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Video: Kathleen Sprows Cummings on American Catholicism and the history of women and religion

Author: Todd Boruff

 

“When you look at which men and women U.S. Catholics have wanted to become saints, you actually learn a lot about how they understood themselves, not only as Catholics but also as members of American society. ” 

— Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Kathleen Sprows Cummings is an associate professor of American studies at the University of Notre Dame. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of History, and has served as the William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame since 2012. More information can be found at Kathleen Cummings' faculty page.


Video Transcript

I write about the history of Catholics in America and then the history of women and religion.

I'm writing a book right now about American saints: causes for canonization that have been introduced from the United States. It's not about the men and women themselves who have become saints or have been proposed for canonization, but it's about who promoted them and why. I like to describe it as a study of holy heroes. So all cultures have ways that they lift certain people up as heroes and Roman Catholics just have this enormously elaborate way of doing it called the modern process of canonization. So when you look at which men and women U.S. Catholics have wanted to become saints, you actually learn an awful lot about how they understood themselves, not only as Catholics but also as members of American society.

A lot of my work focuses on women's contribution to the Church and to the nation that has often been invisible for reasons that have to do with the culture of Catholicism for much of our national history, at least in which many of women's achievements were credited to the local bishop or their clerical superior. Anyone who studies women has to contend with obscurity and invisibility in history, but when you study a group like Catholic sisters for whom obscurity and invisibility were actually virtues to be sought after, it just becomes a little harder. So it's uncovering that contribution.

And then in my broader research on Catholics in America, I look at what it means to be part of a universal Church but that has taken root in a local or national culture, and what does that look like at various points in our nation's history, and how has that changed over time.

Notre Dame is the perfect place to study the Catholic experience in the United States. So much of the history of the Church has been lived out right here in Northern Indiana, from Mission Catholicism through the French missionaries that first planted the seeds of European Catholicism here, to the changes over the course of the 20th century as Catholics have become more prominent in the nation. It's also a great place because there are so many scholars who focus on Catholicism in interdisciplinary ways. So I have lots of colleagues in history who study religion in the United States, but I have colleagues in political science and sociology and English, and it's really a wonderful conversation.