The Archives Department was created by Bishop Robert E. Tracy within six months of his installation and the newly formed Diocese of Baton Rouge. The diocesan history was just beginning in 1962, but the history of the churches and the people within the diocese began with the arrival of the settlers and the missionaries who ministered to them. Sacraments recorded their lives in the Catholic Church beginning in 1728. Bishop Tracy initiated a “call in” of all the church records dating before 1870 and established the first central housing of diocesan church records in Louisiana. 

The work of the archives for the first 10 to 15 years consisted of translating and abstracting the early records of the church parishes. Many of the sacramental books were in disrepair with pages torn and fragile, causing breaking, fading and loss of information. In an effort to fund the repair of the sacramental registers, the department began to publish the abstracts from these registers and sell the books to individuals, libraries and historical societies for genealogical purposes. Since 1978, the archives has produced more than 27 volumes of “The Diocese of Baton Rouge: Catholic Church Records,” a series that is available for research worldwide.  

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The current archives vault is filled to capacity. The new building will include a vault that is designed to hold over 2000 cubic feet of records and artifacts. Photo provided by the Archives Department of the Diocese 

 

The archives department operated with one part-time archivist and a large volunteer staff until 1999. The department has traditionally relied on the work of volunteers, a program which still continues today. In 2000, work began to expand the role of the archivist to full-time, adding a Records Management program to manage all the records of the diocese. This included developing the policies for record retention, destruction and management. 

Hurricane Katrina proved the extraordinary capabilities of the department when the Diocese of Baton Rouge took over the salvage and remediation of the wet and damaged sacramental registers of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Former archivist Dr. Emilie Gagnet Leumas spearheaded the recovery that went beyond the current standards for wet records. She applied for and received grants to help offset the costs of the effort, earning the diocese the Joseph Cardinal Bernadin Award for an outstanding archives program from the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists. Since then, the archivists of the diocese have been leaders in this national association serving various roles on the board of directors and in educational capacities. 

Since 2005, the archives department has expanded its services to include disaster recovery and developed and implemented policies to protect records in the event of flooding or similar disasters. In recent years, the department has played a key role in assisting with the closure of church parishes and schools. Management of closed school records, including providing transcripts, is handled through the archives. Other work of the department includes partnering with Catholic Life Televison to produce the shows “Roots of Faith” and “Roots of Faith: Ancestry,” workshops on proper record keeping, presentations to local history groups, libraries and schools, and assisting researchers. 

The archives department has been fortunate to partner with the LSU Graduate School of Library and Information Science to develop an internship program for students interested in archival studies. The department was awarded the Community Partner Award by LSU’s College of Human Sciences and Education in 2015 for their continued support and education of future archivists.

After spending nearly 50 years in offices at the Catholic Life Center, a new archives building is underway and due for completion in the spring of 2018. This new building will give the archives department the much-needed space that is vital to continue its mission to identify, protect, preserve and make available for research the historical records of the Catholic Church in this area. 

Richard is assistant archivist for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.