An inventory of the Records of the Commission on American Citizenship of The Catholic University of America at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
In 1938 Pope Pius XI sent a letter congratulating the American hierarchy on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee of the Catholic University of America, the representative university of the United States Bishops. Concerned with the global spread of theories and doctrines that he believed undermined Christianity, the Pope decided to use the occasion of the Jubilee to give the University a special assignment. The University's position as the representative educational institution of the American hierarchy, he noted, endowed it especially with the "traditional mission of guarding the natural and supernatural heritage of man." Toward fulfillment of that mission, wrote the Pope, "it must, because of the exigencies of the present age, give special attention to the sciences of civics, sociology, and economics" in a "constructive program of social action" that fit local needs.
Following the Pope's directive, the United States Bishops instructed the University to prepare materials of instruction in citizenship and Christian social living for use in the Catholic schools of the United States. The Commission on American Citizenship was organized in 1939 to carry out the Bishops' mandate. Three members of the University faculty were delegated by the Board of Trustees of the University to serve as the Commission's founding leaders. University Rector Father Joseph M. Corrigan, Monsignor Francis J. Haas, Dean of the School of Social Science and later Bishop of Grand Rapids, and Monsignor George Johnson of the Department of Education. Father Corrigan served as the organization's first president; Monsignor Haas as the chair of the executive committee, and Monsignor Johnson served as the authority over all matters pertaining to educational method. They decided that the Commission would outline a statement of Christian principles as requested by the bishops, create a curriculum for the elementary schools, and oversee the writing of a series of textbooks to embody the social message of Christ.
In its formative period, a variety of intellectuals supported the Commission including: Herbert C. F. Bell, Professor of History, Wesleyan University; Franklin Dunham, Educational Direction, National Broadcasting Company; Charles G. Fenwick, Professor of Political Science, Bryn Mawr College, James L. Hanley, Superintendent of Public Schools, F. Ernest Johnson, Professor of Education, Columbia University; Jerome G. Kerin F, Professor of Economics, Princeton University; Florence Stratemeyer, Professor of Education, Columbia University; Henry C. Taylor, Director, Farm Foundation; and Howard E. Wilson, Professor of Education, Harvard University. Cooperating committees were formed of the diocesan Superintendents of Schools, Supervisors of Social Studies in various dioceses, and the Faculty of the School of Social Science and of the Department of Education at the Catholic University. Upon the deaths of Bishop Corrigan and Monsignor Johnson in the early 1940s, Monsignor Patrick J. McCormick, Corrigan's successor as Rector, took over as President and Monsignor Frederick G. Hochwalt, the head of both the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) and the NCWC Department of Education replaced Johnson.
The Commission's work was divided into three general divisions: an informational service to Catholic and non-Catholic educators of its principles, its aims, and its methods; instruction for Catholic school teachers by means of a curriculum for "Guiding Growth in Christian Social Living"; and instruction for Catholic school students by means of a series of Basal Readers and other textbooks.
In their informational service, the Commission had the active cooperation of the Public Relations Office of the Catholic University and of the press section of the National Catholic Welfare Conference. Before the Commission published their own periodicals, they had opportunities to utilize the effective service of the Young Catholic Messenger, the Junior Catholic Messenger, and Our Little Messenger, published by George A. Pflaum, Inc. in Ohio. Using the Pflaum publications, the Catholic elementary schools prepared students for reading the later publications. The Commission also published a civics manual through Pflaum. The original version was called "Americans All" and the revised version was "Good Citizens.". The manual served as a guide for members of the Catholic Civics Clubs, chartered by the Commission and especially popular on the middle school level. Pflaum also published a teachers' manual on the "Teaching of Current Affairs" for the Commission. This publication aided teachers in presenting both national and international news in the light of Christian principles.
Assisting Johnson and Haas from the early stages of the creation of the curriculum and textbook portion of the project were Sister Mary Joan Smith, O.P. and Sister Mary Nona McGreal, O.P. Sister Mary Joan Smith, O.P., director of curriculum and Dr. Mary Synon, editorial consultant were principally responsible for the progress of the work. The materials they created are the first general curriculum offered to Catholic schools for their use in developing ideals of Christian doctrine for daily living.
According to Dr. Mary Synon, while the Department of Education and the School of Social Science did much of the Commission's work, practically every department and school of the University contributed significantly. Monsignor Patrick J. McCormick, and Edward B. Jordan, Vice Rector of the University cooperated with careful readings the finished manuscripts. The School of Philosophy, specifically its Dean, Ignatius Smith, O.P., gave notable aid in the association and clarification of philosophical ideas with educational processes. Many other members of the faculties of both University and Houses of Study also assisted to advance the project. Also, the builders of the curriculum received the criticism and suggestions of scores of teachers and educators across the country.
The curriculum was also used by several archdioceses and dioceses as bases for courses of study within local schools. Institutes were held throughout the country to aid teachers in incorporating curriculum materials into existing curricula. CUA established a course on the teaching of the Commission curriculum, provided by one of the curriculum builders and a curriculum laboratory. The program designers gave lectures and class courses on the curriculum in several colleges and other schools. Sister Mary Joan taught at Rosary College, River Forest, Illinois, Sister Mary Thomas Aquinas at Mount Saint Mary College, Los Angeles, California, and Sister Mary Nona McGreal at Catholic University.
For Catholic school students from the first through eighth grades, the Commission designed the "Faith and Freedom Series" of basal readers based on the principles espoused in the curriculum. Aiming to establish Christian principles in the minds of students toward their use in daily living, the writers of the readers--Sister Mary Marguerite for the Primary Grades and Sister Mary Thomas Aquinas, Sister Mary Charlotte and Dr. Mary Synon for the intermediate and upper grades--built a series on social education according to the principles cited as base for the work of the Commission. Published by Ginn and Company, the texts in this series were titled: "This is our Home"; "This is our Family"; "These are our Friends"; "These are our Neighbors"; "This is our Town"; "This is our Lord"; "These are our People"; "This is our Heritage"; "These are our Freedoms"; and "These are our Horizons."
These texts introduced the great leaders of the Church not as historical characters but as courageous human beings so that the children would view them as ideal figures in their own daily lives. According to a 1946 Commission report, these readers were used in more than 6,000 of the 8,000 catholic elementary schools in more than thirty-five archdioceses and dioceses in the United States. Copies of texts in this series were officially requested by the military authorities who were revising systems of education in occupied Japan and Germany after World War II. Catholic publicists in Belgium, France and the Netherlands referred to this series for their future education plans. Missionaries in the Philippines requested the copies for children there, and nearly every Catholic school in Hawaii used the texts. Also, the Commission received many inquiries from educators about using the series as possible models for books to be used in non-Catholic schools.
The Commission's activities also included the sponsorship of civics clubs and the presentation of "Catholic Hour" broadcasts in Catholic schools. Their aim was to provide members with means for putting into practice the Christian social principles enunciated by recent popes and to train the members in the exercise of Christian citizenship in a democracy. The civics clubs were among the most successful of the Commission's organizational efforts. The majority of clubs were comprised of youth in the seventh and eighth grades, though there were some elementary level and high school clubs too. Though the clubs were originally conceived as adjuncts for implementing book learning in civics classes, these expanded in scope in the 1940s, as principles learned by students in civics were to be applied regardless of whether or not civics was taught in a school. Club members read publications like "Good Citizens" and "Young Catholic Messenger" and used the handbook "Americans All" to run their affairs; the handbook had a constitution and ideas for school and community involvement. At their height in the early 1960s, approximately 5,000 of the clubs were distributed throughout the country and over 200,000 members were estimated participants. While teachers provided guidance and served as club moderators, the students operated the clubs mostly by themselves. Civics club activities included service in safety patrols, participation in student courts, operation of school libraries, various parish services, and charitable activities. The Commission outlined a series of the projects by Civics Clubs through the columns of the "Young Catholic Messenger."
At the request of the National Council of Catholic Men (NCCM), the Commission prepared a series of six historical radio dramas entitled "The Foundations of Freedom" in April and May 1941. These radio dramas sought to describe the role American Catholics played in winning the rights American people enjoy--freedom of conscience, political liberty, the right to work, and other economic and social freedoms. Prepared under the direction of the Commission, the School of Speech and Drama of Catholic University took charge of the production. The cast included a combination of University students and professional actors. The music score was prepared by the Music Department of the National Broadcasting Company. The stories, which were broadcast on NBC on Sunday afternoons centered on topics such as the role of Maryland in furthering religious toleration in the United States, prominent Catholics and their role in the establishment of the nation, and pioneer Catholics.
Despite death and retirement among the ranks of the original cadre of Commission consultants, its work continued through the 1960s. In 1960 complete revisions and reprints of the textbooks and curriculum guide were issued. Also, the Commission published a high-school curriculum guide as experimental try-outs which were conducted in four dioceses. More than 2,000 schools received Mightier than the Sword, the Commission's feature story service aimed at high-school newspapers. Ultimately, the elementary level materials of the Commission were the most highly regarded. The Commission continued to exist until 1969, when it became a curriculum materials development center of the School of Education of Catholic University.
The collection of the Commission on American Citizenship includes their editorial files, primarily correspondence, as well as various publications such as the Faith and Freedom readers. There are also selected photocopies of documents from the records of the Rector (title changed to President in 1968) of The Catholic University of America (CUA). Said material was added to help make up for a dearth of editorial files from the Commission itself.
Series 1, 1938-1970, is divided into two subseries. The first has the select photocopies made of files from Box 79 of the CUA Office of the Rector/President. The original folder titles are "Curriculum and Publication," "Civic Education/Citizenship Program," "Reports of Civics Clubs and Other Activities," "Financial issues and Graded Textbooks," and "Graded Textbooks-Faith and Freedom Series, Guiding Growth in Christian Social Living, etc." The second subseries consists of surviving editorial files, (the others apparently purged by W. Wingate Snell, Assistant to the Commission's Director), donated by Mr. Snell to the CUA Archives after the Commission's demise in 1970. They contain correspondence from 1955 through 1970 including the reports of the activities at the Commission, awards for Civics Clubs, and communication with the publishers.
Series 2, 1940-1970, consists of copies of many publications, such as textbooks and periodicals, associated in various degrees with the Commission. These include curriculum called "Guiding Growth in Christian Social Living," published by CUA Press, and a set of readers called "The Faith and Freedom" series with volumes such as "This is Our Home," "This is Our Town," "These are Our People," "These are Our Freedoms.", published by Ginn and Company. Both had the aim of implanting Christian principles in the minds of Catholic school students as guides to daily living. Additionally, the Commission sponsored the creation of Catholic Civics Clubs in Catholic Schools, and were thus involved in contributing to and supporting publications like the "Young Catholic Messenger" and the "Treasure Chest of Fun and Fact," both published by George Pflaum of Dayton, Ohio. In 2004, the Treasure Chest material was removed from the Commission and set up as a separate collection at the CUA Archives with a digital version created on-line at http://www.aladin.wrlc.org/gsdl/collect/treasure/treasure.shtml. In 2014, the Young Catholic Messenger volumes were likewise separated and added to newly aquired, earlier volumes that predated the commission's involvement.
Series 3, 1961, in oversize box 13, has posters that depict the horrors of Communism. Produced by George Pflaum, the seven posters in question are color, measure 13 inches by 24 inches.
The Records of the Commission of the American Citizenship of the Catholic University of America consists of 2 Series:
There are no access restrictions.
The main body of the collection was donated by Mr. W. Wingate Snell who worked for the Commission of American Citizenship as Assistant to the Director at the time of the Commission's closing. Additional materials such as publications by the Commission were transplanted from other libraries in the Catholic University of America.
Processing completed in March 2008 by Yuki Yamazaki, with additional contributions by Maria Mazzenga and William John Shepherd in November 2008. EAD markup completed in October 2008 by Taras Zvir. Due to an accession of Young Catholic Messenger volumes dating before the time of the Commission's involvement with its publication, these volumes were separated into their own collection in 2014. EAD revisions completed in 2014 by Michael J. Dobbs. Revised and expanded by Mr. Shepherd in 2015. Links to digital objects added by Katherine Santa Ana and Austin Arminio in 2017.
Rector/President, Office of (CUA),
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Corrigan, Joseph M
Haas, Francis J.
Pius XI, Pope, 1922-1939
George A. Pflaum, Inc.
Guinn and Co.
The Catholic University of America
Annunciata, M. "The Commission on American Citizenship," The Catholic University Bulletin 33 (1965): 7-9, 14.
Johnson, George. "The Commission on American Citizenship," Journal of Educational Sociology 16 (1943): 380-385.
Mazzenga, Maria. "More Democracy, More Religion: Baltimore's Schools, Religious Pluralism, and the Second World War," in One Hundred Years of Catholic Education: Historical Essays in Honor of the Centennial of the National Catholic Educational Association, eds. John Augenstein, Christopher J. Kauffman, and Robert Wister, 199-219. Washington, DC: NCEA, 2003.
Meagher, Timothy J. "Reconciling Patriotism and Catholic Devotion: Catholic Children's Literature in Postwar America," in Religions of the United States in Practice, volume 2, ed. Colleen McDannell, 159-172. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.
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