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Pulling Back the “Veil Which Now Covers Our Schools”: The Catholic Educational Exhibit, 1892–1893

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image of Church History and Religious Culture

This article examines the American Catholic Church’s effort to refashion its institutional identity through the creation of the Catholic Educational Exhibit (CEE) in the late nineteenth century. After several decades of non-Catholic animosity towards parochial education, the religious hierarchy saw the occasion of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1892 and 1893 as an opportune moment to correct false understandings of how the Catholic educational system functioned. First, the materials strategically gathered and displayed offered tangible manifestations of the mechanisms of Catholic schools. The CEE contained the “proofs” of Catholic education from schools around the country, a cornucopia of work produced by students and teachers from a variety of institutions. These “proofs” were organized and displayed in a manner that drew upon late nineteenth-century trends in collecting and museum construction. Possessing objects believed to hold both knowledge and meaning, organizers hoped the CEE would further legitimize and convey the truth about the Catholic system of education. Second, it provided a public space to clearly articulate the philosophy guiding Catholic education. The philosophy highlighted the harmonious relationship between a religious and secular education, which produced good citizens and nurtured the national ideals of democracy and freedom. The exhibit purposefully offered a positive and transparent image of Catholic educational institutions. In short, the CEE provided a vehicle for the religious and lay members of the American Catholic Church to cooperatively craft an institutional identity that complemented, rather than conflicted with American social and political values at the turn of the twentieth century.

Affiliations: 1: DeSales University, Center Valley, PA


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