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College of Arts and Sciences

That 70s Catholicism  

Poster welcoming visitors to the “That 70s Catholicism” exhibit curated and researched by Professor Thomas Rzeznik.

Poster welcoming visitors to the "That 70s Catholicism" exhibit.

Professor Thomas Rzeznik, Ph.D., of the Seton Hall History Department delivered a talk on "That 70s Catholicism" as part of a local history lecture series at the American Catholic Historical Society in Philadelphia on Sunday, January 22, 2023.

The program was presented in person and via Zoom in conjunction with the formal opening of the historical society's one-room exhibit on That 70s Catholicism that Professor Rzeznik researched, curated, and designed. The initial premiere happened earlier in the month when the historical society hosted members of the American Catholic Historical Association, the nation's primary professional organization for scholars of Catholic history.

Focusing on developments in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the exhibit looks back on a critical decade in U.S. Catholicism, one shaped by the reforms of the Second Vatican Council and capped by the election of Pope John Paul II. Professor Rzeznik's talk highlighted three main themes – education, lay vocation, and urban ministry – that reveal both the challenges of the decade and the vitality and dynamism that emerged during that era.

He concluded "that we can see the 1970s as a 'mirror for our times.'" They are both distant and familiar. He explained, "We see Catholics grappling with many of the same issues that confront us today: the struggle to sustain parishes and schools, demographic change and greater diversity, debates over gender and sexuality, growing polarization, and yet a deep commitment on the part of so many to respond to the spiritual and social needs of the day."

Photo of Professor Thomas Rzeznik and Bill Kuncken at the That 70s Catholicism exhibit at the American Catholic Historical Society in Philadelphia.

Professor Thomas Rzeznik and Bill Kuncken '19 at the lecture.

Among the attendees was Seton Hall alum Bill Kuncken '19, a former student of Professor Rzeznik, and now a Ph.D. candidate in Theology at Villanova University and a religion teacher at St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia.

The exhibit demonstrates the importance of public history within the discipline.


"As scholars, we have a responsibility to ensure that our research reaches beyond specialists and speaks to popular audiences," Professor Rzeznik remarked, adding, "This is especially true for history since the stories we tell are not our own; they are our shared inheritance."

A specialist in American Catholic History, Professor Rzeznik is co-editor of the quarterly journal American Catholic Studies and co-editor with Margaret M. McGuinness of the Cambridge Companion to American Catholicism (Cambridge University Press, 2021), part of the prestigious Cambridge Companions to Religion series. Members of the Seton Hall community can access the e-book version of the Cambridge Companion to American Catholicism via the University Libraries here.

A member of the Seton Hall faculty since 2006, Professor Rzeznik regularly teaches courses on the history of American Catholicism and American religion. He is currently working on a history of St. Vincent's Hospital and Catholic health care in New York City.

Categories: Arts and Culture, Faith and Service