Remarks by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., at the DePaul Student History Conference
April 27, 2012
Good afternoon. Thank you for the invitation to join you today.
Permit me to begin with the heart of this conference, namely the scholarly work of our history students. It is no small gift to help a world understand itself, and that is, indeed, what your discipline does. It requires a bit of courage — a bit of walking through your fears — to hand your work over to others who will then critique it and make it better. It is the way of the intellectual community. Congratulations on your wonderful work today.
Permit me also to thank the staff of your department and your fellow students who worked so hard to make all of this conference possible today, and especially your faculty who have brought you to this moment. They taught and mentored you. They nurtured you into the discipline of history and the intellectual life. Your success is their success.
I also have the great honor of recognizing this moment as the first Daniel Goffman Keynote Lecture. As you know, Dr. Goffman is an expert of the Ottoman world and has published several important books, the most recent in 2007.
When his colleagues speak of him, they speak not just about a fellow scholar. They describe the difference their colleague and former chair made for the department over time. There is something to be said about helping a group of people cohere and love to work together. Community within the academic life must always be fostered and should never be taken for granted. The impact that Dr. Goffman had on the department lingers and is still spoken of gratefully today. And so, it is for both his respected scholarship and his gift to this intellectual community that DePaul is honored to name this lecture series. Dr. Goffman, thank you for all you have done these many years at DePaul.
If you will indulge me, I would like to introduce our speaker and her important work through a side door, specifically a news story many of us have been following this week.
You may know that the largest provider of private education in the United States is the Catholic Church. The largest private provider of social services in the nation is the Catholic Church. The largest provider of refugee resettlement bar none — even larger than the federal government — is the Catholic Church. And you may or may not know that the largest private provider of healthcare in the United States is the Catholic Church. One out of six Americans receives healthcare through a Catholic-sponsored medical institution.
What has been hard this week is to remember that almost all of this was created by women, and in particular, women religious or nuns. Quite shamefully this past week, some among our Church leadership accused American nuns of being disloyal. In so doing, somehow, all of their magnificent work was left out of the story.
Truly, without their work, this church and the work it continues to do in the United States would be a shell of itself. The category of “disloyalty” loses nearly all its meaning in the face of that contribution, and their history and story must, indeed, be suppressed and intentionally left aside in order to whisper the word “disloyal.” There is simply no way to talk about the education of women in the United States without talking about nuns. There is no way to talk about the education of successive waves of migration and immigration without telling the story of nuns. There is no way to teach the history of literacy in the United States without telling the story of nuns. If you want to describe the resettlement from east to west, it was nuns who traveled to remote places and taught the settlers’ children and thereby contributed to the building of a nation. Even within the Church, it is impossible to tell the story of the religious education from one generation to the next without recounting their activity.
And yet, to be fair, Church leadership is not the only body that glaringly disregards this story. Women’s history itself currently excludes the magnificent accomplishments of Catholic women religious from their story. Someday, feminist history will recognize the power and accomplishment of these courageous and intrepid women, who frequently worked at great odds against the societies of their times, and even the church leadership of their times, to accomplish great things for their society.
I draw your attention to this week’s shameful example of ignoring women’s roles in history for political purposes because you are about to hear its opposite. You are about to hear a history restored and revised.
Dr. McGuire’s scholarly work focuses on the key role of women in the Civil Rights Movement and all that they contributed. Her work is not so much a gift to women’s history, or African-American history, as it is a gift to our history. This is a gift to all of us to know our story and then to be moved by it, changed by it, defined by it in its aspirations, its inspirations and the way that it motivates us and helps us see the truth. By restoring our story to us, her work enriches us and ennobles us. I am thrilled and honored, therefore, to welcome to DePaul, Dr. Danielle McGuire.