From the directors

Author: Darren Dochuk and David Lantigua

We are delighted to enter into our new role as co-directors of the Cushwa Center during this exciting time in the life of the University of Notre Dame. It is certainly an auspicious moment where Catholic studies at Notre Dame is concerned. Led by Provost John McGreevy, a longtime friend of Cushwa, Notre Dame is actively extending its commitment to the study and understanding of Catholicism across the Americas and on a global scale amid the social and ecological challenges of the 21st century. Notre Dame’s drive to be the preeminent Catholic research university is indeed wrapped up in its ambition to be a force for good in the world, and we at Cushwa could not be more anxious to contribute to this mission.

While it may be a stretch to say that the Cushwa Center inspired McGreevy’s vision, there is little doubt that the vision is shared. Cushwa is undoubtedly poised to play a crucial role in its implementation. This has a lot to do with the foundation of engagement that Kathleen Sprows Cummings, our predecessor, established. In the past several years, Cushwa has been the premier center nationally and internationally for the study of American Catholicism; its annual Cushwa and Hibernian lectures, multi-year projects, postdoctoral fellowships, travel grants, and regular conferencing in Rome have allowed the center to extend its reach. This semiannual American Catholic Studies Newsletter is yet another mainstay of the Cushwa Center that we are grateful to steward following the splendid, painstaking work put in over the years by Kathy, assistant director Shane Ulbrich, and many others, not least our departing postdoctoral research associate, Philip Byers. (Congratulations, Philip, on the new job!)

As we were preparing to assume this co-directorship, we were poignantly reminded of the legacy that comes with it. On May 7, 2023, Jay P. Dolan, founder of the Cushwa Center, passed away at the age of 87. Family, friends, and colleagues gathered from around the country for a funeral Mass, burial, and luncheon at Notre Dame on June 16 to mourn his passing, share memories, and console one another. He left behind a record of remarkable impact on his craft and guild, as well as on his family—the Notre Dame family included. Besides guiding the center, providing leadership in the Department of History, and mentoring numerous undergraduate and graduate students, Dolan also published extensively. Among his many books is his magnum opus, The American Catholic Experience: A History from Colonial Times to the Present, published in 1985. In this “people’s history” of American Catholicism, which built on his previous studies of Catholic immigrants, Dolan refocused Catholic history on the lived religion and realities of the lay American Catholic, signaling (indeed, defining!) a new post-Vatican II era of Catholic historiography. Dolan’s was a magisterial history that remains the standard, and an essential read for anyone trying to grasp the ground-level workings of the Church and its profound influence on modern American culture.

As we embark on our tenure as co-directors, Jay Dolan’s achievements will continue to inspire. His work bringing together scholars of American religious history will be memorialized through the renaming of Cushwa’s marquee semiannual event in his honor: Starting in spring 2024, we will gather twice a year for the “Jay P. Dolan Seminar in American Religion” (see the full announcement here). Further on, we look forward to celebrating the 50th anniversary of Cushwa’s founding in 2025.

We will do our best to honor Dolan’s legacy in quieter ways as well, most importantly by approaching our work as historians of Catholicism and scholars of modern religion with a shared passion for better understanding the lives of people of faith in their time and place. As Cushwa’s past directors have all done, we will strive to make sense of the “American Catholic experience” in broader contexts of interdisciplinary, ecumenical, and transnational exchange. Beginning with faculty and students at Notre Dame, Cushwa will serve the common good of the University based on the connections the center fosters: bridging North and South America as well as collaborating across the Atlantic; dialoguing across disciplines for fresh perspective and insight; and engaging ecumenically and with the media on matters ranging from migration and democracy to climate and sustainability.

As Ph.D. graduates of Notre Dame—David in theology, Darren in history—we have a deep appreciation of the outsized role that the Cushwa Center has played in shaping the University’s commitment to the study of Catholicism. Alongside Shane Ulbrich and MaDonna Noak, we are excited to do our part to ensure the continued flourishing of Cushwa in conventional and novel ways, with all the responsibilities and spirit of service that entails.

Darren Dochuk
William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Co-Director, Cushwa Center
Andrew V. Tackes College Professor of History

David Lantigua

William W. and Anna Jean Cushwa Co-Director, Cushwa Center
Associate Professor, Department of Theology

This directors’ note appears in the fall 2023 issue of the American Catholic Studies Newsletter.