Harvard Divinity School researcher visits Maple Mount

It took a “meet and greet” and tweets for a Women’s Studies in Religion research associate at Harvard Divinity School to discover the former Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Maple Mount, Ky.

Monica Mercado, who is also an assistant professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., is with the Women’s Studies in Religious Program at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. She came to visit the former Mount Saint Joseph Academy and the Ursuline Motherhouse in early October.

Mercado met Heidi Taylor-Caudill, director of archives for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, in June at the Conference on the History of Women Religious at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind. This conference, which is aimed at women religious and those who research their history and handle their archives, happens every three years. Mercado began following Heidi’s personal Twitter feed, where she often talks about her work as an archivist of Ursuline history and collections. This piqued Mercado’s interest in visiting Maple Mount to do research for her book.

“Heidi’s Twitter is amazing, it is getting around,” Mercado said.

Mercado is doing research for a book she is writing focused on Catholic girls’ education prior to 1911. She said she realized the importance of convent academies in education in the U.S. and in the history of the Church.

Mercado said that women’s history can sometimes focus on Protestants, and when it does highlight Catholics, it is usually in areas in the northeast such as New York, Boston and Philadelphia. She was delighted to learn about other parts of the country such as western Kentucky with a rich Catholic history.

She was given a year off work to conduct research, and she obtained a grant which helped her to visit Maple Mount as well as the Sisters of Loretto in Loretto, Ky., from Oct. 7-10, 2019.

Taylor-Caudill set up a temporary office for Mercado in the Mount Saint Joseph archives on the first floor of Lourdes. Besides Mount Saint Joseph, Mercado also researched and scanned records on the former Ursuline Academy of Paola, Kan. Those records are stored in Kentucky since the Ursulines of Paola merged with Mount Saint Joseph in 2008.

“I am especially interested in things created by the girls when they were in school,” Mercado said. These include essays, annals, bulletins, plays written by students, and even math problems.

She said Academy students received a diverse education, such as reading Shakespeare, making maps of the world, and learning practical applications like bookkeeping. She said some students who were not Catholic also attended the academies in order to receive a good education.

The title of Mercado’s future book is, “The Young Catholic: Girlhood and the Making of American Catholicism.” According to her website, the book “focuses on the vast output of a vibrant American Catholic publishing industry, and the young women readers, writers, and educational institutions that grew up around it during the second half of the nineteenth century.”

Taylor-Caudill said it was fortunate that a summer intern in archives, Alex Wink, had digitized a great deal of photos and other items before she left for grad school. Taylor-Caudill said she realizes the importance of digitizing information. Not many people can afford the time or money to travel to do research.

“I believe Monica is the first professional historian to visit our archives,” Taylor-Caudill said. She was excited to share some “unexplored information” with her.

Mercado added, “Digital is great, but it’s so amazing to be here and to imagine coming here as a student.”

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