Summer Holidays?

Related imageIt’s that time of year again – Summer Sessions are upon us.  The spring semester was put to rest; my grades were submitted early for the first time ever.  (In December, I submitted my grades late from a rest area along I-90.  Yeah, I am that professor.) We have had our commencement ceremonies!  Now, we have a few minutes before the first session of summer school begins.  Time for clean up, organization, and planning.

Last fall, I found myself just about to start the semester having not completed any of things I set out to do that summer.  There were all very valid reasons and had nothing to do with me not being Time-on-Task.  Now here I am at the start of another summer staring at the List of Things to Accomplish.  Here is my list, in no particular order:

  1. Do all the history/writing things I am late on.
  2. Write book review that I am not late on (yet –  please get it in on time!)
  3. Organize my basement so that I can find things and make the editors of Real Simple proud.
  4. Read a lot of mystery novels.
  5. Actually do research.
  6. Take care of the garden and the yard (aka get fresh air and have a reason to put on sun block)
  7. Exercise in a real and consistent way so that when the fall semester starts I am so used to it that I could not imagine not getting up at 5 am to go to the Y.
  8. Spend time with friends and family.
  9. Travel and possibly have an adventure in a safe and boring manner.
  10. At some point (probably a week before the semester starts, having convinced myself that there is plenty of time to do that later) prepare for the fall semester, create syllabi, and plan lectures and classroom content.

That should do it, right?

Managing Work

In less than week, I will give a paper at the Newberry Library.  This paper in question is not ready.  I know it will be, but it is not now.  More tinkering to do.

The paper I will give Saturday looks at the Chicago Sisters of Mercy, their charism, and education ministry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Basically from when they set up shop in Chicago in 1846 to the decade after Amalgamation (1929).  I enjoy this period in women’s history and American Catholic history.  The nineteenth century proper and the Progressive Era are my history touchstones.  Since I took on the Mercy history project, I have found myself in the twentieth century much more.  The fifties, sixties, and seventies in particular are exciting decades to study for Catholic women’s history right now, which throws the traditional American women’s history narrative a curve ball. (Did I just use a sports metaphor? I think my students’ writing is getting to me.)

I am teaching a US history survey this semester and over the last couple weeks we have explored the fifties and sixties, first in consumer culture, then Civil Rights Movement, and lately the Student Movement.  This week we will tackle second-wave feminism and the women’s liberation movement.  Should be interesting.  I fear I will spend more time correcting the historical narrative provided by the course textbook.  If you need any indication of what I am up against, here’s this little nugget from the textbook:

Betty Friedan, a forty-two-year-old mother of three from Peoria, Illinois, led the mainstream of the women’s movement.

There’s more, but that is enough. There is nothing “wrong” about that sentence, but it is hardly the whole story.  Yes, Friedan was from Peoria, but she wasn’t living there when she wrote The Feminine Mystique.  Yes, she was a mother of three, but that wasn’t the sum of who she was. Yes, was a leader of the mainstream women’s movement, but she wasn’t the only one.  I can see me now, droning on about what is missing from this passage and about the importance of understanding the full context of women’s lives – not just the little snippets we get in the textbook.  (I better not go on too much, we are already behind and we are supposed to get to the 1980s before we are all said and done.)

Why does the context and the nuances of history matter?  Everyday, there is a story about what we as a society don’t know about the past.  My students have holes the size of a Mac Truck in their understanding of American history and one semester won’t do nearly enough to make up for that.  (It will help, Gosh Darn it! It has to.) As I think about my presentation on Saturday, I hope that I relate the correct and full history, as I provide just a snippet of the larger whole Chicago Mercy history.

There is more I could say, but really, the tinkering on my paper won’t take care of itself.

It’s Time for a Wrinkle in Time

Image result for a wind in the doorI was beyond excited that A Wrinkle in Time was made into a movie.  I haven’t seen it yet. Probably won’t in the theaters. We just don’t get to the pictures anymore.  I read the book and pretty much everything else Madeleine L’Engle wrote for young adults when I was one.  When the movie came out, I found the audiobook read by Hope Davis.  As I listened, fifteen minutes at a time (distance from home to work to home again), I found my adult mind enjoyed it just as much.  After I finished A Wrinkle in Time, I searched for A Wind in the Door, which I am listening to right now. (The second book in the Time Quintet is read by Jennifer Ehle – she is very good. She does all the voices in a way that is not distracting.)*

At first, I was not nearly as compelled as I was by the first book.  All that mitochondria talk – so much science – but then I remembered the afterward of the audiobook read by L’Engle’s granddaughter, Charlotte Jones Voikles.  (The others in this recording are Ava Duverny and Madeleine L’Engle herself, which is awesome.) Voikles remarked that L’Engle read physics and other science books and found inspiration. She knit science and religion together.  And here I am being carried along into the mitocondria of Charles Wallace by a cherubim named Proginoskes.  Charles Wallace is very sick, possibly dying, because his ferandolae (fictional) are under attack.  It’s all connected to the bigger, universe problems that continue from the first book.  There are worlds that are dark, or shadowed like Earth, and evil has invaded.  There are Ecthroi.  There is a need for love, a sense of communion with others, and as a human being to be known, truly known, to be named, by others.

As I listen to this story, I am eager for Meg, Calvin, Progo, and Mr. Jenkins (that awful principal) to succeed at their challenges to save Charles Wallace, to save everything and everyone.  I also think about how much this message needs to be read, heard, digested, by so many.  And I am not just talking about those people we might label as obviously evil, but those of us safe in our convictions that we are good. That we are right.  We get the very uncomfortable message to love those we might think are unloveable. Of course this is the message we get from childhood, right? Love your enemies. Love your neighbor.  If we did learn it when we were young, we seem to miss the mark when we get older, don’t we?

Who do I know? Who do I name? Who do I love? I have my list; it isn’t very long. It should be longer.


* I am using my public library’s subscription to Overdrive to listen to audiobooks.  That and Hoopla.  Don’t get me wrong, I am sure Audible is lovely. I also like the public library.

There is Always Dog Hair in my Coffee

Coffee with Dog HairIt is easy for me to think that I am the busiest person of my acquaintance (I would go “in the world,” but that seems melodramatic, even for me).  Day-to-day, week-to-week, especially during the academic year, I have this feeling of always being behind, never catching up.  One misstep, one half an hour spent not time-on-task (TOT) and all is lost.

Of course I don’t spend every moment working.  There is social media after all and fun articles about the Royal Family to read.  One must keep up.  I recently read a rather helpful article about people taking time away from Facebook and Twitter.  It was helpful because it did not say give it up entirely – the opposite of all those people I met in grad school who told me scornfully that they don’t watch TV.  (And I was in grad school before all this online streaming thing, so they were hardcore.  Not like the people who tell me they don’t have a TV but watch EVERYTHING on their laptops.) Maybe I should do that.  Maybe I should go on a social media break.  But, I am supposed to have a presence on the interweb to promote myself as a historian or whatever.  I must be engaged and the Twitter is the place to do that, professionally speaking.  (And since I have very few followers on Twitter and even fewer here, I am not worried my presence will be missed.) There, however, are moments when it seems all this presence is a waste of time. If I am present here, I am not there.  If I spend time on research, I do not get my students’ papers graded.  If I spend an hour composing a post here, I do not prep classes.  Not to mention the other things my job requires.  I come to lead a cluttered professional life.

I lead an actual cluttered life with piles of whatever here and there in my house.  The whatevers are the usual things: mail, books, that article I don’t need today, receipts from the bottom of my purse, and anything that falls into the category of Not Sure What to Do with That.  (I am not alone in my dropping; I have an academic spouse, too.)  I see this habit of piling as one of my many moral failings.  I should have a clean and well-ordered house.  It seems the right thing to do.  People with clean and well-ordered houses are successful people, people who get their work done on time and get ahead.  Yet, if I spend a weekend cleaning my house, I spend the ensuing week catching up.  So, what happens? I don’t clean my house (enough) and I always have dog hair in my coffee.  We seem to exist in a cloud of dog hair that sticks to the furniture, our clothes, and winds up in my coffee.  Or water, or wine, and unlike transubstantiation, it does not transform into something better.  It is just a floating, solitary dog hair.  Always.

The reality is that I am not the busiest person of my acquaintance.  I know many people who have much more grading, course prep, reading, meeting with students, committee work, family, social obligations, and on and on. And what’s worse, they are productive with their scholarship and they are active members of their communities.  And they are nice, lovely people. The old so-and-sos…

Unless you think this is just a long-whiny rant about how I am a bad person, I can assure that is not my intent.  (OK, so maybe 20% rant.) I do wonder how people get ahead in this game.  I do wonder how people manage to complete their tasks, have something that resembles a social life, and occasionally get a good night’s rest.  Or does everyone have dog hair in their coffee (metaphorically speaking) and they just hide it better?



A New Resource for American Catholic History Available: Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale and the Santa Maria Institute

Sometimes a project can come together very quickly.  An article is with some efficiency.  That book review is only one month late.  Book projects, of course, take longer.  Much longer.  And then sometimes, certain labors of love take a very long time to be released into the wild that is the community of scholars and teachers of history.  Yesterday, I am pleased to announce my labor of love (shared with M. Christine Anderson and Judith Metz, SC) that is The Journal of Sister Justina and the Santa Maria Institute, a new American Catholic History Classroom hosted by American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives at Catholic University, went online.

Well, our American Catholic History Classroom featuring Sisters Justina and Blandina Segale (Sisters of Charity and biological sisters) and the Santa Maria Institute (a social settlement house established to aid Italian immigrants in Cincinnati, OH) is available for teachers and scholars everywhere!

And, better yet! I got to talk about why this exhibit and working with everyone at CUA’s archives are so wonderful as a guest contributor to the archives’ blog: The Archivist’s Nook.  Go see what I said.  Check out other posts (subscribe to it even).  And while you’re at it, explore the wonderful resource that is the American Catholic History Classroom!

To Live in a World with Justice

The Keepers Episode 7 RecapIn early June, I watched the fifth and sixth episodes of Netflix’s The Keepers.   Then, we went on a bit of trip and then I got distracted, but after long last, I watched the last episode of this documentary series that seeks to find justice for Sister Cathy Cesnik and for the people who were abused by Joseph Maskell.  I kept looking at episode seven on my list of shows to watch; I heard other people talking about it.  Then The Keepers was nominated for an Emmy.  Well, I thought to myself, I better finish it.  And so I have.

Honestly, episodes five and six left me muddled.  Why did this documentary series get made?  The introduction of possible suspects in the fifth episode – two men whose family came forward with stories of truly disturbing and violent behavior – is followed by episode six and the confusing and underdeveloped look at Sister Cathy’s friends, Gerry Koob who claimed to love her and Helen Russell Phillips who was her roommate.  (Russell, as everyone calls her, is a huge mystery. At times she is accused of being complicit in the murder and at others it is suggested she was frightened into silence.)

As I said, these episodes left me muddled.  I tried to take a step back to think about the information – the testimony – as a historian.  When I read diaries, personal journals, and letters, I have to evaluate what the author was really saying, what was left out, what was the perspective.  I can rely on other documentation to fill in the gaps.  When I conduct oral history interviews, I have to remember that the same rules apply.  As a historian, writing the account of a past event requires that I work very hard to not preference one source without criticism.  At the end of the sixth episode – which I watched right after I finished five – I was left wondering what more is there to this?

Episode seven, reintroduces the Archdiocese of Baltimore as a spectre in this murder.  Maskell was accused of abuse before the Archdiocese transferred him to Keough HS.  Before all the violence, abuse, terror, and very possibly the murder of Cathy Cesnik, the Archdiocese of Baltimore knew that Joseph Maskell sexually abused a child.  They moved the problem.  What did the Church authorities think would happen?  (I know, I know, stupid question to ask.) The filmmakers return to Joyce Malecki and drop information about the Malecki family living in the same parish at which Maskell was assigned, St. Clement’s – the same parish from he was moved because of accusations of abuse.  Joyce’s brothers comment with frustration and sadness that when they die, the mystery of their sister’s murder will die with them, unsolved.  One brother died in 2016.  There is no justice for Joyce.

A bill continually is proposed to the Maryland legislature to extend the statute of limitations to report sexual abuse, because victims of abuse do not always have the ability to come forward.   The bill never makes it to vote; it is killed by the committee.  The filmmakers show us that the Archdiocese of Baltimore (through their legal representatives) are the chief opponents of this bill and it is suggested that the Church influences the committee leaders to kill the bill.  At no time is a priest, monsignor, or bishop on camera.  The Archdiocese denies any foreknowledge of Maskell’s actions. We are left with more questions – or one question – Will there be justice?

If the filmmakers wanted to call attention to these murders and the abuse, this series accomplished this goal. If they wanted to call attention to the horrendously wrong and bad position the Church took in the face of sexual abuse, they did that too.  One thing they apparently did not want to do is explore religious life in the 1960s and 1970s.  Everywhere it is dropped into this documentary series – the all-encompassing Catholic culture of Baltimore in the 1960s that allowed priests like Maskell to rule without question and justice to fail.  We hear about the changes of Vatican II to priests through Gerry Koob, who wanted to leave the priesthood because he fell in love with Cathy Cesnik.  We hear brief encounters of Eucharistic celebrations in Russell and Cathy’s apartment, and the experimentation conducted by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.  Yet, does anyone know what that means?  Experimentation in religious life could be anything.  In the case of Sisters Russell and Cathy, it meant they lived in an apartment instead of a convent.  It meant they might not wear their religious habit. (Why do the filmmakers keep showing viewers images of Sister Cathy in full habit, but barely touch that she wore secular clothing towards the end of her life? Did she not wear the habit because she was in a public high school or because her community decided to experiment with secular dress?) We learn in the seventh episode that the SSNDs forced sisters “experimenting” to chose the convent or to leave religious life all together.  Did they really give members of their community ultimatums and make it that clear cut?  From what I know of religious life at this time, it wasn’t that simple.  But, I am a historian of women religious and a casual observer would be yet again reminded that Catholic religious life was an abusive and oppressive existence and thank goodness all those women left religious life.  Yes.  In some cases, it was.  But it isn’t as simple as that.

Let me just remind my one reader that I am not an apologist for the Church.  I don’t like oversimplification of the lives of women religious.  It is not in the interest of the filmmakers to explore religious life in in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now, if they wanted to solve the mystery of who killed Cathy Cesnik (and possibly Joyce Malecki) they did not do that either.  They really wanted to.  Some of the interviews with one of the suspects and with the representatives from law enforcement left me with the impression that they thought by simply asking the question, they presumed they would get an answer. “Did you kill Cathy Cesnik?”  “Why yes, I did.” Case solved.  At one point in the midst of the interview with Baltimore police officials, the amateur sleuthing which in one way shined light on this case and the possibly corrupt mishandling of it, also may have compromised the case going forward. We end with Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins committed to finding Sister Cathy’s killer and Jean Wehner (Jane Doe) assuring her interviewer that Archdiocese of Baltimore, the perpetrators of abuse, and the officials who protect them, won’t be able to hide their guilt for much longer.

Will they?  Will justice prevail?  I don’t have the answer, nor does The Keepers.

The Keepers – Episodes 3 & 4: Or How the Church Failed

The following has specific details, aka “spoilers.”

Episodes 3 and 4 of The Keepers titled “The Revelation” and “The Burial” are appropriately named.  These episodes look at how Jane Doe (Jean Hargadon Wehner), who we met in episode 2 comes to remember her abuse and her connection to Sister Cathy Cesnik and how the Archdiocese of Baltimore failed to do what was right.  Along with this, is the suggestion that the Baltimore police and the courts did not do all that it could and that there is a very real possibility that intimidation has silenced and squashed the investigation into the abuse at Keough High School and the murder of Sister Cathy.

The more things become known, the more things are unclear.  I don’t know cinematography and all that stuff from anything, but much of the third and fourth episodes consist of voice overs, distorted photographs, reflections of buildings in puddles, and trees blowing in the sky. At one point when “The Revelation” focuses on Jane Doe’s memories and how she recovered them – especially when dealing with Sister Cathy’s murder – the film goes to buzzard-like birds in trees with ground shots of a dead deer and a little bunny seemingly caught in the crosshairs of a hunter.  The mood set is ominous.

While we don’t see a bunny being shot, we do understand that the Jane Doe’s fear at what she begins to remember over twenty years after leaving high school and how she processes those memories are nearly as horrible as the second episodes frank testimony of what happened to her.   With these memories and the support of her family Doe first goes to the Church she still loves and seeks its help.  Moving through meeting after meeting with Archdiocesan officials and lawyers, she is pressured to reveal others who were abused to corroborate her case.  Effectively stonewalled by the Church, she turns to her extended family and a new lawyer to investigate and develop a case against her abuser.  From this point in the early 1990s, the search for other victims or anyone who knows about abuse at Keough results in reportedly over a 100 witnesses.  Despite all the testimony, a legal case was not brought against Joe Maskell for supposed lack of evidence and the suggestion of a conspiracy by the police, the Church, and the justice system to make it all go away.

The fourth episode, “The Burial,” looks at both the burial of evidence (Joe Maskell literally buried his files in a cemetery) and the attempt to kill the civil case against the Baltimore Archdiocese, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and Joe Maskell.  With no movement in a legal case, a civil case would be the only means of seeking justice, especially with Maskell still active in parish ministry at this point. The civil case, however, was never allowed to go forward because a judge ruled that recovered memories were not admissible and the statute of limitations was up on the abuse allegations.  This was the heyday of recovered memory and attempts to discredit them.  The documentary includes clips from Sally Jessy Raphael Show, which featured an expose on planted memories and recovered memories in the mid-1990s.  It is also the point as one psychological expert tells when we did not know as much as we do now about post-traumatic stress disorder. Jane Doe and Jane Roe (Teresa Lancaster) and their case never comes to trial and they were denounced as confused and delusional.  (Yes, that’s right, the legal team from the Archdiocese called them hysterical women.)

The Church failed.  “The Revelation” begins with what might be hope that someone in the Church leadership would do the right thing, only to hide behind the need for “corroboration” and the charge that the victims had to protect the Church and keep quiet.  I watched “The Burial” and followed Doe and Roe endure invasive, insulting, and abusive depositions and gather courage with the support of their families to go into court, only to be silenced.  Towards the end of the episode we get a quick glimpse at Teresa Lancaster’s life after this failed case. She went on to get her college and law degrees and she works to defend people who need justice.  We see Lancaster watching news coverage of the demonstrations for justice after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody.  She remarks about Mr. Gray’s death at the police’s hands in a way that suggest that some Baltimore police have a history of acting unjustly, including her case.  This is a brief moment in this episode but it is problematic.  There is so much to unpack about race and justice in this that is not touched by the filmmakers that it runs the danger of oversimplification.

At what seems to be a natural end to this episode, “The Burial” continues with a return to the dynamic duo, Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins, who spearhead the investigation into Sister Cathy’s death, and their Facebook page devoted to solving Sister Cathy’s murder.  It is this page that drew alumnae and others who were abused together.  It drew Jane Roe to identify herself.  We know right away that there will be more revealed in the next episode as we see Jean Wahner discussing her greatest fear and biggest block in her memory.  There is one of her abusers she cannot identify, but she calls him “Brother Bob.” We learn here that he was the reason she kept silent after Maskell showed her Sister Cathy’s body.  And we end with the question, “Who is Brother Bob?”

We still haven’t heard much from the School Sisters of Notre Dame, something I very much want.  Of course.  Yet, I am still stuck with other questions already raised.  The biggest one for me is why did the Church fail to do what was right?  To even see what is right?  What were the moments in history, the psychology, the sociology, the theology that were corrupted even that allowed for one group of people to ignore its own mission to serve itself instead of justice?

Yeah, the episodes are still kind of intense and hard to watch.