Basilica archive committee seeks sacred artifacts

Published 11:40 am Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Archive Committee of St. Mary Basilica in Natchez is completing an inventory of documents (including a set of Bishop Richard Gerow’s card file), letters, deeds, records and photographs in the archives of the Basilica. Partial records of the history of St. Mary Basilica are being added to with assistance from the Jackson Diocesan Archives, the Notre Dame Archives, newspapers, and the Archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

The archive space at St. Mary served as the diocesan archives until 1948 for the Diocese of Natchez, later known as the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson.

During the past two years the committee has studied Pope John Paul’s letters and directives on the preservation of sacred objects and religious artifacts for the purpose of evangelization.

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The members have familiarized themselves with the work of the pontifical commission for the cultural heritage of the church and the pastoral function of ecclesiastical museums. The committee members are Jimmy Guercio, Mary Eidt, Betsy Holleman, Michael Murphy, Patricia Murphy, and Gayle Guido-Jones

“We have completed an inventory of the sacred vessels and artifacts — chalices, a monstrance and crucifixes from the 19th and early 20th centuries — at St. Mary Basilica,” Jimmy Guercio, chairman of the committee, said. “

We have sponsored two public exhibits of these to help people understand and appreciate the Catholic heritage. Our goal is to set up a museum to exhibit these as a means of evangelization and of faith formation.

“Catholic parishes and individual families throughout the diocese can help us,” Guercio added.

“We are asking each parish that has any sacred object or religious art of historic value that is not being used to consider donating this for use in the Basilica museum. Often these may be stored in church basements or attics and may get misplaced or lost or stolen. Over the years, individual families also may have acquired religious objects or artifacts with a historic value and may be willing to donate these for the purpose of preservation and evangelization.

“The historical value of sacred objects or religious art may derive from their age, the quality or material in their structure, the importance of the church where they were used or the significance of the person with whom they were associated,” Guercio explained.

The artifacts sought can include special objects of devotion such as crucifixes, statues, vestments, medallions, objects used in religious ceremonies, and objects used or associated with former bishops and churches, historical papers, and books.

The original committee, called the Sacred Objects committee, was founded in January 2005, when the Rev. David O’Connor, pastor of St. Mary Basilica, asked Guercio, a retired antique furniture dealer and appraiser, to make an inventory and appraisal of the sacred vessels stored in the church’s archives.

“Inspired by the letters and instructions of Pope John Paul II, on the preservation of sacred objects, religious artifacts, and art-historical patrimony that is no longer in use,” the Rev. O’Connor said.

“This group has grown to see their work as having an evangelization thrust which will not be limited only to those who visit Natchez but which can be taken on tour to interested parishes.”

During the past two years, the committee has compiled detailed information on the 19th century bishops of the diocese.

Bulletins for the past twenty years are bound in book form, scrapbooks are maintained, and personal letters from the early bishops are archived. A study is underway to computerize the parish’s sacramental records.

Fifteen years ago, a two-volume history on the parish was published, and recently a 48-page pictorial booklet has been published.

Further information is available from the parish office 601 445-5616.

The committee asks that no religious artifacts be sent without the completion of prescribed acquisition forms.