An inventory of the John Tracy Ellis Papers at The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives
Born 30 July 1905 in Seneca, Illinois to Elmer Ellis and Ida Murphy Ellis, Monsignor Ellis received his A.B. from St. Viator College, Bourbonnais, Illinois in 1927 and his A.M. and Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America (CUA) in 1928 and 1930 respectively, with a dissertation in Medieval church history. While studying history at CUA, he was a student of Peter Guilday. He taught at St. Viator, 1930-1932, and the College of St. Teresa, Winona, Minnesota, 1932-1934, before returning to CUA to join the Sulpician Seminary (now the Theological College). Soon afterwards, he began teaching in the history department part time in addition to his theological studies. He was ordained a priest June 5, 1938 in the Church of Saint Mary of the Angels at the College of St. Teresa, Winona, by Francis M. Kelly, bishop of Winona. When asked in 1941 to begin teaching American Church history, he first took a year's leave of absence to prepare for his new subject matter, studying at Harvard and other institutions. This became a turning point in his career and settled him firmly within the field of American Church history. In 1947 he became ordinary professor of church history at CUA. In addition to teaching, in 1941 he became managing editor of the Catholic Historical Review as well as secretary (later president) of the American Catholic Historical Association. He was also president of the American Society of Church History. Beginning in 1963, he taught at the University of San Francisco for twelve years. He was also a visiting professor at Brown, Notre Dame and Mount Saint Mary's universities; the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley; and the Gregorian and Angelicum universities and the North American College in Rome. Returning to CUA in 1976 as Professorial Lecturer in Church History, he taught in both the theology and church history departments until suffering a stroke in 1989. He died October 16, 1992.
Ellis's lectureship at the North American College in Rome coincided with the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council, and he was able to attend the council in the mornings and lecture in the evenings. A highlight for Ellis was September 21, 1965, when the Declaration on Religious Freedom, later promulgated as Dignitatis Humanae, was approved. In later years, Ellis wrote that this was a rare opportunity to see history being made.
He was called the dean of American Catholic church historians, and it is difficult to underestimate his impact as a teacher to a generation of Catholic historians. He published twenty books, which include the Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, American Catholicism, Catholics in Colonial America, and The Formative Years of the Catholic University of America. In 1955, in a seminal speech and essay entitled "American Catholics and the Intellectual Life," he attacked the academic quality of Catholic seminaries, colleges, and universities whose shortcomings resulted from a "self imposed ghetto mentality." Some officials and educators were greatly offended but Ellis was later credited for the resulting renewal of Catholic scholarship. He also advocated more active roles for parishioners in church affairs and he called for greater acknowledgment of church transgressions such as the Inquisition.
In high demand as a lecturer and orator, Ellis received numerous honorary degrees and awards throughout his long career, including the John Gilmary Shea Prize and the Laetare Medal. In 1985, Ellis was presented with the festschrift Studies in Catholic History: in Honor of John Tracy Ellis, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, July 30. Pope Pius XII named him a domestic prelate (monsignor) in 1955, and in 1989 Pope John Paul II made him a protonotary apostolic, the highest honor for a priest short of becoming a bishop.
The John Tracy Ellis Papers contain 54 linear feet in 44 boxes and span from 1896 to 1992. The materials are divided into eleven series: (1) Memoirs and Diaries; (2) Correspondence; (3) Publication Activity; (4) Public Speaking Activity; (5) Classroom Lectures; (6) Reference Materials; (7) Studies in Catholic History: in Honor of John Tracy Ellis; (8) Academic and Papal Honors; (9) Employment, Testamentary and Financial Records; (10) Photographs; (11) Collected Documents.
Series 1 contains Memoirs and Diaries from 1931-1976. It is divided into two subseries. Subseries 1.1 includes chapters, notes, and reference materials for Ellis's unfinished and unpublished memoirs abandoned in 1973. (Ellis later published his memoirs with new text under the title Faith and Learning : a Church Historian’s Story.) Subseries 1.2 includes personal and travel diaries from 1931-1976, scenic postcards from the same dates, and desk diaries from 1967-1974. These scenic postcards are organized by the year Ellis visited each location.
Series 2 contains Correspondence from 1927-1992 in five subseries. This is the heart of the collection. Subseries 2.1 consists of Returned Correspondence. In the 1980s, Ellis wrote to some of his friends and colleagues asking them for copies of letters he had sent. These letters make up the first subseries and include both photocopies and originals. There are eight sets of returned correspondence, the largest of which is made up of around 700 letters to Edward V. Cardinal, C.S.V., Ellis's former teacher at the College of St. Viator and a lifelong friend. Within the Cardinal letters, a subset containing letters from 1941-1945 was donated to the archives by Edward J. Slattery, Bishop of Tulsa, in 1994. These include some duplicates from the main body of Cardinal letters. Other letters are from Ellis's students such as John McGloin, David F. Sweeney, and Mother Mary Peter Carthy. Within the entire subseries, the letters are arranged by recipient's name and by date. Some of the letters were arranged by the recipients, others were arranged by Ellis himself, and still others came to the archives in no particular order, in several cases after the recipient's death. Subseries 2.2 is made up of correspondence to Ellis which has been indexed, batched, and alphabetized by year, from 1942-1967. This subseries includes the index cards by means of which they are organized. The cards list each letter sent or received by Ellis for every person or organization. There are also index cards by subject, but these are not as complete. The letters are then arranged by sender's last name and date, with Ellis's reply attached whenever possible. Subseries 2.3 continues the indexed correspondence from 1967-1976. Subseries 2.4 is batched by months, from September 1976-October 1992. Subseries 2.5 consists of Mass, Commemorative, and Christmas Cards, 1935-1992.
Series 3 is comprised of materials relating to Ellis's Publication Activity from 1927-1992. It is divided into six subseries. Subseries 3.1 contains Monograph Research, Correspondence, and Reviews from 1955-1984. This includes newspaper and magazine articles and clippings, typewritten notes, and reviews, organized by the title of the work to which they pertain. This also includes a reaction to Catholic Bishops: A Memoir recorded on cassette tape from 1984. Subseries 3.2 contains Articles, Essays, and Correspondence from 1927-1992, batched by year and by title. Subseries 3.3 contains Book Reviews by Ellis, 1963-1978. Subseries 3.4 is Letters to the Editor from Ellis, 1963-1966. Subseries 3.5 is made up of Contributor and Consultant Correspondence, 1958-1964. Subseries 3.6 contains newspaper clippings, articles about Ellis and his works as well as some reviews from 1938-1963.
Series 4 contains materials on Ellis’s Public Speaking Activity from 1934-1989. It is divided into three subseries. Subseries 4.1 includes General Correspondence from 1957-1965. Subseries 4.2 is made up of Addresses, Lectures, and Sermons from 1934-1989. This subseries is arranged with general lectures by year from 1945-1989. Afterwards, it is arranged by the type of speaking engagement: Meetings, Conventions, and Symposia, 1956-1972; Commencements, 1942-1963; Religious Ceremonies, viz. sermons, dedications and eulogies, 1934-1963, 1957-1964; Lecture Series, 1955-1966; Radio and TV talks, 1952-1966; and Video and Audio Tapes, n.d. These include the lecture texts, Ellis's notes and revisions and also some reactions, in print or by letter, usually in a separate folder from the text of the address. Subseries 4.3 is Newspaper Clippings from 1957-1966.
Series 5 is comprised of Classroom Lectures and is divided into two subseries. Subseries 5.1 contains 32 course lectures given at CUA on cassette tape from 1976-1978, recorded by Brother Michael Grace, S.J. Additionally, the subseries includes a recording of an interview recorded by Br. Grace in April 1978, "On Writing the Life of a Cardinal: An Informal Reminisce." Subseries 5.2 is made up of Outlines and Correspondence for lectures given at the North American College in Rome from 1965-1966 and 1974-1976.
Series 6 includes Reference Materials used by Ellis. It is divided into two subseries. Subseries 6.1 contains articles from 1896-1976 arranged by author, while Subseries 6.2 is arranged by subject. These consist of pages from magazines, entire bound and published pamphlets, and typed copies.
Series 7 contains materials related to Studies in Catholic History: in Honor of John Tracy Ellis, the festschrift presented to Ellis on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, July 30, 1985. Edited by Nelson H. Minnich, Robert B. Eno, S.S., and Robert F. Trisco, the festschrift includes 23 articles on a wide range of topics in Church History from Ellis's students, colleagues, and friends. Among the contributors are Oscar H. Lipscomb, Gerald Fogarty, S.J., Philip Gleason, Roger Aubert, Colman Barry, O.S.B., Carl J. Peter and John Zeender. Also of note in this volume are a Curriculum Vitae and bibliography of Ellis's works from 1923-1985, including both major and minor publications, and unpublished works, such as letters to the editor, sermons, lectures, addresses, and interviews. The series is divided into two subseries. Subseries 7.1 contains correspondence between Ellis, the editors, the contributors, and the publishers Michael Glazier, Inc. Subseries 7.2 contains the editor Nelson Minnich's editorial files pertaining to each article in the festschrift.
Series 8 contains Academic and Papal Honors. It is divided into two subseries. Subseries 8.1 contains correspondence from 1954-1973. Subseries 8.2 contains the Degrees, Certificates, Medals, Plaques, and Photographs, from 1918-1989. Many of these items are oversized and are stored with the other oversize materials. An inventory of these honors is included in Box 41.
Series 9 contains Employment, Testamentary and Financial Records. It is divided into three subseries. Subseries 9.1 includes Testamentary records from 1969-1990. Subseries 9.2 contains Financial Records from 1952-1990. Subseries 9.3 is Employment records from 1945-1962.
Series 10 contains Photographs from 1932-1990. It includes photos of Ellis's classmates, colleagues, and friends.
Series 11 contains Documents collected by John Tracy Ellis. These documents include letters (originals, photostats, and copies), clippings, documents, typescripts and sermons from the years 1810-1945, all relating to American Church History. One example is a letter from Father Christopher Walsh, describing the death-bed conversion of William "Buffalo Bill" Cody. The documents in this series were among the earliest materials donated by Ellis to the Archives in the 1950s and 1960s.
The John Tracy Ellis Papers consist of eleven series:
Restrictions on Access
Researcher access is subject to the approval of Monsignor Robert Trisco, Editor of the Catholic Historical Review.
The papers of John Tracy Ellis were donated to the ACUA by John Tracy Ellis in several installments beginning in the 1950s and 1960s. These early donations make up Series 11. In the 1970s, he originally designated the archives of the University of Notre Dame as the depository for his papers but considered that it would be more fitting to leave his papers to CUA where he had spent the major portion of his academic life. In 1976 Ellis transferred some of his papers to the archive, with the rest joining them after his death. In the 1980s, Ellis wrote to several of his friends, asking them to return copies of the letters he had sent them. These copies make up the Returned Correspondence Subseries in the Correspondence Series.
Processing completed in 1992-1994 by Anthony Zito and Lynn Conway. EAD markup completed in 2010 by Katherine Dunigan.
The American Catholic History Research Center and University Archives also has:
Marquette University, Special Collections and University Archives has:
The Archives of University of Notre Dame has:
This record series is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.
Cardinal, Edward V. (Edward Victor), 1897-1981
Carthy, M. P. (Mary Peter)
Ellis, John Tracy, 1905-1992
Gibbons, James, 1834-1921
Guilday, Peter, 1884-1947
Minnich, Nelson H.
Spalding, John Lancaster, 1840-1916
Trisco, Robert F.
American Catholic Historical Association
American Society of Church History
Catholic Historical Review
College of St. Teresa
St. Viator College
The Catholic University of America
University of Notre Dame
University of San Francisco
San Francisco (Calif.)
Catholic Church --Bishops --Biography.
Catholic Church --United States --History.
United States --Church history
Ellis, John T. American Catholics and the Intellectual Life. Chicago: Heritage Foundation, Inc., 1956.
Ellis, John T. Catholics in Colonial America. Baltimore: Helicon Press, Inc., 1965.
Ellis, John T. Faith and Learning: a Church Historian’s Story. Lanham, MD : University Press of America, 1989.
Ellis, John T. The Formative Years of the Catholic University of America. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 1946.
Ellis, John T. The Life of James Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore, 1834-1921. 2 Vols. Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Company, 1952.
Gollar, C. Walker. "The Historical Methodology of John Tracy Ellis," The Catholic Historical Review, Vol. XCVII, No. 1, January 2011, pp. 24-45.
Massa, Mark and Catherine Osborne, eds. American Catholic History: A Documentary Reader. New York: New York University, c2008.
Minnich, Nelson H., Robert B. Eno, and Robert F. Trisco, eds. Studies in Catholic history : in honor of John Tracy Ellis. Wilmington, Del.: Michael Glazier, 1985.
Shelley, Thomas J. "The Young John Tracy Ellis and American Catholic Intellectual Life," U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 13, No. 1, Winter 1995, pp. 1-18.
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