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Catholic Collections in the Notre Dame Archives

Manuscripts and More

Typically archivists refer to collections such as ours as manuscript collections. When we described our Catholic Collections in a one-volume guide in 1992 we called it our Guide to Manuscript Collections. But in fact our collections also include photographs, movies, videos, audio recordings, artifacts, microfilm, books, pamphlets, periodicals, ephemera, and digital data.

In any given collection these elements share a three-letter collection code. We prefix a fourth letter to provide a clue as to the medium. For example, Father Theodore M. Hesburgh's three-letter code is PHS, so his manuscript collection has call numbers beginning with CPHS, his graphics or photographs GPHS, his audio-visual material APHS, his objects or artifacts OPHS, his microfilm MPHS, his printed material PPHS, and his digital data DPHS.

We have some collections that consist entirely of photographs, some entirely of printed material, some entirely of microfilm, and even in recent times some entirely of digital data. All of these have the same scope as our manuscript collections in that they have to do with Catholicism in America, and with Notre Dame itself.


The archives' audio-visual collections consist of material from both the University and Catholic historical collections and include nearly twenty different video and audio formats. The archives also holds audio-visual material relating to the organization and individuals documented in the Catholic historical collections, including oral histories, recordings of meetings, speeches and lectures, documentaries, public relation programs, footage of the activities of religious orders and parishes, and liturgies.


The archives preserves historical artifacts for their value as evidence of Catholic material culture. When James Farnham Edwards began his career as a collector at Notre Dame, he wanted to have a portrait of each early bishop and some relic of each bishop -- mitre, crosier, chasuble chalice, stole. He displayed these artifacts in Bishops' Memorial Hall (under the dome in the hallways of Notre Dame's Main Building). We preserve many of these paintings and some of these relics in the archives today.

Donors of manuscript collections often send related artifacts, just as they send related photographs or printed material. If these have evidential value we preserve them as part of the collection. We have, for example, the painting that Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton used in her daily devotions, the mess kit that Father Peter P. Cooney, C.S.C., carried with him as a chaplain during the Civil War, a memorial card kept by a man cured through the intervention of Saint André Bessette, C.S.C., and treasured by Brother Mathias Barrett, founder of the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd. 


Starting in 1951, University Archivist Father Thomas McAvoy, C.S.C., went to Europe to find Catholic historical documents pertinent to the Church in the United States. He soon launched several projects, some of them to microfilm collections in the Notre Dame Archives and some to microfilm other Catholic archives in Europe and North America. Missionaries in America appealed for support to European Catholics, and as part of the appeal described the work they were doing. Microfilm of these mission-society archives can be found on the Notre Dame Archives website: the Leopoldine Society (Austrian), the Ludwigs-Verein (German), and the Society for the Propagation of the Faith (French).

In 1961 Father McAvoy announced that the Notre Dame Archives had made microfilm of the United States documents in the archives of the Vatican office in charge of the propagation of the faith in mission territory, the Congregatio de Propaganda Fide. Outside the Vatican, these records are available only at Notre Dame.

In 1965 a few of the collections in the Notre Dame Archives had appeal broad enough to merit grant funds for microfilming from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). These became microfilm publications acquired by many libraries: Records of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas, William Tecumseh Sherman Papers, Thomas Ewing Papers, and Orestes A. Brownson Papers. We have digitized the first two of these collections and have made them available via our website. We intend to digitize the others and make them available.

Nobody questions the Catholic character of these diocesan records or the papers of such a prominent Catholic convert as Orestes Brownson. In the politics of his time, Thomas Ewing was no less prominent: U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Treasury, first Secretary of the Interior, foster father and father-in-law of General William Tecumseh Sherman -- and a Catholic. Though Sherman himself was not Catholic, his papers in our archives document the life of a Catholic family. During the Civil War his wife and children lived in Notre Dame, Indiana. 

We hold (and sell) microfilm copies of several important sports publications. While these newspapers emphasize baseball, many also report on other sports and recreational activities of their era.

But most of our microfilm is not for sale. We sometimes purchase microfilm collections from other repositories. Donors sometimes include microfilm in their donations. We have also made microfilm for preservation, as a safeguard against fire or flood that might destroy a manuscript collection. Some of our largest microfilm collections preserve records of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (Father Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.), of the ecumenical work of Father David Bowman, S.J., with the National Council of Churches of Christ, and of Father Albert J. Nevins, editor of Maryknoll Magazine and Our Sunday Visitor.



The archives' printed collections consist of ephemera, brochures, posters, programs, pamphlets, articles, and books that typically come to the archives individually or as part of a larger university or Catholic historical collection. Notre Dame related information includes full runs of student publications including the Dome yearbook, Observer newspaper, and Scholastic magazine, departmental publications and newsletters, student and faculty directories, informational catalogs and bulletins, sports programs and media guides, and clippings and ephemera regarding noted individuals, campus buildings, and athletic and other events. Printed material of interest to those studying the history of the Catholic Church in America includes a full run of Ave Maria Magazine, publications, brochures, pamphlets, articles, and other documents regarding parish histories and various religious organizations.

Some of our collections consist entirely of printed material. For example:

The Parish History Collection consists of chiefly of anniversary publications with information on the history and activities of parishes from all over the United States, but with an emphasis on the Ohio River valley and the Midwest. The collection also contains files of clippings about parishes, with ephemera such as parish bulletins or circulars. Researchers interested in the Parish History Collection should know that some other collections in the archives contain parish histories and that there are also parish histories in Rare Books and Special Collections and in the library's general circulating collection.