On a very rainy Saturday, March 13, some 66 historians gathered at the Friend Center at Princeton University for the 2010 spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association. Thirteen panels spread over four sessions ranged from a medieval roundtable to a panel discussion on the modern media’s coverage of the Vatican. The Friend Center, which also houses the department of engineering, is a recent postmodern building. The lower foyer housed state-of-the-art classrooms where the panels presented. The upper foyer served as a gathering spot between the various sessions and was transformed in the late afternoon into a cocktail lounge where the meeting ended with a wine and cheese reception. Here participants also found book tables representing recent titles published by Princeton and Catholic University of America Press.
Underwritten in part by a grant from the Russell B. Newton Junior 48 Fund for Faculty Development, the conference was a chance for young scholars to present some of their current research in addition to a graduate student networking meeting that occurred over lunch. Graduate students and young faculty were joined by senior scholars who included several members of the Princeton department of history led by former ACHA President William Chester Jordan, who is department chair. During the luncheon at the George Schultz dining room, ACHA President Steven Avella thanked Professor Jordan and Princeton for being our host and introduced his Vice President, Larissa Taylor of Colby College.
Some of the highlights of the conference included a paper by Professor Philip Gleason from the University of Notre Dame, a recognized expert on nineteenth century Catholic immigration to America. Gleason spoke on “Popes and Papalistic Paddy” a commentary on the diary of George Templeton Strong (1820-1875). Strong’s diary rediscovered in 1930 spans the periods before and after the Civil War. Gleason spoke on the deep set antipathy present in Strong’s writing toward the Pope and Irish Catholic immigrants in America.
Maria Morrow, a doctoral student from the University of Dayton presented a paper on why and how American Catholics gave up their traditional understanding of sin between 1965 and 1975. Several elements came into play following Vatican II that empowered Catholics to explain away sin. These included the dissolution of the Catholic subculture and the rise of Catholics into the American middle class as well as the effects of psychology and counseling which allowed people to depersonalize sin.
Southern Catholicism and the role of race in Catholic parishes, a presentation of Seth Smith a graduate student in American Catholic history at the Catholic University of America, was well received, drawing comments from several young scholars who are presently at work on the Catholic church in the south. Professor Emeritus from Kent State University Jon Wakelyn, who has written on southern Catholicism in the 19th century encouraged Smith and the audience to explore this area of Catholic America for which there are presently few monographs.
The next spring meeting will take place April 15-16, 2011 at the University of Saint Michael’s College, the University of Toronto. The theme of the conference is “Catholics Across Boundaries” and will be a joint meeting of the Canadian and the American Catholic Historical Associations. The call for papers will soon begin.