By Ruby Thomas, Record Staff Writer
The Archdiocese of Louisville’s archives include diaries penned in the 1800s by the archdiocese’s first bishop, Benedict Joseph Flaget, and letters written to bishops by religious women who went on to become saints.
While these items, along with photographs, books, paintings, relics and other artifacts are cared for because of their intrinsic value, the archives serve a greater purpose — passing on the Catholic story to future generations.
For the past three decades, two priests have honed and maintained the archives, preserving local Catholic history. Father Dale Cieslik, a pastor, served as archivist and Father Clyde Crews, a professor, served as historian.
This summer, the archdiocese hired a full-time archivist to carry on this work. Tim Tomes, a member of the Cathedral of the Assumption, is the new archivist. And Father Cieslik succeeds Father Crews as historian. After more than 30 years as historian, Father Crews retired in May.
Though new to archdiocesan staff, Tomes is not new to serving the archdiocese or its archives.
Tomes served at the Cathedral Heritage Foundation, now the Center for Interfaith Relations, in the 1990s as a volunteer, intern and a staff member, he said during a recent interview in the Office of the Archives, located in the Maloney Center.
At the Cathedral Heritage Foundation one of Tomes’ responsibilities was to oversee archives and collections that came into the archdiocese, a job he loved, he said.
Tomes also helped Father Cieslik plan and set up the Archdiocesan History Center located in the Patterson Education Center, 424 S. Fifth St. The center, dedicated in 2006, is one of the accomplishments Father Cieslik said he’s most proud of. He likes to think of the center as a “showroom” of local Catholic history.
“It’s the big connector for Tim and I. We worked together there a lot,” said Father Cieslik.
Father Cieslik was appointed archivist in 1994 by the late Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly. It was a role he filled while carrying out his pastoral responsibilities.
Father Cieslik said that back then the archives consisted of two glass cabinets containing items of historical significance. Over the years, however, he’s acquired a great deal more. Artifacts have come from closed parishes, from donations by parishioners and objects he’s collected.
Among those objects are Bishop Flaget’s pocket watch, ring and episcopal seal, which were donated to the archdiocese by two of Bishop Flaget’s great- great- great-nieces in 2003.
Other acquisitions are Archbishop Kelly’s pallium and pins, which are a “sweet treasure,” said Father Cieslik. They are on display at the Archdiocesan History Center.
Collecting antiques is a “passion” and he’s particularly passionate about any objects once belonging to Bishop Flaget, he said.
“All things Flaget are important to me because he’s our founder and I have admiration for all he accomplished,” said Father Cieslik.
The restoration of the log house where Bishop Flaget resided upon his arrival in Bardstown, Ky., in 1811, is a point of pride, too, said Father Cieslik.
“That’s where everything started for the whole Midwest. It’s special that we were able to preserve that,” he said. “We take pride in things that have historical ties to that era.”
The log house, built next to the historic St. Thomas Church, is now a museum.
Father Cieslik said he’s looking forward to this next step as historian.
“I’m honored partly because of the person I’m following. I’m excited to have that title and I’ll try to stay worthy of it through service,” said Father Cieslik. “Just as important to me is that Tim is full-time. That’s an accomplishment.”
Father Cieslik said he looks forward to continue serving with Tomes. The work they do “honors the people of our past and preserves the Catholic story for future generations,” he said.
Tomes said he always had a love for history. His particular interest in Kentucky’s Catholic history was piqued when he was giving tours of the Cathedral of the Assumption as a volunteer at The Cathedral Heritage Foundation. Tomes grew up at Holy Family Church in New Albany, Ind., so he didn’t know much about Catholic history in Kentucky, he said.
Since then he said he’s grown to love the local Catholic history.
“I find the Kentucky Holy Land fascinating. That they (the area’s first Catholics) were able to persevere and accomplish so much is mind-boggling,” said Tomes.
“We have a rich history that deserves to be recorded, protected and shared,” said Tomes. “That’s the job of the archivist.”
Tomes noted that it’s important that what’s in the archives be shared.
“It’s no good if it’s sitting on a shelf. The value comes from sharing it,” said Tomes. He plans on doing this in part through the archdiocese’s history center.
One of the big projects Tomes plans is the digital preservation of the papers in the archives.
He will also work to bring more attention to the history center by increasing tours and looking at ways the space can be used by people in the community.
Father Crews — who has served as Bellarmine University’s historian for 12 years — said he is happy with Tomes’ appointment as full-time archivist. It shows, he said, that the care of the archives is “becoming a more official and organized endeavor and that’s great,” said Father Crews.
When he was appointed historian by Archbishop Kelly in 1984, it was a “low-key unofficial” position, said Father Crews. His work as historian entailed research and writing. Father Crews is the author of several books on local history, including “An American Holy Land,”
“The Faithful Image” and “Faith and Mission,” which chronicled the history of each parish in the archdiocese.
Father Crews said the Archdiocese of Louisville plays an important role in the “larger picture of American Catholicism.”
“So much of Catholic identity in this part of the country was shaped from the Holy Land,” said Father Crews.
For this reason, preserving the archdiocese’s history through the archives is an important job.
“We are the oldest diocese in the middle of the country. So many dioceses were formed out of this one here in Kentucky,” said Father Crews.
“Eight of Bishop Flaget’s priests became bishops around the country.”
Father Crews added that with Tomes as full-time archivist, he will help set the standard for what other archdiocesan offices should collect and save as well how to preserve items.