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Making headway in the Archives

DAMIEN BURKE :: When I wrote in 2018, on the influenza of 1918/19 and Jesuits in Ireland » it was just another article, to commemorate a centenary event. And now look at us, in the throes of another pandemic! I dare not write about the night of the Big Wind in 1839!

The Irish Jesuit Archives closed in March 2020, but has now reopened. So what has happened in the interim period?

Working with Offaly Archives in 2019 in making the papers of St Stanislaus College, Tullabeg, County Offaly », available via their archival platform, gave impetus to the decision to put the catalogue of the archives online. Using the open source cataloguing software, AtoM, and with the help of Systemivity, planning envisaged the site to go live by late 2020. COVID-19 provided the opportunity for this to happen earlier. You can see the progress we have made at JesuitArchives.ie »

Working from home, I created a skeleton for the catalogue, known as authority records, which link people, places and subjects. Fr Jim Culliton SJ helped with research, and inputted information, which has led to a digital biographical dictionary for Jesuits (currently c. 2,500 records). 1% of the catalogue is now accessible, with material on the Isle of Man, Zambia, and the Irish Jesuit Colleges in Europe before the Suppression. Work is progressing on Australia, Irish Jesuits and Coláiste Iognáid. One of the first items I came across in cataloguing was a note from Jesuit William Feran, London to the Irish Provincial, Dublin in December 1918, that ‘he has commissioned him (Irish Jesuit & scientist Henry Gill) to discover and exterminate the influenza microbe’.

The Irish Jesuit Province, over the past thirty-five years especially, has endeavoured to apply the highest standards to the archives. The archival pathway will not always be smooth, and the catalogue is not an end in itself. Understanding barriers to accessibility, and balancing transparency with issues of confidentiality and consent, will be addressed by a commitment to collaborate and network.

Even Pope Francis has our back:

Yours is a work carried out in silence and far from clamour; it cultivates memory, and in a certain sense it seems to me that it may be compared to the cultivation of a majestic tree, whose branches stretch skyward, but whose roots are firmly anchored in the ground. If we compare this tree to the Church, we see that she stretches heavenward, where our homeland and our ultimate horizon lie; the roots, however, sink into the soil of the very Incarnation of the Word, into history, into time. With your patient efforts you archivists work on these roots and help to keep them alive, in such a way that even the greenest and youngest branches of the tree may draw good sap for their future growth.

– Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to officials of the Vatican Secret Archive, Clementine Hall, 4 March 2019