Archives building  dedicated 

By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

The Diocese of Baton Rouge stepped into the future to preserve the past with the dedication of a new archives building that will house records reaching back some 300 years. 

 

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Bishop Robert W. Muench is all smiles as he blesses the new archives building on July 27. Judicial vicar Father Paul Counce is assisting the bishop. Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

Bishop Robert W. Muench on July 27 blessed the 8,000-square foot building located at the rear of the Catholic Life Center campus. 

“Today, you, we and the church in and out of Baton Rouge make history,” said Bishop Muench, who through the years has made no secret that one of his priorities was the construction of a state-of-the-art archives building. The dedication comes only weeks before Bishop-designate Michael G. Duca is installed as the sixth bishop for the diocese. 

“Our archives department keeps records of our history that is always on the move, changing to new circumstances with new people, not all new, but as progress from one stage to another, in our call to eternal life,” the bishop added. “So today is a day of celebration.”

The building, which has been in the planning stages since 2003, houses two records storage areas new including a temperature and humidity control inner vault that can house more than 2,000 cubic feet of materials, according to diocesan archivist Ann Boltin. She said the vault, located at the center of the building and surrounded by concrete on all sides with a gas fire suppression system, will house the diocese’s most fragile records and materials. 

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Catholic Life Center employees and others gathered as Bishop Robert W. Muench blessed the new archives building on July 27.

 

The building also has a large conference room and library where researchers will be able to work. 

“Today is a great day for archives,” Boltin said during the opening ceremony. “It is a great day for the history and heritage of the people of Louisiana.” 

“We’re keepers of the past, illuminators of the forgotten, the discoverers of the treasures of the information that lies within the records,” she added. “The preservation safeguarding of the sacramental lives of the faithful falls to us. We take great pride in ensuring these lives are not forgotten, that they live on in the hearts and the minds of the thousands of ancestors who are still looking for them through genealogy and scholarly research.” 

The diocesan archives collection consists of more than 550 sacramental registers dating to 1707 with the Acadians. Those records are reportedly the only known church records to survive the Le Grand Derangement when the British expelled the Acadians from Nova Scotia. 

Many of these records came with the Acadians who settled in the St. Gabriel area and built a church. 

The earliest church registers date to 1728 from St. Francis Church in Pointe Coupee. 

The collection also consists of bishops’ records, photographs, microfilm, memorabilia, liturgical and sacred items and records of parishes, schools and Catholic organizations. 

“It’s not just the building but it’s the records that are being housed in this building; that’s what is important,” Boltin said in an interview with The Catholic Commentator. “Our records are woven into the fabric of the history of the people of Louisiana, You can’t tell one story without telling another story.” 

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Days before the blessing of the new building, associate archivist Amy Jones, left, and assistant archivist Renee Richard had help hanging artwork and maps. Assisting in the process were assistant maintenance supervisor Tommie Henry, and staff member next to Richard, Gerald McCray. 

 

She said the records include not only the Acadians, but also groups from France, Germany, Britain and the Canary Islands. She said those people all brought their faith, and those records are in the archives registers. 

“These are records of art, love, war and plague,” said Boltin, who explained sacramental records include those of baptism, confirmation, ordination, marriage and burial. “Everything will now be in one place under one roof.”

Boltin admitted there were times when she had doubts about the building becoming reality, because of some setbacks, including zoning issues with the city of Baton Rouge. But she said Bishop Muench “never lost confidence in anything, he never had doubts that it was going to happen. 

“Without him the project never would have developed. He has been the guiding force behind all of this and we are immensely grateful to him for everything.” 

Bishop Muench even admitted there were naysayers. 

“This day has been anticipated for a long time,” he said. “God is good and we come to celebrate the work that has been accomplished, in the assembling of funds, in the creation of design and in the formation of that design being made whole.” 

Bolton said the dedication was the culmination of everything that has been worked for. She said she and her staff were still in disbelief that “we are actually going to get to work in this beautiful place. 

“It’s like you are molding your own piece of art out of clay.” 

From early returns, the art is a masterpiece.

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Bishop Muench smiles during the dedication as archivist Ann Boltin looks on with a smile of her own