By Barb Arland-Fye
My parish’s written history apparently ended in 1994, even though the parish is alive and well in 2009. A four-page chronicle ending with a list of priests who served until 1994 isn’t the sum of who we are.
Special events, activities, projects and milestones of the intervening 15 years are, of course, recorded in our parish council minutes, bulletins and, to a limited extent, parish directories. But who has the patience to page through 15 years of minutes to find out when the parking lot was expanded or the Blessed Virgin Mary statue and garden moved to the south lawn?
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Our Lady of the River Parish (OLOR) in LeClaire, which provides the impetus to update its history. OLOR’s roots extend much deeper than 40 years because it is the product of two mission parishes – one in LeClaire and the other in neighboring Princeton.
Founders of the new parish chronicled fascinating details of the hardships earlier Catholics and their pastors put up with to participate in Mass. Weaving their recollections into an updated history wouldn’t be challenging. It was filling in the details of that 15-year gap between 1994 and the present.
Those of us who’ve been in the parish for some time had to think back to major events, activities or milestones that ought to be included in our updated history. More than a few longtime parishioners received phone calls asking them to recall specific details about projects, people or events that get harder to describe with the passage of time.
The most challenging historical item to track down, so far, was the transplanting of Mary’s garden. After paging through countless parish bulletins from the 1990s to the early 2000s, I began calling people for help. One person referred me to another. It became like a game, a scavenger hunt, with each person leading me to one more tantalizing detail. Finally, I struck the mother lode of information. It came from a parishioner who remembered all but the exact date on which the move occurred. But we had the essence of the project, and that’s what mattered most.
Another invaluable source of information for our history update has been The Catholic Messenger, our weekly, diocesan newspaper. It proves once again the immense value of a diocesan newspaper in capturing the living history of our diocese and the parishes that encompass it.
Through The Catholic Messenger, I learned our church had been built in two stages – first as a parish center and then the church building. Mother Nature lent a hand in the building of the church, after a tremendous storm caused the parish center roof to cave in. The story of how we came to have a metal statue of Jesus in a boat behind the altar also is told in The Catholic Messenger.
Still, other historical happenings — perhaps of more interest to our parishioners than the entire diocese — may have gotten buried in the parish minutes from years past.
History fascinates me because it provides clues to the lived experiences of people at a given time. What can we learn from people of faith who lived years before us? A parish historian would help answer those questions for the parishioners who follow us.