The Flanigen Papers at 50
In 1972 a reception was held in Aquinas (Junior) College library. Those present gathered around an elderly wheelchair-bound priest. The guest of honor at this gathering was Monsignor George J. Flanigen, who was donating his extensive collection of books as well as his personal papers and research files to Aquinas. His many books were added to the library stacks, while his numerous files became the basis of the Flanigen Papers. This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of Msgr. Flanigen’s generous gift to Aquinas College.
During his life Msgr. Flanigen (1900-1974) played a major role in recording and preserving the history of Catholicism in Tennessee. A Nashville native himself, he was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in 1925. For nearly fifty years he filled a number of roles in the Diocese of Nashville, which included being assigned to various parishes, serving for a period as principal of Father Ryan High School, and being the founding editor of the Tennessee Register (the diocesan paper). Amid all these responsibilities and pastoral assignments he found time to write Catholicity in Tennessee: A Sketch of Catholic Activities in the State, 1541-1937. Indeed, a sizeable portion of the Flanigen Papers are comprised of material pertaining to his research for this book.
Over the past five years, an increased effort has been made at the College to improve the preservation of and accessibility to the material in the Flanigen Papers. The catalyst for this was the formation of the Flanigen Study Group by a small group of faculty and staff in the fall of 2017. Over the next several years representatives from the Tennessee State Library & Archives (TSLA) visited the College to conduct multiple archival-training sessions. In November 2019 Aquinas was awarded a THRAB (Tennessee Historical Records Advisory Board) grant of one thousand dollars from the TSLA to help fund the ongoing efforts to improve the preservation and organization of the Flanigen Papers. The History faculty at the College also have made a concerted effort to utilize resources from the Flanigen Papers in conjunction with courses such as Tennessee History (HIS 331) and the United States in the Age of World Wars (HIS 336). Incorporating materials from the Flanigen Papers has resulted in some fascinating student research papers, including one that examined Msgr. Flanigen’s own service as an army chaplain in the Pacific theater during the Second World War.
Msgr. Flanigen wrote that one of the goals of his book, Catholicity in Tennessee, was “to preserve valuable historical data, available at this time, for the use of future historians.” His donation of his research files and papers to the College a half-century ago was another step toward ensuring this objective. Aquinas College will continue in its effort to be a worthy steward of this valuable resource that continues to illuminate the Catholic history of our state.
More information on the Flanigen Papers and how to access it can be found here Special Collections – Information – Aquinas Library at Aquinas College – Nashville (libguides.com)