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.

The Keepers – Episodes 1 & 2

I heard about The Keepers on Netflix about two weeks before it aired for the first time.  I have waited another week before starting the series. I watched the first two episodes this afternoon in one sitting.  I had to stop before I continued with the next episode.  I am not opposed to binge-watching shows like all the cool kids are doing, but I as the second, gut-wrenching episode came to an end, I knew I would sit on my couch consuming one episode after another until it was over.  I had to get up and walk away.  I knew if I kept watching, I would miss something important.

The way many of us watch programs now is hurried.  We start a series and in many cases we can run right through the entire season of a show in a week or less.  (My husband and I are currently making our way through the eleventh season of Midsomer Murders; thankfully there are many more seasons to go.)  I still watch a few shows on “regular networks”and I must wait week-to-week for a new episode.  As much as I hate a cliff hanger, I do love the anticipation of that new season.  I often record these shows on my DVR and watch them later, so I don’t have to sit through commercials.  (I started this speed watching of programs when I was in graduate school in the 1990s and “taped” my soaps.  One just didn’t admit to watching soap operas in women’s history programs in the 1990s.)  In graduate school I also learned to speed-read books (of sorts).  I now know how to “read” a book in an afternoon.  Slowing down to really absorb and consider what an author has presented takes patience (not to mention time).

And time is what I need to absorb the significance of what went on in the late 1960s – early 1970s at Archbishop Keough and Catholic Baltimore at this time.   This new documentary series examines the cold case of the murder of Sister Cathy Cesnik, SSND in 1969.  The first episode introduces the murder – or murders.  Another young woman went missing four days after Sister Cathy and was found dead soon after. Her murder has not been solved either.  So far in the first two episodes, we hear from former students and victims of abuse, the family and friends of the murdered women, some journalists who investigated the cases, and some former police officers and detectives involved in the case.  The police so far have a marginal role thus far.  Some former School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) appear and their testimony of religious life in the 1960s in the context of Vatican II is interesting.  So far, no SSNDs or Roman Catholic Church representatives have appeared.

As a historian of women religious and twentieth-century American Catholicism, I watch these episodes with an eye towards history of this period.  Recent scholarship has begun to look more thoughtfully at women who left religious life and the consequence of clerical sex abuse.  What happened to the Church in the twentieth century that produced such priests-abusers?  Why were there school sisters who could not or would not call out such atrocities in schools and parishes?  And, as the second episode suggests, why were there men in positions of authority – like law enforcement – contemporaries and friends of the chief priest abuser in this account – who not only protected this man, but participated in the abuse?

The second episode is difficult to sit through.  When I heard about this series, I worried to myself – will it be salacious?  Will it exploit?  Is this another example of horror that is numbing us into not caring?  (Or rather, numbing me?)  I think this is why I waited to watch it.  Now that I have started, I will continue to the end.  I hope.  At the center of this episode is the testimony of Jane Doe – who is identified, as is her family, and provides frank and at times stoic accounts of what she endured.  As I listened, I found myself questioning what I had heard.  What did she say happened?  It can’t be real.  And here’s the thing – so much of what we see in programs and the news is horrible.  The line between real and made up – fact and fiction – is blurred.  Reality programs are contrived for better viewing and ratings.  Crime dramas are “ripped from the headlines” and depending on what channel or service you watch, those stories are sanitized or laid bare in a way that one questions the intent of all that exploitive violence.

No, the testimony of the women in The Keepers is real and it deserves time.  It deserves me sitting with it and letting it sink in fully.

All Good Things Must Temporarily Pause Until the Next Time

ArchiveBoxes.jpgWell, finished Day Two of the research trip.  It was also Quiche Day at the convent.  There were about five different types of quiches to be had, plus salad. I think the quiche was made with a real crust with real butter, not the fake Pillsbury dough crust I usually use when I make quiche or pie.

On the whole it was a good day.  I got through more than I thought, despite having to accept I wouldn’t get through everything.  (I feel like that could a metaphor for life or something.)

I looked at a series of files that spanned a decade, which allowed me to see some change or evolution (historians love change over time). I read mostly correspondence and some news clippings.  Many of the letters I looked at were “circular letters,” which are correspondence to be circulated among the members of the different local houses or convents within a community.  Often they are from a provincial or generalate superior and are a means of circulating information.  Like a lot of official correspondence, they can skate over the surface of information, except when laying out details of communities Rule or customs, but they do say something.  When they are a part of a larger span of letters or files, it is interesting to see what other records reveal in conjunction with the circular letters.  How do we interpret what we read? How do we evaluate?

There is more to examine in this collection as is there in the entire Mercy Heritage Center.  The Mercys archivists have done good work with records management.  Much of the records that were transferred to Belmont were in good order with finding aids.  The Center staff are processing the collections and working to digitize the records for future researchers.  I highly recommend looking into its collections and visiting.  And besides, it might be Quiche Day when you are there.

 

 

Never Enough Time: How to Keep Up the Pace in the Archives

Day one of the Great Fall Research Trip down, one day left.  (Hey, it’s Fall Break, not Spring Break, or Summer Holidays. Fall-only-two-days-Break.)  Things have changed since the first time I entered an archives.  Sure, pencils still rule the day, but now one can use digital camera things to take pictures! (As long as they are approved by the archives.  Don’t go snapping pictures unless you have permission!)

The trouble with archives is that they are full of cool things to read and look at.  Yes, this is a true statement.  Now, do all those cool things apply to one’s current research? No.  Of course not.  They may however be of use at some point.  Or they may have the potential to be of use.  Or they are just very interesting and therefore the shiny object which could drag a researcher down a rabbit hole.  It is important to stay focused and keep moving.

And now we have digital cameras to take pictures of the shiny things for free!  But no, we will stay time-on-task because if the copies are free, my time is not and cannot afford to come back before I need to produce a conference paper.  Here, however, are a few helpful tips for keeping up the pace:

  1. Skim and search for keywords: Most historians learn (especially in graduate school) to read quickly.  If you have any sense of what you want to find or explore, look for those keywords. And the copy everything around it. (Remember, with digital camera, you can read that document in full later.)
  2. Get the full citation: Make sure you get the whole citation for future reference.  Literally.  Sure, sure, you may think you will remember it or have everything you need, but you will one day need to email all of your friends and listservs and then maybe grovel to the archivist to find that source’s citation and you will waste time.  Trust me.
  3. Bring mints: You don’t have time to take a break for snacks or lunch or whatever.  Keep your head down and your blood sugar up.  If you must break for lunch, make it quick. If you can, bring food that doesn’t require refrigeration.  Unless you go to a religious archives where they invite you to lunch at the convent, which is really awesome.  Again, religious archives have cool things.
  4. Don’t hydrate too much: This seems self-explanatory and slightly indelicate to explain why.  Besides you aren’t supposed to have liquids in the archives. This is not one of those new-styled libraries where there aren’t any books, but they have coffee shops. (To be honest, I do like that I can get coffee in libraries, but I am morally opposed to having the coffee, or any other food or beverage, near books.)
  5. Occasionally stretch your legs: You may find yourself getting tired when you spend eight hours in an archives.  Stand up, stretch, maybe take a quick stroll down the hall (especially if you didn’t heed the above advice).

The first day also reminded me (as if I needed reminding!) how good religious archives are.  There are wonders to be explored and there are good people working in these archives.  The Mercy Heritage Center has lots of cool things and I would highly recommend it.

Something About a Bike and Getting Back on It

This morning, I got on an airplane and took a nearly two-hour flight to use an archives.  I am currently settled in a local hotel organizing my notes and contemplating some grading that I really need to do.  I am about to spend two days at the Mercy Heritage Center and explore some files I hope will help me write a paper I will give next April.  Suddenly, after a couple years of not having something to research, here I am.

Is it like starting over or starting again? The subject of my paper has to do with the Sisters of Mercy – not new – but it is in an area I haven’t really explored before – so new.

When the Mercy book was finally published, I had to start thinking about what the next project would be.  (This isn’t the first time I have thought about this.) I am not in a solid work place. (By solid, I mean a contract more than a year or tenure-track.  Fine – whatever – making due.)  But what this means is that I have to figure out how to be engaged with scholarship while making it affordable. And fit into my schedule.  (I don’t claim that I am the only person in the known world to have such things to consider.)

And I would really like to write another book.  I think I have another one in me.  It’s either that or write a historical murder mystery involving crime-solving nuns.

I have lists of projects or potential projects and this is the first time one of those items moved from the “potential” phase.  I used a call-for-papers for a conference at the Cushwa Center to help propel me back into research mode.  (Since my paper was accepted, I have to write it. Funny that. That said, a paper proposal is a very good way of kicking oneself in one’s posterior.) One reason this trip is at all possible is that I get a little research funding in my current position.  Without it, I would have to fund my plane, hotel, car rental, food, and photocopies out of my own pocket.  This is not cheap.

So, I got on a plane and here I am.  Ready to get started.  New leaves are turning over.  Horses are being climbed onto again.  Bikes are being ridden again.    Maybe I’ll even go to the gym again and get in shape.  New day.

Real Women’s History

This weekend, I was lucky to attend the funeral Mass of a woman who was a valued member of her parish community.  She was also a beloved mother, sister, cousin, wife, friend.  She was a real woman who had a remarkable history.

I use the word “lucky” because I didn’t have to go to this woman’s funeral. She wasn’t my sister, cousin, wife, mother, but she was one of these things to someone I love – someone I know is family. I went to be helpful and supportive, but what is remarkable is that I was lucky to have learned more about this woman than I knew before and to realize how she lead a life crucial to understanding American Catholic women in the second half of the twentieth century.

OK, so that is a big statement.  Understanding American Catholic women in the second half of the twentieth century, especially for laywomen, is something more historians of women and religion should be doing.  In some respects they are.  If you look to what is going on in the field of women religious or even the cross-over with theology – questions are being asked about Catholic women’s lives in new ways. I am thinking of the upcoming conference at the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership at Loyola University, Women and the Church Since Vatican II or the conference going on right now in London, the Nun in the World Symposium.  We are curious as to how women lived in the world – whether as women religious or lay – especially as the world in which they lived their faith changed.  A lot of these changes started before Vatican II, but what we see after the Second Vatican Council needs more attention.

I got a first-hand look at one of these women of history.   This woman was a mother of six, five of whom survived into adulthood.  She was a devoted mother and wife.  She was “active in her parish.”     All the important “historical” words to say she had agency.  She was active in her parish.  See, right there is a statement that one could gloss over and not understand the fullness of its meaning.  It’s a throw-away line.  It could mean anything or nothing from a distance, but if we consider what it means to be all those things and to be active in one’s parish, we can see that she (like many, many women) passed on culture, history, catechized children and friends, and cared for the sick, among so many other things.     The the priest/homilist at her funeral Mass spoke about her life as a wife and mother, but then talked about her life after her husband died, which involved volunteering in many parish ministries.  He remarked that in this second phase of her adult life, “she blossomed.”

What?

He meant all good things to indicate that she lead a very full and important life up to and through her husband’s passing, and then devoted herself to her parish community.  She visited the home-bound and new mothers.  She was a friend to many; she inspired vocations; she inspired her family.  She was a member of a church community and through her work (unpaid) she helped to sustain it.  How many hundreds of thousands of women acted as she did and do not get a notice?  I am not talking about recognizing the unsung heroes of the Church with a big parade (well that would be nice). I am at the moment contemplating how we think about history and the people that make it.

As I sat next to this woman’s granddaughters at this funeral Mass, I knew that this woman’s spirit lives in them.  I was honored to know her.  She, just like many, many women like her, embodies Real Women’s History.

A Post on Women of Faith at Religion in American History

9780823254736Earlier this summer, Monica Mercado spoke with me about my book, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community (Fordham University Press, 2014). That interview is now posted at Religion in American History.  

It was a pleasure to speak with Monica, who does wonderful work as a historian herself.  She is currently a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellow and Director of The Albert M. Greenfield Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr College.   Many thanks to Monica and to the editors of Religion in American History for featuring my work!

Go check out the post!