On Saturday, April 30th, the Ramonat Scholars made presentations on their research papers. The day was organized around three themes: Catholic Immigrant Identity; Chicago, 1870-1930; and Religious Objects. Below are the abstracts for their papers.
Catholic Immigrant Identity
Guy Valponi, “Holy Cannoli and Saintly Sweets: Confections in the Lives of Southern Italian Immigrants and their American Descendants”
Holy Cannoli and Saintly Sweets aims to explore the role that confections played in the lives of Southern Italian immigrants and their American descendants. Confections are examined as the sum product of both specific ingredients and technique. This exploration draws off surveys of Italian immigrant colonies, oral histories, contemporary interviews, cookbooks, newspaper articles, and parish memorial booklets. This project argues that due to the technique heavy nature and relatively simple set of ingredients needed to prepare these devotional pastries, immigrants were able to more accurately reproduce confections than other traditional dishes. Within the domestic sphere, their confections revealed gender roles assigned to women, as well as the daily diet of immigrant households. Through the use of commercial confectioneries and pastry shops, confections played an essential role in elevating Italian immigrants from unskilled to skilled labor and highlighted the expectations of men to provide for their families. The rise of the Italian bakery replaced domestic production of traditional sweets, in tandem with several other changes. As parishes no longer observed popular Italian feast days and lay persons no longer organized feste, the sweets, traditionally associated with particular saints, have collapsed into major holidays like Christmas and Easter. Today fourth- and fifth-generation Italian-Americans are even more alienated from these traditions. The implication of this research is that knowledge of and ability to produce traditional confections becomes a scale by which to measure the Italian of Italian-Americans.
Daniel Snow, “The Sacré-Cœur of Chicago: Franco-American Devotion and Community, 1880-1920”
Chicago is not often associated with the French, save for references to Jacques Marquette and early fur traders. Yet during the latter 1800s, the city’s French immigrant population expanded far beyond what it had been during the French colonial era. Thousands of French-Canadians and French-nationals called Chicago’s industrial South Side their home, and from 1864 to 1892 founded five Catholic parishes, numerous ethnic associations, and ran a French language newspaper. This community lived in the shadows of Irish, Polish, and Italian communities, but its complex place within the “City of Big Shoulders” provides a useful look at the identity of a marginal Catholic group. Forming a “tri-national” outlook that blended elements of Quebec, France, and the United States, French-Americans defined their position in Chicago through the Catholic Church. French-American immigrants connected to their homelands by bringing native personnel, devotions, and traditions into their parishes. Additionally, the community actively sought to replicate the sacred spaces it left behind through the construction of shrines to St. Anne and grottos to Our Lady of Lourdes, capturing the miraculous and healing spirit found both in southern France and on the St. Lawrence River at Beaupré. French-American Chicago also defined itself through processionalism and community organization. Ethnic societies linked together French-Americans spread out over Chicago, and brought them together to experience linguistic and ethnic commonality, while celebrations offered a chance to march in force through the neighborhoods the French could not control at any other time. Although the French seem lost in Chicago’s past, their story highlights the utility of religion for the immigrant community and speaks to the minority experience in an urban environment.
Andrew Kelly, “Revolutionary Narrative Formation in Polish Immigrant Communities”
The first major nineteenth century flows of Polish migration to the United States and Western Europe began in 1831. It was in this year that the Russian Empire brutally suppressed the nationalist November Uprising, an insurrection that had united Poles of all classes in an effort to reclaim their state’s independence after years of external domination. Of the cities to which Polish migrants fled after the uprising, two urban centers, Paris and Chicago, are distinct for the immensity of their significance within the global movement for Polish independence. It was in Paris that the exiled Polish nobility, led by figures such as Prince Adam Czartoryski, furthered a campaign directed towards the restoration of a Poland in which the aristocracy would remain preeminent. In contrast, the Poles of Chicago, who emanated predominantly from the peasantry of their native land, sought to establish through their movement a Poland in which American-modeled democratic power structures would allow all citizens, regardless of class, to possess political power. Furthermore, while the elite Poles of Paris advocated a Polish culture dominated by Enlightenment values such as secularization within their revolutionary narrative, the Poles of Chicago emphasized the centrality of religion and religious institutions in their vision for a liberated Poland. This paper analyzes the Paris and Chicago revolutionary narratives as the products of both divergent class-based cultures and the influence of the nations to which the Poles migrated. Hence, the analysis illustrates how Polish immigrants, driven from their native land by the repressive policies of external authorities, employed ethnic nationalism in the development of their expatriate communities and through their engagement with the social structures, religious institutions, and political organizations of their adopted nations.
Maya Sheikh, “Nineteenth-Century Catholic Responses to Mental Illness”
This project involves discovering how mental health institutions in Chicago were shaped in the nineteenth century. The goal is to show that both Catholic institutions and the Catholic public played a large part in shaping practices, legislation, and policies during the 1850’s and beyond. This has been done by examining primary sources including newspapers, published works, manuals, and articles. Most prior research on public health institutional changes has focused primarily on understanding how secular or non-Catholic institutions have developed. This focus undermines the role Catholicism played in forming current mental health practices being practiced even now. By analyzing key events, ideologies, figureheads, and legislation, it becomes clear that Catholicism played a larger role in forming key treatments and ways of thinking surrounding mental health. Specifically, Catholic figureheads and institutions pushed for the implementation of the moral treatment as a different, more humane way of treating the insane. Through showing the impact Catholicism has on mental health practices and institutions, this paper aims to highlight how far mental health treatments have come, and how far we still have to go.
Shannon Koelsch, “Romance and Rebellion: The Nina Van Zandt Story”
Historians have proven that there are a number of lenses through which to view and interpret the Haymarket Affair. However, previous scholars have tended to overlook two aspects of the story: 1) the role of religion in the lives of the defendants, and 2) the relationship between August Spies and Nina Van Zandt, the woman who visited him in prison and eventually became his wife. This paper argues that an examination of both topics is crucial to developing a more complete understanding of the beliefs and motivations of at least some of the Haymarket defendants. The project was written as a piece of historical fiction and relies almost exclusively on information from primary source material. Some of these sources include newspaper articles, the majority of which were published in the Chicago Tribune or the Alarm; the official trial transcript; assorted documents from the Chicago History Museum’s online Haymarket exhibit; the Franklin Rosemont-Haymarket Research Papers from the Newberry Library; and August Spies’ published autobiography. The conclusion reached as a result of this investigation is twofold. First, the research reveals that, far from being the staunch atheists that many of their contemporaries believed them to be, several of the Haymarket Eight simply had radically different understandings of Christianity that did not exist within more “mainstream” Protestant and Catholic communities. Additionally, Nina Van Zandt emerges as an independent, intentional actor in the Haymarket drama — not the easily manipulated, overly romantic, naïve young woman that the press made her out to be.
Brendan Courtois, “Righteous Commerce: Catholic and Protestant views on the Market in Post-Fire Chicago”
Righteous Commerce: Catholic and Protestant views on the Market in Post-Fire Chicago looks to examine the actions of Catholic and Protestant businessmen in relation to questions that were raised during America’s Market Revolution (roughly 1815-1846). These questions were not original to the Market Revolution, as the roots of the discussion can be found as far back as the Bible in Matthew 6:24 “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (King James Bible) but they did take on more significance as commerce and industry changed the landscape of America, moving populations from rural to urban and creating vast trade networks. Protestants and Catholics argued what Mammon’s role should be in one’s life, as its influence appeared to grow in America. These arguments were not formerly resolved, but responded to by the actions of religious businessmen involved in commercial activities. For Catholic and Protestant businessmen in Chicago in the last third of the 19th Century, these questions did not pose as significant of a quandary as those discussing it in the Market Revolution believed it to be. Protestant and Catholic businessmen pursued commercial interests and used their success to financially support their faiths. This choice put Mammon before God, but Mammon was used as a platform for God by funding faith-related activities and services. For Protestant and Catholic businessmen Mammon was a worthwhile pursuit, which they could use to serve God.
Bianca Barcenas, “Railroads, Catholics, and Prostitutes: The Levee, 1871-1900”
Chicago’s infamous red-light district of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries swept the city off its feet for decades. The Levee’s roots lie in the Great Chicago Fire, and the district grew into the vice trade, peaked, and then was shut down in 1912. From 1871 to 1900, the Levee experienced a multitude of developments that contributed to this growth. Outside developments cause internal stress on the residential community. These developments, in the Levee’s case, were natural disasters, technological changes, and city attractions. In the aftermath of the Chicago Fire, people moved to the South Side of Chicago, where the Levee was formed. The residents that moved were laborers and skilled workers living among a wealthy community belonging to Old St. John’s, the only Catholic parish in the neighborhood. Many established saloons and houses of ill fame in this time as part of post-fire reconstruction. By 1880, the Levee gained more foreign-born immigrants than just Irish and Germans. This was because of new railroad tracks being built directly in the district, which forced out the wealthy families of the Levee. More laborers and railroad employees lead to a decline in overall household income, and the Levee toppled more and more into the vice trade. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition brought in thousands of visitors to Chicago, which provided the Levee with more business than ever before. The demographics of the Levee also changed once more: residents moved from as far as the West Coast of the US, and thirty percent of Levee residents studied were African American (as opposed to about four percent in 1880). In studying the various external developments that occurred in Chicago and the Levee between 1871 and 1900, insight into the stresses of the Levee community come alive, and this provides clues to more broad urban communities experiencing similar changes.
Olivia Raymond, “A Roman Martyr in LA: The Impact of Fabiola on Catholic Literary History from 1854-1960 and Beyond Through Literature, Films, and Art”
Persecution is a worldwide phenomenon but how it is remembered and retold in literature has a direct effect on the social imaginary constructed around it. By examining the impact of Fabiola; or, The Church of the Catacombs (1854) by Nicholas Cardinal Wiseman on Catholic literary history, this project aims to show how over a century of dialogue surrounding his work, and the use of saints to illuminate early Christian persecution, aides modern readers’ cultural understanding of the time. The convergence of archaeological voyages into the Roman catacombs, the establishment of the modern historical novel with Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley Series, and the Victorian shift towards production of novels directly influenced the creation of Fabiola. Nineteenth century literature upheld in the Great American and English literary canons has largely been protestant themed texts. All time bestsellers like Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Ben-Hur: A Tale of Christ (1880) by Lew Wallace are prime examples. However, stories like Fabiola that explore a minor narrative in the established canon, like the contribution of Catholic writers, enriches the whole. This research shows how the shift from textual representation to visualization in the twentieth century of Fabiola’s narrative was increasingly focused on the role of the saint. Consequently, Fabiola is pushed to the margins of her story. Her legacy still carries on as new artist draw upon Wiseman’s interpretation of saints, using Fabiola allegorically to address political and religious issues of their time.
Susie Heissner, “Celtic Catholicism: An Architectural Study of Irish Parishes in Chicago”
Architecture is a disciple that has continued to morph and evolve with each passing moment in history. What exactly drives these changes? While there is a multitude of factors coming into play here, one influential one is that of identity. The concept of identity is also one that holds a very important role in the spectrum of religion. Through the study of three mid 19th century Irish catholic parishes in Chicago, Old St. Patrick’s Parish, Holy Family Parish, and Holy Name Cathedral, this research will map out the trends in interior and exterior design work and analyze how the concept of the ethnic parish may have affected these structures. Delving into the notion of Celtic pagan influences combining with an Irish Catholic identity, this paper seeks to explain how specifically the Irish brand of Catholicism was unique. Due to the renewed fervor, these Irish Catholic parishes were reflections of the Irish ethnographic identities that resulted from the disintegration of other aspects of the immigrant’s cultural lives.
Claire Blankenship, “BVM Visibility: The Removal of the Habit and Its Consequential Implications”
A habit acts as a window to the ever-evolving role of women religious. The visual impact of the habit created a culture that revered the “good sister” with her conservative, docile image. This culture prohibited the analysis of sisters as more than images, a stereotype that every habit modification hoped to rectify. Through a case study of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVMs), the habit is revealed to be a tchotchke that has always been in a state of change since its implementation in 1853, twenty years after the order’s founding. The BVMs continuously changed their habits in order to defy the expectations of “nuns” and move towards an image akin to that of modern women. The implications of habit modification are first established with the history of the BVMs’ habits with an emphasis on the shifting hierarchical structure that results from these changes. The habit is then evaluated for its cultural relevance, which shows the contrary nature of what is propagated in the media versus what is the reality of the BVMs. As the BVM Sisters undertook this journey of redefinition, they realized that Sisters were first and foremost women and needed to re-acclimate themselves with the expectations of women in the modern world. The habit was the instrument of vast changes for the BVMs, like the reversion of names to those given by parents or a steep decline in the number of members in the order. However, the habit needed to be removed for the BVMs to reclaim the ideals that initially founded their order and to reconnect with their identity as women.