A historical treasure trove: Social justice tradition runs through Catholic archives

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Catholic schools face many challenges. In recent decades, the steady supply of free labor from religious men and women has dried up. Demographic changes resulted in most inner-city Catholic schools serving poor, non-Catholic populations. Stagnant wages put the cost of a Catholic school education out of reach for most middle-class Catholic families. And the rising cost of education at all levels, from kindergarten through college, has affected profoundly the crowning glory of U.S. Catholicism, our vibrant educational system.

For all those problems, there are many interesting developments in Catholic education, one of which was the focus of a conference titled “Catholic Archives in the Digital Age: A Conference for Archivists and Teachers” held Oct. 8-9 at The Catholic University of America in Washington. The event brought together Catholic educators with Catholic archivists to explore ways that archival material, especially digitized material, can be used in classrooms.

We all find reasons to bemoan canon law, but one of its benefits is that it requires a lot of record-keeping, and those records, deposited in Catholic archives, are a treasure trove of information for teaching young people.

The conference began with a panel of archivists highlighting their holdings that could be useful in the classroom. Malachy McCarthy oversees the Claretian archives in Chicago. He noted that religious communities like the Claretians respond to the needs of the times, and the archives reflect those responses. For example, the Claretian archives have material on the “down-and-dirty social history” of the mostly working-class people the Claretians served. Continue reading …