Welcome to the Passionist Historical Archives, Union City, New Jersey: Step Forward Historians, Researchers, and Grand Inquisitors! An essay in memory of Father Morgan Hanlon, C.P. (1925-2001)

Home / Welcome to the Passionist Historical Archives, Union City, New Jersey: Step Forward Historians, Researchers, and Grand Inquisitors! An essay in memory of Father Morgan Hanlon, C.P. (1925-2001)

by Rob Carbonneau, C.P.

When Father Morgan Hanlon died on November 18, 2001 the pulse of Passionist history and understanding changed. In February 1998 illness required that he leave his day to day assignment and residence at the Passionist Historical Archives in Union City, New Jersey and move to West Hartford, Connecticut. Physically, life got tougher for Morgan. By the time he died at St. Joseph’s Residence, Brockton, Massachusetts he had lost both of his legs as a result of chronic diabetes. At the same time, visitors of Morgan said that during his last years he acquired emotional and spiritual peace. He loved the detail of military, naval history, and biography. A life time dream, which he started to pursue in the 1980s, was to write a biography of Father Fidelis Kent Stone, C.P. Morgan possessed a missionary spirit. He ministered as military chaplain and missioner in the Philippines. He never tired of exploring. One of his favorite activities was to take the short trip to The Meadowlands Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst, NJ 07071. Located in the Meadowlands area by the New Jersey Turnpike, it was home to a recycling museum which described how trash or garbage was part of the environmental process. Still, he had a life long interest in the spiritual life, in particular the spirituality of Saint Ignatius Loyola. And, without a doubt, Morgan had a practical side which somtimes made him stubborn. This same practical desire made him deeply feel the frequent lament voiced by all archivists: “We are always behind with accessions.” To be honest, this spirit often prevented him from actively seeking new Passionist archival material. He felt keenly the burden and responsibility to operate and maintain a sound archives. For me personally, Morgan Hanlon was always encouraging. He had a strong commitment to education and saw the value of making sure that the Passionist archives had a secure home and vision for the future. His love of Passionist history will be missed. Out of respect and honor to Father Morgan Hanlon, C.P. it is appropriate to reflect on the history of the Passionist Historical Archives, and those who have taken care of the archives and chronicles of St. Paul of the Cross Province.

Historical Context of the Passionist Archives.

Back before acid free boxes and paper, computer data bases, secure fire proof vaults and rules of access, the Passionists had to learn how to chart and maintain their history. The 1940 Regulations: Congregation of the Passion states in notation 132: “Each Provincial shall appoint a suitable religious to fulfill the office of chronicler of his Province according to the prescribed norms.” The 1964 Regulations of the Passionists notes in notations 45 and 56 that a record of those who take vows should be sent to the archives. Notation 89 extolls the value of artifacts: “Anything in our churches or houses which is very valuable either by reason or artistry or antiquity shall be carefully preserved and listed in a twofold inventory, one of which shall be kept by the archives of the house and the other by the archives of the Province.” Unfortunately, the tendency during the last half of the twentieth century was to pay less heed to this directive.

During the first one hundred years of the Passionist experience in the United States the Province Archives and the Chronicles were very different, though oftentimes they were kept in one central place in the Province – where the Provincial was located. A simple explanation is that an archives consisted of the legal material produced by a Province – deeds, contracts, financial records, etc. Chronicles recorded the day to day life and ministry. This included preaching assignments or community meetings where Passionists discussed the quality of their life and prayer. It was presumed that each Passionist monastery would keep their own archives and chronicles. If the monastery closed, the material was then sent to the Provincial Archives. We will see that by the 1960s it was deemed necessary to coordinate the documentation in the Passionist monasteries and bring them to one location at the Provincial Archives. It might be helpful to remember the Passionist archivists, chroniclers, historians and how the Passionist Historical Archives ended up in Union City, New Jersey. More investigation is needed. This is a start.

Father Hugh K. Barr, C.P. (1840-1900) was ordained in 1862. His 1900 obituary states “Being of an industrious disposition, he undertook, with sanction of his superiors, the gathering of voluminous materials for the history of this province of St. Paul (the United States provinces split in 1906), from its commencement in 1852 down to the present day. With a patience worthy of all praise, he made it a labor of love, and it became his life-work.” The Barr documentation remains an invaluable resource on pre-1900 Passionist history. Few researchers know of its existence. With advanced permission of the Passionist Historical Archives, Union City, a qualified researcher is, when they see the material, quickly brought back to an era when history was written in elegant script. In all, Barr’s long-hand, written history consists of fourteen volumes. Each is bound in rich green book leather. Title of each volume is as follows: Vol 1: General Inform[ation] II; Vol. II: St. Mary’s Dunkirk, [New York]; Vol. III: St. Michael’s [W.] Hoboken, [New Jersey]; Vol IV: St. Joseph, Baltimore, [Maryland]; Vol V-VI: Cincinnati, [Ohio] & Louisville, [Kentucky]; Vol VII: O.L.G.C. [Our Lady of Good Counsel], St. Louis, MO; Vol VIII: Osage Mission, Kansas; Vol IX: Necrology, 1863-1893; Vol. X: Biography, C.P.; Vol. XI: St. Paul, Pittsburgh, [Pennsylvania]; Vol XII: General Compilation; Vol XIII: World C.P. Foundations. To assist any interested party Father Barr compiled a three-volume index and one General Index: 1852-1902. He died in 1900 leaving the General Index with blank pages which he had prepared in advance through the year of the 50th Jubilee.

Father Felix Ward, C.P. (1854-1927) was ordained in 1878 and was an important leader in St. Paul of the Cross Province. From 1904 until 1905 he was provincial. He succeeded Father Stephen Kealy (1849-1904) who died in office on July 17. Knowledge of Father Ward is important because, though he does not seem to be officially listed as an historian or chronicler, he did write The Passionists: Sketches Historical and Personal. Published by Benziger Brothers, New York in 1923, the preface was written by Cardinal James Gibbons of Baltimore before his death in 1921. Father Ward and Cardinal Gibbons were good friends. Ward’s history, consistent with the historical era, did not use any footnotes in the text. Furthermore according to Passionist oral tradition after publication the original manuscript and research notes were lost or destroyed.

Father Herbert McDevitt (1881-1957) was ordained in 1906 and spent almost his entire priesthood at St. Michael’s Monastery in Union City, New Jersey. In addition to holding positions of leadership he was secretary to the provincial from 1912 until 1914 and from 1917 until 1923. He contributed articles to the Passionist publication, The Sign Magazine, which began publication in 1921. Noteworthy was his promotion of the Passionist missions to China and the newly created Confraternity of the Passion. Such experience and interest led him, by 1927, to become the archivist and historian at St. Michael’s Monastery, a position he held until 1951.

Father Matthew Kuebel (1893-1951) was ordained in 1918. From 1944 until 1951 he was Province chronicler and also served as chaplain to the Visitation Sisters in Riverdale. He died at St. Vincent Strambi Residence in Riverdale, New York.

Father Bonaventure Griffiths (1904-1970) was ordained in 1931 and went to China in 1932 where he served as secretary to Bishop Cuthbert O’Gara. He later lived in Hong Kong as procurator for the Passionist missions in China. In 1952 he was asked to be chronicler for St. Paul of the Cross Province and lived in Union City, New Jersey.

Probably most Passionists were unaware that Father Christopher Collins (1909-1988), ordained in 1936 and Father Paul Fullam (1926-2001), ordained in 1953, both, for a short time served as Province archivist. On the other hand it has been almost common knowledge among the Passionists that Father Norbert Herman (1913-1978) who was ordained in 1942 and Father Clement Pavlick (1913-2000) also ordained in 1942 were the archivists in Pittsburgh. Father Pavlick followed Father Herman in this capacity. No Province directory ever listed their position as archivists since it was not technically a Province appointment. More correctly, it has always been more properly an archives of the individual Pittsburgh monastery since it was the first Passionist monastery. Yet, to their credit, both men built up a rich inventory which strongly complements the Province Archives in Union City, New Jersey.

Noteworthy is Father Cassian Yuhaus. Born in 1922, he was a later version of Father Felix Ward in that he was never an archivist or chronicler. Rather, trained as an ecclesiastical historian in Rome, he wrote Compelled to Speak: The Passionists in America. Origin and Apostolate. Published in 1967 by Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland, it examines the formative beginnings since their 1852 arrival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Yuhaus’ scholarship has stood the test of time. It is based upon original documentation and, unlike Ward, is appropriately footnoted. Despite the fact that proposed future volumes have not been completed, it is a must read for anyone who wants to make a intellectual trip into the Passionist Historical Archives.

Father Clement Buckley (1901-1987) was ordained in 1931. The directory of 1970 lists him as archivist. Father John F. Poole (1906-1979) was ordained in 1931 and he was chronicler in the 1970s. Each man had his own office located in the bowels of the Union City monastery. That is where I first saw the Passionist archives and chronicles. To get there a visitor had to ride a kind of death trap elevator down and ease through the stone corridors. Father Buckley’s office was efficient and organized. He had color coded file cabinets in which he had spent much time gathering the juridical material of St. Paul of the Cross Province. With care and directness he did not hesitate to offer his perspective on Passionist history which many times could lead into a discussion of riparian rights of way at Riverdale, New York; sewage disposal at Holy Cross Seminary, Dunkirk, New York or the history of street names in Union City, New Jersey. When the current archives was set up in 1991 the Clement Buckley collection was organized separately. Presently it consists of 35 10x15x12 boxes and 15 boxes that are half that size. On the other hand Father Poole was entirely opposite. His file cabinets were overburdened with yellow documents. He greeted you with a cigar in his mouth. For years I always thought that an archives smelled like a cigar! Only later did I find out that he was breaking every law of archives preservation. But Father Poole somehow had the ability to relate to me the relationship of documents to people and the past. He was not controlling. He was trusting in that he gave me my own key and encouraged me to come down and just sit and read the primary sources on Passionist history. This gift given me in the mid 1970s provided me a leisurely, yet intense introduction into the Passionist correspondence on China. I became convinced that documents make stories real. From that point I saw the archives to be about life, not the dry past.

Move to West Springfield, Massachusetts.

Interestingly, in the Province directories from 1981 through 1988 the office of the archives and chronicles are not even listed! Yet in the 1987 directory a chart of responsibility was printed whereby the departments of chronicles and archives were noted as two separate offices. Among the other provincial offices were treasurer’s office, communications, and mission office (the domestic preaching apostolate). Part of the confusion surrounding this situation probably arose from the fact that the Passionists sold St. Michael’s Monastery in Union City. The archives and chronicles had to find a new home. Their temporary home was Our Mother of Sorrows Monastery, West Springfield, Massachusetts.

Back to Union City, New Jersey.

In 1989 a decision was reached to close and sell the property at West Springfield and the archives and chronicles, now a combined collection, moved back to Union City to the old Sign Magazine office building at 526 Monastery Place. It seemed a logical choice for two reasons. It was relatively close to the Provincial office in South River, New Jersey. In addition, the building offered enough space to build a modern archives facility. Setting up this new operations became the responsibility of Father Caspar Caulfield (1908-1993). Ordained in 1936 he had been a missionary to China and from the mid 1950s until 1980 was General Secretary of Passionist Missions in Rome. When the archives found a temporary home in West Springfield during the 1980s, Caulfield was assigned there to oversee the operation. He maintained a holding pattern of organization and while there recruited the assistance of Father Morgan Hanlon. In the 1990-1991 Province directory Caulfield was cited as provincial archivist and Father Morgan Hanlon was the associate archivist. Father Caulfield was ably assisted by a building committee of Peter and Mary Ablondi and Peter Belise who frequently traveled down from the Springfield, Massachusetts area to coordinate the effort for a new archives. Caulfield was persistent in his desire to make it a state of the art archives that was fire proof and safe. He consulted numerous other religious archives for advice. While some thought Caulfield’s plan and management style a bit too expensive, it is certainly true that he believed that the archives and chronicles should have the respect it deserved. The new archives was formally dedicated on January 5, 1991. In the March 1993 directory both Caulfield and Hanlon are listed as the archivists, but by late spring of 1993 Caulfield had died. In 1993 Morgan Hanlon assumed sole responsibility for the operations of the archives which led to the employment of Mrs. Rosalie Mescall as a secretary. Later, in August 1996 Ms. Anita Lewis was hired. In January 2001 I was appointed as Province Historian and Director of the Archives.

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