Archival Ponderings II

by Roger Mercurio, C.P.

Father Morgan has kindly asked me to continue my “Archival Ponderings” for The Passionist Heritage Newsletter. I deeply appreciate his invitation.

Forty years ago in 1952 we American Passionists celebrated our centenary in this country. Father Gordian Lewis, of happy memory, mentioned to me one day that someone should have published a list of all our missions and retreats given during those hundred years.

A list of all our missions and retreats! What a volume that would have been! It would testify to the zeal of our missionaries. How many people have been spiritually inspired by Passionist missionaries! Above all it would have offered each of us a way of appreciating the truly tremendous role Passionists have had in establishing the Church in these United States! Even we today in reading of the dioceses and parishes all over the country in which Passionists had preached would feel a humble pride in our beautiful heritage.

Many times I have thought of Father Gordian’s suggestion. Now that I am working in the archives his dream does at times seem possible. For in the archives there are books entitled “Missions and Retreat.” In these books our missionaries recorded the missions and retreats they had given with the dates, name of the parish, the pastor’s name, the city, fellow missionaries, etc. At times they added some comments on the mission. These records were kept faithfully in our province until about 1965/1967. Somehow during those same critical years, the religious everywhere in our province ceased recording their work and the provincials no longer signed the book at visitation!

Our archives also contain filing drawers with cards of the parishes where we gave missions or retreats. We also have some of the worksheets that the mission secretary kept of all the missions and retreats of each month and each year. The Passionist for some years also published a list of the apostolic works of each community.

Since 1972 in our province each religious has been asked to fill out an annual report of his apostolic works. These reports are kept in each one’s personal file in the Provincial Office. Once a year an annual report of all these apostolates is sent out to the province. Presently they are being preserved on computers in a database format.

Some of our missionaries kept all the assignment-papers they received from the provincial office. One missionary has given our archives an album containing all his mission assignment-papers during his whole career. Another has given the archives five or six albums of photos of his missions for the last twenty years. Years ago Father Xavier Sutton kept several notebooks of all the missions and retreats he gave from 1880-1920.

We have also some of the mission remembrance cards which missionaries passed out during the mission. The people kept these cards in their prayer books and missals to remind themselves of the mission and the promises they had made. For us these cards can be valuable sources of information on the date and place of missions.

Perhaps most important of all are the actual sermons our missionaries preached. Father Joseph P. Chinnici, O.F.M., has stressed this value of sermons:

Sermons are one of the most important sources for understanding the formation and development of American Catholic spirituality Cf. Devotion to the Holy Spirit in American Catholicism, Paulist Press, 1985, p 115.

Fortunately in our archives there is information and data on the century and a half of Passionists’ mission preaching in these United States. Our Chicago office has some of the sermons given by the “great” men of old. We have also received sermons of more recent preachers. These are valuable sources for understanding the spiritual life of our Catholic peoples. From these sermons we also learn how our missionaries instructed the people on the observance of the commandments, how they inspired them by the Passion sermons and meditations, what devotions they encouraged, how they taught the faithful to assist at Mass and to reverence the Holy Eucharist, etc.

What can we do with this enormous wealth of data? May I make several suggestions of what can be done.

First of all we must preserve all the data we have and continue to keep records of our mission ministry. I do encourage each religious to keep a record of his own apostolic works. Perhaps you still have the mission-assignment slips your provincial sent you. Please do not destroy them! May I suggest that you do what Father Xavier Sutton did and even write a brief account of what you experienced during those missions.

You may be one of our religious who during these post-Vatican Council years has engaged in various forms of parish mission work, e.g. renewal missions, home-dialog missions, liturgical missions, street preaching, etc. It would be helpful if you would write a report of your successes and weaknesses when on such missions.

You may be interested in working through the mission records in your local community. If you are a computer expert, you may have time to enter the community’s books on Missions and Retreats on a computer. We need a system of database for storing this detailed information.

Secondly, we need studies on the ministry of individual missionaries of past eras. Perhaps we need critiques of what we have been doing during these recent years. In other words, I am suggesting that we must not only preserve our mission records in our archives. We should begin as best we can to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of our mission techniques both yesterday and today.

From all this data some scholar at the end of the twenty-first century may use our mission records and reflections to enable his peers to understand how we applied the Passionist mission-preaching tradition to the people of our times. From his research our future scholar might help his contemporaries to adapt Passionist mission-preaching tradition for the needs of the people of their times.

Yes, our archives can help bring to reality the dream of Father Gordian.

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