New travel grant program launched for Catholic women’s history; open to scholars of any academic discipline

Author: Shane Ulbrich

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Following an initial announcement in the fall 2017 issue of the American Catholic Studies Newsletter, the University of Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism has officially launched the Mother Theodore Guerin Research Travel Grant Program, an initiative supporting research projects that seek to feature Catholic women more prominently in historical narratives.

Open to scholars of any academic discipline, this new funding opportunity will help defray travel and lodging expenses for scholars visiting research repositories in or outside the United States or conducting oral interviews, especially of women religious. The deadline for the first round of applications is May 1, 2018. Thereafter, the application deadline will be December 31 each calendar year.

This latest grant offering from the Cushwa Center is possible thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Anita McMahon, an alumna of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College whose late husband, William McMahon, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1950.

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The new program memorializes the historic connection between Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College and Notre Dame, which celebrates the 175th anniversary of its founding this year. The grants are named for Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, a French missionary to Indiana who established the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, just north of Terre Haute, in 1840. When Father Edward Sorin, the priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross who founded Notre Dame, arrived in Indiana that same year from France, he and his six companions first settled near Vincennes in the southern part of the state. Facing many challenges in a foreign land, Father Sorin found in Mother Theodore a ready collaborator and friend. Guerin even sent Sorin the substantial gift of a wagon and a yoke of oxen, and thus became one of the first benefactors of Holy Cross in the earliest days of the Congregation’s arrival in America. Mother Theodore and her congregation would go on to found schools, two orphanages, and free pharmacies in Indiana and Illinois. She was beatified in 1998 by Pope John Paul II and canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.

“Thanks to the generosity of Anita McMahon, for years to come scholars seeking to draw Catholic women out from the peripheries of history will find support at the Cushwa Center,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the center. “I couldn’t be more pleased about this expansion of the center’s commitment to helping scholars from around the country and, increasingly, around the world. At the same time, this is also an excellent way to celebrate Mother Theodore, a local saint and pioneer for the Catholic Church in the Midwest.”

“This new grant, named for our beloved foundress, is a wonderful way to celebrate our historic relationship with the Holy Cross family of religious and to honor Saint Mother Theodore’s special devotion to the education of women,” said Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, General Superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. “One of our favorite quotes of hers reveals this mission focus: ‘Woman in this country is only yet one-fourth of the family. I hope that, through the influence of religion and education, she will eventually become at least one half—the better half.’ The Sisters of Providence are grateful to the Cushwa Center as well as our good friend Anita McMahon for keeping Mother Theodore’s dream alive.”

This is the third grant program launched at the Cushwa Center since 2011. The center began offering Hesburgh Research Travel Grants in 2015 to support scholars traveling to the Notre Dame Archives to consult source material on the life and work of Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., who served as Notre Dame’s president from 1952 to 1987. Peter R. D’Agostino Research Travel Grants, inaugurated in 2011, support the study of U.S. Catholic history from international perspectives by means of research in Roman archives. The center’s original longstanding Research Travel Grant Program and annual Hibernian Research Award have been offered since shortly after the center’s establishment in 1976.

Prospective applicants can visit for more information and application details.

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