Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 20, 2008
Catholic archivists rethink their roles
By JO-ANNE ALLISON
Special to the WCR
For the first time a meeting of the Catholic Archivist Group was held in western Canada.
The theme, Beyond the Last Frontier: The Future of Religious Archives, encouraged the 60 religious and diocesan archivists to rethink our role as religious archivists.
Discussions about the relevance of religious records as well as the difficulties relating to their physical maintenance were the order of the day.
Workshops focused on how religious archives are functioning now and what they might look like in the future. This is a timely and pertinent topic given the declining numbers of religious in Canada and the often too-small budgets allocated to diocesan archives.
How can religious archives sustain themselves? How can we as religious archivists spread the word about the value of our collections in an increasingly secular world?
In separate break-out sessions during the late-September conference at Providence Renewal Centre, archivists for dioceses and religious congregations wrestled with these questions.
Archivists for religious congregations took part in a discussion about options for planning with Dr. Claude Roberto of the Provincial Archives of Alberta.
Roberto led participants through a process for deciding where records should be placed once a religious order is no longer able to care for them.
Diocesan archivists were challenged in a different direction. Eloi DeGrace, archivist for the Archdiocese of Edmonton, spoke about how to energize the preservation and organization of materials at the parish level.
While the urge to acquire archival materials in a central place is the traditional approach, both workshops shifted attention to the importance of the documents themselves.
In a fast-paced and stimulating follow-up seminar on fundraising given by Theresa Vogel of Victoria we were challenged to reframe our thinking beyond a narrow religious perspective to view the significance of our materials in the larger historical context of the towns and cities in which we live.
The potential opened up by this approach was illustrated by a visit to the Basilian Fathers Museum in rural Mundare, just outside of Edmonton.
In Mundare, the archivists were exposed to the possibilities that exist when religious archival materials are used both as a source of information and as an essential element in storytelling.
The history of the Basilian Fathers is at the heart of Mundare's story and we were fascinated to observe the interplay between Ukrainian culture brought to Alberta by immigrants and the religious traditions of the Basilian Fathers who came to serve this population's spiritual needs.
The fusion of religious and secular enables a rich and multi-faceted recounting of this part of Alberta's history even as it opens up new avenues for a deeper understanding of the Basilian order, which continues to serve the community to the present day.
(Jo-Anne Allison, is archivist for the Diocese of Prince George, B.C.)