~ Pedro Arrupe, SJ, Superior General of the Society of Jesus (1965-1983)
April 18, 2018 – The new Jesuit Archives & Research Center (JARC) in St. Louis will open to the public April 25. The state-of-the art facility will serve as a central repository for the collective historical resources of Jesuits in the United States. More, it will be a community resource, a place not just for historical research, but also for presentations and exhibits – preserving the past, engaging the present and forming the future.
From a precious 150-year-old golden ordination chalice and papal zucchettos (skullcap) to ink-drawn maps, cross stitch samplers and novitiate diaries, the Jesuit Archives & Research Center houses both personal and institutional documents, relics, liturgical books, artifacts and more.
The witness and testimony of faith articulated through the archival materials tell the story of a living legacy of Catholic life in America. That history of faith, the stories of individuals and communities who demonstrated their belief in the cross of Jesus Christ, are recalled through the collections.
Consider a simple cardboard suitcase. Used by the Jesuit Mission Band to hold flyers, tracts and holy cards as the band traveled to tiny churches throughout the country, this case tells the story of the missionaries’ vital role in helping form the growing American Church.
Printed materials from the Jesuit Mission to the Osage Nation tell not only the story of the mission, but also capture an irreplaceable heritage as some of the only extant documents in the Osage language.
House journals from a Jesuit community in Louisiana provide a first-hand account of what life was like during the years leading up to and during the Civil War.
A 1718 land grant signed by Patrick Henry, Fr. Pierre de Smet’s portable crucifix, a pardon from service in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans, personal correspondence from Flannery O’Connor and Eleanor Roosevelt, and hate letters received by a Jesuit at the forefront of integrating schools in the South – these documents and thousands more provide a lens through which the North American Church, the Society of Jesus and the larger society evolved.
All are parts of the story that help deepen the knowledge of the history of the Church and the Society of Jesus in the United States.
The History of the Jesuits in the United States
The history of the Jesuits is interwoven with the history of the United States. Just decades after St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus in 1540, Jesuits began arriving on the shores of America. The very first to arrive were Spaniards, who landed in today’s Saint Augustine, Florida, in the middle of the 16th century.
In 1611, French Jesuits explored the woodlands of Maine and celebrated the first known Mass on American soil at the mouth of the Kennebec River. English Jesuits landed in Maryland in 1634 and soon established a mission there, while Spanish Jesuits founded missions in the Southwest by the 1680s. In the early 1700s, French Jesuits instituted a mission and base of operations in New Orleans, within 10 years of the founding of that city.
By canoe, horseback and foot, the Jesuits (known to Native Americans as Black Robes) explored not only the frontiers of faith, but the frontiers of a new nation. Their diaries, hand-drawn maps, correspondence, personal items and documents trace their passages all the way to present-day frontiers, and are an educational resource of great cultural, spiritual and social significance.
Jesuits pioneered a Catholic presence on the American frontier by opening parishes, secondary schools and colleges. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of documents, letters, photographs and objects – all contributing to a rich Jesuit history – have been collected by archivists and scholars in locations throughout the United States.
Now, for the first time, the Jesuit Archives & Research Center brings together in one place the collective knowledge, shared wisdom and unique beauty of many of these collections.
The Jesuit Archives & Research Center
The new JARC is six times larger than the previous building, with systems designed to archival standards. In addition to temperature-controlled archival areas, it features space for exhibits, research, digitization and preservation work, meetings and presentations.
Housed within the JARC is the collective memory of 12 past and current administrative provinces of the Society of Jesus in the United States: Buffalo, Chicago, Chicago-Detroit, Detroit, Missouri, New England, New Orleans, New York, USA Central and Southern, USA Midwest, USA Northeast and Wisconsin Provinces. It also houses the records of the Jesuit Conference, the administrative body of the Society of Jesus in Canada and the United States.
Staff at the Jesuit Archives & Research Center routinely respond to requests for information from scholars, authors, teachers, biographers, historians, individuals seeking genealogy information, Jesuits, Jesuit offices and institutions, other religious organizations, historical associations – even film makers!
The value of having Jesuit documents and artifacts from across the country in one location cannot be overstated. For the first time, scholars will have access to collections without having to travel thousands of miles to conduct research. This central repository will provide significant opportunities for historical discoveries and new scholarly insights.
The new archives will be much more than a storage vault. A research center, meeting space and educational resource, the facility will play an essential role in encouraging ongoing scholarship and education about history.
The Jesuit Archives & Research Center is owned and operated by the USA Central and Southern Province in collaboration with the other provinces whose materials are housed there. A capital campaign is underway to help pay for this remarkable resource. For more information, contact the advancement team.