Christopher Joseph Kauffman, church historian, dies

Christopher Joseph Kauffman, a historian who wrote nearly a dozen books on the Catholic Church, died Tuesday from complications of dementia.

Christopher Joseph Kauffman, a historian who wrote nearly a dozen books on the Catholic Church, died Tuesday from complications of dementia at Oakcrest Village Care Center in Parkville. He was 81.

Mr. Kauffman was the youngest child of Bernice O’Brien and Dr. Daniel Emmanuel Kauffman. His father died when he was an infant and he was raised by his mother and “granddad,” Chris O’Brien, in St. Louis.


He attended St. Roch School in St. Louis and the Christian Brothers Academy in nearby Clayton, Mo. He read a lot as a child and some teachers took a special interest in the young Kauffman, giving him books that were advanced for his age, said his daughter Jane Kauffman-Marinelli.

He left St. Louis to attend St. John’s University in Minnesota, where he earned an undergraduate degree in history in 1958. After graduation, Mr. Kauffman returned to St. Louis, where he taught at a Catholic school and earned a postdoctoral degree in history in 1970 from St. Louis University.


Mr. Kauffman was introduced to his wife of 51 years, Helen “Squeaky” Kauffman, by her sister. He was leaving a job at Mercy High School in St. Louis and she was coming there to teach. He suggested they meet to talk about the school, but it turned into a date. They married three months later, just after Christmas.

After his stint at Mercy, Mr. Kauffman taught at Fontbonne College, then a Catholic school for girls. While teaching there, he wrote a letter to the editor of Time Magazine after the magazine asked the staff to help them find photogenic women for advertisements.

“He told them we will put forth women who are educated, smart and academically challenged,” Mrs. Kauffman-Marinelli said.

Social justice was a reoccurring theme in Mr. Kauffman’s research. In 1983, he launched the journal The U.S. Catholic Historian; he was its general editor until 2013. The U.S. Catholic Historian is widely known as a publication that brought light to stories of Catholics previously underrepresented by historians, such as women, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latinos and those on the frontier and borderlands.

“He had a real sense of justice and the need to be vocal about what he sees,” said another daughter, Katie Kauffman.

Mr. Kauffman moved his family to Baltimore in 1982 to write a two-volume history of the priests of St. Sulpice in America. He spent many years writing books and editing journals full time. He also taught at the Catholic University of America in Washington, where he held the chair as the Catholic Daughters of the Americas Professor of Church History.

Tricia Pyne was a student of his at Catholic University in the mid-1990s, when Mr. Kauffman was on her dissertation committee. He published her first article in The U.S. Catholic Historian. Ms. Pine said Mr. Kauffman was a great mentor to students and later became a good friend.

“He was a kind and gentle person and a great mentor to countless graduate students and young scholars,” said Ms. Pyne, who runs an archives program at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore.


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Mr. Kauffman wrote 10 books on American Catholic history, including a two-volume history of the Alexian Brothers and a two-volume history of the Knights of Columbus.

Other books include “Ministry and Meaning: A Religious History of Catholic Health Care in the United States” and “Education and Transformation: Marianist Ministries in America Since 1849.” He has also published a biography of William Howard Bishop, the founder of the Glenmary Home Missioners.

He was general editor of the Bicentennial History of the Catholic Church in America, an award-winning six-volume set that covers such topics as church organization, women in the church and the Catholic immigrant experience. It was published in 1989 and was presented to Pope John Paul II.

Later in life, Mr. Kauffman began writing poetry, mostly about his family. He was a member for 20 years of Corpus Christi Church, where he volunteered every Tuesday at the soup kitchen, his family said. He was a man of routine who went to the gym every day and prayed while stretching after his workout. He also enjoyed old jokes, crime novels and a good meal — his favorite was lamb with mint jelly.

A Memorial Mass will be held 11 a.m. Feb. 17 at Corpus Christi Church, 110 W. Lafayette Ave., in Baltimore.

In addition to his daughters and wife, Mr. Kauffman is survived by his older brother, Daniel Kauffman of Blue Ridge, Ga.; a son, Christopher Justin Kauffman of Gettysburg, Pa.; and seven grandchildren.