The Archivist’s Nook: More Than You Imagine – The Archives at CUA

Photograph from the opening ceremony for the Archives at CUA, December 8, 1949, with, left to right, Patrick O'Boyle, Archbishop of DC and Chancellor of the University, Fr. Henry Browne, first CUA Archivist, and Wayne Grover, Archivist of the United States
Photograph from the opening ceremony for the Archives at CUA, December 8, 1949, with, left to right, Patrick O’Boyle, Archbishop of DC and Chancellor of the University, Fr. Henry Browne, first CUA Archivist, and Wayne Grover, Archivist of the United States

Though there was a museum at The Catholic University of America (CUA) going back to the university’s founding in the late 19th century, the Archives at CUA originated much later as shortly before World War II Msgr. Francis Haas began collecting the papers of important Catholic labor leaders such as Terence Powderly, head of the Knights of Labor (1879-1893), and John Mitchell, president of the United Mine Workers of America (1898-1908). These papers were stored in Mullen Library, but there was no staff to organize nor rooms where researchers might examine them. After the war, history faculty, particularly Rev. John Tracy Ellis, worried that university history and of Catholic Americans generally was being lost through neglect of vital records and papers.

As a result of Ellis’ advocacy, a committee that included Msgr. Edward Jordan (the vice rector), Mr. Eugene Willging (acting director of the library), and Rev. Henry Browne, was formed to establish an archives envisioned as the “memory” of the university, a depository for collection of the nation’s Catholic leaders and important organizations, and a resource for the history of Catholics in the American labor movement. The Archives officially opened on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1949) in an impressive ceremony that included Wayne Grover, archivist of the United States; Archbishop O’Boyle, chancellor of the university; Ernst Posner, archivist of American University and a seminal theorist of archives; Philip Brooks, president of the Society of American Archivists; and Dr. Guy Ford Stanton, executive director of the American Historical Association (see photograph above). They spoke of the importance of archives in the preservation of culture, and, specifically, of the Catholic Church’s long tradition as a keeper of historical records.   Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: More Than You Imagine – The Archives at CUA”

The Archivist’s Nook: Introduction to American Catholic Archives

Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, MD, 1884
NCE 2334 Baltimore, Councils of. Clarke, Richard H (1827-1911) author. New Catholic Encyclopedia. Entry: Baltimore, Councils of. Caption: Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, 1884–from Clarke’s ‘History of the Catholic Church in the United States.’ Size: f. Source: Unknown. Permission: Permission already obtained for NCE, PD. Image #: 116714.

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 then, 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. Continue reading “The Archivist’s Nook: Introduction to American Catholic Archives”