Or: How his Leadership—plus Serendipity and “Star Alignment”—led to Marquette becoming a national center for Catholic Collections about Native Americans
By Mark G. Thiel
MU archivist and guest blogger Mark G. Thiel tells the story of how the Marquette library archives obtained its largest and most-used collection with the help of a powerhouse researcher, an idiosyncratic philanthropist, and savvy librarians.
First-time visitors to the Marquette University Department of Special Collections and University Archives (MUA) discover that its third-floor reading room in the Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J., Library is named in honor of the Rev. Francis Paul Prucha, S.J., Professor Emeritus of the Department of History. His prolific research delved into many aspects of U.S. policy about Native Americans, and is best known for The Great Father, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize, and is regarded as a classic among professional historians. His reading room portrait oversees a bookshelf filled with his many publications, because more than anyone else, his archival research and advocacy affected the development of the department’s special collections.
In 1970, after several years of extensive research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., Father Prucha addressed a conference there titled, “Research in the Administration of Public Policy.” He admitted that he found its vast holdings on federal administration of American Indian policy intimidating. But he reiterated the importance of thorough and extensive research and pointed out the need for more of it in many areas, including education, which was the realm of his own study. In conclusion he said, “It would take many researchers, each one digging in some special section of the files, before these riches are properly exploited. Yet books and articles of a purportedly scholarly nature keep appearing on Indian history matters, written by men who have seldom if ever set foot in the National Archives.”
At that time, his research focused on the political and legal battles between the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, and the federal government over education, which would culminate in his illuminating book, The Churches and the Indian Schools, 1888-1912. Besides the National Archives, his commitment to thorough research required visits to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, which held the records of the Indian Rights Association, a Protestant organization, and the records of the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions (BCIM) in Washington, which since 1874 has represented the Catholic Church in its business with the federal government with respect to Native Americans.
In about 1970, the BCIM Executive Director, Rev. John Tennelly, S.S., granted Fr. Prucha access to its records. Fr. Tennelly led him to a side room with four four-drawer cabinets holding about 30 cubic feet of records, which were its central files with correspondence of church leaders and federal officials that was essential to his research. Fr. Prucha was impressed with the quality of the records, but also their poor condition. Unknown to him, there were not four, but over forty such cabinets with over 425 cubic feet of mission correspondence, photography, reports, and rare publications dispersed from the basement to the attic above the third floor.
Nonetheless, Fr. Prucha correctly recognized that these brittle records were valuable and needed archival custody. By 1972, he began to share his concerns about them with historians, archivists, and administrators at Marquette and The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington. In so doing, he further noted that the BCIM director was aged and in poor health, the adjacent George Washington University coveted the property, and while he believed that Marquette would be a good place for the records, his main interest was to make sure that they would be preserved somewhere with access for scholars.
Desiring growth for the university’s special collections, Marquette archivists and administrators soon heeded Fr. Prucha’s concern, and they did so with his misconception that the BCIM holdings comprised just four file cabinets of church-state correspondence. During the next three years, they formulated a plan to justify and fund their acquisition. They believed that these records would fit well for three reasons: Fr. Prucha’s distinguished scholarship on the history federal Indian policy, Marquette’s Jesuit identity and namesake, and its previous acquisition of national collections on Catholic social action, a number of which focused on the concerns of ethnic minorities. Also, they had reason to hope that de Rancé, Inc., which funded several Catholic Indian missions, might provide the necessary funding.
Founded by its president, Harry G. John, Sr., Milwaukee-based de Rancé, Inc., was then the largest religiously-oriented foundation in the United States. John was an enigmatic past family president of Miller Brewing who financed de Rancé grants with first the dividends and later the proceeds of the sale of his 47 percent or 1,900 shares of Miller’s stock. Overall, his funding decisions were highly motivated by his religious concerns, which Marquette Jesuits had apparently influenced.
During the fall of 1975, Marquette archivists developed and submitted an ambitious proposal to de Rancé, which became the first of two that it funded with grants totaling $85,000. It called for a national Catholic Indian mission archives project with multiple goals, one of which was to enable Marquette to become the BCIM’s archival repository. That goal called for funds to acquire, preserve, and microfilm the BCIM records with Dr. Herman J. Viola named as project consultant. Dr. Viola was a Marquette History alumni and protégé of Fr. Prucha’s, who since 1972, had served as a curator at the Smithsonian in Washington.
From his Smithsonian post and on Marquette’s behalf, Dr. Viola wrote to the BCIM’s Board of Directors about the de Rancé grants during the first half of 1976. They included John Cardinal Krol of Philadelphia, the chair, and John Cardinal Cooke of New York and Archbishop William Borders of Baltimore, the members. In addition, Marquette’s President, the Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J., recruited Milwaukee Archbishop William E. Cousins, who in writing, formally presented Marquette’s offer to Cardinal Krol.
On July 1, Msgr. Paul A. Lenz succeeded Fr. Tennelly as executive director of BCIM, and over the next three weeks, he carefully reviewed all related correspondence to and from Cardinal Krol. On July 22, Msgr. Lenz wrote to Cardinal Krol with his assessment, prefacing it by acknowledging that, while the final decision rested with the board, he believed “the records should be given to Marquette University at the earliest date possible.” Viola warned Msgr. Lenz that the de Rancé grants were a rare and “golden opportunity” that would expire in a year. Then he suggested to Marquette Archivist Fr. Robert Callen, S.J., that Marquette invite Msgr. Lenz to visit. He came to Milwaukee within the month. Following tours of campus and the archives – then located in the basement of the Memorial Library– a group including Fr. Callen, Vice President Rev. Michael G. Morrison, S.J., and Dr. Viola, explained Marquette’s evolving vision. Through de Rancé, they had the necessary financing to preserve the records and they planned to coordinate with Marquette’s recruitment efforts to attract more Native American students and develop a study center focusing on Native – Catholic history. Furthermore, they noted that in a previous collaborative archives project, CUA had failed to perform as promised. In conclusion, Msgr. Lenz assured them that his recommendation would be that Marquette receive the records.
The board met to make its final determination in May. Despite some concerns about whether or not Marquette was “truly Catholic,” Msgr. Lenz’s views prevailed. Within six weeks an agreement had been negotiated and signed designating Marquette as the repository (although BCIM retained ownership), contingent upon ongoing de Rancé funding. The agreement also required Marquette to microfilm the records and supply a copy of them to Catholic University. Furthermore, if Marquette ever ceased to be a Catholic and Jesuit university, the BCIM retained the right to take back the records.
The records were relocated to Milwaukee in mid-July 1977. Under Dr. Viola’s supervision, professional movers moved ten tons of records in a sixty-five-foot semitrailer from the BCIM to Memorial Library. In his report, Dr. Viola noted, “Aside from being dusty and dirty… the BCIM collection does not pose major preservation problems… The major problem is the high acid content of the paper. Many of the letters have turned dark and are exceedingly brittle.”
Meanwhile, Fr. Prucha finished the research and hunt for illustrations for his manuscript on Native American education and submitted it to the University of Nebraska Press. It was published in November, 1979.
Fr. Prucha presented a copy of the The Churches and the Indian Schools to Msgr. Lenz while they stood in front of the BCIM building (the vegetation in the picture on the left suggests the meeting took place in the spring of 1980). By this time, the Marquette Archives had nearly finished preserving the original records and photography. It had refiled the materials with archival quality boxes and folders and had adjusted the overall arrangement scheme, and then in progress was its selective microfilming of textual records and associated rare periodicals along with the creation of additional written descriptions, most of which are now online.
The collections preserved at Marquette continues to grow. With BCIM support, the Marquette Archives has become a magnet for more Native American, primarily Native Catholic, collections. Now numbering over fifty unique collections, they comprise over 900 cubic feet of holdings with descriptive inventories on the Raynor Memorial Libraries’ website, http://www.marquette.edu/library/archives/. A large number of them have been digitized and can be examined at http://www.marquette.edu/library/archives/earchives_atoz.shtml.
Mark Thiel is archivist at Raynor Memorial Libraries, where he is responsible for Acquisition, administration and reference service of special collections and digital initiatives pertaining to Catholic Native America and Catholic Broadcasting. He drew this essay from documents found in the collections he describes. Fr. Francis Paul Prucha, SJ, was a long-time professor at Marquette and the author many books on government policy toward Native Americans; find out more on his Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Paul_Prucha!