Maria Mazzenga , education archivist and Timothy Meagher , archivist, American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives, were interviewed for a Catholic News Service article about a Web site created at CUA that provides access to the university's primary Catholic documents. See their comments in the story below.

University's Web site provides new ways to teach Catholic history

From: Catholic News Service Date: July 6, 2007 Author: Andrea Slivka WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In the 1920s, Oregon voters passed a referendum backed by the Ku Klux Klan that required schoolchildren to attend only public schools, forcing Catholic schools to close.

In a letter Archbishop Alexander Christie of Oregon City stated that the local bishops agreed unanimously to appeal the law to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Surely the bishops of this country will not stand by inactive while the faith is being strangled in our innocent children," he wrote to Archbishop Edward Hanna of San Francisco, who was head of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the forerunner to today's U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The letter is now part of the American Catholic History Classroom Web site, created to help Catholic high school and even university teachers incorporate Catholic history into a secular American history curriculum.

The Catholic University of America in Washington produced the Web site -- -- to give access to primary documents from its library archives that reveal Catholic thought and reaction to significant movements and eras in American history. The main Web site provides links to information on Catholics in relation to industrialization, a living wage, education, labor unions and race.

For example, Archbishop Christie's letter and other documents from the Oregon case provide a look into a period when the patriotism of Catholics was "on trial," according to the background description of the case found on the Web site.

The Oregon law set a dangerous precedent for abolishing all Catholic schools nationwide until it was reversed by the Supreme Court a few years later, said Maria Mazzenga, manager of the site and education archivist for the university's American Catholic History Research Center.

Mazzenga believes Catholic influence in American history, such as in education, is more difficult for Catholic high schools to teach because most schools use secular history textbooks, which downplay the role of religion.

The result is that students infer that religious activity is inconsistent with, instead of "integrated into, the life of the nation," she said.

"Our answer is to integrate some of these (Catholic) primary documents into the curriculum," Mazzenga said.

She believes this would help the Catholic schools remain competitive with public schools' American history curriculum, while providing a way for students to connect directly with the history and influence of the church in America.

"It will fix the perception of American history as devoid of Catholic influence," she said.

The primary documents on the Web site include pamphlets, meeting minutes, and letters and editorials from prominent Catholic lay and religious leaders.

The Web site also provides background information about the issues, comprehension questions and advice for teachers on how to incorporate the documents into a curriculum.

The research center purposely chose documents related to prominent events in American history, said Timothy Meagher, curator and university archivist for the research center and archives.

For example, during the onset of labor unions, the Knights of Labor was the largest American union in the United States and was made up of a majority of Catholic members.

But late 19th-century documents on the Web site reveal a debate in the church as to whether Catholics should be allowed to unionize because some church leaders considered the unions to be secretive and radical.

Another link on the Web site describes the history of relations between black Catholics and the church, beginning with slave ownership by clergy and members of religious communities. The site also contains documents surrounding the Federation of Colored Catholics in the 1920s, which was formed to address ways for black Catholics to achieve equality within the church, paralleling secular civil rights discussions, Mazzenga said.

The university's research center is continuing to update the site and will soon add documents from the bishops' program for social reconstruction in the United States after World War II and different Catholic opinions regarding the 1936 presidential election.

A surprising find for the research center that will soon be available online was the discovery of audiotapes containing the broadcast response of U.S. bishops to the "Kristallnacht" in 1938, when the Nazis destroyed thousands of Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues and sent 30,000 Jews to concentration camps.

The tapes include previously unknown broadcasts of American bishops condemning the "Kristallnacht" about a week after it occurred.

"This shows that the American Catholic hierarchy did have some organized response to the anti-Semitism that was taking place in Nazi Germany," Mazzenga said.

###2007 (c) Catholic News Service Reprinted with permission of CNS