100 Years of St. Catherine
After years of collaborate preparation, Liberating Sanctuary, the centennial history of St. Kate's, will be published.
BY AMY GAGE
Each of the three professors was raised Catholic. One is an alumna. All have taught at St. Catherine University for at least 15 years and been active members of the community.
And so, when they set out to co-write and co-edit a history of the institution — tracing the school's founding in 1905 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet through the presidency of Catherine McNamee, CSJ, which ended in 1984 — they wanted to do more than, as one of them put it, "learn what I already thought."
For Jane Lamm Carroll '80, Joanne Cavallaro and Sharon Doherty, that wish is finally coming true. Not only is their well-researched and readable history, Liberating Sanctuary, about to be published, but each of them is also now in the enviable position of having a fresh perspective on a very familiar place.
"The essence of the liberal arts curriculum hasn't changed, and that commitment hasn't changed," says Carroll, a history and women's studies professor who co-authored one of the book's 10 chapters and the introduction, "Taking Catholic Women Seriously," as well as writing her own essay on St. Catherine's first president, Mother Antonia McHugh.
The anthology Catholic Women's Colleges in America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) both inspired the St. Kate's book and "made a huge difference in my understanding of this place," says Cavallaro, an English and women's studies professor who has taught at St. Kate's for 25 years.
"When Catholic women's colleges were first founded," she explains, "there was a compromise in the Church between the progressive wing — which believed women should have opportunities to be educated — and the conservative wing that was alarmed at the increasing number of Catholic women going to Protestant colleges."
The book's title, Liberating Sanctuary, illuminates those past tensions, but the book itself sheds light on the lively tensions of the present.
Whether it's healthy discussions about the role of professional studies in a historically liberal arts college ("We found a memo from the 1930s that expressed that concern," says Cavallaro) or the passionate, sometimes emotional disagreements about how feminism is defined at a Catholic university, intellectual argument is alive and well at St. Kate's — but always with an undercurrent of caring, Doherty points out.
"People are more important than ideology," she says. "We're a community where people are supposed to learn. You bring in people to teach here or work here, and you bring students here from very different life backgrounds — with different religions, ideologies and experiences. If it's going to be real and deep, there will be massive disagreements. All of us have to deal with the fact that the whole world is full of these tensions and contradictions. Some are especially obvious here."
A collaborative process
From idea to execution — with untold hours of research and rewrites, conversations and committee meetings — Liberating Sanctuary has taken eight years to be published. The process began late in 2003, with a seemingly simple request from President Andrea Lee, IHM.
Anticipating St. Catherine's centennial in 2005, the president asked Cavallaro and Doherty to assemble a series of essays on the history of the University. She requested that the book's timeframe end in the mid-1980s. "Otherwise, it gets too close to people you know," says Carroll, who joined the project months later. "You can't write history like that."
Sister Andrea also wanted the book to be a feminist history, using a time-tested process of discussion and interaction that she'd seen work when her own congregation, the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), recorded its history.
"It was deliberately collaborative," Doherty says. "We put an S at the end of the word perspective. It was not just one."
The distinct passions and points of view that make up Liberating Sanctuary come from 18 authors — professors from an array of disciplines, staff members, CSJs and the three editors themselves. Before anyone put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, however, a 12-member design team sent out a call for proposals and then created a working draft of themes and questions.
The editors and design team sought to illuminate a subject they believe has been "neglected by historians and women's studies scholars alike." The themes and questions that emerged in May 2004 foreshadowed and formed the backbone of the book's scholarship:
Along with the design team, and influenced by the IHM text, the co-editors discussed what "feminist history" really means. Among their criteria: value the ordinary as well as the extraordinary; acknowledge the "multiple inequalities" of society and its institutions; view power in the context both of domination and collaboration; and recognize the hopeful possibilities for change.
"I found it helpful to get more of the facts about different eras and then connect it to feminist theory," Doherty says. "I find it easier to analyze what goes on around here because I know more about what happened in different eras."
Cavallaro and Doherty, who chairs the women's studies department, recognized early on that they had "similar gaps" in their skills, says Cavallaro with a laugh. "We begged Jane to join us," she says, referring to Carroll, the history professor and St. Kate's alumna. "She has historical expertise, an attention to evidence-based research — and an attention to detail that both of us lack."
Assembled for an interview on a warm July day, the three professors interact as easily and naturally as the friends they have become. They finish one another's sentences; occasionally they disagree. Clearly they understand and appreciate their respective strengths.
"We worked well as a trio," Carroll says. "We laughed a lot, even in the darkest times. There were so many times when we really thought we were done. We're on our third publisher."
"We went through stages where one would take the lead. Then that person would wilt," says Cavallaro.
"We know each other better and appreciate each other more. We all like one another," adds Doherty. She grins: "We have some good inside jokes, some names for the book that we won't share."
Because the co-editors expect Liberating Sanctuary to have broad appeal — to academics, feminists, people raised and schooled Catholic — they sent query letters to a variety of publishing houses, landing finally with a Catholic press that held on to the manuscript for 18 months. Then their contact person died.
Next, the project was picked up by University Press of America (UPA), a division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group that promotes custom publishing by professors in the social sciences and the humanities. St. Kate's would have had to buy copies of the book and pay for publishing costs such as editing and proofreading. "It's very much a cash-and-carry arrangement," explains Julie Kirsch, a vice president and publisher at Rowman & Littlefield.
After Kirsch was promoted last year, she began managing more divisions, or "imprints," at the publishing house. That turned out to be a godsend for the St. Catherine project. Kirsch reviewed a stack of manuscripts that were languishing with UPA and quickly saw that Liberating Sanctuary was among a half-dozen titles that had the "scope, breadth, depth and quality" to qualify for publication with Lexington Books, a more prestigious academic imprint that Kirsch now oversees for Rowman & Littlefield.
A generous marketing budget, more reviews in academic journals, and distribution in college and university libraries will give the book a larger and broader audience. And the co-editors also see a market close to home. "The most intense interest will come from alumnae and the community here," says Doherty. "It also will appeal to a generally educated audience interested in women's education, Catholic women and the history of education."
She and her co-editors hope their readers will better understand the legacy that the Sisters of St. Joseph have left the University, even as their numbers continue to diminish in the ranks of faculty and trustees. "I've thought over the years that nuns in the United States have not gotten the attention they've deserved for all the work they've done in education, nursing and other areas," Doherty says. "That bothers me as a women's studies person."
Her colleagues pick up the thread, weaving their thoughts into a cohesive whole. "There's a void in academia in paying attention to the history of women religious and Catholic women's education," says Carroll.
"That comes from mainstream feminists," Cavallaro replies, "this belief that Catholic women and Catholic nuns lead lives of restriction, that they're victims."
Almost in unison, the three editors laugh and cry out: "And they're not!
Amy Gage is director of marketing and communications at St. Catherine University.