From the director

Author: Kathleen Sprows Cummings

Kathleen Cummings

I write with important news: having reached the end of my second term as Cushwa director, I will be stepping down, effective June 30, 2023. 

All good things must come to an end! Though I have no doubt that this is the right time for me to depart, it is nevertheless difficult to wrap my head around the concept. The Cushwa Center became part of my life 30 years ago next fall, when I arrived on campus as a doctoral student in history. I had no clear picture of what it meant to be a historian, or even any firm idea of what I wanted to study. Jay P. Dolan, Cushwa’s founding director, became my model and mentor, and with his encouragement I, too, chose to focus on the Catholic experience in the United States. By the time I attended my first big Cushwa Center conference—“Engendering American Catholicism,” in 1995 —I was preparing to take Ph.D. comprehensive examinations, and I was delighted to meet in person so many of the scholars whose books I was reading. Scott Appleby was at the helm by then, and I also learned so much from him about teaching and studying history. In 2001, Scott hired me as Cushwa’s associate director, and I arrived just in time to watch him offer expert media commentary after the “Spotlight” investigative team published its first articles about clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. 

Left to right: Cushwa Center directors Timothy Matovina, R. Scott Appleby, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, and Jay P. Dolan, together at a gathering to celebrate the center’s 40th anniversary, September 10, 2015.

Though I had initially thought I would stay at Cushwa for three or four years at most, time just kept stretching. Cushwa provided the ideal environment for me to teach, write, and, best of all, interact with the generous and talented scholars in the field of U.S. Catholic history. Foremost among these was Tim Matovina, who succeeded Scott as director in 2002. When Tim finished his second term, I was named Cushwa’s fourth director. I have loved every minute (or, almost every minute, anyway!). My heart is full of gratitude for these last 11 years, and for the work of current staff and fellows Shane Ulbrich, MaDonna Noak, Philip Byers, and Luca Codignola—or as they have often been called around campus, “the dream team.” I treasure, too, the memories of working with Barbara Lockwood, Paula Brach, Heather Grennan Gary, and Pete Hlabse, as well as the many postdoctoral fellows who have worked at the center, especially Pete Cajka who continued on as the director of the Cushwa Center’s “Gender, Sex, and Power” project and remains my colleague in the Department of American Studies. 

I am extraordinarily grateful to my colleagues on the Cushwa advisory board, especially to the current members: Scott Appleby for his enduring wisdom and mentorship; Ted Cachey for helping me expand Cushwa’s activities in Rome; Darren Dochuk for his collegiality and prodigious knowledge of American religious history; Tom Guinan for his advice on how to be an effective steward of Cushwa’s resources; and John McGreevy for his support and collaboration, most memorably on our “Global History and Catholicism” conference in 2019. I can never thank the Cushwa family enough for all that their generosity has made and continues to make possible in the study of Catholicism in the United States and beyond.

LivedhistoryVII 2013
Participants in a gathering of the Lived History of Vatican II project, April 11–13, 2013.

Finally, warmest thanks to each and every person in Cushwa’s capacious scholarly orbit, including everyone reading this message. It has been a privilege to work so closely with scholars like Bob Orsi on our “Lived History of Vatican II” and “Gender, Sex, and Power” projects, and Maggie McGuinness on the Conference on the History of Women Religious. It would be impossible to name every colleague who has taught me something about the American Catholic experience, so suffice it to say I appreciated each and every person who has ever participated in Cushwa’s seminars, conferences, or research projects or received one of our research grants. Leading Cushwa has been the great honor of my professional life, and I look forward to what comes next, for the center and for me. I expect Sarah Mustillo, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, to make an announcement about Cushwa’s new leadership in the coming weeks. As for me, after a long-anticipated sabbatical, I will look forward to continuing to be an avid supporter of Cushwa, now as an enthusiastic member of the audience.   

Kathleen Sprows Cummings
William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Director
Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism

This director's note appears in the spring 2023 issue of the American Catholic Studies Newsletter.

Update (April 19, 2023): Read the College of Arts and Letters' announcement of the Cushwa Center's new leadership