Treasures galore in Church archives

By Matthew Biddle 

DENIS Connor might just be the happiest Catholic in Canberra when the administrative offices of the Archdiocese move to Manuka in 2017.

The move will enable the Archdiocesan archivist to bring together various items of historical importance into one location for the first time since the collection of archives began.

Currently, items are stored in several locations around the Archdiocese, limiting their accessibility, Mr Connor said.

“We don’t have one main storage area,” he said. “But the plan is that we’ll have everything in the one spot at Manuka. We’ll have an archivist office, an archivist work area, and a reading room facility so people can come in and use the collection.”

A professional archivist, Mr Connor worked at the National Archives of Australia for more than 30 years, before agreeing to a part-time role with the Archdiocese three years ago.

“I’ve always had a love of Australian history, right from my school days,” he said.

“This is a very different collection to a Commonwealth Government collection and I’m learning all the time. I have a passion to make sure that the records are safely kept and looked after.”

The collection of archives includes letters written by the first Bishop of Goulburn William Lanigan and his successor John Gallagher, various records, documents, and a number of historical objects.

“We’re very lucky, we’ve got quite a good administrative collection,” Mr Connor said.

“We’ve also got framed photographs, we’ve got statues, there are some collections of vestments, and there are portable Mass kits which priests would have had when they travelled on horseback in the early days.”

With items dating back to the mid-1800s, Mr Connor said the archives were an important reminder of the history of the Church in the region.

“It’s the memory of the Archdiocese and the former Diocese of Goulburn, and that’s what archives are all about really,” he said.

“From a more strict business notion, it’s also the evidence of the legal existence of the Archdiocese, the evidence of the way it’s conducted itself.”

Although every item in the archives is unique and important, Mr Connor said some individuals owned particularly significant items.

“One of the really important, valuable collections for this Archdiocese that’s coming into our custody is the research collection of Fr Brian Maher,” he said.

“As he’s ready, he’s passing us his research notes and his publications from the great work that he’s done… we regard that as a really valuable and important reference resource for this Archdiocese.”

In June Mr Connor and Archdiocesan Chancellor Fr Julian Wellspring attended the national gathering of Catholic Diocesan archivists in Sydney.

The group meets each year to promote contact and support among the archivists, giving them a chance to share ideas with those doing similar work.

Fr Julian said that at this year’s meeting, the idea of making the feast day of St Lawrence – August 10 – a ‘Diocesan Archives Day’ was proposed.

“St Lawrence was responsible for looking after the temporal goods of the Church and the archives are a part of that, so he’s been regarded as the patron of archivists for some years,” he said.

According to tradition, St Lawrence, a third-century martyr, was responsible for the written archives and records of the early Church.