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.

Piecing together Dallas history

Rachel.jpg An update from Rachel, a junior Spanish and Latin American studies major:

Wow! Dallas is fascinating place, whether you know it or not. I signed on to this service-learning project as part of the background research team – we dig up the facts that fit the archival pieces together. In doing this research, my group is not just connecting the dots for St. Matthew’s; we’re finding out a lot just for ourselves!

The Dallas landscape was really different in the 1890s when our city really started to grow. Ross Avenue was the Beverly Drive of today and St. Mary’s was the Hockaday! Interesting stuff, truly. East Dallas, where the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas (that you know as St. Matthew’s Cathedral) sits, used to be the hot spot! The story of its decline is a drama as exciting as they come. I’ve even used our research to make interesting conversations at parties!

All in all, our research is well on its way to providing a nice framework to hang the rest of the teams’ research on. We’re really adding to St. Matthew’s and the Pre-GED school’s body of knowledge, I hope, and having some fun while doing it. From what I hear from some kids in our class, the next thing I need to do is get myself over to the church and attend a service!

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History in the making

SADIE.jpg An update from Sadie, a senior majoring in advertising and foreign languages and literatures:

I was prepared to learn the history of religion; I was not prepared to write the history myself; however, that is what my class is doing. We are becoming historians and taking an active role in our class rather than just reading about it.

St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church is full of history, life, and compassion, and that is why we are honored to take on this task. Through my observation of the present congregation, I have learned a lot about how this church is giving back to the community and neighborhood. The church officials are always willing to listen to their parishioners, help parents with their children during Mass, and help immigrants pass their GED test.

Pre-GED school has really made me think about how we can help improve the lives of others. The organization that is run by volunteers is helping immigrants, mostly Hispanic women, get fluent enough in English to pass their GED test. With the help of this organization, these students can go on to college, help their children with their homework, and find better jobs. This is not ESL school; this goes further, just like people should go. The school needs more volunteers, more funding, and a better way to reach the people who require their help.

Our goal is to help with that and turn people’s attention to a better Pre-GED School. In return, we have the gratification of knowing we, too, are helping the Dallas community and making the city a better place.

I’m thrilled to see how this organization will spread and how this all plays into the history of St. Matthew’s.

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Sorting through dusty records

Jack.jpg An update from Jack, a junior accounting major and cinema-television minor:

As part of our ongoing service learning with St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral, our class has been afforded the privilege of sifting through the church’s archives. These dusty rooms are home to a wealth of fascinating details about the church’s history. The archives hold a range of information, from decades of marriage records to old 8×10 photographs of St. Matthew’s and Dallas in the 1930s and ’40s.

We have been tasked with beginning the important process of preserving these documents, photos and objects using proper archival methods and materials. The documents include church ledgers, academic marks received by students that attended St. Mary’s Episcopal College, old newsletters and relevant newspaper clippings.

As we work on organizing and preserving the history of the parish, we will use the documents and photos to help us better understand the progression of St. Matthew’s over time. The knowledge we glean from examining these records helps us understand the parish, and it aids our ongoing work with the parishioners. Using the archives, personal interviews and contextual information about Dallas during the past several decades, our final presentation in December to St. Matthew’s is bound to be a charged and exciting event for all involved.

This service learning experience has already been deeply gratifying. Translating our reading and class discussion into tangible hands-on experiences has greatly enriched my appreciation of the course content and has allowed me to see and participate in a part of the Dallas community that I never would have on my own.

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Surprises at St. Matthew’s Cathedral

Meagan.bmp An update from Meagan, a political science, Spanish and religious studies major:

Service learning at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral has been the perfect way to see our course material in living color. The history of the Cathedral is a fascinating story. The institution has evolved over time from a prestigious girls school with alum such as former first lady Lady Bird Johnson, to an upper-class Episcopal cathedral, to a mixed congregation with a large, emerging Latino population.

As scholars, our endeavor is to examine and make sense of this transformation. This has given me the opportunity to have a few unique experiences. I have attended Zumba classes that are offered on Tuesday and Thursday nights. This ministry is a fun way to get the parishioners to stay fit while dancing to Latin beats and doing traditional Latino dances such as the cumbia, salsa, and rumba.

I also attended a Spanish Women’s Bible Study led by the Rev. Betty Barrios. As a Roman Catholic, I was a little taken aback upon seeing a woman in a priest collar for the first time. Rev. Barrios was very welcoming after I explained our project and a little bit about what we are researching and why we were doing it.

Barrios proceeded to give me a brief history of the church in respect to the emergence of the Latino congregation. She explained that the Spanish-speaking congregation began with only six parishioners. She said the Spanish Mass began nearly 30 years ago in the early ’80s and has since grown to a congregation of about 300 parishioners.

A very interesting fact that I took note of was that the church does joint mission trips to Peru in which both the English- and Spanish-speaking parishioners partake. That is to say, the congregations are not only interacting with each other and utilizing the same space, but they also are uniting to do service projects and mission trips. This mixed congregation has given the church a new face and a new identity.

I am thoroughly excited for the surprises, interactions, and experiences that are still to come at St. Matthew’s.

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