Aug. 18, 2014

Julia Young and Robin Darling Young

Julia Young has long been familiar with The Catholic University of America. When she was a child, she and her siblings used to run up and down the stairs of Caldwell Hall or hang out on the University Mall. Sometimes she could be found in a classroom, listening to a lecture by her mother, Robin Darling Young, who was then an assistant professor in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.

She recalls feeling an immense pride in what her mother did for a living.

"I remember telling people when I was 6 that my mother was a professor of patristic theology," she says. "I had no idea what that meant. I just figured all the other grown-ups would know."

Julia ended up returning to Catholic University later in her life. She earned her bachelor's in sociology and art from CUA in 2001. Ten years after that, she took a job as an assistant professor in the Department of History. What she didn't know at that time was that someone else close to her would soon be making her own CUA homecoming.

After a decade of teaching at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Virginia, Robin Darling Young rejoined the School of Theology and Religious Studies in 2013 as an associate professor of spirituality.

"I was here two full years before [my mom] came back," Julia says. "I enjoyed it and I was really happy. Then my mom returned and it was like the icing on the cake."

"I'm a repeat offender," says Robin with a laugh. "I don't think I'll leave again. Catholic University is my home."

The mother and daughter discussed their relationship and fondness for Catholic University in an interview earlier this month in Julia's sunny office in Marist Hall. It turns out their road to CUA began before Julia was even born.

After graduating from Mary Washington College, Robin moved to Washington, D.C., while her future husband finished law school - at Catholic University. During that time, she worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library and as a reporter for the Virginia Sentinel newspaper. But she knew she wanted to pursue her education further, thanks to the mentoring of a former professor at Mary Washington.

She went on to get both her master's and doctorate in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago. In 1987, she became an assistant professor at Catholic University.

"Catholic University has a depth of scholarship that is really unmatched at any other Catholic institution in the country," Robin says. "That's because that's how it was founded. It has maintained its orientation toward depth of scholarship and this is just not to be found elsewhere. To me, Catholic University has an ethos that is ... really devoted to the life of the mind but within a Catholic purview."

Early in her academic career, Robin had to balance teaching, writing, and research with being a wife and mother to five children, of whom Julia is the oldest.

"Work-life balance doesn't exist," Robin says. "That's fiction. I used to say restricted sleep was the answer to that balance and that's probably the most honest answer. It really helps to have a supportive spouse. But it's a very rich experience.

"There are ways in which having a household full of kids engenders a kind of delay in what you do, but it also very much enriches your perspective and is very humanizing because otherwise we might stay up inside our heads too much."

"I was very enriching," Julia chimes in with a laugh. She said she never noticed if her mother struggled to find that balance.

"As kids of a parent who was a professor, we perceived her as having this very flexible work schedule," Julia explains. "She was home most days at 3 and all summer long. She did encourage us to play outside a lot while she was doing work. And she did a lot of work at night so we had a really early bedtime for a long time."

Robin, left, with daughter Julia at her graduation from CUA in 2001.

When it was time for her to select a college, Julia was unsure what she wanted to study or where. Due to Catholic University's tuition remission plan, she decided to at least start her college career at CUA and then possibly transfer.

Although she never took a class with her mother, who only taught graduate students at the time, she did run into someone else who remembered her from her childhood days at CUA.

"My fall semester of freshman year, I had a professor who came in on the first day of class and said, 'Oh, Julia Young, I knew you when you were this big!' That's not necessarily the experience you want to have, but the class ended up being amazing."

She enrolled in the University Honors Program and got the chance to study in Mexico and Eastern Europe. She discovered her research interest in Latin America. She never ended up transferring to another school.

"I got a really good education here. I went on to graduate school at New York University and the University of Chicago, like my mom. At both places I felt completely prepared to do research, write, and develop my own research projects. I got that foundation from Catholic University."

After completing her doctorate, Julia taught at Georgetown and George Mason universities. When she saw an opening at CUA that suited her research interests, she applied. Two years later, she was joined by her mother, who was lured back to CUA by Very Rev. Mark Morozowich, dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies.

During the academic year, mother and daughter might go a couple of weeks without seeing each other on campus. Julia works in Marist Hall, Robin works in Caldwell Hall. Because they're in separate schools, they balance different class schedules and faculty meetings.

But they have talked about collaborating on a project in the future, possibly an article on the 1925 papal encyclical Quas Primas . Julia would like to examine the role of the encyclical in religious conflict in Mexico around that time. Robin said that the encyclical has ancient roots she'd like to explore.

"I'm a relatively new professor in my first five years of working and it's pretty amazing to be able to call your mom and voice your worries," Julia says. "I can ask for constructive help. She'll read bits of writing I'm having trouble with. We exchange teaching tips, what's working in the classroom."

"I feel tremendously fortunate to have my daughter as a colleague, or to put it better, to have become her colleague," Robin adds. "It's a wonderful thing to be able to share our work."

There's one other benefit Julia is quick to mention.

"She does sometimes babysit my children. That's happened a few times when I've brought them to campus. They love it because they get to go to grandma's office."

Robin smiles, adding, "I guess we're going to have another generation of Youngs running up and down Caldwell Hall's stairs."