Candidate statement for September 2017 ACHA Election
As a young girl, I grew up listening to stories of Syria-Lebanon and the “Old Country”; tales of migration from my fathers’ side of the family. Taking “the boat” over to Ellis Island and changing names to seem more “American” and less “foreign” was discussed at family gatherings over food and drink. Finding new places to worship was a story that was also told and retold. These stories, full of longing, fear, and hope, have formed the bedrock of my scholarly pursuits and passions. My fathers’ family, 19th century religious and cultural refugees, have helped to shape the scholar I am today.
As a scholar of American Catholicism, I try my best to capture people’s stories and place them within a broader historical and ethnographic milieu. In many ways, I think of myself as a storyteller, one who has been trained in American religious history with a specialization in American Catholicisms. I have chosen to focus much of my academic career on U.S. Catholic histories and my interlocutors have mostly been Mexican-descent and Catholic. They have experienced sociocultural, geographic, and religious dislocations—much as my family and many other families have. My first book, The Virgin of El Barrio, was a deep ethnography of a Mexican American woman whose apparitions of Mary changed her life, as well as the lives of family and community members. In The Cursillo Movement in America, I tried to show the ways that Mallorquín Catholicism has impacted American Catholic and Protestant cultures. During the course of my research in Mallorca, I discovered that Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians sought out Mallorquín Catholics to train them in weekend spiritual retreats. My ethnographic travels and interlocutors, supported by historical documents, demonstrate how and why Catholic weekend retreats have been so attractive to U.S. Protestants since the 1950s. In my current ethnographic research in rural Iowa, I am finding that Catholic priests are working closely with Protestant ministers to aid immigrants and refugees, embracing a broadband ethic and politics of inclusion. I think that as scholars of American Catholicism, we must work to show how American Catholic histories fit within American religious histories more broadly because much of U.S. Catholicism is informed within and by interfaith and cross-cultural milieus.
I am deeply honored to be considered for Vice President of The American Catholic Historical Association. As Vice President, I would encourage us all to make Catholic stories accessible and relatable not only to academics, but to the larger public. I think that we must, now more than ever, make our scholarship accessible to a broader public. We must show why and how American Catholic history is relevant, not only to those who consider themselves Catholic, but to those who do not. Stories of migration and settlement, of church and community involvement, and of struggle and loss, are universal stories. As scholars of Catholicism in America we have the skills and dispositions to tell these stories and we must do so.