History Speakers at Aquinas

May 14, 2019

Vince Ryan, Ph.D.

April 9th was something of an unofficial ‘History Day’ at Aquinas College as several different speakers visited the campus that morning.

Emily and Don Hunnicutt spoke to Sister Jean Marie Warner, O.P.’s Tennessee History class on the development of Oak Ridge during the 1940s. Oak Ridge, located about 160 miles east of Nashville, was a secret city designed to produce weapon-grade uranium used in the two atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Emily Hunnicutt’s father (and Sister Jean Marie’s uncle) was Ed Westcott who was the official and only photographer for the Manhattan Project. He documented all aspects of the development of the atomic bombs through his photographs. Don Hunnicutt used the photographs that Ed Westcott took to illustrate the building of Oak Ridge and the part that the residents played in developing the uranium used in the bombs.

Both Emily and Don were born and lived in Oak Ridge during the war years. They are now involved in preserving the history of the city in the new Oak Ridge History Museum. They presented each member of the class with a book written by Ed Westcott that contains some of his favorite pictures. Ed Westcott died on March 29th at the age of 97.

Later that morning the History program sponsored the public lecture The ‘Silent Pope’: Did Pius XII ignore the Holocaust? by Joan Watson. 2019 marks the eightieth anniversary of the start of Pius XII’s important pontificate. Earlier this year Pope Francis announced that the Vatican would be opening its archives pertaining to the papacy of Pius XII and releasing the full confidential files on this era in March 2020.

Joan, who currently serves as the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Nashville, had previously worked for several years at Aquinas College in the Catechist Formation Program. Her talk was an informative and engaging counterpoint to controversial claims that Pius XII was either complicit in or unresponsive to the Third Reich’s persecution, incarceration, and extermination of European Jews. Besides highlighting the many public condemnations of Nazism that he made while serving as papal nuncio to Germany and then later as the Vatican’s Secretary of State, she also noted his various efforts behind the scenes through diplomatic and unofficial channels to aid European Jews along with his opening of the papal estate, Castle Gandolfo, for hiding hundreds Jewish families.

The lecture was well attended by students, faculty, staff, and friends of the college and many in the audience seemed eager to add the 2015 book Church of Spies: The Pope’s Secret War Against Hitler by Mark Riebling (which the speaker highly recommended) to their summer reading list.