An inventory of William Joseph Kerby's papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
Monsignor William Joseph Kerby was a widely celebrated priest, writer, teacher, editor, sociologist, and organizer of Catholic social work. Considered the father of scientific Catholic social work, he wrote the seminal text "The Social Mission of Charity," and was vastly influential on the foundation of the National Catholic Charities Council and the National Catholic War Council. His work included organizing the National Catholic School of Social Work, and both the Catholic University of America's sociology department and Trinity College's sociology department.
Kerby was born in Lawler, Iowa, on February 20, 1870. The second son of Daniel Riordan Kerby and Ellen Rochford, he was raised in a financially privileged, intellectual, and devoutly Catholic household. His father, a prominent merchant who established Lawler's first bank, taught him Latin and Greek at home; his mother encouraged him to actively engage in personal service to the needy, and would send him and his nine siblings to visit impoverished neighbors with baskets of food on holy days. His family was exceptionally emotionally supportive, and he remained very close with his siblings throughout his career.
Kerby attended public and parochial schools in his hometown, and then St. Joseph's College in Dubuque, Iowa, graduating in 1889. Afterwards, he attended St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was ordained at the age of 22 in Dubuque on December 21, 1892, and encouraged to pursue advanced studies at the newly established Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
Kerby received his Bachelor of Sacred Theology from CUA in 1893, and by 1894 he had earned his Licentiate in Theology. He returned briefly to Dubuque in 1894 to teach at St. Joseph's College. He had been strongly influenced by his mentor in his studies at CUA, the moral theologian Father Thomas Bouquillon, who stressed the practical application of social science in moral teachings. Through Bouquillon's influence, Kerby became interested in the newly emerging field of sociology. When CUA decided to introduce sociology into its curriculum, the school invited him to build the program. He accepted, and the school sent him to Bonn and Berlin, Germany, and Louvain, Belgium in 1895 to study the field more closely.
Kerby received his Doctorate of Social and Political Science from the University of Louvain in 1897. He returned to the Catholic University of America that autumn to begin teaching and building one of the first sociology departments in the United States, the premier among Catholic universities.
Kerby was widely celebrated as an engaging and interesting teacher and speaker. From 1897 until 1907, he served as an associate professor for Catholic University; in 1907, he was made a full professor, and continued to teach courses at CUA until his death. In 1910, he became one of the founding members of the Trinity College department of sociology, where he also taught for the next twenty years. He was Trinity's first and only chaplain from the foundation of the school in 1900, another post he held until his death.
His efforts and support inspired the foundation of the National Catholic School of Social Services, where he served as acting director from 1924-1929, and filled the sociology chair until 1931. At the time the pope made him a domestic prelate, Kerby was vice president of the board of trustees of the National Catholic School of Social Services, and he continued to be a member of the board until his death.
Kerby was a prolific writer, publishing four books and hundreds of articles over the course of his career. During his life, he published 'The Social Mission of Charity,' 'The Young Priest and His Elders,' 'The Prophets of Better Hope,' and 'The Impact of Years.' 'The Social Mission of Charity' was particularly influential, and became an authoritative and widely quoted handbook for the emerging Catholic social work field.
His writing propelled him into a hugely influential group of Catholic social work intellectuals who changed the way Catholics thought about service to the needy in the United States. His interpretation of sociology was strongly influenced by his personal concern for the needy and underprivileged. Rather than focusing on immediate relief, he worked to change the focus to the causes and prevention of poverty and need. Holding that socially caused poverty can be adequately cured only by social remedies, he believed in the wider power of the Church to provide welfare for the poor and progressive betterment of society. He also influenced the attitude of Catholics training for social work, dispelling the widely held notion that good intentions are a sufficient substitute for specific knowledge, and the assumption that a trained social worker is less sympathetic than his non-trained fellow worker.
He was also an accomplished editor; from 1911 until 1917, he was editor of the Saint Vincent de Paul Quarterly, he was the editor of the Ecclesiastical Review from 1927 to 1936, and he helped found the Charities Review.
Kerby devoted himself to organizing and establishing organizations to promote a new era of Catholic social work and theory. He served in high positions in the councils of the Christ Child Society, and he helped to establish the Fresh Air Home in Baltimore, MD through his involvement with this organization. At the time that he finished his formal education in 1897, the only Catholic charity workers who were known to each other were the members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society. He labored with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society for four summers before 1910, when he help found the National Conference of Catholic Charities. The purpose of NCCC was to both establish a more scientific approach to social work and to establish a wider base of communication between Catholic social workers. He was the secretary of NCCC from 1910 until 1920.
He took a leadership role in the foundation of the National Catholic War Council, was a member of the Committee on Special War Activities of the NCWC, and chairman of the National Committee on Women's Activities. He was also a leading advocate of the transition of the organization after the war, turning the War Council into the Welfare Conference, and continued to work with the organization to provide aid to the struggle against poverty after the war.
In recognition of his influence on the field and charitable work, President Wilson appointed Kerby to the Board of Charities in Washington, DC in June of 1920, a post he honored continuously through his reappointments by Harding and Coolidge. Notre Dame University conferred an honorary doctorate of Laws in recognition of his sociological work. He was also honored with his investment of the rank of domestic prelate by Pope Pius XI on April 19, 1934 at Trinity College. At this time, his health had begun to fail, and he resigned as the department head at CUA.
Throughout his career, he eschewed living in a rectory, and lived with three of his sisters (the Misses Josephine, Ora, and Leo Kerby) in the Cleveland Park neighborhood of Washington, DC, on 3900 Connecticut Ave. NW. His sisters were devoted to his care and exceptionally affectionate. His eldest sister, Josephine, died on July 28, 1936 (the day after his death) from the shock of his passing, and her life was celebrated side by side with his own at the funeral mass. Kerby was 66 years old when he died on July 27, 1936. He was buried in Sioux City, Iowa.
Kerby left a lasting legacy in the Catholic intellectual tradition of social work, and his charitable causes were pursued after his passing, particularly in the work of the William J. Kerby Foundation, and through the efforts of his nephew and fellow priest, Rev. Dr. William Russell.
The William Joseph Kerby Papers consist of newspaper clippings, correspondence, records from his time as a student, notes on lectures and sermons he gave, a textbook manuscript on social work, photographs, and materials he published.
The first series, "Clippings," spans the years 1895 to 1949, and includes newspaper and magazine clippings that cover Kerby’s works and speeches, or personally interested Kerby. The series is divided by subject, including clippings of reviews of his published work, obituaries and retrospectives of his life, articles on his sermons on labor, charities, social work, democracy, and prostitution, and other fragments.
The second series is "Correspondence", which consists entirely of letters written by and to Kerby and his family members. The earliest letters are primarily written by Kerby, preserved by his family recipients, and the series ends with letters of condolence written on Kerby's demise. The series is divided by subject into several more general folders, including family and personal correspondence. Where a bulk of letters have been preserved from one individual, they are filed by name of recipient.
The third series, "Student Records," consists primarily of notebooks and lecture notes from Kerby's time as a student. The notebooks are handwritten in Latin, French, and English. There are also a few report cards, showing Kerby's class schedules and grades. The series is divided by year, and spans from his time at St. Joseph's College in 1887, through his graduation from Louvain. There are several essays written in the notebooks that allude to Kerby's young accomplishment and skill in writing powerfully, and subjects that he continues to lecture on throughout his career.
The fourth series, "Scrapbooks," consists of two leather-bound scrapbooks, maintained by Kerby's sisters. One entire album is dedicated to his investiture in 1934, and includes the official documents from Rome conferring his monsignorship, invitations to the ceremony at Trinity College, clippings from magazines and newspapers that reported on the investiture, professional photographs taken of Kerby at the time, and a selection of congratulatory letters. The second album contains a selection of letters of condolence, prayer cards, and mass cards for Kerby's family after his death in 1936. Neither of these albums contain the majority of material relating to these two events, and there are typed notes explaining that the vast majority was discarded, due to sheer volume.
The fifth series, "Lectures and Sermons," consists of lecture notes, drafts, and manuscripts of sermons that Kerby presented over the course of his career. Spanning from 1901 to 1935, the materials in this series are organized by subject matter. Many of the lectures and sermons that Kerby made were later written up as articles.
The sixth series, "Textbook Manuscript," consists of chapters and revisions to a social work textbook written by Kerby in 1930. This series is divided by chapters and subject matter. As the chapter positions changed repeatedly, the subjects are arranged alphabetically.
The seventh series, "Photographs," consists of two files of pictures. The first file contains a variety of professional portraits taken of Kerby throughout his career. They span from a very young picture to a portrait taken months before his death in 1936. The second file contains miscellaneous pictures of interest to Kerby's career, including memorial artwork created in his honor, and photographs of what appears to be a retreat that he led.
The eighth series, "Publications," consists primarily of a selection of the articles Kerby published over the course of his career, separated mainly by journal title. This series also includes publication lists for all his materials published within his lifetime (for materials published posthumously, please refer to the William J. Kerby Foundation Papers).
The William Joseph Kerby Papers consists of 8 Series:
Restrictions on Access
This collection was amalgamated from at least three different donations. Information for how the first portion of the collection originated is unavailable. The second portion, donated by Kerby's nephew Msgr. William Russell on May 11, 1951, consisted of personal and professional correspondence. The third portion, donated by the Kerby Foundation via Rev. John O'Sullivan in August of 1957, consisted of sociology notes, correspondence and notes, and two scrapbooks.
Processing completed in December 2010 by Lauren Kanne. EAD markup completed in February 2011 by Lauren Kanne.
The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives also has:
Bouquillon, Thomas Joseph Papers
Catholic Charities USA Records
Christ Child Society Records
Furfey, Paul Hanly. Papers
National Catholic School of Social Service (NCWC/USCC)
National Catholic War Council Records
National Catholic Welfare Conference/United States Catholic Conference (NCWC/USCC) Records
Nuesse, C. Joseph. Papers
Russell, William Henry. Papers
Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SSVP) of the Archdiocese of Washington Records
Walsh, Mary Elizabeth. Papers
William J. Kerby Foundation Papers
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Bouquillon, Thomas Joseph, 1842-1902
Kerby, William Joseph, 1870-1936
Russell, William Henry, 1953
Catholic Charities USA
Christ Child Society
National Catholic School of Social Service
National Catholic War Council
National Catholic Welfare Conference
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
William J. Kerby Foundation
Catholic Church --United States -- History.
Social work and social issues.
Social work education--United States.
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