The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada holds manuscripts, maps, photographs, artwork, books, and various documents that bear witness to the activities of the Society of Jesus in Canada from 1611 to today. As the guardian of the collective memory of Canadian Jesuits, the archive serves to illuminate the past and provide support to the current administration of the Jesuit Province.
Theresa Rowat, director, explains how The Archive of the Jesuits in Canada serves not only researchers but also the province administration and Jesuit works.
What exactly is the role of the archives?
We are the official repository for the archival records and heritage of the province of Canada.
Administrative records that are no longer required for current operations are deposited here, and we conduct an archival assessment to determine what to keep. We have to preserve what has evidential and legal value, what has value in terms of Jesuit patrimony, and what will be useful for researchers.
Apostolic works can make contact with us with a view to assigning stewardship of their archives.
We hold the Canadian Jesuits International’s archives and also those of other works that are not directly Jesuit, such as the Communauté de vie chrétienne and the Christian Life Community, because of their relationship with the Society of Jesus and because their legacy is relevant to our mission as an Ignatian work.
We are also the official repository of the archives of deceased Jesuits. Since individual Jesuits do not own property, their personal archives are part of the collective property of the community. There are typically several occasions for the transfers from individual Jesuits. For example, when a Jesuit leaves an assigned post, he has boxes of documents that he will deposit in the archives. Those who give retreats or undertake pastoral activities have their manuals, notes, and homilies, as well as personal and official correspondence to deposit with us. When a Jesuit dies, the superior gathers his documents and sends them to the archives.
Who can access the archive records?
In general, official administrative documents are accessible to the administration, to ensure the continuity of province management.
A Jesuit’s personal documents are closed to researchers for thirty years after his death. If a Jesuit submits documents to the archives while he is still alive, however, he may designate certain documents to be classified as open, for example his scientific research or publications and documents disseminated in the context of his involvement in certain matters of public interest. Another issue of accessibility concerns the protection of third party personal information. A Jesuit who was a professor in a college may have kept students’ grades: this is considered to be the personal information of the students and is therefore not available to researchers.
Materials are assessed in order to determine what to keep and what not to disclose regarding confidential information. Otherwise, as is the case with public archives, everything else is accessible to all. Accessibility is our raison d’être.
Can you give any examples of when a Jesuit organization or administration has asked for assistance from the archives?
When it comes to anniversaries, we often collaborate with apostolic works. For the 75th anniversary of Relations, for example, we worked with the Centre justice et foi and the Relations team on the preparation of their exhibit at UQAM and at the entrance to Bellarmine House.
The administration of the Jesuit Province of Canada frequently requests certain foundational documents, agreements, and contracts. To support research for the New Gesù project, for example, our archivists retrieved maps, property records, and a whole series of documents that concern previous decisions on this subject.
Do Jesuits collaborate in the work of the archives?
The archives team is composed of lay people. We have professional expertise but not the depth of Jesuit knowledge and experience. We benefit from teamwork with Jesuits, as was the case with Fr. Jacques Monet, emeritus historian. Currently, Fr. Jean-Marc Laporte holds the position of resident specialist.
Since the goal is to preserve only what is relevant (from a legal point of view or because of Jesuit patrimony or research value), this work is always done in collaboration with a Jesuit.
Another example: When we held an exhibition on Jesuits in China, it was Fr. Marcil who helped us with classical Mandarin, because I have no skills in that language! On another occasion, researchers were looking for deeds to Church property in China. Fr. Marcil again confirmed that what we had was relevant. This was useful for certain claims of continuity of occupancy for lands and buildings in China.
How do you envision the integration of the Universal Apostolic Preferences?
In order to identify priorities and determine where to put our resources, we will follow the UAPs and the priorities of the province.
A few years ago, the Province of English Canada identified reconciliation with First Nations as a priority. For this reason, we continue to promote the digitization of Indigenous-language materials and provide enhanced support for research work related to Indigenous history.
We have a partnership with the Akwesasne Kahwatsi:re Genealogy and Historical Society, for example. Members have come for special Saturday visits to conduct personal research about their families. We also had a project to digitize and transcribe the St. Regis Mission Registers to support genealogical research in Akwesasne. Contributing to reconciliation remains our priority.
We also work with Huron-Wendat researchers in Wendake. A team of researchers is conducting a systematic review of all the documents in the Collège Sainte-Marie archives, the documents collected by Fr. Félix Martin, to assess for themselves what is relevant to their history. The keywords used in cataloguing are usually words of interest to the Jesuits, coming from a Western point of view and influenced by the Jesuit perspective. The team finds relevant information about Huron-Wendat history, using different keywords from their own perspective.
In addition, our continued commitment to hosting internships through Young Canada Works is our way of supporting youth.