Display of the CNS archives in the Pryz

Catholic News Service (CNS) was for decades a primary source for news about the Catholic Church in the United States. With the 2022 closure of its domestic operations, The Catholic University of America Special Collections is now playing an important role in facilitating the preservation of the treasure trove on the history of the faith in the U.S. that is the CNS archive.

CNS, the news agency of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), continues to maintain a Rome bureau. The stateside operations were passed to OSV News, a new wire service operated by parent organization Our Sunday Visitor.

“CNS was a big part of the American Catholic story over the last 100 years,” said University Special Collections Archivist Shane McDonald, who explained that archivists play an important role in maintaining the story of Catholic media in the U.S.

“A big part of that is making sure that it’s preserved for future scholars telling that story, but especially putting it in context,” said McDonald.

Catholic University houses one of the most comprehensive archives on 20th-century Catholic media. The collection includes radio and television transcripts from Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, J.C.B. 1920, S.T.B. 1920, an alumnus of the University famed for his innovative use of broadcast media to spread the faith. The archives research staff recently digitized the entire history of The Catholic Hour, the hugely popular program that marked Archbishop Sheen’s first foray into radio.

Special Collections is also home to archives from the National Catholic Education Association, Catholic Charities USA, and a number of religious orders.

The archive is vast in its scope.

“From prayer books for nurses to limericks about bad behavior at Mass to everything from pamphlets against comic books to pamphlets that are pro-comic books in the 1940s … we have that, as well as parish histories,” said McDonald.

The CNS archival effort is just one facet of the many ways the University is working to protect and maintain Catholic communications from recent centuries.

Maria Mazzenga, curator of American Catholic History Collections, has been working on the Catholic News Archive, a project of the Catholic Research Resources Alliance.

A collaboration between Catholic University, The University of Notre Dame and other higher education institutions to share resources has resulted in a unique database of thousands of publications from the 1800s to the present that are now available at thecatholicnewsarchive.org.

“You can’t find the information anywhere else because the secular newspapers weren’t covering (the Church),” Mazzenga said, explaining that the lack of reporting especially during the 1800s and 1900s can be explained in part by a strong prejudice against Catholics in the United States.

“It’s amazing,” said Mazzenga of the breadth of the database. “You get a really nice overview of the Catholic press starting from about 1830 to the late 20th century from pretty much across the United States.”

— M.J.P.