Tonight, I had dinner with pretty much every historian I admire and wish to emulate. (Maybe not all but close.) Tonight, as dinner wound down, Jay Dolan got up and gave a talk about Vatican II, Pope John XXIII, and the changes in Catholic life. And there were jokes. Jay Dolan! It was his book that inspired me as an undergrad back in the early 1990s to consider history. Catholic history. I wouldn’t understand or know for certain until I was in the midst of my graduate work NOT studying Catholic women’s history that I needed to wake up and smell the incense. Or in my case find the right sort of habit.
It has been that kind of a day. I shared an elevator with Robert Orsi. Twice. I heard Jeffrey Burns talk about Vatican II, Sexuality, and San Francisco. From across the room, I saw Philip Gleason be Philip Gleason. I chatted with Margaret Susan Thompson and Patrick Hayes. I got a chance to catch up with one of my professors, Leslie Tentler, and then later hear her talk about Detroit, race, and Vatican II. I had lunch with Elizabeth Smythe and Kathleen Sprows Cummings. I hung out with Carmen Mangion and Mary Henold. (Carmen gave an interesting paper on English and Dutch women religious. Tomorrow, I will hear Mary give a paper on American Catholic laywomen.)
Better yet, I met and heard papers from people who I had not known yet, but don’t you worry, while they were talking I surreptitiously ordered their books from Inter-library Loan. (Yes, Alana Harris’ books are hopefully on their way to my mailbox.) And even better, I talked with people who knew about my book. (I was even at one paper given by Josephine Laffin, which was awesome, and she mentioned my book in her paper.) I felt, I feel like a member of a community of scholars. It has been twenty-two years in the making but whose counting?
I have been hanging out at the University of Notre Dame at the Cushwa Center at the Lived History of Vatican II conference. This conference is the culmination an international project to study the impact of the Second Vatican Council. Over the course of the day, presenters have talked about the conflicts between traditional and progressive Catholics, how they defy the usual liberal and conservative categories, when it came to the introduction of the vernacular in the Mass. They have challenged my understanding of class and education. I was reminded of the seemingly universal desire to find authenticity in religious vocation and pushed to consider an emotional response to Vatican II renewal. I have been immersed in women religious history for so long that I had not considered that young men in seminaries also wished to be treated as adults, just like sisters, who were treated like children for decades. (Of course with ordination that all changed, but we won’t split hairs tonight.)
My day job, while fine, does not afford me the opportunity to be a historian very often. I interact in the world of academics and higher education, but it’s not the same.
It has been a long day and there’s another one ahead of me tomorrow.