To Find Comfort

Another blog?  Does the world need another blog?  Quite possibly no, but yet, here I am, beginning a new blog.  I have turned to this forum to find a way to express ideas about history, teaching, and navigating academia as a person not quite in it.  I work in an academic setting; I work with academic ideas; but, I am removed from the inner workings of it.  I do administrative work.  (Gasp…)

I chose the title of this blog from a quote from Catherine McAuley, the foundress of the Sisters of Mercy.

We have one solid comfort amidst this little tripping about: our hearts can always be in the same place, centered in God—for whom alone we go forward—or stay back. Oh may He look on us with love and pity, and then we shall be able to do anything He wishes us to do—no matter how difficult to accomplish—or painful to our feelings. If He looks on us with approbation for one instant each day—it will be sufficient to bring us joyfully on to the end of our journey. Let us implore Him to do so at this season of love and Mercy.*

This quotation comes from a letter Catherine McAuley wrote to Sister Mary De Dales White in Bermondsey, England December 20, 1840.  Catherine McAuley founded the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin, Ireland in 1831.  In writing to White, McAuley conveyed the importance of understanding that all they did as Sisters of Mercy was centered in God.  Whatever they did, whatever occurred, be it the expansion of the religious congregation she founded a decade earlier, or the education of women and girls, health care, and social welfare, it was all possible through God’s grace.  Their “one solid comfort” was that they knew their purpose and who they were as Sisters of Mercy.

In this letter, the Sisters of Mercy (as reported by Catherine McAuley) knew their purpose.  That kind of clarity is often hard to achieve.  I certainly doubt what I am doing and why on a regular basis.  Academically, professionally, I have wanted to contribute more and I start this blog in this way to find a kind of intellectual outlet.  I am an historian, a sometime adjunct, and currently work as an assistant director of an organization that supports church-related higher education.  I do not get a lot of time in my professional life to be an historian or to teach for that matter.   What I do every day has a distant at best connection with the craft of history and teaching.  Yet these things, teaching and the craft of history, are at the center of who I am, despite what I do on a regular basis.

I have not traveled as far as I could or have wanted to as an historian.  I had hoped when I began studying history that I would become a professor and teach in a college.  It has been six years since I earned my Ph.D. and I have not accomplished that goal.  This has not happened for several reasons.  I am married to another history Ph.D. who finished before me and was on the job market sooner.  Since I do not want to ditch him (he’s a nice guy), I have followed him.  I also have not been able to reach the brass ring because I have not published much.  My degree (which I love and do not regret in anyway) is not as prestigious as another degree from a higher ranked school.  In this business (and I imagine all businesses) who you know, where you are from, and hierarchy is all.  It is oddly inescapable.  In a world where so much is talked about egalitarianism, individual freedom, it is funny that so much depends on rank, status.

I also chose this quote for a title because for the last four to five years, I have researched the history of a community of Sisters of Mercy in the Chicago, Milwaukee, and Davenport and Iowa City areas.  The sum of that research is a manuscript seeking publication, Led by Mercy: The History of the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community, 1846-2008.  The Mercys, their history, ministries, and spirituality (or charism) have been a part of my intellectual life for the past five years and it is only natural that these women past and present have inspired me.

So, what does that mean for this blog?  I will explore scholarship, review books, and highlight teaching and research methods.  I will shamelessly promote the work of my friends and colleagues.  It will also be a place where I can discuss my own work and scholarship: past, current, and future.

*M. C. McAuley to Sister M. de Sales White, Bermondsey, December 20, 1840, in The Correspondence of Catherine McAuley, 1818–1841, Mary C. Sullivan, ed. (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004), 332.