UNDA Visiting Scholar Finds “Enlightening” Insights at Archdiocesan Archives

02 Nov 2023

By The Record

Archives Visiting Scholar
Educational historian Prof. Dr. Jürgen Overhoff is a visiting UNDA scholar who has visited our Archdiocesan Archives for insights into Catholic Enlightenment in Australia. Image courtesy of University of Munster. Photo: Supplied.

The Archdiocesan Archives and Information Governance Office has recently been honored to have in their midst a distinguished visiting scholar, Professor Jurgen Overhoff, from the University of Münster.

Professor Overhoff was a visiting scholar at the University of Notre Dame Australia (UNDA), participating in a research initiative on the history of global and Australian Catholicism as he continues his research and interest in exploring the intriguing and enlightening concept of the Catholic Enlightenment.

This unique historical perspective encourages us to reflect on the Church’s journey towards embracing aspects of modernity and its significance in the context of the 18th century (and throughout all modern eras).

Moreover, it underscores the importance of archives as a treasure trove of knowledge, preserving the rich history of the Catholic Church and its influence in Australia.

Unlocking the Past: The Role of Archives

One of the most intriguing aspects of Professor Overhoff’s research is his emphasis on the importance of archives.

Archives, he asserts, are repositories of truth, where history and records are meticulously preserved in words and documents. They serve as windows into historical times, repositories of knowledge that unveil surprising observations.

During his visit to the Archives at the Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, Professor Overhoff made a fascinating discovery.

He found remarkable parallels in the establishment of Catholic communities in Sydney and Perth, separated by 40 years of British colonisation.

These connections were unearthed through birth, baptism, and death certificates, showcasing how Enlightenment principles, including education and civilisation, left their mark on historical records.

Inspiring Future Scholars to Explore Archives

Beyond his research, Professor Overhoff’s mission is to inspire students to explore archives and delve into original sources.

He believes that while textbooks are indispensable, archives offer unparalleled opportunities to uncover new insights continually.

His words, “It is okay to be happy with the books you have for your studies, but also go to archives where the original source is as it is so useful, and you will learn something new all the time,” encourage students to embark on their journeys of discovery.

A Universal Enlightenment

Professor Overhoff closed his interview by sharing the concept of balance and tolerance as a fundamental element of the Enlightenment, transcending cultures, religions, and eras.

It calls for the respectful consideration of differing views and acknowledges the diversity of belief systems. This notion of enlightenment has timeless relevance, and it was popularised by Pope John XXIII, who used the Italian word “Aggiornamento,” meaning “bringing up to date” or “updating,” at the Second Vatican Council. His words reflect the Church’s commitment to adapt, improve, and become more fervent, embodying both a venerable Catholic tradition AND the spirit of the Enlightenment movement.