in its making! I’ll update this space when the film and additional educational materials go online, but if you’re in Philadelphia’s 6ABC viewing area, the first two parts will air tonight, Tuesday, September 22, at 7pm (and the third on Sunday, September 27 at midnight) before a sold-out World Premiere at the World Meeting of Families film festival Wednesday, September 23. For more information, visit the Urban Trinity website here, or follow the latest news from the production team on Facebook.

Women of Faith: A Conversation with Mary Beth Fraser Connolly

As I wrote in my dissertation acknowledgements (coming soon to a ProQuest database near you), my research is indebted to the interdisciplinary circles of scholars working on American Catholic history in Chicago and beyond, and I have benefited from the friendship and community of a terrific group of young scholars in Catholic Studies, one of whom, Mary Beth Fraser Connolly, was kind enough to talk with me recently about her new book on the Sisters of Mercy.

Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community (Fordham, 2014) is a sweeping institutional history that, in many ways, revives my interest in the genre of institutional history.

To read my conversation with Mary Beth about research, writing, and women religious, visit Religion in American HistoryWomen of Faith: A Conversation with Mary Beth Fraser Connolly.

Recent Publications

Spring Quarter is here, and with it comes my dissertation defense and move to Philadelphia so this space will be pretty quiet for the next two months or so. In the meantime, I’m happy to have some new writing out in the world:

  • ” ‘Have You Ever Read?’ Imagining Women, Bibles, and Religious Print in Nineteenth-Century America,” in U.S. Catholic Historian 31.3 (Summer 2013): 1-21 [link to Project Muse]
  • “Demystifying Catholic Sisters in a Digital Age” for Sightings [link]

See you on the other side!

On Childhood

Yesterday, Lincoln Mullen‘s tweets (and some great responses) about sources for the study of “U.S. children’s religion” got me thinking about the ways in which the projects I’m working on increasingly flirt with the small but growing literature on religion and childhood.

Certainly, for the middle-class Catholics I study, providing children with new, distinctively “American Catholic” reading materials was the impetus for a wide range of new publishing ventures in the 1870s and 1880s. [Some readers will note this is also the era of the Baltimore catechism, published in 1885.]  Right now I’m writing on Isaac Hecker’s lesser-known labor of love, The Young Catholic, a monthly paper for children founded in 1870, and edited by his sister-in-law, Josephine Hecker. Yes, that’s her here, documented in a 1957 issue of the Catholic comic book series, Treasure Chest of Fun & Fact (digitized by the CUA Archives).**

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The Young Catholic provided children in Catholic academies and Sunday schools with games, stories, and the chance to see their names in print — all under the warm, loving guise of a fictional editorial family: columnists “Uncle Ned,” “Aunt Jane,” and a host of “cousins” meant to be understood by readers as running the show (and providing Josephine Hecker relative anonymity). But back to Twitter. Lincoln made a good point point — we talk about children in terms of education, but how are they understanding religion? How do they participate in the making of their own religious subjectivity?

Portrait, 1950s. Collection of the author.
Portrait, 1950s. Collection of the author.

I don’t have the answers to these questions yet, of course, but the other reason I’ve been thinking about childhood lately is a conference paper I put together for the upcoming University of Chicago conference “Invisible Designs: New Perspectives on Race and American Consumer Capitalism.” Thanks to a cache of found photography and a personal interest in midcentury Nuyorican memoirs, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the visual and religious worlds of Puerto Rican Catholics in twentieth-century New York. At the conference, I’ll be speaking about First Holy Communion portrait photography, and the intersection of religious and commercial impulses in El Barrio. And now that the Archives of the Archdiocese of New York is back open to the public, this conference paper may spin itself into an article…someday. I have a dissertation to finish, after all!

In Chicago October 24-25? Join us at Regenstein Library for the conference and visit the new exhibit, “Race and the Design of American Life.” The conference schedule is now online [link].

** More interested in comic books? Check out Matthew John Cressler’s recent RiAH post, and join me at Loyola next Tuesday, October 15, where Robert Orsi will lead a discussion of his chapter “Printed Presence: Twentieth-Century Catholic Print Culture for Youngsters in the United States,” in Education and the Culture of Print in Modern America (2010).