- Roman Sources for the History of American Catholicism: 1763– 1939 by Matteo Binasco
In her Introduction to Matteo Binasco’s Roman Sources for the History of American Catholicism: 1763–1939, Kathleen Sprows Cummings reveals that the ball for this excellent work started rolling at a 2014 conference in Italy sponsored by Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center and the Università della Tuscia. Two very useful chapters follow her Introduction—one by Luca Codignola and Matteo Sanfilippo, and the other by Binasco that provide useful historic and historiographic contexts for the project. Binasco, for instance, shows how the French Canadians are far ahead of the rest of us here with their L’Amérique du Nord française dans les archives religieuses de Rome of 1999, “a major landmark in these painstaking efforts.”
Binasco then divides his compendium into six chapters. The first concerns the archives of the Holy See itself—from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Archivio segreto vaticano. Chapter two deals with the archives of the religious orders—mostly those that were active in North America, while the third addresses the religious colleges. Chapter four acts as a bit of a grab bag—“other civil and religious archives”—that covers such disparate sources as the collection at the Keats–Shelley House, those of Rome’s non-Catholic cemetery, the Italian Central State Archives, and the Italian Foreign Ministry. Chapter five addresses various libraries; while six deals with “sources for the history of Italian immigration to the United States.”
Cummings rightly cautions us that Binasco’s compilation cannot possibly be exhaustive. Whereas there should be only a finite number of Vatican archives to list, who knows how many other of chapter six’s “civil and religious archives” in Rome might fit the bill? Why, for example, use just the non-Catholic cemetery? Rome’s main cemetery, the Verano, also has an archive. Two other Rome archives that may yield information for the researcher interested in Italo-American contacts might be the Istituto Luigi Sturzo, which contains, among [End Page 77] other things, the papers of the Christian Democratic Party; and the Istituto Paolo VI, where the records of Italian Catholic Action are kept. And maybe beyond Rome—a few years ago I read letters between American prelates and Archbishop Montini that are preserved in Milan’s diocesan archives.
Binasco provides the address and contact details for each of the book’s entries. He adds some history, a “description of holdings,” and bibliographic citations. Perhaps the trickiest part of the descriptions, however, is what he calls “status,” where one finds some very important information that, hopefully, begins with “Open to researchers . . .” He continues with material on opening days, hours, necessary credentials and letters, and so on. Some of the “status” entries, however, start with the word “Closed.” Anyone who has worked in Italian archives can tell horror stories that recall showing up at a shuttered operation. Sometimes these places remain closed for years. Even if an archive (or library) is open, moreover, surprises can await. Two years ago at a private library in Naples, the early morning attendant let me make photos of the material that I was examining. His relief at about 11:00 cautioned that I shouldn’t take many photos. After lunch, a third attendant prohibited photography. I decided that I would just abandon this enterprise and move on the following morning to the next archive (which proved to be a gold mine); so the three attendants and I spent the rest of the afternoon all’italiana discussing food and good restaurants. None of these anecdotes, however, diminishes the value of Binasco’s careful production, which deserves every praise. But it still might be a good idea to check with each archive and library before making the trek over the Atlantic.