Yesterday I took a long-awaited trip to the John Cardinal O’Connor Memorial Library, the reading room of the archives of the Archdiocese of New York, located at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.
I won’t go into a long spiel about the difficulty of accessing Catholic archives in general, because anyone who studies U.S. Catholic history already knows them. For the more specific history of these archives, and another good overview of a visit to them, read Monica Mercado’s post from 2013 over at the Religion in U.S. History blog.
In this case, the main barrier was me. I had dragged my feet about visiting because I’d had those difficulties before with other Catholic archives and had gotten discouraged. When I finally filled out the application for use, I heard back almost immediately from Father Michael Morris, who sent me incredibly detailed finding aids for the three archbishops whose correspondence I was looking to use.
When I got there, Father Morris, Kate Feighery, and Liz (whose last name I didn’t catch) were incredibly welcoming and helpful. The finding aid they’d sent me allowed me to get through all three collections in a day, take 850 photos, and return home a happy historian. I met a great Ph.D. student from Berkeley whose work suggests possible panels with mine in the future, and got to eat a nice lunch with the seminar students and staff. Kate’s even going to help me find out how to get into some Catholic archives that have been a little more elusive. All this plus Dorothy Day’s typewriter!
So, if you’ve been considering venturing to Dunwoodie to explore this archive, I highly encourage you to do it. Those of us who work in Catholic history can get discouraged by the process of finding and obtaining access to archives; unlike people in other fields, it’s not so much about bureaucracy, but rather the fact that many of these archives lack full-time staff. Don’t get discouraged! And let’s be good about helping our fellow scholars in the history of U.S. Catholicism find and gain access to archives; there’s plenty of material to go around, and sometimes giving a colleague the right email address or contact person can make a huge difference in their work.