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October is Archives Month

Deacon Bernard Bernier takes part in the opening procession at the April 17, 2008 Papal Mass at Nationals Park, where he assisted Pope Benedict XVI. Deacon Bernier, the longest serving archivist of the Archdiocese of Washington, died in June 2008. (Archdiocese of Washington photo/Paul Fetters)

As October is Archives Month, this week we will spend a little time looking at the history of the Archdiocesan Archives. When the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Archdiocese of Washington separated in 1947, the only archives in Washington were those that had belonged to Auxiliary Bishop John McNamara, who oversaw the District of Columbia for the archbishop of Baltimore. These files mostly related to relationships with houses of religious orders in D.C.  A series of records were transferred to the Archdiocese of Washington in late 1948 and early 1949 from Baltimore and along with Bishop McNamara’s files form the basis of the Archives collections. The records transferred include correspondence with parishes from roughly 1930 to 1940, Notitiae or parish statistical reports beginning around 1880, the deed and property records for all parishes within the newly formed Archdiocese of Washington, and the records of the priests who were stationed in D.C. and became the basis for Washington’s clergy.  

Msgr. Henry Yannone served as archivist for the Archdiocese of Washington from 1970 until his death in 1980.  (Archives photo)

For the next 20 years the archives for the new Archdiocese of Washington was overseen by the chancellor, vice-chancellor and a series of assistants. In 1970, Msgr. Henry J. Yannone was named the first archivist. At the same time, he was appointed the promoter of justice and special auditor of the Archdiocesan Tribunal. Msgr. Yannone was ordained for the Diocese of Rome in 1935 and came to the United States the next year, first serving in New York and later coming to Baltimore. He settled in Washington after 1949 and served at several parishes before being appointed archivist.  He also wrote and translated several books and worked on preparing several Catholic audio recordings. He died in 1980.  

Father Paul Barry began his tenure as archivist in 1982.  He consolidated the archives in the new Archdiocesan Pastoral Center in 1983 and oversaw its original organization and development.  He retired in 1989. (Archives photo)

In 1982, then-Archbishop James Hickey appointed Father Paul Barry, a Marist priest and native of Capitol Heights, Maryland to be the archivist of the Archdiocese of Washington. Father Barry had served two times as archivist and librarian at the Marist headquarters in Rome. But he had also held many other positions for his order including spiritual director, teacher, high school principal, seminary rector and secretary to the Marist Generalate. He returned to Washington in 1972 to care for his ailing mother. He was incardinated into the Archdiocese of Washington in 1973. Before being appointed archivist, he served as the parochial vicar of several parishes and worked for the archdiocesan Tribunal.  Father Barry retired in 1989 and later moved to Carroll Manor. He died in 2013.  

Deacon Bernard Bernier Jr. is probably the best remembered of the archivists of the Archdiocese of Washington because he served 17 years in the position. He was appointed as the new archivist in 1990 after retiring from a 34-year career at the Library of Congress. Bernier had been ordained as a permanent deacon in 1983. In his role as a deacon, Bernier served at St. Bernadette’s and at St. John the Baptist parishes in Silver Spring.  He also served on the Archdiocesan Liturgy Committee, the Commission on Christian Education, and the Marriage Appeal Board before becoming archivist. When he became archivist, he was interested in focusing on the parishes and building up resources in the Archives about the histories of parishes. He retired in 2007 and died in 2008.  

Father George Stuart was appointed archivist for the Archdiocese of Washington in 2008 and held the position for eight years.  He is known for his love and knowledge of the history of the archdiocese and for the great help he gave to all researchers. (Archdiocese of Washington photo)  

In 2008, Father George Stuart was appointed archivist. Like Father Yannone before him, Father Stuart is the promoter of justice within Canonical Services, but he has also served as a judge within the Tribunal and the vice-chancellor while he served as archivist in addition to his duties at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda.   Father Stuart’s main work within the Archives involved inventorying the files of former priests and seminarians. Father Stuart presently serves as the episcopal vicar of canonical services for the archdiocese.  

Though he was not appointed Archivist, we could not forget to mention Msgr. Patrick Dempsey. Msgr Dempsey was assigned to work in the Archives after serving as priest secretary to Cardinal William Baum, the archbishop of Washington from 1973 to 1980 who then served as a Vatican official. Msgr. Dempsey began working in the Archives in the spring of 2016 and retired in December of 2019.  In less than three years he inventoried and cataloged several dozen collections.  

I was hired as archivist in October of 2016. I started my career at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond, Virginia (now the Virginia Museum of History and Culture) and moved to D.C. in 2005 to pursue a Ph.D. in History at American University. In 2015, I co-authored the 175th anniversary history book for my parish, the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.  I endeavor each day to build on the wonderful legacy of those who came before me.  

(Dr. Jacobe serves as the director of the Archives for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington.)