A Gregorian Fellow Living in History
By Catherine Glenn || Catherine Glenn is a Senior Gregorian Fellow at Benedictine College, studying History. We asked her to tell us about her summer internship.
This summer I am interning at Harper’s Ferry National Historical Park in West Virginia in the Living History & Historic Trades branch of the park. Every day I dress in clothing from the mid-19th century and do various activities such as staffing exhibits and doing historical interpretation for visitors. The park puts on many different weekend events such as Artillery Weekends, where the Living History and Historic Trades staff put on a cannon-firing demonstration for visitors.
This internship has me working with the public 95% of my day. I have already interacted with thousands of visitors, interpreting the significance of this historic site in various ways. I have led guided tours of the park, discussing this history of John Brown’s 1859 raid. The internship has allowed me to learn how to operate historic machinery and weapons as well, giving me a new appreciation for history.
The Catholic mission of Benedictine College has deepened the meaning of what I do here at Harper’s Ferry in ways that I had not anticipated when I arrived here. The goal of my interaction with the public is to bring this place to life for them in a significant way; I don’t want them to merely be entertained, I want to help them understand how this place and its history are relevant to their own lives. Harper’s Ferry is the center of an incredible amount of history, and interpreting that history allows the public to understand why this place is important. It’s not about spouting out facts, it’s about representing the stories of those who, through their actions, made this ground sacred.
The Gregorian Institute brought Immaculée Illibagiza to speak during my Freshman year (Fall 2012), and her leadership and speaking skills, as well as her story, greatly affected how I view my role in society as a young woman. She lived through one of the worst possible situations I could imagine, and has experienced more pain than I could handle. Despite such obstacles, her view of humanity has always reflected the selfless love of Christ. The way she holds herself, the choices she has made in her career, as well as the way she speaks to the public, have consistently inspired me since I heard her talk.
Benedictine College’s mission has
transformed this from a job into a duty that I owe to those who sacrificed their lives here. At its core, my internship gives me the opportunity to speak for the dead. The Catholic faith has instilled in me a respect for human life from conception until natural death. It has shown me how even the most seemingly insignificant of human actions can affect the course of history. I truly believe that my work here has the potential to give people a better sense of the meaning of their lives.
One of the most well-known pieces of Harper’s Ferry’s history is the raid of abolitionist John Brown in 1859. When I tell his story to visitors, I try to emphasize how Brown’s actions here affected the rest of this nation’s history. If I didn’t have the foundation in faith that Benedictine has provided, my internship here would have a dramatically different impact on my view of human action.
This internship has thrust me out of my comfort zone in plenty of ways. I began this work as a relatively quiet individual with a passion for history, but over the course of my weeks here I have gained the ability to speak to groups of dozens of people without the slightest anxiety. Though I still have much to learn and improve, my work with the public has allowed me to speak off-the-cuff in front of the public with more finesse than I knew I was capable of achieving, and I look forward to improving those skills as my career goes on. By forcing me to have constant interaction with the public, the internship has illuminated by strengths as well as my weaknesses. I have learned that knowing one’s weaknesses is the only way to address them, and the internship has allowed me to do that in (hopefully!) a lasting way. The Catholic mission of Benedictine has taught me to constantly work on bettering myself in all aspects of life, and my internship has done that in the most profound manner that I have yet experienced.
The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).