American Catholic Historical Association visits Xavier University of Louisiana

Courtesy of Xavier University

On Thursday, January 6, the American Catholic Historical Association (ACHA) visited the Xavier University of Louisiana campus as part of their tour of Black Catholic New Orleans. Xavier was the final destination, with a prayer held in the beautiful St. Katharine Drexel Chapel to close the tour. Following the prayer, a panel discussion was held emphasizing the importance of archives for teaching and preserving Black Catholic history.  

The panel featured Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow, Director of Xavier’s Institute for Black Catholic Studies (IBCS), Xavier Library Director Nancy Hampton, and Dr. Cecilia Moore, Associate Professor of Religious Studies from the University of Dayton. The discussion highlighted some of the collections in Xavier’s Archive and how Dr. Bellow and Dr. Moore utilized the collections for their research. 

The sisters and then-Mother Katharine Drexel recorded their financial expenditures, kept their letters of correspondence, and commissioned photographs documenting campus life during the twentieth century. Some of the materials collected have immense historical value.  

“One collection that illustrates their [the sisters’] determination to save ephemera is the Voter Documents Collection,” said Hampton. “These certificates were given to voters during a time when payment of a poll tax was a prerequisite for voting. The Sisters always voted in favor of the rights of the minorities they taught.” 

Hampton credits Library student employee Jasmine Malone for processing the documents last year. 

The ACHA held several other panels and events at the Sheraton hotel in New Orleans and other locations across the city. Many visitors chose to attend a presentation from Dr. Kim Vaz-Deville, Professor of Education at Xavier. Dr. Vaz-Deville’s presentation focused on Xavier and Catholic student activism in the United States during the mid-20th century. She offered attendees a preview of her work, as well as a preview of her biography on President Emeritus and renowned educator Dr. Norman C. Francis.  

Visitors offered their praise for the experience. 

“We learned about so many important aspects of Black Catholic history in New Orleans from Father Daniel Green’s excellent narrated tour that featured guest speakers like Sr. Judith Therese Barial, SSF,” Dr. Moore wrote to Dr. Bellow after the visit concluded. “We also received a warm welcome at Xavier University of Louisiana where, in addition to a visit to Xavier’s lovely chapel, we also had the chance to learn about archival treasures of  Xavier from Ms. Nancy Hampton and about the importance of continuing to create Black Catholic archives from Dr. Kathleen Dorsey Bellow.”  

According to Hampton, the university’s Archives and Special Collections only exist today because of the foresight, dedication, and meticulous record-keeping of Xavier’s foundress’, Saint Katharine Drexel, and the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. 

“The Sisters also collected books relevant to the Black Catholic experience at a time when such titles were not widely distributed. All these resources are now available to researchers and students and make Xavier invaluable to the Black Catholic community.” Hampton said.