Are You Happy?


Sisters Marie Arne (left) and Mary Campion (right) in Inquiring Nuns (New York Times)

Last week the Ramonat Scholars attended a screening of the 1968 documentary Inquiring Nuns at the Gene Siskel Film Center. The hour-long film featured two nuns, Sisters Marie Arne and Mary Campion, approaching strangers on the streets of Chicago with a deceptively simple question: are you happy?

In their final blog posts of the semester, many of the Ramonat Scholars argued that Inquiring Nuns reflected a broad range of historic themes covered in class. The nuns traveled to parishes, museums, and storefronts throughout the city in discovery what made Chicagoans happy (or unhappy) in 1968. In the process, they confronted diverse opinions about race, class, religion, national politics, and the Vietnam War. The nuns’ “social experiment” came on the heels of the explosive 1968 National Democratic Convention, and many Chicagoans expressed concern to the Sisters about the country’s political and moral stability. Other respondents focused on more personal issues facing their communities, which suggested the enduring power of local politics and local parishes in Chicago neighborhoods. The Ramonat Scholars also drew connections between Inquiring Nuns and the history of Catholic women in anti-war demonstrations, social welfare, and community activism. As one Scholar argued, the determination of Sisters Arne and Campion to understand what made Chicagoans happy exemplified the historic pursuit of a “social good” among American Catholics.


The Ramonat Scholars and Dr. Shermer at the Gene Siskel Film Center on December 3, 2018  (Ruby Oram)

The Ramonat Scholars are on winter hiatus after a productive semester. Check back in January when the Ramonat Seminar reconvenes to explore more histories of Catholics and American politics.


Catholics Running for Office


Pope Paul VI greets President John F. Kennedy at the Vatican, July 1963 (AP Images)

November 6th marked a historic midterm election cycle. But what did it mean for American Catholics? Did the Catholic vote have a role in the 2018 midterm? How did the campaigns of Catholic politicians differ from those of previous elections?

The Ramonat Seminar has devoted the last two weeks to accessing the impact of Catholicism on our national politics, both past and present. In class and in their blogs, the Scholars debate whether the faith of Catholic politicians has historically shaped their politics. Some Scholars contend that the degree to which Catholic politicians embraced their faith publicly depends on audience and political context. Other Scholars argue that the presidential campaign of John F. Kennedy created cultural tolerance of Catholic candidates, who have since mobilized their faith to support diverse political platforms. But as Catholics have become more tolerated in American society, according to some of the Scholars, controversial questions surrounding their campaigns have not disappeared but shifted from “should a Catholic be president” to “how Catholic are they”?

news clippings found by Allison Lapinski, Amy Al-Salaita, and Kristin Morrison

In preparation for their Spring research projects, the Ramonat Scholars put these arguments to the test by exploring historic news coverage of Catholic presidential campaigns. Using Loyola Library’s online databases, the Scholars found campaign coverage, opinion pieces, and political cartoons from Al Smith’s 1928 presidential run to the campaigns of Robert and John F. Kennedy. Their evidence raised lingering questions about when and why the Catholicism of past presidential candidates effected their runs for office. Yet the Scholars tend to agree that in the history of our national politics, faith matters.

Read their latest blog posts to learn more ⇒⇒⇒

Is Chicago’s Catholic History Unique?

On October 13th and 14th the Ramonat Scholars participated in Open House Chicago, an annual architecture festival that allows Chicagoans to explore over 250 buildings throughout the city for free. In their latest blog posts, the Scholars discuss what they learned from exploring the historic Catholic spaces, political institutions, and ethnic neighborhoods that shaped Chicago’s history. Along with our class readings last week, the Ramonat Scholars’ experiences during Open House Chicago weekend raised questions about the distinctiveness of Chicago’s Catholic history: Are Chicago Catholics different from Catholics in Boston or New York? What, if anything, makes Chicago’s Catholic history unique?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In their blogs the Scholars generally agree that Chicago’s Catholic heritage is distinct. Unlike older cities in the Northeast, Catholic immigrant communities in Chicago grew with the city  during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and therefore played a larger role in shaping Chicago’s institutions and urban landscape. The ethnic diversity of Chicago’s Catholic community is also unique according to the Scholars, who visited parishes founded by Irish, German, Polish, and Ukrainian immigrants during Open House weekend. Lastly, many of the Scholars point to the national power and longevity of Chicago’s political machine in the twentieth century (exemplified by Catholic figures like Mayor Richard J. Daley) as evidence of Chicago’s unique place in the history of American Catholicism.

Read their latest blog posts to learn more ⇒⇒⇒

Sunday at Saint Sabina

On September 30th the Ramonat Scholars traveled to the south side of Chicago for Sunday Worship at Saint Sabina Church. While the faith community of Saint Sabina dates back to 1916, their current home at Throop and 78th Streets was dedicated by Cardinal Mundelein in 1933. When the racial makeup of the neighborhood shifted in the 1960s, Saint Sabina was one of the few Catholic churches in the area to welcome its new African American neighbors. Today, Saint Sabina continues to speak to “the cultural, social and spiritual needs of the black faithful.”

Photos of the Ramonat Scholars at Saint Sabina on September 30th, 2018, by Ruby Oram


Exploring Catholic Chicago

In the 1880s, at the height of Chicago’s labor movement, 78 percent of its workers were immigrants. Historian Heath W. Carter argues in Union Made that Chicago’s Catholic immigrant workers mobilized their faith in support of unions and protecting the dignity of labor. While the archdiocese remained critical of labor radicalism, working class communities were “hotbeds of alternative Christianities” in the late nineteenth century according to Carter. Last week, the Ramonat Scholars read this and other histories of Catholics’ diverse union and political participation from the nineteenth century to the present.

The contributions of Catholic workers in Chicago’s past can still be appreciated in the city’s landscape through parks, monuments, union offices, ethnic parishes, and schools. The Ramonat Scholars embarked on an urban scavenger hunt last week to explore how and where Catholics left their mark on Chicago.


Mark Neuhengen and Jenna Ludwig at the statue of James Connolly


Nikolas Callas at the Chicago Cultural Center


Sarah Eden at the Haymarket Memorial


Alice Gordon and Spencer Bailey at the recreated Chicago Board of Trade Room


Laura Enachescu at the Pullman Museum


Sydney Williams at Union Park


Colette Cooney at the Plumbers Union

To read more about the Ramonat Scholars’ urban explorations, check out their newest blog post on the righthand tool bar ⇒⇒⇒

How do Catholics Vote?

What political issues are most important to American Catholics? Have Catholic political values changed over time and if so, why? Is there such thing as a “Catholic vote”?

The Ramonat Scholars have devoted their first two weeks of reading and class discussion to these important questions, which they discuss in their blogs on the righthand tool bar ⇒⇒⇒



The scholars largely agree that American Catholics are united in faith but divided on a range of political issues including immigration, gun control, and abortion. Catholic voters also care about education, unions, and the welfare state but may not vote consistently in these areas either. While a homogeneous “Catholic vote” may not exist because of the diversity of American Catholics themselves, Amy Al-Salaita suggested in class that a shared respect for the dignity of human life may influence Catholic political values.

The emphasis on dignity of life and labor has contributed to the active role of Catholics in the American labor movement since the 1880s. This week, Sarah Eden, Laura Enachescu, Sam Jaros, Kristin Morrison, and Sydney Williams reflect on the relationship between Catholics and unions in their blogs.

Welcome to the Fall 2018 Seminar!

Welcome to the Fall 2018 Ramonat Seminar in American Catholic History and Culture! Visit the about page to learn more about this year’s Ramonat Seminar, which investigates  how Catholics and Catholicism shaped American politics in the twentieth century. The Fall and Spring syllabi are now online. We’re looking forward to a great year!

Follow this site for updates on Ramonat-related events and to learn more about what the Ramonat Scholars are reading, researching, and writing over the next academic year.


Dominican Sisters of Hope in Washington D.C., 1968.