Give Research Topics a Chance

I hope my title has resonated with some of you – yes, it is a reference to John Lennon’s 1969 anthem “Give Peace a Chance”. The Beatles’ frontman, along with other prominent musicians of the time, spoke to a certain chord of uneasiness towards American policy in Vietnam. I have many historical interests that span over the course of the twentieth-century America, especially the crusades that tackled the social and political landscape of the 1960s and 1970s. Out of my interests in the Vietnam War and my upbringing as an activist, I plan to pursue a research project surrounding the anti-war climate on the homefront in the 1960s and 1970s. I want to take a special look at student activism at Chicago Catholic colleges and universities, including Loyola University and its affiliated Mundelein College, DePaul University, Rosary College (present-day Dominican University), and St. Xavier University. The social justice tradition of these Catholic institutions of higher learning certainly evoked a call to action in the wake of the Vietnam War.

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s entrance into the war in 1965 initially received wide public support in the effort to suppress communism. However, the late 1960s saw a correlation between the unprecedented number of American troops deployed in Vietnam and the major losses of life on both sides of the conflict, triggering anti-war sentiment on the homefront. Student groups, like Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), emerged out of the New Left movement in response to the formidable loss of life and human right violations occurring in Indochina. Inspired by activity at the University of Michigan, universities and colleges in Chicago hosted teach-ins and other events to engage the community in an open dialogue on the violent upheaval occurring in Vietnam.


Students gather outside of Piper Hall at Mundelein College in May, 1970 for an anti-war demonstration.


The Skyscraper, Mundelein College’s student newspaper, thoroughly reported anti-war activity on its campus, including this sit-in in 1967.

This is where my project comes into play. While I value the critical attributes of SDS, I am also curious about any other student organizations that surfaced out of the anti-war movement within the Chicago sphere of Catholic colleges and universities. I also want to explore the administration’s response to the rising outcry of this anti-war sentiment on their campus. Because this project will be focused on a certain region of the United States, I am looking forward to discovering any communication between these specific schools. Because of my close relationship with Loyola University and Mundelein College, I have a more well-rounded idea of the activism that occurred there in the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, I am excited to learn more about Rosary College (present-day Dominican University), St. Xavier University, and DePaul University’s activist presence in Chicago during the Vietnam War. I plan to utilize archival and library materials from each of these institutions to sew together a story of solidarity against the aching war in Vietnam.

My first semester in the Ramonat Seminar has already proved to be a rewarding experience. In September I made a goal to explore the tools of the historian, and have seemingly done so through various projects, including an Omeka exhibit. I want to contribute to the digital age by creating an online exhibit showcasing the anti-war movement in Catholic Chicago. I am excited to see what the next semester holds as my classmates and I tackle our respective research projects.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey so far.. More to come next semester!


Matthew Day


The Jazz Age: Catholic Edition

The Ramonat Seminar’s speaker series continued on Wednesday with a visit from Dr. Randal Jelks of the University of Kansas. Dr. Jelks’s intimate yet colorful presentation dismantled his current book project, ‘I Am Free to Be What I Want’. In this fascinating venture he encounters the faith life (mainly Catholic) of four prominent African-American figures in twentieth-century culture: blues singer Ethel Waters, jazz musician Mary Lou Williams, writer and political activist Eldridge Cleaver, and the late Muhammad Ali. Dr. Jelks’s intellect and humor, and frequent referral to the “dead white guys,” added to the ambience of a well-rounded lecture on the coming of faith through personal struggle.


Dr. Randal Jelks

I was extremely fascinated by Mary Lou Williams, one of the University of Kansas professor’s subjects. Known for her . Jazz sensationalist Duke Ellington described Williams as “soul on soul.” Though she had been involved in the industry since the 1920s, her real claim to fame did not arrive until after her conversion to Catholicism in 1956. “St. Martin de Porres,” the first track on her album Mary Lou Williams Presents Black Christ of the Andes, offers the listener a chilling and enlightening perspective on the first black person canonized by the Roman Curia. This album precedes the dawning of liberation theology in the Americas, a movement that emphasizes the liberation from social, political, and economic restraints. Her self-arranged liturgical music evoked feelings of disapproval and uncertainty from clergyman, both at home and abroad at the Vatican. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Williams wrote music for a mass for peace, and planned to perform it during her visit to the Vatican; however, she was denied this request due to the use of bongo drums in her music. Though she received appraisal from clergyman and the laity, her music could not be officially the setting for a mass’s liturgy. In this case, Williams was invited to lead a sixty-voice choir in a special mass dedicated to her music at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on February 18, 1975. Her work inspired the choreographer Alvin Ailey to create a performance to her liturgical music, and dubbed it Mary Lou’s Mass.

Portrait of Mary Lou Williams (L); the jazz pianist leading her ‘Mary Lou’s Mass’ at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City in 1975 (R).

Dr. Jelks’s lecture holds a special place for me, especially in terms of my cultural interests and personal life. I really don’t find modern music appealing – besides Adele of course. But I have always been fascinated by the works of Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and their contemporaries. Their dark and powerful voices along with their cinematic-like sound reminds me of Williams’s liturgical music. I have already found a strong spiritual connection to some of the pieces written by Williams, and I would not be opposed to a jazz band taking over the Madonna della Strada Chapel from time to time. Loyola could certainly use a change of pace! My local parish back home is predominately African-American, and each Sunday mass is brought to life by the seemingly powerful gospel choir. I find similarities between the jazz of Mary Lou Williams and my parish’s choir, each focusing on the struggles of the marginalized while finding ways to be uplifted. Jazz music emerged out of the African-Americans’ sidelined situation in twentieth-century American culture. They developed a new breed of music in the 1920s that eventually caught on to the mainstream, but pushed the boundaries of the artist and the listener. Mary Lou Williams specially endeavored to bring about a new way of participating in mass in the old, much like Dorothy Day’s philosophy of developing a new society within the stringent borders of her world.

Thanks for reading!



Matthew Day Gone Wild

Wow – I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks since my last blog post! As you can imagine, a lot has happened in the Ramonat Seminar during my brief hiatus. We embarked on an unforgettable journey to northern Missouri to visit and participate in a Catholic Worker farm, and we listened to a colorful story about American Jesuits by our first guest speaker, Dr. John T. McGreevy of the University of Notre Dame. I am excited to share with you all my experiences below!

My classmates and I, and our instructors, journeyed to rural La Plata, Missouri during the first weekend of October to pay a visit to a special farm in the vast network of the Catholic Worker movement. White Rose Catholic Worker Farm, managed by John Bambrick and his wife Regina, developed out of a house of hospitality in West Rogers Park by the same name. A few years ago John and Regina felt a certain vocation to the farmland in Missouri in pursuit of a simpler lifestyle and to escape the modern luxuries (i.e., cell phones and plumbing). They also envisioned, and still do, a society of communal and sustainable living, by which John and Regina promote through social activism, interpretation of Biblical scripture and theology, and invitations to women and men of all ages to experience the farm.

My professors were serious about the lack of electricity. When we first arrived on Friday night, my peers and I heavily relied on head lamps, flashlights, and our senses during our brief strolls. And to mimic the Bambricks’ lifestyle, we turned off our phones to be in connection with one another and with the land. I should preface this reflection by saying that this weekend was a lot of firsts for me. Many of my friends and family members will tell you that I am not one to indulge myself in any outdoor activities, or really anything nature-related. I slept in a tent for the very first time. I also willingly participated in farm chores, specifically: raking up hay to be used as an odor control for the Bambricks’ compost; I cannot thank my co-raker, Emily, enough for her support and hilarity during this episode. I even branched out of my sleeping habits and napped on a bale of hay. As a sustainable community, Regina cooked our meals – with assistance from some of my peers – using ingredients from the crops grown at White Rose. Any leftover food was either stored for future meals or composted. We mainly ate vegetarian meals, and probably the healthiest meals I will ever eat. Our two nights were laden with coyote howls, informal discussion by candlelight, and the occasional human scream at the sight of a daddy-long-leg.

Though I was hesitant at first about embarking on this trip to Missouri, I tried to keep an open mind throughout the weekend. I participated on an Alternative Break Immersion during my freshman year, and witnessed and served the poor in Rutledge, Tennessee. I did not expect the same service aspect or experiences to occur at the White Rose Catholic Worker. I understood that the mission of this place was to fulfill that agrarian and egalitarian vision of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. My past experience on that service trip to Tennessee prepared me to comply with the Bambricks’ principled lifestyle. While I am not physically-attuned nor am I nature-oriented, I felt a duty to participate in farm chores for the exchange of shelter and food; John referred to this trade as a gift economy. I feel that this experience has brought my peers and I to a whole new level of understanding and respect for each other. Between our travel time and work on the farm, I was able to learn more about my peers’ motives for taking this course and their personal identities. I am excited to see what the future holds for my peers and I as we continue to grow in the Ramonat Seminar.

img_0998Processed with VSCO with s1 preset

Emily and I raking up hay to be used for the compost (top); My peers, Professor Nickerson, and I pose in front the White Rose Catholic Worker workshop (bottom).

The Catholic Worker goals of the 1930s and the goals of today’s movement don’t seem to be far-fetched from each other. Peter Maurin envisioned agronomical universities, or farming communes, as an affiliate to the houses of hospitality in urban settings. Dorothy Day and Maurin’s idealism of building a new society within the current one continues to inspire the Catholic Worker movement, which was absolutely identifiable in the Bambricks’ philosophy. John and Regina, both highly educated, seek to convey the Catholic Worker ideology on their farm in La Plata, Missouri. Though fairly new, their farm has acted as a place of shelter for those in need and has hosted round-table discussions to address some of the world’s contentious issues, such as climate change. The Bambricks were clear in their convictions for creating a healthier world, especially for their young daughter: denouncing luxuries (i.e., cell phones) that I view as necessities, eating solely organic food, and advocating for justice and peace.


Another great shot of me doing manual labor.

(Courtesy of Amelia Serafine)

Our first guest speaker, Dr. John T. McGreevy, unfolded the Jesuits’ significant role in globalizing Roman Catholicism in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. He referred to his new book, American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global, during his lecture to focus on the effects of American Jesuits in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Upon reading McGreevy’s book and listening to him speak, it became more apparent that the Society of Jesus, the order of priests responsible for the onset of Loyola University Chicago, were unpopular figures in the Roman Catholic Church. However, this did not come to much surprise for me. As I understand, the Jesuits have a seemingly more progressive doctrine than the traditional dogma of the Church. Though their motto of “women and men for others” seems to be a mighty Christian action, the Church’s commanders as well as some other historical figures (i.e., Thomas Jefferson) felt undermined. The Jesuits’ evangelical mission in the Philippines succeeded in producing one of the most Catholic nations in the world. Their effort to bring about the English language and American customs not only aided in the expansion of Roman Catholicism but also welcomed the prospects of trade and exchange of ideas to a former Spanish protectorate.


Dr. John T. McGreevy’s recently published book, ‘American Jesuits’.

Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin’s movement sought to create a sustainable world within the old, and to create a crusade on behalf of the marginalized. The Jesuits had similar goals in mind on their globalizing effort. This order of priests believed that an evangelized world might be more ethically-inclined to provide a safe haven for those at the edge of society, and the inclusivity of different ideologies. I find this still to be true today, especially as a student at a Jesuit institution of higher learning. Each of my courses, both past and present, have explored social justice in a respective discipline that I believe Day, Maurin, and even St. Ignatius of Loyola might find desirable. The Catholic Worker movement and the Society of Jesus have intersecting values that seem to find a solution for the betterment of our world.

Thanks for reading!



For more pictures from out trip to White Rose Catholic Worker, click here!


Catholics and Darwin, and Zahm, oh my!

The correlation between science and religion has certainly been a contested matter throughout history, and continues today. Many of us are all too familiar with the Scientific Revolution and Galileo Galilei, the seventeenth-century Italian astronomer who defied the Roman Catholic Church in his endorsement of a sun-centered solar system. The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, an age of reason and new thought, succeeded the period of unprecedented scientific discovery, and swiftly challenged Church doctrine. In the nineteenth century, science continued its advancement in various fields as the Industrial Revolution started to take hold of several metropolitan cities around the world. Specifically, the latter part of the nineteenth century holds a crucial moment in the clash between scientific development and religion.

Charles Darwin, the nineteenth-century English naturalist, conceptualized a theory on human development that furthered complications with the Church: evolution, or Darwinism. His notion on natural selection and its implications caused a commotion in the Church over the spiritual and physical development of the human. The onset of Darwin’s theory sparked outrage within Catholic communities in the United States, and ignited the formation of two ideologically-different factions: the progressives and the conservatives. In R. Scott Appleby’s essay “Exposing Darwin’s ‘Hidden Agenda,'” the former was composed of some bishops and priests, and attempted to open the American Catholic sphere to scientific developments and other doctrinal differences; their forward-thinking movement was sometimes dubbed “Americanism.” The conservatives, however, were spearheaded by several American Catholic prelates who disavowed the idea of human evolution, calling it a mockery of God’s power and creationism. Though the progressives seemed to be out of accordance with Catholic dogma, their movement received praise from Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) who advocated for a more tolerant approach to science.


Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

The final years of the nineteenth century proved to be a pivotal moment for the Catholic-Darwin relationship. Father John Augustine Zahm, a University of Notre Dame scientist and priest in the Congregation of Holy Cross, sought to find a meaningful correlation between religion and science in the 1890s. Though he believed that Catholic doctrine was the “divine truth,” and outweighed scientific principles, Zahm maintained that he was inconclusive on Darwin’s theory of evolution. He insisted that an evolution based on God’s role in the creation of the human form was a possible ideological answer to the conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the scientific community. It was unnecessary for the Catholic teaching on creation and the scientific theories of evolution to counter each other, Zahm affirmed. In 1896 the priest-scientist published Evolution and Dogma, his attempt to demonstrate the coexistence of religion and science in historical and contemporary perspectives.


Father John A. Zahm, CSC

During his clashes with Pope Urban VIII and the Holy See, Galileo proposed “the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.” His words are evocative of Catholicism’s relationship with the sciences today. Before entering the Society of Jesus as a novitiate, Pope Francis briefly studied chemistry at a technology institute in Buenos Aires, Argentina. His experience laid the groundwork for his innovative encyclical Laudato si, where he describes the ailing condition of the environment and calls for the fruitful dialogue between religion and science. Pope Francis’s concern for the poor and the marginalized, especially those felt precluded by the Church, translate into his worries for the Earth. His desire to see respectful and constructive relations between religion and science is traced to Father Zahm’s argument for a cohesive bond connecting the two differing ideologies.


A satirical take on the environmentally-conscious pope.

Thanks for reading!