By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — What are “Archives”? Shelves of dusty papers, records and other stupefying articles? If you venture into the Archives of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, expecting shelves of dusty records, prepare to be startled, even a little awed.
Three full walls boast photos and paintings of parish churches, portraits of bishops and priests and some organizations. This diocese has a rich history, producing numerous bishops and three Cardinals, including William W. Baum, John J. Glennon and John P. Cody.
Six double bookcases are loaded with books, files of parish and school publications and correspondence, bound marriage records, bound copies of the diocesan newspaper, old books and more. Several shelves hold artifacts from the northwest Missouri Church’s earliest years, including a traveling Mass kit belonging to Father John J. Hogan before he became the founding Bishop of the Diocese of St. Joseph in 1868, and a remnant of the log cabin church built in the 1830s on the site of today’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
Scattered tantalizingly around are a large painting of St. Francis of Assisi, a framed banner of an unknown prelate’s coat of arms dating back to the 18th century and other artifacts.
Diocesan Archivist Zachary Daughtrey can usually point a visitor toward an artifact or a particular record or knows where to find it. Daughtrey holds a Doctorate in History from Oklahoma State University, and has Master’s level archival and museum training. He and his assistant Tara Harris work as a team. Harris holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Rockhurst University. Currently they are inventorying, and cataloguing what Daughtrey describes as “the collective memory of the diocese. “
That collective memory includes parish sacramental records, invaluable to those researching their genealogy or in need of records for school, future sacraments, including Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders, even annulments. There are also records of religious orders that have served in the diocese since 1866.
A room full of file cabinets and shelves houses those records. Under Canon Law, Daughtery said, records, liturgical and historical items of closed parishes and institutions revert to the diocese for retention, reuse or disposal unless the closed parish is absorbed by another parish (for example, in 1990 Assumption, St. Francis Seraph and St. John the Baptist parishes were consolidated into St. Anthony of Padua Parish at the Assumption site; all parish records are at St. Anthony. When St. John’s Minor Seminary in Kansas City closed in 1983, its records and fixtures were transferred to the diocese). Records and historical items are kept in Archives while sacred objects, including altar stones and relics, are kept by the Office of Reclamation.
When a request is made for a particular record, either Daughtrey or Harris retrieves it. They plan to develop a permanent check-out system as well as to digitize the records to protect them and make them more accessible.
The collective memory — parishes, religious orders and institutions, schools, and the men and women, both clerical and laity, that over the course of nearly two centuries witnessed the flowering of Catholicism in Northwest Missouri — has countless stories. The Chouteaus, the French fur trappers and Jesuit missionaries brought their faith and traditions to the great curve of the Missouri River and further northwest. Kansas City grew out of Pierre and Berenice Chouteau’s settlement at the curve; St. Joseph was founded by French trapper Joseph Rubidoux 60 miles upriver. Mention names like Fathers Pierre de Smet, S.J., Bernard Donnelly, Benedict Roux or, Bishop John J. Hogan to Daughtery or Harris and it’s story time — enthralling stories. Open a book of marriage records from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and trace a family, perhaps your own. Peruse the Manual of the Catholic Faith to learn how Catholics practiced their faith prior to Vatican II and see that while some things changed, others didn’t. Or….
Daughtery and Harris hosted a presentation Nov. 2 on the Archives to the Chancery staff, to introduce it. Staff members were able to see and, in many cases touch, the treasures. Each one had a story.
German Bible — found in a drawer of a table purchased from an antique shop in Lexington, by diocesan Youth Ministry director Michael Nations and his wife, who donated it to the Archives.
Framed banner — was hiding behind the door to the records room. A label on the back of the frame is from a French company that is still in operation. The framing may be due to some deterioration of the banner’s fibers. Daughtery believes it to be late 17th or early 18th century, possibly French or Spanish, and that the bishop it honored was located near water as there are wavy blue lines that in heraldry symbolize water.
Bishop Hogan’s chalice — When he became the founding bishop of the Diocese of St. Joseph in 1868 and then of Kansas City in 1880, travel was involved in reaching far-flung communities. So he carried his Mass kit when he traveled. The silver chalice is engraved with his name.
Coptic Bible — On Nov. 1, Daughtery stumbled upon a small item tightly wrapped in plastic on a shelf as he was preparing for the Archives presentation the following day. He and Tara Harris carefully unwrapped it and discovered a book handwritten in an unknown language. Fortunately, accompanying the book was a letter from Benedictine Father Aiden McSorley, Special Collections librarian at Conception Abbey dated June 6, 2013, appraising the book. In part his letter says, “… liturgical book from Cairo, Egypt … The book has … one-hundred and two pages handwritten on parchment in the Ge’ez language. This is a liturgical language used by the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. …The book is … bound in a typical Coptic knotting. With apparent damage from water it has retained full ink transcription including black and red characters. … More research will help to understand the history and value of this book. My judgment leans to dating it from the 14th century.” Daughtery told The Key that spoken Ge’ez is an extinct language, used only in certain Ethiopian liturgies. “This Bible is our prized possession,” he said.
Three first-class relics, skin fragments from Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton, Maria Goretti and Pope Pius X, given to the diocese by the late Bishop Raymond Boland.
Papal Bulls — assigning bishops Edwin V. O’Hara, Charles Helmsing, John J. Sullivan and Raymond Boland to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Bulls are formal, signed notifications. Each one has a metal seal (bulla) attached to it with red or yellow silk ribbons laced through the vellum. The term bulla comes from the Latin bullire, to boil. The seal, whether gold, lead or wax, had to be heated to soften it enough to take an impression of the pope’s name and images of saints Peter and Paul.
Cross — constructed of wood from a tree on the grounds of St. Francis Xavier Church in Kansas City. The tree was struck by lightning some years ago and parishioner, photographer and first diocesan archivist, John Ratterman collected pieces of the wood to fashion crosses. Carpenters nails formed the corpi. He made 50 – 100 such crosses over the years. Ratterman died in 2007.
Altar — complete with altar furnishings and a doll with vestments, clothing worn under vestments, shoes, and a tabernacle with paten and altar cloths. All were handmade. Two brothers notified Father Ken Riley that they were in possession of the altar which dates to before Vatican II. It has pride of place in the records room, and Harris said she changes the doll’s vestments regularly.
Other treasures include Bishop Lillis’ throne, currently disassembled because of its height; pre- World War II German stock certificates owned by Msgr. William Keuenhof, works of art and correspondence. Harris said, “It’s astounding, the generosity of people donating personal objects that have value to the Archives. They trust we will preserve and care for them.” She added that Father Coleman, Archivist from 1983-2015, willingly accepted donations; “That’s why the Archives has an embarrassment of historical riches.”
Daughtery said, “Early priests’ files give insights on their priesthood, their bishop and their emotions. You can see their perseverance and dedication to their community. There was no ethnic tension. ‘These people are mine. I was assigned to bring them the sacraments.’ Some of the priests back then you’ve read about, like Pierre de Smet. But here’s a letter to Bishop Joseph Rosatti, there’s his signature! Our diocesan history comes alive. These were real people!”
Daughtery and Harris have two works in progress. Daughtery believes the Archive’s treasures should not be hidden away, but accessible to those wishing to see them. He and Harris are working with Deacon Ralph Wehner, Director of the Office of Sacred Worship, to develop a permanent display in the hallway between Archives and the Office of Sacred Worship on the Chancery’s fifth floor. The exhibit will contain sacred historical items, the relics, books and items attesting to the creativity and imagination of this diocese’s people, including the cross and the Pre-Vatican II altar and doll. All items in the exhibit will be protected from moisture, UV rays and heat, which could damage them.
To promote parish and institutional record keeping, Daughtery has written a handbook on proper recording and preserving of sacramental records. In January 2017, Archives is hosting a diocesan-wide seminar on sacramental records for priests, parish secretaries and anyone interested in sacramental record keeping.
Harris praised good recordkeeping. “Parish sacramental records done right for decades — neatly and completely filled in — can give perfect snapshots of people’s lives: their names, their parents, grandparents and godparents, birth and baptismal dates, even First Communions and marriages. It is critical to complete sacramental records,” she said. “Future generations will thank you!”
To contact Archives, email firstname.lastname@example.org.