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Catholic Collections in the Notre Dame Archives

Catholic Archives of America

When the founder of Notre Dame, Father Edward Sorin, described the earliest years of the university in his Chronicles, he wrote about the charters granted by the Indiana legislature: "The two charters, each in its kind, conferred all the privileges that could be granted by the government, and will remain in the archives as the most precious monuments that could be in its possession." Father Sorin recognized from the beginning that Notre Dame needed an institutional memory, an archives to preserve the records of its history.

Thanks to the efforts of James Farnham Edwards, an early history professor and librarian, Notre Dame also aspired to serve as the memory of the Catholic Church in the United States. Starting around 1870, Edwards established what he later called the Catholic Archives of America. With the support of Father Sorin, he approached bishops and asked them to contribute the papers of earlier bishops to this new central repository for Catholic historical documents.

Canon Law did not require bishops to maintain the archives of their dioceses until the twentieth century, and many of the bishops of that time saw the wisdom of Edwards' plans. His ambitions expanded to include prominent priests, religious orders, institutions, and lay people. Notre Dame's Catholic collections grew during his life, expanded greatly in the twentieth century, and continue to grow in the twenty-first.

Whatever its virtues as a brand, the phrase "Catholic Archives of America" does not accurately characterize our efforts, so we no longer use it. But it has a life of its own in current genealogical publications, causing naive family historians to hope that we have all the sacramental records of Catholics from colonial times to the present day. We do not.

We do have hundreds of collections, including the early ones collected by Edwards. These collections include the personal papers of individuals associated with Notre Dame, but the bulk of the manuscript collections consist of records documenting the American Catholic experience. Edwards acquired papers from the bishops of Baltimore, Bardstown-Louisville, Boston, Cincinnati, Chicago, New Orleans, Vincennes-Indianapolis and many other sees. 

In the twentieth century the Archives continued to collect the papers of bishops, including the leaders of the local Diocese of Fort Wayne, especially the founder of Our Sunday Visitor, John Francis Noll; midwestern bishops including John F. Dearden, Thomas Gumbleton, Kenneth Untener, George Fulcher, and Daniel Pilarczyk; Holy Cross bishops John Francis O'Hara and Marcos McGrath; and other prominent bishops including Paul Boyle, C.P., Raymond Hunthausen, and Robert Emett Lucey.

For Catholics, the twentieth century falls naturally into two parts -- before and after the Second Vatican Council. The papers of Cardinal Dearden, Archbishop McGrath,and James Norris document the Council itself. However, many of the Archives' other twentieth century collections show the development of ideas that came to fruition in Vatican II.

Most of the archives' nineteenth-century manuscript collections, including those described in detail in the calendar, are open for use by researchers. However, most of the twentieth-century collections came to the University Archives from donors with whom we have contracts that may restrict access. Also, the archives does store some of these collections offsite. If you plan to visit the archives to do research in the manuscript collections, please contact us in advance so our staff can make sure that the material you want is open for use.

Calendared Collections

When James Farnham Edwards died early in the twentieth century, Father Paul Foik, C.S.C., decided to describe the Catholic collections in an item-level finding aid known as a calendar. He and his assistants summarized each document in English, identified appropriate cross-references, and indicated the location of the document in the archives.

These summaries were typed on cards and arranged in chronological order. Early in the twenty-first century we digitized these summaries so that they can now be searched via the Archives website. These nineteen collections have been calendared:

The order of this list reflects the order of the collections on the shelves. The location codes at the end of each item on the list correspond to the codes given at the end of each calendar entry.

For the study of American Catholic literary achievements in the nineteenth century, the papers of Daniel E. Hudson, C.S.C., provide valuable assistance. As editor of The Ave Maria for most of his life, Fr Hudson corresponded with Catholic novelists, poets, and essayists -- and the calendar provides summaries of all of this correspondence. A related collection of Ave Maria Magazine Records includes many manuscripts submitted by these authors, with work by John Ayscough, A.M. Berlinquet, Nora Byeman, L. Joan Chubb, the Countess de Courson, Charles A. Dobson, Joseph Dutton, Maurice Francis Egan, M. de la Fontaine, Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Marie Marchal, Edward Wilbur Mason, Marian Nesbitt, M. Barry O'Delany, Christian Reid, Nigel Robinson, Magdalen Rock, Anna T. Sadlier, Charles Warren Stoddard, and others.