The dedication of the new Archival Center for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is the latest phase of a program inaugurated almost a half century ago by the late James Francis Cardinal McIntyre.
Though an archivist had been named for the old Diocese of Los Angeles-San Diego, as early as 1927, Msgr. Peter Hanrahan never functioned in any other but a titular role. He later described the collection of those early days as “a mass of unarranged materials in a walk-in vault with a combination lock at the old cathedral rectory.”
Charles C. Conroy served the ecclesial community of Southern California for many years as unofficial historiographer. A retired university professor, Dr. Conroy utilized the archives for his monumental treatise on The Centennial 1840-1940, but he made little headway at organizing the holdings.
In the final months of 1962, Cardinal McIntyre added a new wing to the northeastern end of the Chancery Office, which was located at 1531 West Ninth Street in Los Angeles. An archivist was formally appointed and, on the following July 8th, the Chancery Archives were formally blessed and designated as an archdiocesan department.
A reporter was present for that ceremony and he later ventured the opinion in the Los Angeles Times that the Chancery Archives would “eventually constitute the largest collection of ecclesiastical documents in the Western United States.” Indeed there was a prophetic ring to those words.
During the ensuing decades, efforts were made to augment and catalogue the widely diversified assortment of documents, brochures, books and other historical mementoes associated with the development of the Catholic Church in California’s southland.
The initial holdings were quadrupled within the first decade and it became increasingly clear that the quarters on Ninth Street would not adequately serve the ever-growing needs of the largest archdiocese in the nation. On a number of occasions, the necessity for larger quarters was discussed with Timothy Cardinal Manning and Msgr. Benjamin G. Hawkes. Several possible solutions were presented, all of which were carefully studied by His Eminence and the Vicar General. Early in 1980, Msgr. Hawkes, a member of the Board of Directors for the Daniel Murphy Foundation, presented a letter from the Cardinal requesting a grant with which to build a wholly separate structure for the archives on property adjacent to San Fernando Mission.
With the endorsement and encouragement of Sir Daniel Donohue, the foundation generously agreed to erect a building which would serve as the major participation by the Catholic Church in the bicentennial celebration for El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles. Ground was broken on the Feast of Saint Pius V, April 3rd. On the following February 5th, the first of twenty-three truckloads of historical materials arrived from the Chancery Office, thus launching the Archival Center on its tenure of service.