The new diocesan archivist Claire Jenkins is preserving the rich history of the Fort Worth Diocese

Nicki Prevou

Correspondent

North Texas Catholic

Claire Jenkins is in her element. The soft-spoken archivist is thoroughly enjoying what she laughingly refers to as “excavation work” in the historical files maintained by the Diocese of Fort Worth. Aided by administrative assistant Sarah Ignacio, Jenkins digs with enthusiasm into dusty file folders, pulls long-undisturbed notebooks from ancient boxes, and excitedly peruses the pages of decades-old scrapbooks.

Items in the diocesan archives include photos such as these of Holy Rosary Church in Cisco. The parish was established as a mission in 1920, and was renovated in 1955. Archives show "before and after" photos and correspondence following the extensive renovations. (Photos by Sara Ignacio)

She also points out the well-maintained files that have been carefully kept for each parish within the diocese. “Just look at this,” she marvels, as she gently handles the correspondence, deeds, architectural drawings, and photographs that chronicle the history, from inception to mid-century renovations, of one rural faith community. “Isn’t this amazing?” she murmurs, over and over again, with a true historian’s reverence for long-forgotten details.

As director of the diocesan Department of Records Management and Archives, Jenkins is charged with the numerous responsibilities of overseeing the management of all diocesan and parochial records, while also assisting with the collection and preservation of items that are connected to the history of the diocese.

The certified archivist, previously on staff at the University of Texas at Arlington Library Special Collection, was hired in August 2011, and the diocesan Department of Records Management and Archives was thus formally established, said Peter Flynn, diocesan Vice-Chancellor for Administrative Services.

“The creation of this department has been a goal for many years,” explained Flynn. “With the help of the top expert in this field, we began the process of evaluating our present record keeping practices and identifying needs for the future, realizing that in today’s world, the proper management of electronic records is absolutely critical. We were fortunate to be able to hire Claire and to begin the implementation of a comprehensive program.”

The “top expert,” consultant John “Jac” Treanor, who serves as Vice-Chancellor for Archives and Records for the Archdiocese of Chicago, began meeting with then-Bishop Kevin Vann and with Flynn in 2009. “We were methodical in identifying key projects and priorities and then in creating a plan of action,” recalled Treanor. “The Diocese of Fort Worth has done an excellent job of moving forward with this initiative. And, in hiring Claire to head this new department, the diocese has found exactly the right person, with the necessary skills and leadership ability.”

One of the most significant accomplishments of the department has been to purchase and then to begin training diocesan employees in the use of a sophisticated electronic records management tool, HP TRIM, through which general, historical, and restricted access records and archives are now beginning to be managed. Jenkins and Ignacio, who was hired in March 2012, have made individual and group training sessions a priority, as Catholic Center staff members become accustomed to a new method of archiving emails, documents, photographs, and correspondence.

While busy with multiple issues related to effective records management, Jenkins has also devoted time to meeting with Kay Fialho, the historian and archivist at St. Patrick Cathedral, and with Sister Louise Smith, the historian and archivist for the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur (SSMN). Steve Landregan, director of Archives for the Diocese of Dallas, and Joyce Higgins, associate archivist for the Diocese of Dallas, have also offered valuable assistance on several occasions, said Jenkins, noting the joined history of the Fort Worth and Dallas dioceses, which split into two separate entities in 1969.

“Our department has benefited so much from all of these very collaborative relationships,” she reflected. “The documented history of our diocese can be found in several different locations, including the cathedral archives, in the [SSMN] Sisters’ history, and, of course, in the archives maintained by the Diocese of Dallas. We can’t have a comprehensive sense of our rich history without putting together all of these pieces, and it’s truly a fascinating process.”

A favorite aspect of Jenkins’ work is the assistance that she gives to parishes that are establishing their own archives, she added. Brenda Kostohryz Witherspoon, a longtime parishioner at St. Andrew Church in Fort Worth, volunteered to organize the photographs, documents, parish bulletins, and other items related to the history of the parish. She was “thrilled,” said Witherspoon, when St. Andrew pastor, Father Tom Stabile, TOR, asked Jenkins to step in with expert advice.

“Fortunately, a lot of preservation work had already been done by a parishioner who is a professional archivist, but I had a lot of questions about what to save, what to throw away, and the supplies that we needed in order to store things properly,” said Witherspoon. Treasures within the collection include the parish’s first bulletin from August, 1953, and an inventory of all items in the parish’s first rectory, she explained.

“This kind of work is very meaningful to me, because I love our parish, and I have been here since my family came to Fort Worth in 1955,” said Witherspoon. “Claire really understands how important this project is to us. She came to meet with us and asked us questions, listened to us, and then printed up a very specific list of suggestions. We know that she will help us if we get stuck and need more advice. She’s a great resource for any parish trying to preserve its history.”

When back in her office at the diocesan Catholic Center, a typical work day for Jenkins might include answering a caller’s questions about records from a now-closed parish or school, preparing a presentation for the Archives and Records Advisory Board, writing an article for a professional publication, overseeing the transport of inactive records to a secure offsite storage facility, or assisting a diocesan staff member with questions about the new records retention schedule.

On other days, Jenkins might be immersed in creating inventories of historical items. Recalling some of her favorite finds, she noted the discovery of a box of school papers, coursework from his years at the Theological College seminary in Washington, D.C., belonging to the late Bishop Joseph Delaney, who served as bishop of Fort Worth from 1981 until his death in 2005.

“You can tell that Bishop Delaney was a very scholarly man, with a very logical, orderly mind,” said Jenkins. “He received very high marks, and it’s obvious to see from his writings that he was brilliant. Even his doodles were very precise.”

Jenkins pointed out that such items are meaningful pieces of the story of the Catholic Church in North Texas, and that every faith community has the responsibility of preserving their own invaluable elements of that story. “I want to let the people of the diocese know that we’re here to help with any questions or needs that come up in this area,” she says. “We look forward to being of service.”

For more information about services and information available through the diocesan Department of Records Management and Archives, call 817-560-3300, ext. 188.

Claire Jenkins is in her element. The soft-spoken archivist is thoroughly enjoying what she laughingly refers to as “excavation work” in the historical files maintained by the Diocese of Fort Worth. Aided by administrative assistant Sarah Ignacio, Jenkins digs with enthusiasm into dusty file folders, pulls long-undisturbed notebooks from ancient boxes, and excitedly peruses the pages of decades-old scrapbooks.

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