Archival Ponderings

by Roger Mercurio, C.P.

I begin these Archival Ponderings with a quote I ran across this past summer at the Clergy Retreat House at Mundelein. I find in it a base for these Archival Ponderings!

“…the accumulation of knowledge about the past is being recovered on a scale unknown in recorded history. Our minds today are like museums (archives?); full of inassimilable impressions and pieces of knowledge that have to be kept in basements because we are incapable of assessing their worth or cataloging them”. (“Poetry, Myth and the Great Memory” by William Anderson in Parabola xiv (May 1989) p. 22.)

This week (November 4, 1989) Mrs. Tom Fabianski and I began working in the Provincial Archives. It is hard work for there are so many questions and so much to do. These are my first “Ponderings” as I begin with St. Thomas a “quest” (“quaestio”) about Archives!

The basic question is “whether there should be archives” (“Utrum sint Archia”). To pursue this “quest” I will clarify various aspects of Archives by a process of asking and responding.

The first question is what should be preserved? I respond by stating that whatever is of official importance or historical interest to Holy Cross Province should be preserved in the archives of Holy Cross Province. In other words the major portion of the Provincial Archives should be provincial material. The Provincial Archives should preserve information about the government of the Province, the personnel, the ministries, community life, economics, etc.

But you might ask: what is the connection of the Holy Cross Provincial Archives with those of the several Local Communities Archives? Local communities have the right to and obligation of maintaining their local archives. What about the Generalate’s Archives in Rome, and that of other Provinces, especially of the Eastern Province?

As regards Local Community’s archives I respond that they are de facto being preserved in the provincial archives when a community is closed. At the same time all local archives should be provided for locally, or materials should be sent to the provincial archives in an orderly manner.

As regards the General Archives I respond that the decisions of General Chapters should be preserved in the Provincial Archives. The same is true of the letters of the General Superior, official correspondence with Father General and his Consultors. Likewise correspondence with other Provincials and material about our vicariates, should be preserved in our provincial archives.

As regards our sister province of the East I respond that five of our foundations were originally made by St. Paul of the Cross Province. About 75 religious joined the Congregation in that province and their initial records are preserved there. We must be in close contact with the archives and historical records of that province.

I would add, finally, that much Passionist material can be readily obtained through modern modes of communication, e.g. by “faxing”. This is especially true of data from periodicals, newspapers of the entire Congregation and of individual Provinces.

Are there ways of coordinating our archives so that cataloging and indexing would follow similar methods, and today also similar computer programming? Yes, there should be coordination and today it is possible to share in similar “software programming”.

Should Sermons by preserved? Actually we have quite a collection of sermons. Which should be kept? I respond that sermons offer information on how Passionists preached in past and present times, and more especially how they preached the Memoria Passionis. There is also some material on Sacred Eloquence, or how our men were prepared to become preachers, missionaries, retreat masters, etc. All these it seems should have space in the Provincial Archives.

There are many photographs. These should be identified (who, when, where, etc.). There are a few diaries, spiritual recordings kept by individual religious, personal correspondence, etc. Or again, our religious have written books, dissertations, periodical articles, lecture notes, some of which are taped or now on VCR’s. These various materials offer insights into how Passionists actually lived, preached, ministered, studied. On the other hand, some of these materials could be part of the Provincial Library.

Finally there is another very basic question: whether “Archives” should provide historical records of our present times for the use of future students and historians?

I feel my response is of the utmost importance. The Church, our own Congregation, and our Province have gone through a very traumatic period in this modern world and American nation. We owe it to those who come after us, and to ourselves, to provide sufficient data for the next generations to pass judgment upon these our times, to learn from our mistakes and (hopefully) from our achievements!

I hope somewhere, sometime, someone will ask: what happened in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s? How could those men do what they did? Or (hopefully) how did they have the courage to do what they did, to adapt and prepare the Congregation for the opening decades of the twenty-first century!

I would much rather provide more material than less! I feel strongly we owe it to the next several generations to enable them to find sufficient information to make a prudent and honest assessment of what happened in these present years.

Lastly I would like to add that because our forefathers preserved many documents and records, we are today able to appreciate our American Passionist roots. We can learn from their solutions and understand their decisions, even though at times our own decisions have differed from theirs. We must likewise continue to take care that our records and papers are being preserved for the next generations so that they will be able to learn from us.

Should there be Archives? The response must be a resounding “YES”,

November 11, 1989
Revised March 25, 1993

Fr. Roger, C.P., graciously responded to the plea of the Editors in the first issue of the Newsletter and sent in this thoughtful article. We hope that others of our readers will follow his example and contribute their thoughts on the life, history, and future of the Community.

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