Abstract: “Labor of Love: Women, Art, and The Catholic Worker Newspaper”

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Rita Corbin. Mary House Catholic Worker, New York. Private Collection of The Catholic Worker Newspaper.

Ade Bethune (1914-2002) and Rita Corbin (1930-2011) served as the two most prolific women artists of The Catholic Worker newspaper, founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in 1933 dedicated to performing God’s work on earth, such as feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. Bethune and Corbin reflect the changing, yet also static, role of women in the evolving Catholic Church of the twentieth century. While Ade Bethune worked within the Liturgical Movement of the early-twentieth century, Rita Corbin followed behind producing artwork within the impetus of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). As women artists who, together, filled the pages of The Catholic Worker for the entirety of its existence with striking black-and-white images, Bethune and Corbin became radicalizing forces whose labor emphasized the distinct worth of women and whose artwork testified to the role women played in illuminating the Catholic Worker Movement’s radical brand of Christianity that was communal, non-violent, and social justice-oriented. Gender analysis of Bethune’s and Corbin’s work augments existing scholarship on The Catholic Worker. Exploring topics such as the Works of Mercy, labor, motherhood, anti-capitalism, and racial reconciliation, these two women’s artwork parallel Dorothy Day’s feminine moral vision. Day rejected women’s liberation movements instead focusing on liberation from intersectional oppression and on recognition of the distinct rights and gifts of women. Ade Bethune’s and Rita Corbin’s artwork became both a testament to the important role of women’s labor in dispersing radical ideas and a manifestation of Dorothy Day’s gendered ideas of beauty referencing womanist theology.


The Revision Process: a Short and Sweet Writing Update

Ten days. This is the amount of time that separates me from turning in the polished draft of my Ramonat research paper. *Commence slight freak-out mode.* All kidding aside, although I can feel the tangible pressure of the looming deadline, I am confident that my paper–now with the official title of Labor of Love: Women, Art, and The Catholic Worker Newspaper–will be completed with all its necessary components. But, I think it goes without saying that this blog post will be short and sweet in the interest of time.

Most of my necessary edits come in making sure I am accurately enunciating my arguments. And of course, I need to ensure that I cite all information properly, format my images, and correct grammar mistakes. My plan is to prioritize this paper everyday, while also staying on top of other class assignments, to make certain that all the hard work I put into this project over the past two semesters results in a final product that I am proud of. I foresee many coffee shop dates with myself and Microsoft Word in the coming days.

This piece by Rita Corbin illustrates agricultural laborers working in community. However, this figures could easily be mistaken for Ramonat Scholars hard at work.

There are some additional dates that I am looking forward to in the coming weeks related to my Ramonat project. First, I will presenting my research at Loyola’s Weekend of Excellence on April 22nd. This will be the first time my paper’s arguments will have a public appearance beyond the brief reiterations that exits within this blog. I will be designing a poster that I will display and talk about with passersby. Second, the Ramonat Colloquium will be the following week on April 29th. At this event, my fellow Ramonat Scholars and I will be giving short presentations of our research. I am very excited about this event, since I will get to hear the conclusions of my peers’ research and my parents will be coming in town to attend!

Artwork by Ade Bethune. This is my mantra this week: pray & work!

I cannot believe the few short weeks I have left of my junior year of college! I experienced so much personal and academic growth this year that I cannot help but be emotional. I also confronted a lot of hardships–but oh my, how greatly the blessings have outnumbered them! I definitely count my experiences in the Ramonat Seminar among these blessings. I am immensely grateful for the individuals I met from across the country through studying Ade Bethune and Rita Corbin and, of course, the classmates who have become the closest of friends.

My Completed Rough Draft: a Labor of Love in Progress

After a couple weeks of hard work on my paper, I have officially turned in my rough draft! Although I still have to refine and edit a lot of the ideas presented in my paper, I cannot help but look back on past couple months and feel extremely proud with all the work I have completed. I have traveled to both the Ade Bethune Collection and to Mary House Catholic Worker to retrieve primary source documents, I spent countless hours in solidarity with my fellow Ramonat scholars in the library, and I have filled over twenty five pages with the blossoming ideas of my research.

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The Holy Family. Rita Corbin.

Writing the rough draft of my paper posed many challenges. I have collected a large amount of primary and secondary sources, so the amount of time that it took to complete my rough draft was considerably more than expected. I also struggled to pick the pieces of artwork that I wanted to use in my paper, since I had so many incredible images to pick from. There were also times during the writing process where my lack of knowledge on a subject served as a challenge. Although I have a good understanding of feminist history and thought, I found my lack of expertise on this topic leading me to really have to stop and think deeply about the claims I am making in the paper. Ultimately, the challenges I faced served as important learning opportunities that be able to apply to future research papers and academic endeavors.

Christ Lives in Me. Ade Bethune. Ade Bethune Collection, St. Catherine University.

Receiving feedback from Dr. Nickerson was very encouraging. Although she identified important revisions that I will need to make in subsequent drafts, her comments reassured me that my research is on the right track. One tenant of my research, and the premise of my paper title “Labor of Love: The Women of The Catholic Worker Newspaper,” is that Ade Bethune and Rita Corbin’s artistic process was based on Peter Maurin’s philosophy of labor. Maurin advocated that the process of labor, when completed with the love of honest work, was immensely more important that the completed product. This is the mantra I am hoping to continue moving forward with in the last month of working on my research. As opposed to focusing on making my final paper perfect, I am going to focus on the process of bringing honor to the work of Ade Bethune, Rita Corbin, and other important figures in the history of The Catholic Worker newspaper. I have fallen in love with the artwork I have been studying and the people I have met along the way. I have spent a considerable amount of time with my fellow Ramonat Scholars, whether that be struggling together in the library, destressing with an early-morning yoga session, praying for extra hours in the day, or rewarding ourselves with pedicures when the rough draft was turned in.

Matthew takes a study break with a Catholic Worker newspaper.
Early-morning yoga before an all-day writing session.

All in all, although the writing process can be a lonely one, I cannot help but once again hear the words of Dorothy Day in my head: “We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” I will be forever thankful for the Ramonat community I have to lean on.

The Art of Outlining

After many hours and cups of tea, I have finished the final outline of my Ramonat project (with only minor distress)!!

The task of compiling all my primary, secondary, and original ideas into one comprehensive and well-organized document served as a very daunting task. With many other midterms and tests to study for, I was concerned that I would not be able to put the appropriate amount of time and energy into the outline. However, as I began to outline my research, I realized that I actually have a wealth of working knowledge on my topic and its historiography. In sum, I am very proud of my completed outline–I think the ideas that I have fleshed out have a lot of potential to convey important concepts in my final paper.

“Paper”?? Amanda, I thought you were doing a digital project?

That is true. For several months now, I was pretty set on the idea of having my research coalesce into a digital project. However, I have decided instead to make the main focus of my project be a paper, leaning on already-developed skills. This way, I can spend a good amount of time fleshing out the ideas of my research instead of focusing on website design. However, I still want my project to have a digital component to make my research readily and publicly accessible. I will still be making a website (especially to show to my family and friends who would not be too keen on reading a 30-page paper). This website will be less of a digital project and more of a place where I can display highlights from my paper–the artwork in particular of course!

I know that I have a long and tedious process of writing ahead of me, but with my outline in hand, I am ready to push forward and seriously begin the writing process. Although my spring break will be filled with many coffee shops visits and self-imposed writing boot camps, I have become extremely passionate about my research subject and I am looking forward to the time I get to spend with it.

The Beauty of the Bruised: Recounting a Dorothy-filled Weekend

The past four days have been filled to the brim with all things Catholic Worker! The Dorothy Day Symposium took place Thursday and Friday on Loyola’s campus, and I visited New York City Saturday and Sunday to visit Maryhouse Catholic Worker. I am writing this blog post while at LaGuardia airport—I am exhausted from a long weekend of events and travel, but my mind continues to buzz with ideas for my project.

First, the much-anticipated Dorothy Day Symposium, a joint event of the Ramonat Seminar and the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage, was wonderful! I met some incredible individuals, including Robert Ellsberg, past editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper, and Kate Hennessy, one of Dorothy Day’s granddaughters. I was also able to hear from scholars who have studied various aspects of the Catholic Worker Movement as well as several current volunteers in Catholic Worker communities. Since I am in the heart of my research, I was able to make many connections between the topics touched upon at the symposium and the themes I am exploring in my project.

Carolina, Me, and Matthew with Kate Hennessy

With my project oriented around art, I was very interested in the topics of beauty that were explored during the two-day symposium. Robert Ellsberg opened the symposium Thursday night with an inspiring account of how Dorothy Day promoted him to the role of editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper and how this developed his view of Catholic social teaching. One quote in particular stood out from his talk: “Dorothy preferred a church that was bruised.” This is a prominent feature of the Catholic Worker Movement–a church that never shies away from the most acute and messy of life’s difficulties. Yet, Kate Hennessy’s book is entitled “The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother.” Kate spoke of Dorothy’s need to be surrounded by beauty–as can be deciphered from her time on Staten Island, for example. At first inspection, a “bruised” church and scenic beauty may seem to lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. But a panel of young Catholic Workers at the symposium and my trip to New York revealed this truism: beauty can exist in the obvious (the lake or in artwork, for example) just as much as it can exist in the non-obvious (like in the beautiful messiness of the Catholic Worker or waking up at 3 a.m. for a flight). 

A picture from my quick, busy, yet very rewarding research trip to New York.

Now that I have my archival materials collected and my secondary sources read, I am ready to begin the process of writing. My main hope is that I am able to bring attention to the obvious beauty of Bethune and Corbin’s artwork while also not neglecting the messier beauty that lies beneath the visible surface.

Race and Religion: Moving Forward Through Dance

As a young girl who refused to let her parents sign her up for anything sports related, I spent many years in leotards, tap shoes, and ballet buns as a dancer. As a shy and quiet individual, I utilized dance as a powerful form of self-expression. During performances and recitals, I would always get a big rush of adrenaline—dancing on a stage expressed a vulnerable side of myself, one that could reveal deeper and more complicated emotions. I have not danced on stage in years, but these past two weeks I was reminded of the veritable power dance, like all art forms, can hold for an individual and for a larger society.

Last weekend, I attended a Loyola-hosted symposium, Framing Justice: Modernism and Social Advocacy in American Visual Arts and Dance. Invited scholars spoke on how artists of the 1930s and 40s injected social activism into their work. Especially poignant were the discussions of dance. For dancers and choreographers interested in social activism, each movement made was intentional and commented on certain aspects of modernity. The way that dance—the single moving individual on a stage—can express the complexities of social justice excited me as a former dancer and a current Ramonat Scholar looking to complete a final research project on the artistic responses to the Catholic Worker Movement.

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One of the dances discussed at the Framing Justice symposium- “Two Ecstatic Themes” as performed by Doris Humphrey.

Further adding to my understanding of the ties between dance and social justice were the words of Randal Jelks, the second scholar in the Ramonat speaker series. Jelks spoke on his book project, ‘I Am Free to Be What I Want:’ The Role of Roman Catholicism in the Inner Lives of Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, and Eldridge Cleaver. Particularly interesting to me was his exploration of Mary Lou Williams, the 1960s jazz composer, singer, and pianist. Williams was a Catholic convert and African American, and many of her compositions explore Christian themes and jazz’s expression of the African American struggle.

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Mary Lou Williams at the piano

One of Williams’s compositions in particular, Music for Peace, was performed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater under the title Mary Lou’s Mass in 1971. Music for Peace was a religious piece that also addressed the social ills of the 60s and 70s. (The Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performed this piece again in 2010. You can watch a clip from the performance here.) Jelks explained that Music for Peace was “an important moral music,” just as hip hop is to the African American community today. I was very intrigued by how Williams and Alvin Ailey were able to address both Catholicism and race through song and dance.

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“Mary Lou’s Mass” performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. 2010.

I still have many questions that I want to explore about the role of art as a form of social justice. Therefore, I am excitedly looking forward to my future Ramonat research project on the art of Dorothy Day’s America.

Globalizing Faith: a Blaze or a Spark?

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”

This phrase has become commonplace in my life as a student at Loyola University Chicago. The expression adorns the school website, labels the lecture podiums in countless classrooms, and is included in many speeches given by Loyola personnel—all reminding students to be active advocates of justice and faith in society. St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, was the originator of the term: he would sign his letters to Jesuit missionaries with ite, inflammate omnia, or “go, set the world on fire.” This week as a Ramonat Scholar, I was challenged to thoroughly expand my conception of what it can mean to truly “set the world on fire.”

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The cover of a 2010 Loyola Magazine advocating for readers to “set the world on fire.”

Luckily for us Ramonat Scholars, John McGreevy came to Loyola this past week to talk on a few concepts included in his book American Jesuits and the World: How an Embattled Religious Order Made Modern Catholicism Global, one of our required texts for the course. McGreevy highlighted the ways in which Jesuits made Catholicism a global institution during nineteenth-century imperialism. McGreevy’s book and lecture had an unexpected resonance with my own encounters with the Catholic faith—it was, in fact, within this discussed period that Loyola University Chicago was founded in 1870. Since I am not a Catholic, it is solely because of Loyola University that I have learned about Ignatian spirituality and about the Catholic faith in general. The Jesuit’s goal of spreading faith and “setting the world on fire” is still being fulfilled in 2016: I and the sixteen thousand other Loyola students continue to learn and grow within an urban academic institution rooted in Catholic social activism. As someone whose knowledge of Catholicism comes mostly from experiences at Loyola, I have come to see Catholicism as a religion that aims to solve world problems mostly through full immersion into society, or “setting the world on fire” through a blaze.

St. Ignatius of Loyola. Peter Paul Rubens.

However, a challenging but eye-opening weekend trip to La Plata, Missouri allowed me to see Catholic social activism manifest itself in completely new ways. Last Friday, us Ramonat Scholars piled into a van and drove six hours south to live and work at the White Rose Catholic Worker, a communal farm in rural Missouri, dedicated to sustainability, justice, and hospitality in the tradition of Day and Maurin’s Catholic Worker Movement. The farm is run by John and Regina, a couple who avoids using electricity and fossil fuels, participating in politics, creating waste, and participating in any activity that promotes violence or the degradation of the environment. The White Rose Catholic Worker was originally located in Chicago, but relocated to La Plata, Missouri to function as a farm paralleling Peter Maurin’s agronomic university. I was excited to stay at the White Rose as somebody who had admired Dorothy Day’s teachings, especially her houses of hospitality. But, the weekend was emotionally and physically harder than I had ever expected. I learned that it is one thing to get behind an ideology, and a completely different thing to live it.

The class at the White Rose Catholic Worker.

John and Regina’s life is very radical. But it was not the strenuous farm work, lack of twenty-first century luxuries, or lack of caffeine and medicine that was most shocking—it was the isolation from society. By devoting oneself to living on the land and avoiding modern industry, John and Regina chose to forgo the elements of society that I, as a history student at an urban university, hold in the highest regard: fine arts, political participation, and aiding the plethora of urban poor. However, as the weekend progressed, I saw art, politics, and charity all emerge at the White Rose, just in quieter ways. The songs sung acapella during times of worship were beautiful, and the White Rose made powerful political statements and charitable differences by choosing nonviolence and rejecting consumerism. The White Rose Catholic Worker was a more quiet operation than I expected. John and Regina did not go out into the world to advertise what they were doing, but they were still “setting the world on fire” by spreading love and faith.

The home of our hosts, John and Regina.

My stay at the White Rose Catholic worker has forever opened my mind to the many ways in which one can spread faith and God’s love. One can set the world on fire through a large, growing blaze, like the Jesuits did in the nineteenth century, or through a small, humble spark, like those do at the White Rose Catholic Worker.

Dinner by candlelight at the White Rose.

Check out additional pictures and stories from the weekend here–https://ramonatseminar.com/2016/10/03/holy-fools-for-a-weekend/