Religious Studies Fall2010

During fall 2010, students in the class Latino/Latina Religions are documenting the history of St. Mary’s College for Women and Pre-GED school at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the Episcopal Cathedral in Dallas, which is experiencing a surge in Latino parishioners. Through work in the archives, interviews with Pre-GED School students and volunteers, and ethnographic work with the parish, the class will produce a history of the church and its programs that will enable the congregation to better understand its multicultural make-up, the historic trends that led to this make-up, and the relationship between the church, its programs and the surrounding community.

Many rewards in the archives

Andi.jpg An update from Andi, a senior finance and sociology major:

If there remains to be any doubt that Saint Matthew’s Cathedral has been shaped by its community, I would recommend a visit to the archive room within the parish. Considering the various group options our class was presented with when it came to the service learning project, I found myself absolutely intrigued with the idea of being able to sort through the church’s archives.

It is no secret to those who know me that I am quite the history nerd. However, I had no idea that there would be so many documents available at my fingers, especially after the fire of 1860 that destroyed all church belongings and records that had been previously obtained by Saint Matthew’s Cathedral.

After spending a significant amount of time in the archive room over the course of several weeks, I can honestly say that the entire experience has been extremely rewarding – a fact that was confirmed last Thursday when our class made a presentation to the congregation of Saint Matthew’s.

There is still so much that I haven’t even come close to uncovering, and although the information is endless, I feel as if I have learned so much about the history of the parish. To anyone who is interested in the archive room, I would highly suggest a visit; it will be worth your while.

Hopefully the work that myself and my group members have already accomplished has established a foundation that can be built upon as time goes on. There is still so much that can be learned from the documents within the walls of the archive room.

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Diverse, but divided

konow.jpgAn update from Drew, a senior religious studies and foreign languages and literature major:

5100 Ross Ave. – it is amazing how much history one address can contain. Here, in Dallas, that address houses everything from the records of a first lady’s education and Tiffany’s finest stained glass to the records of English language-learners and Latino cultural festivals.

My work at St. Matthew’s focused on investigating the contemporary parish. In this one parish, we found much more diversity than its exterior monolith intended. We discovered that this East Dallas parish housed two very distinct communities, divided by language and culture.

Time and time again, I return to the images present in the cathedral’s sanctuary. On one side is a print of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and on the other side is a stained-glass portrait of St. Alban. These two icons are the veritable representatives of their patrons. They converse, interact and co-exist, yet they are not one. So, too, the Spanish-speaking and English-speaking groups converse, interact and co-exist. Nonetheless, they are not one, undivided body.

Growing to understand and appreciate the complexities of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral has enlivened my perspective on religion. Investigating a religious community in Dallas has incarnated the concepts of the classroom into a more complex, nuanced reality. In short, studying St. Matthew’s has amplified my perspective of Dallas, Latino religions and of religion in general.

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At home at St. Matthew’s

Robert.jpg An update from Robert, a senior:

Through our service learning at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral, we have had the opportunity to interact with the parishioners and learn more about who these people are, their culture and their devotion to this cathedral. We extend an invitation to everyone to come and participate in our presentation on Thursday!

The Spanish-speaking community at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral today is made up in part of residents who have lived in the surrounding area for many years. Others are people who in recent years have immigrated from other areas such as Mexico and Central and South America. In addition, these are mainly middle-class people who consider St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral a place where they can congregate to worship God and participate in social events that bring them closer as a community.

According to Father Tony, the Spanish-speaking congregation attend St. Matthew’s because they feel represented in this place. The congregation feels that whatever their needs may be, they will be addressed, and to a high degree they will be taken care of.

Moreover, Father Tony stated that it is precisely attending to the congregation’s needs that is the most important task for the cathedral. This is one of the reasons people attend St. Matthew’s; people respond positively when they feel that their voices are heard and their concerns addressed. This is also the reason parishioners commute from different regions of the city, such as Mesquite, Garland and other areas.

Through conducting interviews with the parishioners, we have learned that many Catholics attend the Spanish service at St. Matthew’s. Some parishioners have stated that they find very little or no difference between an Episcopal and the Catholic service due to the fact that both religions have the same Roman Catholic roots. These two religions share the same sacraments and rituals. One small difference is the order in which the service unfolds.

Due to the fact that a large percentage of Spanish-speaking parishioners are from Mexico and from a Catholic religious background, St. Matthew’s has introduced two images of La Virgen de Guadalupe since 1984. According to Father Tony, the Episcopal church recognizes the virgin Mary as the mother of God. In addition, those from Mexican feel represented by these images, which gives parishioners a feeling of loyalty toward St. Matthew’s.

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Putting it all together

Mary-1.jpgAn update from Mary, a senior Latin American studies major and a dance minor:

As the semester is coming to an end with only a few weeks left, our class is beginning to come together and share all that we have learned about St. Matthew’s history and more. Last week we faced the daunting task of coming up with a thesis that incorporates all of our areas of research to present to the community at St. Matthew’s.

After an hour and a half of debate, we decided upon: “In response to changing borders at and around 5100 Ross Avenue, the parishioners, community, and institution of St. Matthew’s Cathedral have made various efforts to cultivate a vital faith community.” Now, each of the three research groups will gather their information and write about 10 to 15 pages describing what they have found with this thesis in mind. We will then combine all of them to present a final paper.

On Thursday, December 2, we have the opportunity to present and discuss with the community of St. Matthew’s all that we have discovered. It will be an exciting evening to finally come together and meet the community as a whole! This entire service-learning experience has been truly wonderful. Though difficult at times, I have learned more than I imagined through interacting with the Dallas community and my fellow classmates.

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Our next chapter

Ellen.jpgAn update from Ellen, a senior psychology major:

Despite the seemingly daunting task the archivist group had ahead of them, these past few visits to the archives at St. Matthew’s Cathedral have truly been eye-opening.

Most recently, our class has discussed the use of history, what history does, and how people make use of their own history. Overwhelmed at first by the large amounts of artifacts, our group has benefited from the fact that these individuals kept everything. The newspaper articles, photographs, school records and much more have provided us with a perfect backdrop of the history of this Cathedral and its students and parishioners.

Upon my most recent visit, I found an interesting newspaper article from 1960. This article spoke of Bishop Benito Cabanban, the first Filipino to be consecrated a bishop of the Church. He came to Dallas to speak at a missionary Mass meeting held at the field house of Southern Methodist University. This gathering allowed bishops to meet and hear from other missionary bishops from around the world. Bishop Cabanban’s story is only one of the numerous groundbreaking firsts at St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

As the semester comes to a close, my hopes for the archive group are to continue to uncover many more remarkable documents and to help write a new chapter in the history of this Cathedral.

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Dallas detective work

Kirsten.png An update from Kirsten, a senior CCPA major and Spanish minor:

When selecting a group for this project, I chose the context team because of my fairly strong background in academic research. I figured the experience would be similar to past efforts: looking through articles, reading books and finding websites, all to get an objective view of history. The experience, however, has gone far beyond this.

Researching for this class has become an exciting, intriguing and captivating experience. I almost feel like a detective, utilizing the Dallas Morning News archives and other historical sources as windows to the past that we used to solve years-old mysteries.

For example, through these resources we have been able to uncover how Ross Avenue got its name, which of the Dallas Divas of the past attended St. Mary’s College, why the school shut its doors in the early 1930s, and why St. Matthew’s moved to that campus. In the process, we gained some insight into how Dallas became what it is today.

From our research, we have been able to build a bridge between the past and the present and help St. Matthew’s understand the catalyst for the changes taking place within its Parish. In doing so, luckily we, too, have become a part of the fascinating story of 5100 Ross Avenue.

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Broader view of history

Jacob.jpg An update from Jacob:

Researching St. Matthew’s Cathedral has been an eye-opening experience for me. As a member of the “context” group, it has been our job to research what has been occurring around St. Matthew’s and the broader scope of Dallas throughout the church’s history.

Initially, I had not given much thought to the history of Dallas at all. I assumed that it was a city that had been a certain way for many years and would continue to remain that way. The research we completed proved my initial assumptions to be completely wrong and showed that the history of St. Matthew’s is a reflection of the broader region in which it is located.

For example, I was very surprised when our research revealed that the portion of Ross Avenue where St. Matthew’s is located was once considered to be the Beverly Hills of Dallas, which explains the small number of white parishoners that belong to St. Matthew’s. As a result, I have a better understanding of Dallas and St. Matthew’s itself.

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New opportunities for learning

alex.jpg An update from Alex, a senior Spanish and psychology major:

I have always thought that the classroom was the ideal environment for learning, probably because I have spent 17 years in a classroom. Thankfully, this service project has shown me every place, every person, every situation can be a wonderful opportunity to learn.

I have attended services in English and Spanish at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and I had made my own observations, but nothing could compare to the experience of talking to the Spanish-speaking parishioners within the Episcopal church. It’s not every day that I can sit down with complete strangers and ask them personal questions about their faith and their lives. They all looked to their parish as a place to call home, a place to be comfortable and find a sense of community – something I think we all strive for. It was humbling to listen to others tell their story.

Textbooks and class discussions in the classroom set a distance inbetween the learner and knowledge, but the service project has made knoweldge a very personal experience for me.

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Sitting in on English class

Ahleigh.jpg An update from Ashleigh, a senior business management major, with minors in biology and chemistry:

When I enrolled in Latino Religions last spring, I somehow overlooked that it was a service-learning course. Upon finding this out on the first day of class, I was surprised. I did not know what to expect, but I knew the course would be different from any others I had taken. After spending some time participating in service learning at St. Matthew’s Cathedral and Pre GED School, I knew that the course has presented me with a wonderful opportunity.

Just this morning, I had the opportunity to attend an ESL class at Pre GED School. Before class began, I chatted with the students, mostly stay-at-home mothers. Everyone was very welcoming, and they all seemed excited to start the day’s lesson. A few minutes later, Kathy, their teacher, began class, encouraging everyone to speak in English for the rest of the morning. Some students seemed nervous and hesitant, but they all participated in class discussions despite these feelings.

I admired their courage as they read the paragraphs they had prepared in front of the class. I admired their willingness to help each other understand challenging concepts. I admired their thirst for learning.

Around 10 this morning, I had to leave Pre GED School and head back to SMU. After saying goodbye to Kathy and her students, I was sure of one thing: Through activities like this ESL class, St. Matthew’s Cathedral and Pre GED School are passionately serving the members of our community. Fortunately, service learning has allowed me to be a part of this.

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Urban archaeology

Luke.jpg An update from Luke, a sophomore math and accounting major:

You can’t really know where you come from unless you study your history. One way to do this is to literally look through years and years of records; and, I am doing just that as part of the service learning aspect of my cultural formation class.

My group – the Archivists, as we like to call ourselves – is processing and preserving almost 100 years of records for Saint Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Dallas, with the intent of using these valuable documents to justify a petition for a historical marker for the building. The task at first appeared daunting. We walked into a room about the size of a large closet that seemed to have no semblance of organization.

But in just my last trip to the archives, I was able to organize almost 50 years of school records for Saint Mary’s College, the predecessor to the now legendary Hockaday School, and “discover” records for a school of music that Saint Matthew’s ran that my contact at Saint Matthew’s didn’t realize existed.

Through the entire process, the lingering questions in my mind have not been limited to, “Who were these people? And what have they gone on to accomplish?” My questions also include, “In what way did Saint Matthew’s as an institution aid and interact with its pupils and parishioners?” – because one of the ongoing discussions in my class is just that: What is the relationship between individuals, community, institutions and identities?

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