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Liturgy and life collection

 Collection — Box: 279
Collection BC-2013-017: Liturgy and life collection


  • Creation: 1870 - 1975
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1925 - 1975

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of pamphlets and material culture that document the liturgical movement in the American Catholic Church until the time of the Second Vatican Council's reforms. It contains artifacts of many kinds, including plaques and statues, chaplets, relics, medals, rosaries, scapulars, badges, pins, jewelry, money clips and key rings, bookmarks, crosses and crucifixes, holy water fonts and bottles, aspergills, vestments and other textiles, chalices, a monstrance, sick call sets, candles and crucifixes, and other items. Textiles include ecclesiastical dress and liturgical vestments and vesture such as albs, altar cloths, chalice veils, copes, mitres, stoles, and surplices, among others.


Language of Materials

This collection is mostly in English, with some materials in French, German, Italian, Latin, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovenian, and Spanish.

Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research; portions available digitally.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Historical note

The liturgy and life collection was compiled by Father William J. Leonard, SJ, to document the liturgical reform movement in the American Catholic Church from 1925 to 1975, when the Second Vatican Council's reforms were fully implemented. Inspired by his friend Philip J. McNiff, then director of the Boston Public Library, Leonard sought to collect the raw materials that would allow liturgical scholars to adequately study the full impact of the Second Vatican Council.

The liturgical movement, which sought to renew worship in the daily lives of Catholics, began in the United States in the 1920s and peaked after World War II. Laypeople were becoming more involved with the Church, and the ecumenical movement sought to reconcile the Catholic Church and other Christian churches. Although the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had seen pervasive Anti-Catholicism in the United States as a response to the influx of immigrants from Catholic countries, by the 1940s Catholics were increasingly part of the mainstream. Pope John Paul XXIII called the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) to renew the Church and engage with the modern world, bringing many of the concerns of the liturgical movement to the fore.

Leonard, a Boston College theologian and liturgical reformer, was one of the theological advisors invited to the Council. Although he had been active in the liturgical movement and fought for reform, he nonetheless wished to preserve evidence of pre-Vatican II devotional practice. In 1978, he placed a call for donations in Catholic periodicals, seeking any form of material culture that expressed private and public devotion. The scope for donations was necessarily wide, as liturgy was inextricably interwoven with nearly every aspect of life, hence the collection’s name. The collection here assembled reflects several decades of collecting and is widely considered the most comprehensive archive in the United States on the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church.


O’Neill, Robert K. “Safe Deposit.” Boston College Magazine, Summer 1992: 36-47.

Rahner, Karl, and Adolf Darlap. "Vatican Councils: Vatican II." In Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. Accessed October 22, 2014.

Sullivan, Mark. “Author and Curator Fr. Leonard Dies.” Boston College Chronicle, February 17, 2000.


384 Linear Feet (654 containers)


This collection documents the liturgical movement in the American Catholic Church from 1925 to the introduction of the Second Vatican Council's reforms. It contains religious pamphlets and artifacts in many forms, including artwork, relics, medals, rosaries, crucifixes, vestments and other textiles, sick call sets, and other items.


This collection is arranged alphabetically in twenty-four series: I. Badges; II. Bookmarks; III. Candles and candlesticks; IV. Chaplets; V. Containers; VI. Crosses; VII. Crucifixes; VIII. Holy water fonts, aspergills, and holy water bottles; IX. Jewelry; X. Liturgical objects; XI. Medals; XII. Miscellaneous; XIII. Money clips and key rings; XIV. Pamphlets; XV. Pins; XVI. Plaques; XVII. Relics; XVIII. Ribbons; XIX. Rosaries; XX. Scapulars; XXI. Sick call sets; XXII. Statues; XXIII. Textiles; and XXIV. Travel accessories.


This collection was compiled by Father William J. Leonard. After a call for donations was placed in diocesan newspapers and other Catholic periodicals, items were donated by thousands of individuals and organizations. Due to the sheer number of donations, donors are not listed here.

Existence of digital copies

Selected pamphlets and artifacts have been digitized. Digitized pamphlets may be viewed at

Digitized artifacts may be viewed at

Related Materials

H. A. Reinhold Papers, MS.2003.060, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Martin B. Hellriegel Papers, MS.2003.040, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Shawn G. Sheehan Papers, MS.2002.036, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Thomas J. Carroll Papers, MS.2003.014, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

William Ducey Papers, MS.2003.041, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

William J. Leonard Papers, BC.2000.023, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Separated Materials

Books relating to liturgy and life have been cataloged separately. For related published materials, please see

Processing Information

This collection has been minimally processed. Pre-existing documentation was verified where possible but has not been updated and was only minimally enhanced.

Liturgy and Life Collection
1870-1975 (bulk 1925-1975)
Sarah Nitenson and Adrienne Pruitt
October 2014
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States