Why do we have a diocesan archives?
Stariha, Busch, Dimmerling, Chaput, Cupich, Marty, McCarty, Lawler — Do you recognize these names? Do you remember? Do you know who they are and what years they serviced our diocese? Do you know when Bishop Gruss’ ordinations was? All of these examples remind us of the valuable place archives have and what we do every day to safeguard the records that tell the stories of our history.
Canon Law of the Catholic Church requires each diocese to maintain an archive. “The instruments and writings which refer to both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the diocese” are properly arranged, secured and safeguarded (Canon 486). These must be inventoried and catalogued, and content must be created. Canon 491 states that documents of historical value are to be preserved and systematically arranged and inventories are to be made, in duplicate, of each parish, one to be preserved in the archive of the church and the other in the diocesan archives.
While the bishop and chancellor have the responsibility and/or supervisory task to see that records are properly maintained, the actual task and preservation is often assumed by a trained archivist, especially for the maintenance and preservation of historical records (Canon 482 §3).
Each parish is required to record the important part of parish history. In 1932 the chancery began a collection of each parish and missions annual report of their activities. This practice still continues. From 1948 to 1969, during the years of Bishop McCarty, the parishes were required to submit a record of all baptisms, marriages and funerals conducted. Today, while the reporting of statistics is done slightly different than in years past, annual reports are still organized.
What does an archivist do?
The diocesan archives contain records from each parish along with their respective parish priests. Photos, publications, pictures, artifacts and mementos are safeguarded and preserved according to historical and archival practices. They are accessioned, catalogued with content description and then processed. Negatives, both tin-type and plastic film, 38mm, and larger projector and slide projector film are stored. Tintype negatives and painted negatives, to name a few, are stored according to environmental and humidity regulations according to archival practices. The mediums we use today, such as the DVDs or CDs, are problematic for a long term storage solution, as the computers and machines to read these or transpose them to a readable medium are soon becoming obsolete.
Sacramental records are safeguarded for parishes that are not able to store records for reasons of preservation — such as the “flood books” of 1972. These registers still contain dirt and debris that is preserved in these books along with water damage. Sacramental record books from the early 1800s are kept because old onion skin paper is so brittle it falls apart with minimal handling, not to mention that they are in Latin! We have, since then, scanned these records, creating a working copy for the parish, and the books are thus preserved in their original, scant form, and remain with their respective parishes.
So far, all parishes within our diocese of Rapid City’s sacramental record books have been scanned, cumulating a 5+ year diocesan wide project. This backup of sacramental records is paramount for security in case of a disaster such as flood or fire, in which some of our parishes have found a total loss to their records.
Our archives space is very limited, yet we do our very best to accommodate all research requests for those seeking their sacramental records or genealogical research. All records fall within state and diocesan record retention policies and all other applicable laws such as copyright and management of digital records. Archives are essential to the continued existence of the church, its history, its identity and its legacy, community and sacraments. We are instrumental in contributing to the continuing vitality of the church and its ministry, and an integral tool of keeping the Catholic Church’s history organized and alive for the future.