Joint effort puts archives under one roof

5 October 2019 • Persistent link:

Two dioceses in eastern Ontario — one Catholic and one Anglican — along with two religious orders are in talks to share one facility for all four entities’ archival records.

It’s a project that some involved hope sets a precedent for future sharing between different faiths that are seeing declining numbers.

“We hope this project will be trendsetting as an ecumenical archives project that relies heavily on partnerships of like-minded institutions,” said Veronica Stienburg, archivist for the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston, Ont.

The project would see the archives of the Archdiocese of Kingston, the Sisters of Providence, the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph and the Anglican Diocese of Ontario all moved into the closed Church of the Good Thief in Portsmouth Village area of Kingston. The church was closed by the archdiocese in 2013 due to the deteriorating condition of the building and a lack of clergy to staff it. The archdiocese wants to keep the building however, which was added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places in 2008. It has a heritage property designation from the City of Kingston and is protected by an Ontario Trust heritage easement. Readers of The Catholic Register may also remember it from the columns of the late Msgr. Thomas Raby, who was pastor there late in his life.

“It was very important to the Archdiocese of Kingston that they keep ownership of the church building and repurpose it in a respectful manner,” said Stienburg.

It will be called St. Dismas Archives at the Church of the Good Thief and will have a website up and running within the next few weeks.

“We wanted an ecumenical name that reflects the history of the building while respecting the religious nature of the various archives it will house and respecting the ties the community has to the church,” she said.

This historic building dates back to 1892 when construction began and was completed in 1894. Its limestone was quarried, cut and carried to the site by convict labour from nearby Kingston Penitentiary.

Discussions began in 2014 regarding converting the church into an archive, and the Archives Project Team, of which Stienburg is a member, was created in 2015. The archdiocese’s records are currently stored in several different locations. It soon found the archdiocese was not the only religious organization seeking an archive, as the Religious Hospitallers have been in temporary space and the Sisters of Providence archive will soon be looking for a permanent home as the motherhouse property is developed into Providence Village. The Anglican diocese also expressed interest in getting involved after it sold its Diocesan Centre in 2016

The team also determined it would need to sell off the rectory and surrounding land to fund the project, said Stienburg. The rectory and surrounding land were severed in 2017 and sold a year ago to Zalcho Construction for residential development. Zalcho has been working with the archdiocese to maintain one vision made up of two separate enterprises in a park-like setting that will respect the heritage of the site while also breathing new life into it.

Plans call for all four archives to be combined in a renovated Church of the Good Thief, which will need extensive work done on its exterior and a redesigned, climate-controlled interior. That work has been contracted to Terry White of +VG Architects of Toronto, the architect behind the restoration of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica. Stienburg said the restoration of the tower is to begin in the spring. The project should be completed by the end of 2022.

The re-purposing of church buildings is something all denominations will be dealing with as fewer people are in the pews and denominations try to work out what to do with excess properties. The archive team took part in the “Re-imagining Places of Faith Symposium” in Kingston in June where Stienburg said “we learned of projects from across different denominations that are bringing new life to their church buildings while keeping their values.”

Though plans are moving forward, Stienburg said no formal agreements have been signed with any of the partners. However, all have expressed an interest in being part of the project and the Religious Hospitallers and Sisters of Providence archivists are part of the Archives Project Team. The archdiocese expects to enter “into more substantive talks” with the Anglican diocese this fall.

“The specifics of how the partnerships will work have yet to be settled,” said Stienburg. “Formal agreements will hopefully be signed with all the partners in the next year.”