Passionist Archives of Holy Cross Province: A Personal Reflection

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by Mr. Damian Schaab, Province Archivist


The centennial celebration of Holy Cross Province reminds us, again, of the importance of Passionist archives. In this spirit I asked Mr. Damian Schaab to reflect on his job as Province Archivist for Holy Cross Province. Mr. Schaab succeeded Father Roger Mercurio, CP. in this position. Presently, Mr. Schaab benefits from the assistance which Ms. Stacy McMichael has given in addressing some of the computer-based projects undertaken by the province archives. -the editor

Archives have often been referred to as the collective memory of an organization. The Passionist Provincial Archives contains the primary, documentary evidence that is needed to identify the history of the Holy Cross Province. All of these materials require protection and preservation from physical deterioration to prevent the historical loss that would occur if they were ignored or forgotten.

In order to preserve the entire history of the Holy Cross Province, a well-maintained and accessible archive is a necessity. The Passionist Provincial Archives (Holy Cross Province) stands together with the Passionist Historical Archives (St. Paul of the Cross Province) as a resource for Passionist history and as evidence for the wider history of Passionist life and mission in America.

The primary responsibility for the Passionist Provincial Archives belongs to the congregation itself. Committee minutes, general correspondence, parish bulletins, and daily ledgers may sometimes seem like administrative afterthoughts, but in reality, these things are the essence of history. Without this living history, the archivist would have nothing to preserve, and I, in turn, would be out of a job. Thankfully, there is no shortage of materials to be preserved. That’s where I come in.

As Director of Archives, I am primarily concerned with collecting and appraising, preserving and protecting, arranging and describing and making accessible original documents and records of the congregation. An archivist is not necessarily the historian or interpreter of the congregation’s history. Rather, the archivist acts as a conduit for information, ensuring that historical materials are accessible to those who wish to use them.

Growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota, I thought that one day I would be patrolling centerfield for the Minnesota Twins. Never did I dream that archives rather than baseball would be my calling. In fact, well after my dreams of playing baseball had subsided, I turned my attention to studying baseball. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in American History from the University of Minnesota in 1997. I returned to school in the fall of 1998 at Northeastern Illinois University. Under the tutelage of Dr. Steven A. Reiss, a leader in the field of baseball history, my love of history began to take shape, as did my career, though I really didn’t know it yet. In order to pay the bills I accepted an internship with the Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD). With IRAD I learned the ins and outs of maintaining a functional public archive. At that time I found myself becoming interested not only in history, but the preservation thereof.

Very often, a scholar is only as proficient as the historical evidence permits. As Director or Archives for the Passionist Provincial Archives it is my duty to ensure that researchers have access to historical information. More and more I have had to remind myself that it is not the archivist’s responsibility to interpret history. Rather, as an archivist, I must collect and organize history in such a way that researchers can readily draw their own conclusions based on the evidence I maintain.

Archival materials are those that hold historical and evidential value for the congregation. Usually these documents answer the “who, what, when, where and why” of the history of an institution. The official papers, correspondence, and other records created or received by the congregation and its officers and organizations belong to the congregation. All such material is entitled to archival preservation. Ownership is an important aspect of record maintenance. The records maintained by the Passionist Provincial Archives are not the property of the archives. Rather, they are the property of the Congregation of the Passion, Holy Cross Province.

In my interactions with Passionist Fathers and Brothers, I have gone to great lengths to stress that all archival materials are the property of Holy Cross Province. Should anyone wish to donate materials to the Passionist Provincial Archives, these materials do not disappear into some archival nether-realm. Rather, all materials are catalogued, and stored in a manner befitting their historical importance. Moreover, all materials remain accessible to all members of the Passionist Community at all times.

We have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Passionist Provincial Archives are housed in an area conducive to the long-term preservation of historical materials. The archives are located in a locked, fireproof room that is least affected by extremes of light, heat, dryness or humidity. Archival materials are placed into archival file folders or envelopes made of acid-free paper. The folders are then placed into acid-free document cases available in various sizes to fit standard letter and legal size paper, pamphlets and oversize material. The document cases add protection from direct light and dirt.

When placing materials into folders and document cases, all fastening devices (metal paper clips and staples, rubber bands, and string) should be removed. In fact, one of the first tasks that needed to be addressed upon my arrival was going through each and every document housed within a total of some 2,000 boxes to remove all rubber bands, paper clips and staples-a daunting task indeed. All incoming records are subject to the same scrutiny. As well, existing materials are periodically inspected for atmospheric and vermin damage, and adequate safeguards and protective measures should be taken if evidence of such damage is found.

When documents or artifacts are exhibited in displays or for other celebrations, materials are placed in a location safe from theft or damage. Archives are a wonderful source for information, and we must take necessary precautions to ensure that the information is preserved.

This will become an issue of great importance in the very near future. The Passionist Provincial Archives is spearheading an effort to establish and maintain a historical museum to be housed at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Chicago.

The Passionist Provincial Archives is a public archive. Anyone with a legitimate purpose is permitted to use the archives. Discretion should be exercised, however, where personal information is involved. If records are searched, the person doing so should use the documents under supervision, copying what information is needed, but not removing ledgers, files or individual documents from the archives.

For an archivist, helping others is a big part of one’s daily duties. Assisting a researcher in answering those who, what, when, where and why questions is a part of what makes the job both challenging and rewarding. If patrons of the Passionist Provincial Archives require assistance, the staff is there to help.

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