Robert Orsi, Ph.D., a religious scholar with deep Fordham roots, returned to the University on Feb. 26 to deliver the second annual Rita Cassella Jones Lecture. Orsi attended Fordham Preparatory School, taught at the University, and is currently the Charles Warren Professor of the History of Religion in America at Harvard Divinity School.
The lecture, “The Imaginations of Catholic Children,” was sponsored by the Francis and Ann Curran Center for Catholic Studies. The center’s co-director, James Fisher, introduced Orsi as “one of the pioneering figures in the field of American Catholic studies.” Orsi discussed his interviews with adult Catholics throughout the U.S. concerning their faith-forming experiences in the mid-20th century. His subjects in Nebraska, Arizona and Louisiana shared stories that were alternately humorous and poignant, revealing a worldview where “the supernatural could burst into the natural at any moment,” said Orsi.
Orsi said his task was to “find his way through the thicket of evil nun stories and very formulaic memories” to get to the heart of what Catholic children thought and felt during their formative years. His own mother, Ann worked for decades in the campus ministry office and University bookstore, and his father Mario spent many hours visiting the elderly and infirm Jesuits in Murray-Weigel Hall.
Orsi is the author of Between Heaven and Earth: The Religious Worlds People Make and the Scholars Who Study Them (Princeton University Press, 2005), The Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem (Yale University Press, 1988), and Thank You, St. Jude: Women’s Devotion to the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes (Yale University Press, 1996). The Rita Cassella Jones Lecture Series is named for the late wife of Robert F. Jones, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history, and is endowed by Jones and the couple’s five children.