Fr. Roger, what do you do all day? Some reflections about day to day life as the archivist of Holy Cross Province
by Roger Mercurio, C.P.
In this article I am sharing with you what kind of requests come into our archives here in Chicago. We are often quite surprised by the range of these requests. Some are very technical; others lead us to uncover many aspects about a family, a person, an event or a building. Frequently, people presume that the life of the archivist is quite dull and most our time is occupied with old and boring documents. However, the opposite is true. With the assistance of Mrs. Toni Fabianski we find ourselves to be quite busy in the office. Likewise, we are able to correspond with some fascinating people. Some are Passionists, but many are people who are interested in our Congregation history for so many diverse reasons. What this tells us is that the material we save in the archives should be quite eclectic in nature.
When a monastery closes: During 1996 we received final papers and documents from our Cincinnati, OH Passionist community on Mt. Adams which we closed in June. We also received material from the Mater Dolorosa Passionist community in Sierra Madre, CA. The original monastery building had been hit by the earthquake of 1993 and was declared uninhabitable. In both cases we received documents that pertained to provincial business, activities of the local Passionist community and personnel. We have tried to make sure that we educate Passionists to not throw out material. While ideally we would like the material catalogued, we are aware that the priority is to save documentation. Cataloguing can always take place later.
Mount Adams, Cincinnati, OH: Father Conleth Overman, C.P. was here at the archives on March 4-6, 1996 to research material for a book he is writing about the Passionists of Mt. Adams, Cincinnati, Ohio. When he left, we allowed him (a privilege we reserve) to take some material with him to be used in this project. The completed work is STORIES OF MOUNT ADAMS PASSIONISTS. Anyone who has been to Mt. Adams would find this most interesting. At the same time, the archives also received a beautifully retyped copy of the Holy Cross Community Platea. A platea is like a daily dairy of Passionist life and ministry in the monastery. This was the work of Denize Cozartt.
Edwin Ronan, C.P. Philippine Passionist Father Gabriel Baldostamon of our Philippine Vice-Province visited the archives in late May/early June, 1996. He was seeking information about Passionist Father Edwin Ronan. Perhaps the first Passionist to visit the Philippines, Father Ronan, an American and member of Holy Cross Province, was called to the Philippines in 1937 to organize the chaplain corps of the Philippine Army. Caught there after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, he was imprisoned for several years by the Japanese. When back here in his home province, he wrote an unpublished book on the Philippines entitled THE PHILIPPINES: YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW. We mailed Father Gabriel a copy. More and more we are finding that we must be ready to handle international requests.
Aloysius William Gregg: In July 1996 we received a fascinating request from Father Frank Cusack, C.P., superior of our Louisville Passionist community. He solicited information about an ex-Passionist who was buried in an unmarked grave in Louisville in 1915. The search for information required us to be both historian and detective. William Aloysius Gregg’s name was found on the database which Brother Larry Finn, C.P. had placed on our computer, at our Generalate in Rome, of all Passionists who had entered the Congregation since the time of St. Paul of the Cross in the mid 1700s. Gregg seems to have taken vows as a Passionist but left before ordination. Later, it appears he did become a priest and founded the parish of St. Paul of the Cross in Honeoye Falls in Monroe County, New York. After some time, however, he evidently left the active priesthood. He died in St. Mary’s Hospital in Louisville sometime in the late nineteenth century and was buried in the unmarked grave in St. Louis Cemetery. It was Mrs. Helen Stefano who has continued to do research on Father Gregg, who erected a monument on his grave on June 23, 1996. Last fall Mrs. Stefano called me and among other things told me that Father Gregg’s mother had attended the dedication of the new church of St. Paul of the Cross which he had built in New York state in the nineteenth century. Our research shows that there are still more questions than answers, but as archivists we realize that the answers come with patience and hard work. Research takes time and some luck.
Photo of Groundbreaking: Mark Van-Etten of Chicago called the archives seeking information on The Van Etten Brothers’ Contractor Firm. His great grandfather Henry and his great granduncle Simon were owners of this Chicago based firm. I searched in the files and found papers about their work in the building of the monastery. The documentation was signed by his great granduncle Simon. Our archives had photos and papers on the specifications for the construction of the monastery. Mark Van Etten returned August 16, 1996 with all the photos and papers we had allowed him to study. Mark is a young, married man, working in construction and wants to re-establish the Van Etten firm. He is quite pleased with the ‘find’ in our archives. Actually his great granduncle, Simon Van-Etten, is on a photo of the ground breaking in October, 1908. On this photo the three Passionists are identified as Alfred Cagney, Jerome Reutermann and Peter Hanley. The two laymen were identified by a “wag” as Teddy Roosevelt and Mark Twain! Mark Van-Etten identifies “Mark Twain” as his great granduncle Simon Van-Etten. “Teddy Roosevelt” must be the architect, Joseph Molitor! All this information goes to show that many of our monasteries and churches may be of great importance to architectural historians. Actually the old Passionist rule required us to save this material to secure our legal rights.
Letters of St. Paul of the Cross: In September 1995 Father Fred Sucher, C.P. of our Chicago community began translating all the letters of our Founder, St. Paul of the Cross. I began proof reading the pages that kept flowing from Fred’s word-processor! The project was finished on the last day of August 1996. The archives now has the complete text of the English letters. I am in the process now of composing an introduction and notes. I am about three-fourths completed with the task.
The Barnabas Ahern Project: Rob Carbonneau, C.P. of the Eastern Province arrived here in mid-August (14-16). He met with several people in the Chicago area who were members of the our Province Commission which happily was able to engage his service to research and write the biography of Passionist biblical scholar Barnabas Ahern. Since Labor Day he has been researching full time. He resides with the Catholic Theological Union Passionist community and has a room here at our Harlem monastery. Observing the progress on this project has been informative and exciting. Rob has conducted taped interviews with a good number of Passionists. Paul Bechtold has been most helpful since he is Barnabas’ classmate. Rob has tracked Barnabas in THE PASSIONIST and PROVINCE NEWSLETTER. What was most exciting was his find of over 250 letters written by Barnabas to his cousins in England from 1948 till his death in 1995. In April he will present an historical paper on Barnabas at the Spring Meeting of the Catholic Historical Association to be held at the University of Virginia. We are still looking for more information and are eagerly waiting to see what he writes.
Cardinal Newman Project: Father Richard Johnson, C.P. visited with us the last week of September, 1996 to research Cardinal Newman papers in the Joseph Mary O’Leary Collection which is located in our monastery library. He also used Noel Pechulis’ doctoral dissertation on Newman. Before leaving he presented the archives with a painting of our former Holy Cross Church on Mt. Adams in Cincinnati, OH.
“The Trial”: Late in September, 1996 Fr. Frederick Sucher, C.P. began organizing the documents and papers concerning “The Trial.” This was a time consuming but most important service to the Passionists. A case involving financial questions and an accounting firm, it represents the day to day activities which an archives is often engaged in. Father Fred deposited in the archives all the material which had been in the provincial office concerning the case. This is a question of records management which archivists are asked to preserve. Father Fred wrote a summary of the trials and appeals of the case which was decided in our favor.
So what do we do all day? We write informative articles such as this and satisfy our hidden desire to be collectors, organizers, historians, detectives and storytellers.