Cabrini faculty step away from their daily routines to pursue fascinating projects on sabbatical.
Their experiences span a wide range, from laboratory research to teaching abroad on Fulbright fellowships, from exploring techniques of online instruction to exploring the roots of depression in teens.
Of course, like any long-term undertaking, sabbaticals don’t go according to plan every time. And, in a world of unexpected opportunities, that’s not always bad.
Just ask Leonard Norman Primiano, Ph.D., chair and professor of the religious studies department.
His proposed sabbatical focused on the life and work of “Sister” Ann Ameen, a religious folk artist Primiano has studied for years and had interviewed many times before her death in 1998.
Not a Catholic nun, but a self-described “evangelical Christian missionary,” Sister Ann gives new meaning to the idea of a colorful life.
A 4’10” dynamo,” she created, as Primiano writes, “a personal religious iconography filled with words, symbols, and landscapes forged in life experiences as the mail-order bride of a Rhode Island dentist, as a New York City burlesque dancer, and as a Connecticut preacher…”
She was also, Primiano came to discover, an informant who liked to stretch the truth. In fact, he later learned she had fabricated much of what she told him. She was, as Primiano puts it, “not at all a reliable witness to her own life.”
This fact complicated Primiano’s work immensely—while making Sister Ann’s story even richer to tell. But it was a challenge Primiano did not have to wrestle with until resolving the other surprise of his sabbatical, a major unexpected writing assignment.
It turns out that just as Primiano was prepared to delve into the life of Sister Ann, he was asked to contribute a chapter to a new scholarly book. The project, exploring the theme of religion and food, provided a chance to write on Father Divine, long a figure of interest to Primiano.
A religious leader arguably as fascinating and multifaceted as Sister Ann, Father Divine founded the International Peace Mission Movement, for years headquartered in Philadelphia.
He also established the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street, the city’s first racially integrated hotel. One other factor attracted Primiano to the book project: It was to be published by Columbia University Press.
As Primiano points out, “When someone comes to you with an opportunity to be published by a press at that level, you jump on it.”
After completing his article on Father Divine, Primiano returned to his work on Sister Ann, exploring deep inside various archives, for instance, searching through years of records at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center for information on her time in New York.
He also learned all he could from anthropologists, legal scholars, and fellow folklorists on how to work with a source who proves less than trustworthy, like Sister Ann.
“Some of the paths you follow inevitably turn out to be dead ends,” Primiano says, describing the realities of research, “but unless you have the time to follow them, you never know. You can’t be sure you’ve uncovered all there is to find. That is something truly valuable about the opportunity of a sabbatical.”