Luciani's Paper Trail
By Stefania Falasca
An impressive personal baggage had always accompanied him. First, as he went from one Episcopal See to another, and then when he settled in his apartment in the Vatican upon his election to the See of Peter on the 26 August 1978.
Baggage consisting mainly of papers that made up the private Archive of Albino Luciani, John Paul I. Papers accumulated from 1929 to the 28 September 1978. Papers of a lifetime that were only discovered at the beginning of the year 2000.
A few years later, in 2007, I was entrusted with the first recognition within the context of the canonisation of this Pope from Veneto when the bishop of Belluno-Feltre ordered a supplementary diocesan Inquisitio.
By examining the writings, it was possible right from the start to define the nature of this private Archive and piece together its genesis, development and complex trail. One that following the death of John Paul I on the 28 September 1978 was sent back to the Patriarchal See of Venice.
Covering half a century the collection offers a wealth of heterogeneous documentary material. To be found among these papers are autographed writings, note books, printed material, photographs and correspondence. The evaluation of these papers, characterised principally as a personal file, covers in great part discourses, lessons, conferences, homilies, articles and publications. An evaluation fundamental to the study of this workshop of writings so dear to one of the most intense periods of philological studies. Meaning the evolution of a way of thinking and of the choice of themes with the oscillations, the changes made in the different versions of the drafts, where the dynamics of the progressive construction of the text afford us a key to the understanding of its most authentic interpretation.
Certainly, Luciani's papers are very revealing, in their entirety as well as in their constituent parts, of the profile of the person who wrote and filed them. The private Archive doesn't present the characteristics, so clearly identified in other individual's funds, those of deliberate fabrication of personal recollections and identity. In this case there is no intent on the part of the author to lend to his papers any wish to commemorate a particular life or project. In fact, Luciani's archive appears to belong to a category of archives known in Italian as "specchi di carta" (papers that mirror a reality) or "evidence of identity". Only exceptionally can one glean the presence of precise descriptions in diary form, such as notes pertaining to his participation in the Second Vatican Council or of a private audience with John XXIII on the occasion of his episcopal consecration. The style of Luciani's writings is far removed from that of an intimate or private diary. Added to the archive and as integral part of it is a well-stocked library. Together with the archive it formed a laboratory, what might be described as Luciani's workshop. A sort of open site with indispensable work in progress, from which to draw from or add to, where different interpretations merge and are pieced together through his capacity of synthesis and dialogue.
On the basis of the research undertaken, later converging in the "Positio", the original core of the private archive could be identified in the various papers that relate to those autographed between 1929 and 1959, in prevalence to the note books with a specific theme, the collections of manuscripts with study subjects and lessons, drawn up by the future John Paul I as a student at the Gregorian Seminary of Belluno from 1928 to 1935. But also later as professor of different courses at this same institute from 1937 to 1959. And again as a student at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he was awarded a licentiate in theology.
Also to be added to this documentation is a specific one relating to his doctoral thesis focusing on Antonio Rosmini and the publication "Catechetics in Crumbs" in December 1949. As well as the documentation and correspondence relating to the doctorate, he was awarded and the assignment as pro-vicar general of the diocese of Belluno-Feltre, from 1948 to 1953.
This original nucleus continued to be enriched and expanded by other memos, notebooks, notes, schemes, conferences, correspondence and articles during the years of the episcopate in Vittorio Veneto between 1958 and 1969. Years during which a consistent acquisition of material, relating to the Triveneto Episcopal Conference, the Italian Episcopal Conference and the Second Vatican Council which Luciani participated in during all four Sessions, is to highlighted.
Elected Patriarch of Venice he took with him, to the Patriarchal See, all the material from his personal archive and developed it further enriching it with the correspondence relating to those years. Correspondence which sheds light on the collaborative relationship with the Holy See and the top levels of the Italian episcopate and also shines the spotlight on his thinking regarding events that concerned and interested him.
It's this personal baggage, together with the books from his library that he had delivered to the Apostolic Palace the day after his election to the See of Peter. The object of the first research carried out was precisely the tracing of this delivery. The way the Archive and the library reached the Vatican from Venice. How it was entrusted to a removal company suggested by Jesuit Father Roberto Busa (a fellow student from the seminary in Belluno), who had previously dealt with the move of the personal effects of Paul VI. As for the supervision of the move, it was assigned to Don Carlo Bolzan, a priest in the trust of Luciani, who made sure all the material might reach destination according to plan. In fact, on September 13, it arrived in the Vatican.
The crates were housed in the rooms immediately under the papal apartments. During the brief Pontificate only one lot which was not especially relevant in terms of quantity was removed from the packing crates. It included his 1978 imitation leather blue agenda in which he continued to write as Pontiff, jotting down the minutes of the Angelus and general audiences. Whereas when it came to sorting out the books from his library he began by placing the "opera omnia" of Saint Francis de Sales on the shelves of the bookcase of his study.
With his death and the election of John Paul II that followed on the 16 October 1978, all of the papers and books of Papa Luciani including the agenda and the notebook of the pontificate were sent back to the address of the Patriarchal Palace of the Serenissima, where they stayed until 2001 when they were housed at the Historical Archive of the Patriarchate of Venice.
Under the auspices of the John Paul I Foundation on 1 December 2020, after 42 years, for the fourth time the Luciani Archive crossed the waters of the lagoon of Venice. Marking a return to its home, where it will be the object of renewed study.