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  • The Archives of the Second Vatican Council Fathers Project:A Report from the United States

In October 2012 the Catholic Church observed the fiftieth anniversary of the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Over the next three years, a number of programs will commemorate what is widely regarded as the most significant religious event of the twentieth century. Of particular interest to historians, the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences and the Centre for the Study of and Research on the Second Vatican Council of the Pontifical Lateran University are co-sponsoring "The Second Vatican Council from the Perspective of the Archives of the Council Fathers." This project aims to promote scholarly study contributing to a greater understanding of the Council, and how its reception developed in the Church through the past fifty years. The project is planned for the period, 2011-2015. Consisting of two parts, the first focuses on identifying the Council Fathers' surviving collections of papers, the second to promoting their use. Coordinators appointed in different regions of the world will conduct surveys of diocesan archives in their areas. For that purpose, survey forms were sent to dioceses requesting a brief description of the Conciliar papers in their holdings and a summary of their local bishops' experience. Completed forms were forwarded to the project's sponsors, and the data will be entered into a database to be made available to scholars through their website.

In 2011, I agreed to serve as coordinator for the United States.1 In this role I was responsible for contacting all U.S. dioceses and eparchies established at the time of the Council.2 The search also directed me to collections held at archives of universities [End Page 51] and religious communities. In this article I will address the results of my efforts to identify collections available in the United States.3

Upon accepting this position, I approached the task ahead with realistic expectations. As an archivist for Catholic institutions for over twenty years, I knew the uneven Church-wide record of understanding and support of professional records management and archival standards. I was aware of the dioceses and religious communities with established archives programs and those lacking them. Under the best of circumstances, church archivists struggle with lack of resources, either of funding, staff, or training. Such challenges affect the effort to collect information on the Council Fathers' surviving papers. My expectations were dramatically lowered, however, after reading the introduction to Monsignor Vincent A. Yzermans' American Participation in the Second Vatican Council (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967). Yzermans (1925-1995), a priest of the Diocese of St. Cloud, served as a Council peritus. He was among the first to try collecting information on the American bishops at the Council. Even before the Council's fourth and last session ended, he had written to all American bishops requesting copies of their interventions, oral or written, in Latin or English, that each had made during the Council. Of the 84 responses received, nearly half indicated that they had nothing to send. Bishops had misplaced, lost, or donated their texts to the official archives of the Second Vatican Council and were no longer accessible. Despite this disappointing response, Yzermans published his book on the bishops' interventions in the Council from texts he received and their own personal recollections.4 Unfortunately, his files on the Council project were lost.

With my concern now shifting from my colleagues' response rate to whether any collections existed at all, I moved ahead warily. At this point I decided to expand my efforts from locating bishops' papers only to include those of the periti, the theological experts appointed to advise them, and then to any American who participated at the Council. As I soon discovered, the latter represents a diverse group that includes theological experts and consultors serving on Conciliar commissions or their staffs, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox observers, lay and religious auditors, Jewish liaisons, journalists, and pacifists. The more I learned about the American participants and their contributions, the more I became convinced of the necessity to include their information with that of bishops and periti, not only for the material found in...


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