By Mary Howell, Special to The Catholic Virginian

Noted oral historian and author Molly Pyle has been commissioned to write a history of the Richmond Diocese as part of the Diocesan celebration of its upcoming bicentennial.

Since embarking on her freelance career in 2012, Pyle has published several well-regarded spiritual portraits and articles about extraordinary Catholics, including an original history of the Sisters of Bon Secours USA that will be published later this year.

“This past December, just as I was moving back to Charlottesville after over a decade away, I received an email from a colleague alerting me to this opportunity. I was in between projects, and immediately contacted the Diocese to say I was interested,” she said.

While not a native Virginian, Pyle brings unique skills and experience to this assignment. After earning a Ph.D. in Russian History from the University of Chicago in 1997, she spent nearly a decade managing bilateral projects under the Nunn-Lugar Weapons of Mass Destruction Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative, a federal effort to promote democracy as well as support nuclear disarmament in the former Soviet states.

In 2008, she went on to serve as managing editor of the Journal of National Security Law & Policy, raising this peer-reviewed international law journal to a number-one ranking in less than five years.

Motivated by a desire to memorialize and honor the work of her fellow Catholics, Pyle left her international and academic worlds behind, and pursued writing full-time.

“These days, I see myself equally as an anthropologist and historian,” she explained. “I want to share stories that will convey how people have lived and been sustained by their Catholic faith and faith communities at a given place and time.”

Pyle is currently spending two days a week in the Pastoral Center, gathering information from the Diocesan archives and working with an editorial team that includes Msgr. Mark Richard Lane, Vicar General, and Archivist Edith M. Jeter, both of the Diocese of Richmond.

“After we, as an editorial team, have developed a list of contacts, I’ll work with Edie to conduct a series of interviews across the Diocese this summer and fall. In these conversations, lay people and clergy may think aloud about why they acted as they did during critical moments, what they observed and felt at the time, and how they view the events’ significance today, on reflection. If I’m successful, my interviewees will feel free to think aloud, and their candor and spontaneity will draw readers into the scene, enabling all of us to engage in a special undertaking: making sense of the past.”

More specifically, Pyle’s charter is to write a 150-page history that will update and extend Fr. Gerald Fogarty’s book Commonwealth Catholicism, focusing on the period from Bishop Walter Sullivan’s appointment in 1974 through the present. The published volume will also feature Diocesan parish histories written by individuals from each parish.

The collection, which will be promoted throughout the 2018-2020 bicentennial celebration, promises to be a scholarly yet readable history.

Pyle said, “My goal is that readers are both educated and inspired by the deeds and words of their fellow parishioners, past and present. Few know what the Diocese does and has accomplished, and the Diocese is a microcosm of the American Catholic Church as a whole. It’s an opportunity to produce a compelling portrait and shed light on important events that need to be told.”