Passionist Archives—The Memoria Passionis

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by Morgan Hanlon, C.P.

In his lead article of this first issue of Passionist Heritage, Fr. Rob Carbonneau states that we Passionists have a dual role. We must preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we must share with others our own Passionist story. No one will deny that we must preach the Gospel—especially the Passion-Gospel. But our own story? Aren’t we getting off the point here? Whose Passion are we preaching, anyway?

Yet, I believe that Rob has drawn our attention to something very important for an understanding of the fullness of our mission and charism. For if we truly believe that the Church—the People of God—make Christ present in each succeeding age of the world and in every place on the face of the globe, then the story of that People becomes Christ’s story too. It becomes the story of how Christ succeeds and fails in every generation, in every climate and nation. The story, when it is of success, becomes the inspiration for succeeding generations; when of failure, a lesson to be absorbed for future efforts.

Everything that lives and breathes remembers. Memory is our link with the past, with our roots – it tells us who we are and how we came to be what we are. Memory is also our guide into the future.

In his article “Remembering the Passion of Christ” Fr. Barnabas Ahern CP declares that “Because the covenant revealed God ‘s saving purpose and his powerful readiness to show mercy to what is poor and weak…the memory of Yahweh’s part intervention taught Israel to expect that same (mercy) would be operative in the future.” Barnabas continues “…God himself makes present and operative (in the Eucharist) the past events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. This living memorial is not only at the heart of the eucharist but it belongs also to the very essence of the gospel which God proclaims is his church through his ambassadors. Thus the eucharist as living memorial becomes…the source and model of Christ’s suffering and death.” 1

Passionist Archives, therefore, are a concrete manifestation of the “memoria Passionis” which lives in power in the Church—a “remembering” which, by its power of recalling God’s mercies also has the power to re-create those mercies in the future. A Passionist Archives is, then, a place ( and a process) where the concrete tokens of that Divine Mercy are held in reverent custody, a place that can communicate hope, and zeal for the future.

Recently, one of the men with whom I live, here at St. Michael’s in Union City, NJ. said to me that he felt unwelcome in our archives. I was surprised and a bit shocked to hear this because Fr. Caspar Caulfield and I are always pleased when people visit the archives. The man in question had often heard me speak at meals and recreation of the many interesting, little known things I’ve come across during my work. Understandably, he wanted to “browse” through our stacks, but archives, unfortunately, don’t encourage “browsing” for several reasons. However, I could both understand and sympathize with my friend, for the archives can be fascinating places and I enjoy working in the Province Historical Archives.

One of the most satisfying things in which I’ve been involved as an archivist has come about almost by accident. I mean the relationship that has developed with fellow English-speaking Passionist archivists around the world. First and foremost, of the course, with Fr. Roger Mercurio CP of our Western Province, but also with Frs. Ignatius McElligott in England, Gerard Mahoney in Australia, and Frederick Richards in Argentina. In almost every case I wrote to one of them asking for help with something or other and received great assistance, most cheerfully given. Gerard Mahoney, if I recall correctly, wrote to us seeking information about Peter Maganatto CP (see Compassion No. 24, Fall 1990) which we were glad to provide.

I’d like to pay special tribute here to Fr. Frederick Richards of the Immaculate Conception Province (Argentina). I needed a lot of information about Fr. Fidelis Kent Stone’s days in Argentina and Fr. Fred has ben most helpful and gone out of his way to provide me with first-hand information “heaped up, pressed down and flowing over!” His most recent contributions came to me via the good offices of Sister Eileen Dolan, a Maryknoll Sister from the Argentine ( who had once been a Passionist Sister). She is not only the cousin of Fr. Frederick but of Fr. Louis Dolan CP who is known to so many of us. Fr. Fred’s cousin has two Passionist brothers in the Argentine. Fr. Fred has been a missionary, editor of The Southern Cross, the magazine of the Argentine Province, and the archivist of his Province. In all these jobs he has had to bear the burden of illness. His cousin, Sr. Eileen tells me that he has to undergo dialysis three times a week. Please remember Fred in your prayers.

It is our hope to extend this very informal network of Passionist historians and archivists, at first throughout the English-speaking world, and later to include others. The more I work in our own Province’s archives the more I am becoming aware that our Province’s story is inextricably connected with the story of so many other Provinces and, of course, with the Generalate.

Perhaps, in the future, “God willin’ and the creeks don’t rise—” I’ll be able to tell you something about men like Fr. Edmund Hill, CP, the former English medical student who met Kent Stone in the Paulists and then followed him to us and, later, to South America; or about Fr. John Thomas Stephanini of Italy, who held every office (including Provincial) in our Province, and died in Rome as Vice-General.

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