Remembering a Champion of American Catholic History

As part of the Cushwa Center’s 40th anniversary celebration, Father Thomas E. Blantz, C.S.C., took the opportunity to remember Francis P. Clark, a microfilmist at Notre Dame in the 1960s and ’70s. Clark’s day job was just one part of his many contributions to the study of American Catholic history:

Frank was from northern Kentucky, where he worked for a time as a baker and somehow also developed a deep interest in American Catholicism, especially the early years of the Church in Kentucky. He was also an avid collector of almost anything: comic books, baseball cards, but especially parish and diocesan histories and biographies of American churchmen. He was hired by the Notre Dame library as its microfilmist in 1964, but he continued his own personal hobby of collecting—begging and borrowing Catholic newspapers from 30 states to microfilm, visiting second-hand bookstores for old parish and diocesan histories, and even rooting through garbage cans and dumpsters for materials that might have been discarded. “Today’s trash is tomorrow’s treasure” was one of his favorite mantras.

He was a chain smoker, rarely prepared a balanced meal, and his clothes were often disheveled. He was not a scholar but a dedicated collector of Catholic Americana that otherwise would have been lost, and his collection, donated to Notre Dame’s library and archives, measures 53 linear feet of printed material, in addition to the newspapers he microfilmed. It was estimated that 100 researchers used his materials before his early death in 1979 at 43. Many more have used them since. He deserves to be remembered.

—Father Thomas E. Blantz, C.S.C.