Preserving the past

Father Joseph Scardella to speak at Society of Parish Historians’ upcoming meeting
By claudia mathis / SUN staff writer

Ed Long, president of the Society of Parish Historians, is looking forward to Sept. 15. On that day, the Society will hold its fall meeting at Historic Old St. John’s Church in Utica. Long has opened the meeting to all pastors and parishioners. At the meeting, Father Joseph Scardella, director of the Office of Ministerial Formation and Liturgy and RCIA, will be explaining the procedure of preserving the liturgical items of a church when it closes. The title of Father Scardella’s presentation is “Diocesan Procedures at the time of Parish Closings.”

“I think it’s a fascinating process and it will be described by a great speaker,” said Long. “It’s a story about the care that the diocese takes to assure that all sacred objects are preserved and removed before the church is closed. It would be helpful to all. The Society of Parish Historians would like to be of service to pastors, parish historians or administrators of parishes that are going through closings to help them preserve their parish heritage for future generations and researchers in our archives.”

Sister Katie Eiffe, CSJ, diocesan Director of Religious Education, will be a special guest at the meeting. Her father, George Eiffe, was a founding member and the first president of the Society.

The Society of Parish Historians has been quietly dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich history of parishes since 1985 when Bishop Frank Harrison approved the establishment of the organization. The group of 71 members works in close collaboration with Diocesan Archivist Carl Roesch. He and his volunteers gather and catalog all the items sent to the archives which is located in the Chancery. Since 1983, Roesch has been maintaining archival collections of information and materials of historical value for the diocese and parishes.

The Society meets once in the spring and then again in the fall at one of the parishes in the diocese. Talks and displays about how to gather, preserve and record parish histories are given at the meetings.

Father Scardella said that to date, eight parishes have utilized the diocesan process of preserving their sacred items. And presently, St. Peter’s Mission in Split Rock is merging with St. Michael’s Parish in Syracuse and is going through the process of determining what to do with their sacred vessels, relics, and other articles.

“In some cases the parish decides to donate certain items,” said Father Scardella. “For example, St. George in Utica donated things to certain churches in Nigeria.” Father Scardella said that the diocese doesn’t want the sacred articles to be disbursed to individual homes or to be sold to other establishments for the public’s use.

Father Scardella explained how when a church closes, he and diocesan director of Risk Management, James Merrill, assist a parish in determining what to do with the sacramental items of the church. “We meet with the pastor or his representative and we take an inventory of all the sacred items,” he said. “We listen to their concerns about what will be sent to the church that they are merging with. We also talk about the artifacts that need to be removed and then sent to the merged church. We also ask if they’ve thought about bringing their statutes to the merged parish — like St. Pat’s in Williamstown did with St. John the Evangelist in Camden.”

When he speaks at the Society’s meeting in September, Father Scardella is hoping to ease any anxiety that parishioners might have about items that have been donated to the church which they fear would be destroyed or thrown away. He advises parishioners to begin thinking about how to dispose of the sacramental items in their churches when they learn that their church will be closing.

In addition to Father Scardella’s presentation, the meeting will also feature a tour of St. John’s Church and grotto by St. John’s historian, Ray Schultz. The meeting will conclude with lunch at Alee’s Restaurant and the nomination of officers for the spring 2008 election.

For more information about the Society of Parish Historians and/or to register for the meeting, contact Ed Long at (315) 457-3900 or email him at

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