Thursday, July 17, 2008

Über Church Ladies

A friend of the Church Ladies sent along this 1915 New York Times piece a while back, but I was so taken, at the time, by the difference between the architectural renderings and what actually came to be (this particular CL is a bit of a Gothicist) that I failed to notice that the entire project was started by a group of Church Ladies. Now, your Hostesses have tended to sacristies; sewed, embrodered and ironed altar linens; and organized many Masses, but we have yet to actually take on the project of a whole new church, much less a National Shrine! And so, Church Ladies of the Past, we salute you!

The group is also mentioned in this short 1913 society column.


The Black Mantilla said...

Now that's inspiring!

Mr. WAC said...

The particular Church Lady who motivated the original project was Maria Caldwell, Catholic daughter of the wealthy protestant theater owner Wm. Shakespeare Caldwell of Louisville, KY. Mr. Caldwell, who lost his wife early on and swore to raise the children Catholic, was so overcome by his pious conversion shortly before his death that he rewrote his Will and put a significant portion of his estate in trust for the benefit of the Church, to be managed by Maria. Maria put herself at the service of Archbishop Gibbons of Baltimore, who made her the white haired girl of the National Catholic University project. The oldest building on campus, Caldwell Hall, is named after her, and she married some landless European nobleman in the chapel.

Years later, she was turned onto the idea of building an enormous national Shrine in the Nation's Capital, and began to capitalize the project by convincing the University to sever a portion of the campus. She was not long at it, however, when the whole thing came crashing down in horrible scandal. About the time of the newspaper clipping, I'd say, she was the subject of a Vatican investigation of certain allegations connecting her to the member of the American hierarchy. She at some point thereafter divorced, remarried, and apostatized, and the National Shrine project suffered.

The whole story is in a "The Catholic Historical Review" issue from some years ago. Check the '80's through the '90's.