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Archives, U.S. Catholic


This article presents the history of the development of Catholic manuscript centers in the U.S., and then describes some of the more important centers, categorized by their connection with archdiocesan and diocesan sees, educational institutions, and religious orders and congregations.

History. Before the 1960s, almost no dioceses had more than part-time archivists, only a few Catholic colleges and universities devoted much attention or resources to the collection and preservation of Catholic documents, and most religious orders had hardly even considered the need to create archives. Professional training among archivists in Catholic institutions was virtually unheard of and standards of professional practice nonexistent. Since 1960, the increased public interest in history (reflected in the formation of new history museums, the popularity of historic preservation, and the increase in the numbers and professionalism of public history personnel) has been mirrored by the development of archives within the Church. In 1974, in preparation for the nation's Bicentennial celebration and after effective lobbying by several historians, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops issued "A Document for Ecclesiastical Archives." The bishops noted the general neglect of Catholics in the writing of American history and conceded that that neglect had been caused, at least in part, by historians' lack of "access to the pertinent documents of bishops, dioceses, religious orders." The document urged all bishops who did not have an archivist to appoint one quickly. More recently, in 1997, the Vatican's Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church contended that "Archives are places of memory which must be preserved, transmitted, renewed, appreciated, because they represent the most direct connection with the heritage of the Church community." The Commission went on to encourage professional training of archival staffs.

In the late 1970s the Leadership Conference of Women Religious launched an archival development program, led by Sr. Evangeline Thomas, C.S.J. This eight-year project provided professional training for nearly 400 archivists of women religious orders and produced a rich and extensive survey of the holdings of over 500 archives of congregations of women religious in 1983. Picking up on this effort, a group of archivists from congregations of women religious began meeting in the late 1980s to form a permanent organization where they could discuss common problems and work together for common solutions. In 1992, they organized formally into the Archivists of Congregations of Women Religious (ACWR). Through the work of the first officers the ACWR established a relationship with the Society of American Archivists (SAA), meeting annually at the SAA's convention. ACWR members also began to meet together on their own every three years for a more extensive program of workshops and forums directly related to their own problems.

Inspired by the bishops' 1974 Document on Ecclesiastical Archives and growing out of discussions held as part of the meetings of the SAA in 19791980, the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists (ACDA) was formally established, with a constitution and bylaws, in 1982, to promote professionalization and standards among diocesan archivists. Early on ACDA addressed the important issue of access to sacramental records with a 1982 Statement on Access and Use of Sacramental Records which recognized the sensitivity of these records as well as the legitimacy of genealogical research therein and urged diocesan archivists to make them available under controlled conditions. In 1991, the ACDA tackled the issue of access to church records generally with its Guideline for Access to Diocesan Archives, which recommended equality of access within the demands of canon law and generally following the procedures of broader archival world in general.

There has been no equivalent for the ACDA or the ACWR for Catholic college and university archivists. Nonetheless, they have been very active in encouraging the professionalization of Catholic archives as well. In the late 1980s and early 1990s and again in the late 1990s, for example, Catholic University has offered training for archivists through a Religious Archives Institute cosponsored by the University's Archives and Library School.

The following survey will highlight some of the more important archives among the three main groups, diocesan, college and university, and religious order archives, which make up the world of Catholic archives today.

Diocesan Archives. Because of the fundamental importance of diocesan units in the church's ecclesial structure, diocesan archives are necessarily the foundation for the documentation of Catholic religious life in the nation. The following is but a brief survey of some of the major Archdiocesan archives. As might be expected given their greater resources, the nation's archdioceses have many of the best endowed and well-staffed archival programs. Yet there are numerous excellent programs among smaller dioceses, such as in Galveston, Texas; Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Brooklyn, New York.

Baltimore is the mother see of the American church. Founded in 1789, all other dioceses in the nation descend from it. The Baltimore Diocesan Archives, known until 1974 as the Baltimore Cathedral Archives, is particularly rich in the papers of such leaders like James Cardinal Gibbons and Bishop John Carroll and the records of the Plenary Councils of American bishops held there in 1866 and 1884.

Several dioceses were created from Baltimore in 1808 as the American church grew in size. The sees of three of the dioceses were major cities of the northeast coast: Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. Boston's archives were largely administered informally until the late 1970s when they were completely reorganized under the leadership of James O'Toole. O'Toole, a force in the formation of the ACDA, helped establish in Boston a model of professional practice for other diocesan archives through the professional processing of papers, development of quality finding aids and guides, and codification of rules of access. Whereas Baltimore's collections are heavy in the papers of its distinguished prelates, Boston's are more diverse. Boston's collections include bishops' papers, thin in the nineteenth century apart from a remarkable journal kept by Bishops Fenwick and Fitzpatrick, but generally richer in the twentieth century. More important may be the very extensive collection of correspondence between chancery officials and parishes, charitable agencies and religious orders beginning with the O'Connell administration in 1907. Boston has also collected parish announcement books and bulletins from selected parishes and pre-1920 sacramental records from every parish in the diocese.

Philadelphia's collections are more diverse than Boston's and Baltimore's, since they include not only the archival records of the archdiocese but the manuscripts acquired by the American Catholic Historical Society. Thus at Philadelphia one can not only find papers of nineteenth-century Archbishops Wood and Ryan but also their notable contemporary, the Catholic lay activist and Irish American nationalist, Martin Ignatius Griffin, as well as a very extensive collection of Catholic newspapers from around the nation. New York's Archdiocesan Archives also has rich collections, that, like Baltimore's appear to be especially rich in the papers of bishops like Archbishop John Hughes, Michael Corrigan and Francis Cardinal Spellman.

The Chicago Archdiocesan Archives includes the papers of the archdiocese's many notable leaders, Cardinals Mundelein, Stritch, Meyer, Cody, and Bernardin. The Archives also has extensive chancery correspondence files, records of scores of schools, and microfilm copies of all pre-1916 sacramental registers from all of the Archdiocese's parishes. Since 1966, the Archive has been located in newly renovated, fully climate-controlled facility in downtown Chicago.

New Orleans has a long tradition of Catholic settlement that predates its incorporation into the United States. The Archdiocesan Archives there has rich collections of correspondence from Louisiana pastors in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century documenting the material and spiritual life of their parishes. It also holds the pre-1900 sacramental records for all the Archdiocese's parishes.

Long before there was a United States of America and a diocese of Baltimore, Catholicism had been established in the Spanish colonies of what today has become New Mexico and Texas. The Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe are especially strong in regard to both Hispanic and Native Americans and include documents dating from 1678, account books from 1736, and sacramental records from 1694 are housed since 1993 in a facility combining offices, storage, and a museum. The Catholic Archives of Texas is a unique institution serving as the only state Catholic archives in the United States. Founded in 1923 under the auspices of the Texas Knights of Columbus Historical Commission, it cooperates closely with the Diocese of Austin, where it is located, other dioceses in Texas, and with cultural and historical institutions in the area to achieve historical preservation of catholic history. Holdings include records of the Texas Catholic Conference and the Texas Knights of Columbus and its Historical Commission, Texas Catholic Historical Society, and religious associations, societies and Catholic clubs in Texas, personal papers and biographical files of the bishops and clergy in Texas, and documents dealing with various religious orders. Like Santa Fe the Catholic Archives of Texas has a rich collection of records dating back to the Spanish colonial era, with holdings documenting Catholic life in eighteenth-century San Antonio and El Paso.

On the West Coast the three principal archives are in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Housed in the beautiful old San Fernando mission in Mission Hills, California, the Los Angeles Archives is particularly rich in the papers of Los Angeles' bishops, such as Thomas J. Conaty and John J. Cantwell. The Archives has indexed the papers of many of these men in detailed item-level calendars. The San Francisco Archdiocesan Archives contains documents extending back to the region's mission history but the collections are strongest in the Archdiocese' administrative records of the twentieth century. The Archives also has sacramental records for every parish in the diocese and has conducted a very ambitious oral history program since 1986 that has produced over 150 interviews. Seattle's collections include early sacramental records and diocesan administrative files.

Catholic College and University Archives. Beyond the records they keep of their own institutions, the archives and special collections departments at Catholic colleges and universities range widely in the kinds of records and papers they have collected to document the American Catholic experience. As a rule they are further advanced in professional practice and particularly in the use of computer technology than diocesan or religious order archives. The largest Catholic college archives are those at Catholic University, University of Notre Dame, and Marquette University. Other schools such as Boston College, Holy Cross, Seton Hall, St. John's (New York), and St. John's (Minnesota), also have critically important collections documenting American Catholic history and most, like Boston College and St. John's (New York) have professionally sophisticated programs.

Catholic University's archives date to 1949. The strengths of its collections are Catholic organizational records and personal papers from the twentieth century. The University Archives, for example, holds the records of the three most important national Catholic organizations in the country: the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (formerly the United States Catholic Conference-National Conference of Catholic Bishops and before that the National Catholic Welfare Conference); the National Catholic Education Association, and Catholic Charities USA (formerly the National Conference of Catholic Charities). The Catholic University Archives also includes the personal papers of a number of important twentieth-century Catholic intellectuals and social activists such as Monsignors John Ryan, George Higgins, John Montgomery Cooper and John Tracy Ellis, who were connected to the above organizations or were members of the University's faculty or both. The University Archives and Manuscripts department has centralized its operations by moving into a single renovated facility, with up-to-date climate-controlled storage rooms and a refurbished reading room and offices.

Father Edward Sorin, the founder of the University of Notre Dame, also founded the University's archives. Not long thereafter, Professor James Fenwick Edwards established a repository at the school entitled the Catholic Archives of America project and began collecting the early diocesan records of Detroit, New Orleans, and Cincinnati; personal papers of Catholic lay leaders like Orestes Brownson and William Onahan; and records relating to Catholic participation in the Civil War. The Archives has continued to collect papers and records of critical importance in American Catholic history, including the papers of Monsignor Reynold Hillenbrand, a leading figure in the liturgical movement; the Christian Family Movement; and Archbishop John F. Dearden of Detroit, the first president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Of special note are collections of the records of two of the most important Catholic journals in America, Commonweal magazine and the National Catholic Reporter. Together the archives of the University and the manuscripts collections at Notre Dame make up about 19,000 feet of records and papers, making it the largest single Catholic repository in the United States.

Marquette University's Department of Archives and Special Collections was established in 1961 and now houses more than 15,000 feet of records. In addition to maintaining the University's own institutional archives, the department has rich resources in its manuscript collections documenting the American Catholic experience. It includes, for example, some 150 feet of the papers of Dorothy Day and Catholic Worker houses in New York City and other cities around the country; collections in Catholic Women's history comprising the records and papers of the Institute of Women Today, the National Coalition of American Nuns and the Women's Ordination Conference; and 16 collections documenting Christianity among the native peoples of the Americas. These last include the 500 feet of records of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions.

Archives of Congregations of Women and Men Religious. Many communities of men religious have been able to deposit their community or provincial records at colleges or universities founded by their orders, and many such colleges and universities have established archival or special collections programs to take care of those records or to assist the establishment of order archives. Some of the Jesuit provinces, for example, have deposited their records at Georgetown, Holy Cross, and St. Louis University, among other institutions, while Marianists and Augustinians have set up congregational archives at the University of Dayton and Villanova respectively. Women religious, who have smaller colleges with more limited library resources and have been largely involved in primary or secondary education or health or charitable work, have not had the same options. Yet women's congregations have generally been better organized and more active in attending to their records and the preservation of their history. Congregations like the Visitation sisters in Washington and the Discalced Carmelites in Baltimore have sought and received funds from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, a federal funding agency, to organize their archives. Several other communities, most notably the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters in Michigan, Felician Sisters in Connecticut, Sisters of Mercy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Ursuline congregations in Missouri and Kentucky, Discalced Carmelites in Albany, New York, Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland and Sisters of St. Joseph in Massachusetts have created professional archives, preserving, arranging and describing collections according to archival principles and working with computer technology.

Unlike the colleges and universities, and, perhaps more so even than for the dioceses, collecting for religious congregations is more focused, for they are in the truest sense strictly archives, repositories with a precise institutional role to preserve the records of their order, province, or community. Records thus often include, as in the archives of the Ursuline nuns of Crystal Heights of Missouri: papers of provincial superiors; rules, constitutions and chronicles of the order, province or community; formation records; and personal papers, diaries, journals and correspondence of sisters. Many, too, like the Missouri Ursulines often include records of the order's closed hospitals, schools or charitable institutions.

Such a description hardly does justice to the importance of these archives for the study of American Catholic history. The Jesuit Maryland provincial records deposited at Georgetown, for example, are one of the richest single sources in the nation for research into seventeenth century American Catholicism. Among other things, they extensively document Jesuit plantations and slave holding in that era. The records of Baltimore's Discalced Carmelites are a rich resource for Maryland Catholicism in the later years of the early Republic when their community was established at Port Tobacco in Maryland. Missionary society archives like those of the Maryknoll fathers and sisters include correspondence and diaries rich with observations on cultures and societies in Asia and Africa.

Bibliography: c. e. nolan, "Historians and Diocesan Archives: A View from New Orleans," U.S. Catholic Historian 16, 1 (Winter 1998), 7383. m. j. oates, "Religious Archives Undo Stereotypes about the Role of Sisters," Catholic Library World (July/August/September 1991), 4753. j. m. o'toole, "Catholic Diocesan Archives: A Renaissance in Progress," The American Archivist (Summer 1980), 284293; "Twenty-Five Years of Preserving American Catholic History," U.S. Catholic Historian 16, 1 (Winter 1998), 113. m. b. ochoa, "Archives of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and 400 Years of Church History in New Mexico," U.S. Catholic Historian 16, 1 (Winter 1998), 2334. k. f. perzynska, "Catholic Archives of Texas: Sense and Sensibility of Catholic History Preservation and Research," U.S. Catholic Historian 16, 1 (Winter 1998), 3546. f. powers, "Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore: History and Content," U.S. Catholic Historian 16, 1 (Winter 1998), 4756. e. thomas, ed., Women Religious History Sources: A Guide to Repositories in the United States (New York and London 1983).

[t. j. meagher/

w. j. shepherd]

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