Thoughts on Archives

The archives which the Bishop’s historical commission toured was very much a part of Catherine Doherty’s vision. Here are some of her reflections about keeping records for the sake of posterity and the good of the Church. (Printed in Catherine #12).

And now for the archives. In every business, as well as in our apostolate, there comes a time when the question of space arises. Obviously, no office, apostolate or business wants to keep its outdated cards, its dead-heads, and its letters of past years.

But because apostolates and businesses alike—but especially our apostolate—often make history, it is imperative that certain cards and letters and other pertinent material be kept. In our case it is true twice-over, for when all is said and done, there is no denying that Friendship House and Madonna House are definitely pioneers of the lay apostolate in the U.S.A. and Canada. The keeping of this pertinent material is accomplished through archives.

Archives means exactly what it says, namely (in Latin) the preservation of records, correspondence, or documents in evidence of facts. Archives means that such papers, books, pamphlets, photos, or what have you, will remain for posterity as proof—factual proof—that certain historical events (facts) have transpired.

Why do we have archives in the apostolate? Let us consider the matter carefully. In light of the fact that we are pioneers in the lay apostolate, contemporary staff workers—with a little imagination—can easily see how vitally important this piece of paper, this financial transaction, these library cards or master file, may become in 25, 50, or 75 years from now.

Let us suppose that 50 years from now a member of our apostolate is taking a Ph.D. in library science for the needs of the apostolate. If the cards are kept well, she can do her research right at home.

Suppose an interest is aroused in the apostolate 50 years from now as to how many people we have contacted one way or another. Then the master file cards, the donation and cash books of yore, will have their day in the sun again.

Biographies of prominent personalities in the apostolate—Director Generals, Local Directors, priests, as well as staff workers themselves—75 years from now may become a matter of vital importance, even unto canonization, we hope. Then every word written by them will become of vital importance to the apostolate and the Church at large.

Speaking of the Church at large, these archives are also valuable “evidence of facts,” for the Church itself and its institutions of learning. For it is obvious, if one stops to think for a moment, that apostolates are making history day by day, and that they form part of the large, ever-growing history of the Church itself.

It doesn’t take much imagination to understand that records of all types are valuable to that broad outline of Church history, as well as to the narrower outline of the history of our apostolate alongside of other apostolates.

Each head of the various departments must be fully cognizant and responsible for their archives. A place at present is allotted to St. Pete’s attic, clearly marked for each department’s archives. The rural apostolate will keep theirs in St. Clare’s attic.

Since this outline is being sent to all the Missions, we beg the attention of the local directors to this matter of Archives. Let them all survey the situation as it exists in their houses, if need be communicate with their Director General, and clarify exactly what must be kept, what should be thrown away, and start an orderly archive section in their houses. If they have no room for same, in years to come, when we have a storage house, all archives will be stored in Madonna House.

Copyright © 2006 Madonna House Publications.

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