BPL exhibit focuses on archdiocese’s 200 years of good works

The Bicentennial Anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston has been a grand affair marked by a Mass with Pope Benedict XVI in New York, a Proud 2B Catholic concert in Framingham Aug. 9 and now an exhibition at the Boston Public Library (BPL). The exhibit, which focuses on the history of the archdiocese as told through artifacts, photographs, books, art and articles, will run until Sept. 30.

The materials on display are from collections at the BPL, the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston and from private collections belonging to a number of parishes and religious orders. Some highlights of the display include Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick’s journal, which contains his personal account of the burning of the Ursuline Convent in 1834, and an early volume of The Jesuit, the Catholic newspaper launched by Bishop Fenwick which would later be renamed The Pilot.

Also on display is a marriage certificate for Don Juan Stoughton, Spanish Consul in Boston, which was witnessed by John Hancock and bears his signature. There is also a list of donors who contributed to the construction of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, and it includes the name of former president John Adams. Cardinal Humberto Medeiros’ hat and elaborate vestments are also on display.

Discussions for the exhibition began in December 2007 and planning continued right up until it opened July 1. Materials for the display were chosen and collected by staff from the BPL research departments and the archdiocesan archive department and Bicentennial Committee. Members of the Bicentennial Committee, including Robert Johnson-Lally, archdiocesan archivist; Mary Ann McLaughlin, co-director of the Office of Worship and Spiritual Life; and Father Robert Connors, pastor of St. Margeurite d’Youville Parish in Dracut, were involved in selecting articles for the exhibition.

Along with parishes and other institutions, the archdiocesan archives office supplied much of the materials in the exhibition. Because the office was one of the first to move to the new Pastoral Center in Braintree, photographs and other artifacts had to be picked out of boxes before they were moved.

“In some instances, I had to catch things before they went on the moving truck and deliver it to the library,” said Johnson-Lally. However, he said that the exhibition was well worth the extra effort.

“A lot of these pieces don’t get exhibited often so it’s an opportunity for people to see things that aren’t normally seen,” he explained. “We had to identify those pieces and make connection with history the 200-year history of the archdiocese and make sure the items and documents spoke to that history.”

Once the BPL was secured as the site, the work organizing the final exhibit began.

One of the roles of the BPL is to highlight and promote understanding and knowledge of local organizations, said Marta Pardee-King, who works at the library and helped to organize the event.

“It was decided that, rather than a history of the archdiocese, the exhibition would emphasize the good works that the institution has performed in the state since its founding and the extent to which the Archdiocese of Boston has been a part of the community,” explained Pardee-King. ‘‘A secondary objective was to present to people the wide range of materials that are available to citizens in both the Boston Public Library and archdiocesan collections.”

Johnson-Lally agreed and said he wants visitors to the exhibit to see the scope of the archdiocese’s involvement in the city. “I hope they realize that there is a whole 200 years of history in the archdiocese and that they can get beyond thinking about the events of the past few years and realize that the archdiocese has 200 years of some remarkable achievements.”

There will also be two lectures as part of the exhibition. Boston College Professor Thomas O’Connor will give a lecture called “Pastoral Profiles of the Bishops of Boston” on Sept. 10 and Johnson-Lally will present his lecture, “Researching Church Records for Family History,” on Sept. 24. Both lectures begin at 6:30 p.m.

“One of the mainstays of the research that gets done in the archives office is genealogy and family history using records of baptism, marriage and death,” explained Johnson-Lally. “People use these records all the time and I have done presentations to groups who are interested in knowing how to use them and what they can expect to find or not find.”

The exhibition is housed in the Cheverus Room and Chavannes Gallery of the BPL’s McKim Building in Copley Square. The Cheverus Room was named after Cardinal Jean-Louis Lefebvre Cheverus, the first bishop of Boston. The exhibition may be toured during normal library hours: Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, contact the BPL at 617-536-5400.