Father Edward Carolan, General Archivist from 1974 to 1981, wrote in 1978: "One is tempted to say that an establishment which is too much concerned with its past is in fact living its final years of existence. One could also assert that an establishment which is not aware of its past is not worthy of its future."
Father Eugene de Mazenod certainly did not wish to found a Congregation which he saw as one not having any future. So that this future could sink its roots into the generous soil of its origins, the Founder entered into his Diary and letters many details on the beginnings of the Congregation. He also kept a large portion of his letters (cf. Diary, December 14, 1838) and constantly reminded Oblates to gather information about their departed brothers, to keep letters, to make detailed reports of the missions they preached, to keep up to date the various re- cord books mentioned in the Rule (1828 edition), etc.
For the Founder it was a question not of a cult of the past for its own sake but of the living memory of a family that had its own identity, activities and human history - indeed, a sacred history, namely, that of God acting through the Congregation's missionary activity, deeds of God that continue in a marvelous manner right up to and in our own day. The documents kept in our archives are the evidence for these acts of God.
The Archives followed the General House which was located at Aix (1816-1823), in Marseilles (1823-1862), in Paris (1862- 1904), at Liege (1904-1905) and then in Rome, first on the Via Vittorino da Feltre (1905-1950) and thereafter on the Via Aurelia.
It was first and foremost in Marseilles that materials for archives were collected, either in the Founder's residence at the bishopric, or at the major seminary where Fathers Tempier and Fabre, the General Treasurers, resided (financial documents and papers), or in the houses of Le Calvaire and then Montolivet where resided Fathers Casimir Aubert, Charles Bellon and Ambroise Vincens who prior to 1861 succeeded each other as Secretary General.
An exact list of who the archivists were has never been drawn up. We do know, however, that, after the death of Bishop de Mazenod and up to 1870, Father Tempier spent part of his time arranging the Founder's papers. If he is referred to as the second Father of the Congregation, we can also see him as the second one in charge of archives, after Bishop de Mazenod who was the first to determine their founding and who himself kept papers and documents of importance.
The content of the archives increased considerably over the years and moving from one location to another as well as neglect occasioned the loss of many documents. We know, for example, that half of the Founder's letters to the Oblates and be- tween 20 and 30 notebooks of his Diary which still existed at the end of the last century, could not be found when his cause for beatification was opened in 1926.
The review Missions O.M.I. was founded to promote communication between Oblates and with the General Administration through the publishing of various documents and especially a part of the correspondence (cf. Missions 1887, p. 91). Unfortunately, the original text of documents that appeared in Missions generally disappeared because they were not returned to the archives or, as was the custom at the time, because they were discarded after publication (for example, the letters of Bishop Allard and Father G’erard that appeared in the first issues of Missions.
Content and classification
The actual arrangement is largely due to Brother Alban Boucher, archivist from 1935 to 1969. There are five main departments:
1 - Personnel (50 filing cabinets; ca. 40,000 file folders)
All Oblates who made vows in the Congregation and who either left or died (about 8000 in all) have at least 1 file folder that contains the reports of the novice master, the superior of the scholasticate, the list of obediences and the correspondence with the General Administration. Certain Provincials or Assistants General have hundreds of letters and several file folders.
2 - Provinces (24 filing cabinets)
For each house of the Province there are one or more filing folders as well as for headings that are more or less the same for each Province, v.g. provincial administration, anniversaries, call to vows, Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate, provincial chapters, circular letters, congresses, council meetings, finances, works, personnel, reports, civil society, canonical visitations, etc. As in the case of persons, everything is arranged in alphabetical order.
3 - General Administration (11 filing cabinets)
The file folders are placed in alphabetical order according to certain headings, v.g. Missionary Association of Mary Immaculate, chapters, circular letters, congresses, CC & RR, directories, treasury and finances, juniorates, novitiates, obediences, personnel, De Mazenod Retreat, scholasticates, secretariats, Holy See, canonical visitation, etc.
References to the above 3 departments does not require any code: it suffices to indicate the date and the nature of the document.
4 - Manuscripts (50 metres of shelving, ca. 2000 titles)
This is an abundant and precious department. It includes the record books of the General Chapters and the General Council meetings since the beginning of the Congregation, many record books from the houses in France during the Founder's time (taking of the habit, codex historicus, council meetings, finances, etc. and manuscripts of Oblate works (A - Z) i.e. sermons, diaries, manuscripts of works and theses, etc. There is an accurate inventory of this section and each item has its proper code.
This section mostly contains photos of persons and houses (20 filing cabinets and some 100 albums); there are also some Oblate films (a good 30) and microfilms, especially of the Oblate archives of St. Boniface, Edmonton, Lesotho, Sri Lanka, and some 50,000 microfilms relating to the Oblates from 1816 to 1861 from sources in the civil and religious archives of France, England-Ireland, and Italy (cf. ETUDES OBLATES, 16(1957), pp. 170-177). Here one also finds geographical maps and plans of Oblate houses (about 1000), audio and video cassettes (particularly of the last General Chapters) and slides about a number of Provinces and Vicariates (most of them prepared by Father Anatole Baillargeon).
Several services of the General Administration have their own archives, namely, the Postulation, the Procurator-ship to the Holy See, the General Treasury, and especially the General Secretariat whose papers relating to Oblate persons and provinces add up to about half of the archives.
It is striking to see more or less everywhere persons and groups striving to rediscover their "roots". The past does in fact explain the present in its successes and failures and it can also help in preparing for the future, for there never are complete breaks between periods of history, even in the case of major upheavals. The archives of the General House and those of Provinces are precious witnesses and to a certain degree the bearers of a living tradition, the sources of documentation and inspiration: thus they serve the Congregation today and in view of its future (cf. reflections of Father Paul Sion, archivist from 1981 to 1983).
Some inventories were made over the years. On record is that of 1898, of 1911 (by Father Tatin, archivist from 1908 to 1907) [fonds MS R a 1, 2, 3], and a partial but very detailed one made by Father Karl Smeenk in 1984.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
BIBLIOGRAPHY - GUIDE
E.Carolan and K.B. Smeenk, The General Archives of the Oblates Immaculate, in VIE OBLATE LIFE, 44(1985), pp. 51-59.