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The Center for the Study of Catholics in the South

Loyola press release - April 8, 2002

Because of recent attention to scandals involving priests, many are questioning the authority of the Catholic church. They are asking whether it can any longer serve as society's moral conscience. Resolving this dilemma depends on going beyond current events to take a more inclusive view of believers' relationships to the Catholic church.

This week Loyola University New Orleans inaugurates a new center that will promote a broader look at Catholicism and its impact on culture. The Center for the Study of Catholics in the South will focus on documenting the experiences of individual Catholics and historically Catholic ethnic groups from the South, a region generally associated with evangelical Protestantism.

On Wednesday, April 17, the Center will sponsor a program featuring Corinne Claiborne "Lindy" Boggs. She will be interviewed by WWL-TV anchor Angela Hill about her days as a Congresswoman in Washington and as American ambassador to the Vatican. The program, "A Southern Catholic Woman: Life in Politics and International Affairs," will begin at 7 p.m. in Roussel Hall on Loyola's campus. The event is free and open to the public.

A lifelong Catholic, Boggs' political and diplomatic experiences attest to the significant influence faith can have on shaping public policy. During her nine terms in Congress, Boggs spearheaded legislation ranging from civil rights to women's issues including credit access and government service pay equity. She was instrumental in creating the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. Boggs was the first woman and the first southerner to serve as ambassador to the Vatican. One of the goals of Loyola's Center for the Study of Catholics in the South is to focus greater attention on leaders in government and business whose Catholic roots have been influential in their lives. The stories of these men and women offer us the opportunity to reflect on ethics in public life as well as on the unique contributions of Catholics to southern regional identity.

The Center will also focus on historically Catholic ethnic groups. Southern Catholics include African Americans, Cajuns, Chicanos, Creoles (both black and white), descendants of nineteenth century European immigrants, as well as twentieth century immigrants from the Caribbean, Latin American, and Vietnam.

Catholicism in the contemporary South reflects the legacy of French and Spanish colonialism along the Gulf Coast. The presence of Catholicism is also linked to trends in immigration, a standard theme in American history. Many immigrants into the South in the last decades of the twentieth century have come from historically Catholic cultures. The Center plans to initiate oral history projects that will preserve the experiences of these people in Loyola's archives.

Already, Loyola's archives are a treasure trove for researchers interested in the diverse impact of Catholics on southern culture. Holdings include the complete archive of the ten-state New Orleans Province of the Society of Jesus. These materials are letters, diaries, financial records, and photographs documenting the work of every Jesuit priest in the South since 1837. The Jesuits have made important contributions to education, labor relations, and civil rights in the South, in addition to their history of building parishes and tending to the spiritual and temporal needs of believers. Other archival holdings in the library document the involvement of Catholics in literature and the arts, environmental issues, and politics in the twentieth century.

The Center for the Study of Catholics in the South has been funded, in part, through a highly competitive Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Receipt of this award of $500,000 is contingent upon the University's raising an additional $1.5 million from private donors and foundations. Loyola's success in this campaign will help ensure that as full a record as possible of the contributions of Catholics to American culture will be preserved for the future.

David C. Estes is associate professor of English and Director, Center for the Study of Catholics in the South at Loyola University New Orleans.

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