Recapping the American Catholic Historical Association Meeting: A Guest Post from Stephanie A.T. Jacobe

Stephanie A.T. Jacobe

Stephanie A.T. Jacobe received her Ph.D. in history from American University in Washington, D.C. and also holds an M.A. in art history from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. She currently serves as the Director of Archives for the Archdiocese of Washington and as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Humanities at University of Maryland University College. Her dissertation, a biography of financier and Catholic philanthropist Thomas Fortune Ryan, is currently under revision. Her work has been supported by the Harvard Business School, the Cushwa Center, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and the Center for the History of Collecting in America located at the Frick Collection in New York City. She was recently elected chair of the Elections Board of the American Catholic Historical Association, and also serves as the editor of H-Catholic, one of the H-Net networks.

The annual meeting of American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA) began on Friday, January 5, 2018, and included two full days of concurrent sessions. The meeting took place in Washington, D.C.'s Woodley Park neighborhood and was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Historical Association (AHA). Sessions included a range of American and European historical topics, and papers were presented by a mix of graduate students and established scholars. Though the meeting takes place among the much larger AHA gathering, the feel of the ACHA is that of a meeting within a meeting. Sessions are held at one of the conference hotels and those registered for the AHA have access to the book room and the job center. But smaller, more intimate, rooms are used for ACHA sessions and you will see many of the same faces in the multiple sessions you attend. It is a welcome haven from the hustle and bustle of the much larger conference.

The conference began bright and early on Friday morning with sessions about Catholic expansion in the western United States, and a new look at the education of girls in Central America. Another session looked at the intersection of politics and Catholicism. This began with Jason Duncan of Aquinas College, who discussed Martin Van Buren's ties to Catholics and his aim at building coalitions that included them even though he received significant backlash for it. Duncan argued that this is how Van Buren helped form the Democratic Party. William Kurtz of the John L. Nau II Center at the University of Virginia followed with a look at Catholic partisanship during the Civil War. I also presented a paper during this session about the influence that Catholicism had or did not have on the political careers of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney (1777-1864) and Chief Justice Edward Douglass White (1845-1921).

Though a winter storm was bearing down on the East Coast and the weather was extremely cold, a group of ACHA and American Society of Church History members embarked in a bus on Friday afternoon to the areas around the Catholic University of America. The group had a guided tour of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land on Quincy Street and of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where everyone was able to see the newly-installed Trinity Dome along with a drive around the neighborhood.

I missed the 8:30 a.m. session on Saturday morning because a pipe broke in my hotel room late on Friday night due to the cold and I had to move rooms so they could fix it. The first panel I attended was at 10:30 a.m. entitled "Catholic Images, Narratives, and Identities in Early Modern Europe." Jeanne-Michelle Datiles of the Catholic University of America discussed Elizabethan Catholic Martyr literature. She discussed the intense martyr mentality of English Catholics during the Elizabethan period and how martyrologies such as that of Henry Walpole, S.J. were used and disseminated. Juan-Fernando Leon of Wheaton College (IL) discussed the eschatological message found in the plates of Casiodoro De Reina's Biblia Del Oso. De Reina translated the Bible into Spanish despite the Inquisition. The plates placed at the beginning of the book show a forest scene with a bear eating honey from a tree. Honey throughout the Bible is used as a symbol for wisdom. The final paper in the session, by Anatole Upart of the University of Chicago, discussed the Greek Catholic Ruthenians and their search for a home in seventeenth-century Rome.

At the annual luncheon the outgoing president, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center and associate professor of American studies and history at the University of Notre Dame, gave her presidential address entitled "Frances Cabrini, American Exceptionalism, and Rethinking U.S. Catholic History." Several awards were presented, including the following:

  • The Distinguished Award for Scholarship, presented to the Rev. Gerald Fogarty, S.J., of the University of Virginia;
  • The Distinguished Award for Teaching, presented to Anne Klejment of the University of St. Thomas;
  • The Distinguished Award for Service was presented to the American Catholic History Research Center and the University Archives at the Catholic University of America;
  • The 2018 John Gilmary Shea Prize was presented to William B. Taylor for his book, Theater of a Thousand Wonders: A History of Miraculous Images and Shrines in New Spain (Cambridge University Press, 2016);
  • The Howard R. Marraro Prize in Italian History was presented to John Howe for his book, Before the Gregorian Reform: The Latin Church at the Turn of the First Millennium (Cornell University Press, 2016);
  • The inaugural Henry C. Koenig Article Prize, for a biographical study of a Catholic individual (published in 2015 or 2016), was awarded to Paul T. Murray of Siena College, for "'The Most Righteous White Man in Selma': Father Maurice Ouellet and the Struggle for Voting Rights," The Alabama Review 68:1 (Jan. 2015): 31-73;
  • The Peter Guilday Prize for 2017 was given to Kathleen Walkowiak of Saint Louis University for her article, "Public Authority and Private Constraints: Eugenius III and the Council of Reims," that appeared in the American Catholic Historical Review 103 (Summer 2017).

After lunch the conference finished up with sessions on faith and doubt in Early Modern Europe, urban Catholic parish life in the United States, and saints and miracles. The session on saints and miracles included a paper by Carole Baker of Duke University on the highly decorated bodies of saints found in Bavaria, Austria, and Switzerland. It continued with Rosario Forlenza of New York University discussing Padre Pio and the cult of miracles that surrounds him and his relics in southern Italy. The final paper was by Mary Corley Dunn of Saint Louis University on Blessed Mary Catherine of St. Augustine, O.S.B., whose disability and constant illness after coming from France to Canada in the seventeenth century was portrayed in her vita as the root of her sanctity.

The conference finished on Saturday with the evening liturgy at 5 p.m. and then afterwards the social, which includes drinks and heavy hors d'oeuvres, for members of the ACHA. Both events bring members together, with the social allowing newer members and graduate students to get to know older, more distinguished, scholars. The ACHA is a very welcoming group and newer members are easily able to get to know the old-timers. Though the AHA annual meeting can be intimidating to new scholars and graduate students, the more intimate meeting of the ACHA is a welcome respite with friendly camaraderie among the participants.

The official program can be found here.


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