SASKATOON — Fifty-four archivists travelled from across Canada to spend three days at Queen’s House in Saskatoon for the annual conference of their professional organization, the Catholic Archivist Group (CAG), in September.
Participants included the archivists of Roman Catholic dioceses across Canada and archivists for religious congregations, as well as one archivist of a Ukrainian Catholic eparchy and one religious congregation archivist from Wisconsin.
The many beautiful bridges of the host city gave the conference its theme: Catholic Archivists: Building Bridges of Faith and Understanding.
There was much sharing of information, concerns, ideas and stories. In addition to the formal presentations, there were many opportunities for conversations and networking over meals and refreshment breaks, as well as prayer and communal worship in eucharistic liturgies.
Among the conference’s formal sessions was a presentation by Sister Teresita Kambeitz, OSU, about the history of the 61 congregations of women religious that have served in Saskatchewan since 1860.
In another session, Rev. David Tumback and Rosa Gebhardt of the Cathedral of the Holy Family in Saskatoon spoke about dealing with the many sacred items — liturgical vessels, vestments, liturgical books — which are given to archives in conjunction with the closure of churches and convents.
Tumback spoke about what to keep and what not to keep for historical purposes, and reviewed canonical guidelines, while Gebhardt presented ideas for the respectful “repurposing” or “transforming” of beautiful fabrics from no-longer-useful vestments into works of art for the enhancement of liturgical worship spaces.
Another session dealt with the practical aspects of the care of artifacts of various kinds and one presentation offered suggestions and ideas for outreach projects.
Some of the challenges discussed were the need for records management in religious congregations, dioceses and parishes, planning for selective digitization of records and photographs, and the developing of policies for the collection, care and research use of the historical records of dioceses or religious congregations.
An ongoing concern for many of the religious congregation archivists is the need to provide for the future care of their records.
Two examples of collaborative bridge-building were presented — that of a congregation of women religious in Ontario, Our Lady’s Missionaries, which is in the process of placing its historical records and artifacts in the care of a local historical museum and archives, and that of the Diocese of Saskatoon, in which the records of several congregations of women religious, as well as those of the Oblates of the former St. Mary’s Province, are now housed and cared for in the new diocesan archives facility at the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
During their time together, the archivists toured the Western Development Museum and visited the new Cathedral of the Holy Family, where they heard a talk on the stained glass windows, toured the diocesan archives, and gathered in the Queen of Peace chapel for the eucharist, with Bishop Donald Bolen presiding.
Bolen thanked the archivists for their work in caring for the records of the history of the church, following in the footsteps of those unnamed early Christians who gathered and cared for the letters of Paul and others, and the Gospel writings of the early evangelists and their Christian communities, which came to form our New Testament scriptures.
Bolen stressed the many ways God has been revealed to us through faith and tradition. “That is all of our story, repeated in time: God reaches out to us in mercy. And a part of what archivists do — working in the church, or for Christian communities — is to remember those acts of God’s mercy, to be keepers of the memory of mercy.”
The bishop reminded the archivists that their work as keepers and bearers of the memory of mercy is a holy task, that they are “engaged in a holy work, God’s work, evangelizing work.”