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.

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Getting Back to the Business at Hand: Women of Faith

If a person is to have a successful blog, or at least arrive at the vicinity of “some traffic” that person better start posting.

9780823254736I have had recently the amazing good fortune of publishing my book.  On February 1, my book, Women of Faith: The Chicago Sisters of Mercy and the Evolution of a Religious Community was released by Fordham University Press.  This is a history of the Sisters of Mercy Chicago Regional Community from its first foundation in Chicago in 1846, its expansion into Iowa and Wisconsin, its amalgamation into one province in the twentieth century, and finally its merger into a larger regional community, West Midwest in 2008. I was honored to write this history.

I began researching this project in the summer of 2006.  I had just defended my dissertation the previous fall and I had little conception of where I would go next.  I study women religious and that often translated into a particular religious congregation and a particular ministry.  For example, my dissertation looked at the Sisters of Charity and the Santa Maria Institute from the 1890s to the 1930s in Cincinnati, Ohio.  In graduate school I became intrigued by the Santa Maria Institute, a Catholic Social Settlement established to “save” Italian souls from the Protestant “proselyters” in that city.  It was founded and directed throughout this period by two Italian sisters – blood sisters and in community – Blandina and Justina Segale, SC.  These two women, their dynamic personalities, are at the center of this study.  They, along with a network of lay volunteers, both Italian and Italian American, developed and maintained this social settlement.

My study was ultimately about sisters and their institutional ministry.  A building.  Sure the Santa Maria occupied several locations, but it and my study was located in a particular place/ministry/identity.  When done, what was I to do next?  Right before I learned of the Chicago Mercy History project, I vaguely cast about to discover what Catholic community I would unearth in my area. I reside in Northwest Indiana and I have a limited travel budget.  I was starting to get a little concerned.  Then along came the Mercys.

There is much to talk about in this project – in the process of this project.  I am a Catholic woman who is not a woman religious.  So, I am an insider who is an outsider.  I was hired to write this project and the congregation owns copyright for all of it.  I worked with an editorial board consisting of members of the community and others.  This last point proved to be one of the more important elements to the development of this project. I worked with Sisters of Mercy and in doing so, I came to what is the more important aspect of the Chicago Mercy’s history – the thing that needed focus – the focus of this history wasn’t going to be the buildings and institutions.  It was going to be the ministerial, community, and spiritual lives of the sisters.  As historians, we care about the institutions.  Nothing wrong with institutional history.  For this moment in the Chicago Mercys’ history, considering how they as a community got to where they are now – a part of West Midwest – and focused on the future – meant trying to get at who they were, are, and will be as women religious.

This, I hope, is something I can transfer to my next project – whatever that is. I am still a historian of Catholic women religious.  Shall I cast about my eye in another direction?

Time Management

With vacation in our rear view window, I am compelled to turn my attention to work.  As any good historian (or academically minded soul) knows, one rarely ever goes on complete vacation.  Time off from work means more time for research and writing.  The end of the school year is more eagerly anticipated by my professor husband than his students.  It means no more paper work and correcting and he is free to read, write, and move forward on projects he has been nursing along throughout the school year.  Now, I understand that there are such things as sabbaticals, but he works for an institution which does not give them very much and currently one must compete for them.  Needless to say, he likes his summers.  (During our vacation, I wrote one book review and made a serious effort to write a second, which is very much due and possibly late.)

One of the concerns I had before I took my current position was that I would have time to continue my own research agenda (whatever that may be).  The regular week-day schedule for professors is generally very busy and full, but there is a built in sense that research and producing articles, books, what have you, is expected and supported.  One may have a 4-4 load, but one may not teach every day.  Certainly that other time is for office hours and class prep, but one can also carve out a regular schedule of writing.  In theory.  With an administrative job, one is to work in an office something similar to 9 to 5, every day of the week (I know, it is so weird.)  Again, I am not suggesting I work more than a professor; I just work in a more traditional office setting now.  Compounded with that is finding the time to do my own research and writing, which brings me to time management.

Everyone has to do it.  Everyone has their way of working, finding time to write, whether that is the morning in wee hours before they leave the house, or possibly the evenings.  Finding that time and sticking with it, keeping a regular schedule for writing, has to be one the hardest thing to do.  Ever.  We get tired.  We worked all day already.  Our spouses and/or families oddly enough want to spend time with us (or at the very least, would like us to contribute to the general upkeep of the house).  Why do I have to get up at 3 am just to be a productive scholar?  Wouldn’t it be a better idea to take a nap, or even better, watch a stupid movie on the TV?

I bring this up because that pesky old vacation has ended and I have before me a large chunk of work, both for my day job and for my research.  I have revisions on my book, Led by Mercy, to complete before the fall really gets in full swing. I have to prepare for a class I will teach as well.  I will not panic.  Nope.  I will set up a writing schedule and I will stick to it.  (I think I will ask my mother to say a novena for me.)