James, Cardinal Gibbons was a key figure in American Catholic history as a major leader and spokesman of the Church during a tumultuous time of industrial growth, contentious immigration, and structural change in American society. He was also a founder and first Chancellor of The Catholic University of America (CUA), where his presence on campus is commemorated by Gibbons Hall (see image below). He also presides over the CUA campus in many guises, most notably as a marble bust in McMahon Hall and a large oil on canvas painting in Mullen Library. There is also a small collection of his archival papers preserved in the CUA Archives and another, larger cache with the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
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”→