Generations in Dialogue: A Reflection
It wouldn’t be entirely hyperbolic to say that the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC saved my career from utter ruin.
In 2014, despite all my very best efforts, my career had hit a brick wall and was at risk of staying there. While I had a full-time faculty position, it was a non-tenure track visiting position that needed to be renewed each year. That renewal was entirely dependent on circumstances beyond my control. I was contemplating a sharp pivot away from the research that was my raison-d’être as an academic – systemic racism in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. and its impact on African-American Catholic identity – because there didn’t seem to be any interest in my work from editors, publishers, and other gatekeepers within sociology and academia. That is, there wasn’t any interest until I saw an announcement on a listserv for a new initiative from IACS – The American Parish Project (TAPP).
TAPP was inviting applications for a seminar on The Sociology of the Catholic Parish. Much of my dissertation had been devoted to examining parish life and, in particular, how liturgy was used as a form of identity work among African-American Catholics at predominantly Black parishes. I’ve worked very hard on a lot of things, but I worked harder on the 750-word abstract than I had on anything else up to that point. I worked so hard on it because I knew, quite deeply, that this was my last chance. If I didn’t get accepted to this, it would mean there really wasn’t a place for me in the academy or room for anything I had to say.
But I did get accepted!
And that acceptance led to participation in the seminar, developing invaluable contacts and friendships, inclusion in the edited volume, American Parishes: Remaking Local Catholicism (Fordham University Press 2019), and the decision I made during the weekend of the seminar to write a book. All of this gave me a renewed sense of purpose and relevance, and led to me receiving a grant from the Louisville Institute to support my book research. Yet, the paths we are on are rarely smooth. At the same time I received the Louisville Institute Grant in 2018, my teaching position was not renewed.
It wouldn’t be entirely hyperbolic to say that the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC saved my career from utter ruin.”
After using the grant to support full-time research for a year, I completed two wonderful public scholarship training programs in 2019 and began sporadic yet successful publishing in the public scholarship realm. Even with this forward momentum, I needed a job, so in September 2019, I began an alt-ac position that seemed great on paper, but turned out to be a poor fit for me.
Once again, I had it a brick wall in my career.
That was until a colleague I met through TAPP sent me an announcement for another IACS program – The Fr. James L. Heft, SM Generations in Dialogue Program (GID) and encouraged me to apply. GID was designed for a senior scholar to be paired with, and act as a mentor to, a small group of young scholars. I wasn’t sure I would be accepted. I had started to think I was a washed-up, failed academic. Yet, I was accepted into the program. When I attended my cohort’s first meeting in January 2020, I was confronted with a hard truth that had previously existed in the abstract — I was no longer a young scholar. I was nearly ten years out from completing my Ph.D. and was in a cohort with a Ph.D. candidate and three recent Ph.Ds. Maybe all academia had passed me by.
Or maybe it hadn’t.
Over that initial meeting, I once again developed a renewed sense of purpose. I came to love the work that I do once again. New connections and collegiality had shown me that a dead-end, alt-ac job didn’t have to be the end of my story. GID showed me that I could have yet another chapter. Consequently, I was ready academically, mentally and spiritually to bring all of these experiences and lessons together in the summer of 2020 when the full potential of my work began to be seen through a much wider lens during the global reckoning around systemic racism, which began after the murder of George Floyd. This uptick led directly to me getting my current position at Villanova University as the director of Mission Engagement and Strategic Initiatives and courtesy assistant professor of sociology. This job is a dream I didn’t know I had until it was staring right at me!
With IACS and especially GID coming into my life at the moment I needed but couldn’t have known about, I was ready to respond to a moment in history I had been preparing for more than twenty years.”
With IACS and especially GID coming into my life at the moment I needed but couldn’t have known about, I was ready to respond to a moment in history I had been preparing for more than twenty years. For those who are considering applying to one of the Institute’s programs or fellowships: DO IT! It may just change the trajectory of your career. For those considering supporting the Institute’s work, please do. You may help to fund an opportunity for someone whose work we all need.
Editor’s note: Tia Noelle Pratt, Ph.D., is the director of Mission Engagement and Strategic Initiatives and a courtesy assistant professor of sociology at Villanova University. She is a contributor to America Magazine, the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, and is editor-elect of the Journal of Catholic Social Thought. Learn more about her work.