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How to write Salesian House Chronicle and keep House Archives?

In view of EAO 2019 Salesian History Congress (Thailand, 2019, Feb 10-15)





Art. 178 of the General Regulations gives practical norms for the preservation of the living patrimony of our communities, as a stimulus and sign of fidelity to the memory of the developments taking place in the Congregation with God’s help. The article says that (the rector) “should keep the archives in order and up to date, and compile or see to the compiling of the house chronicle”. By referring the primary responsibility to the rector as the animator of community life, the text of the regulations highlights the importance of the archives for the history of communities and, in close association with this, of the HOUSE CHRONICLE.


We shall dwell on this later obligation, which our tradition has always considered a family characteristic, so as to indicate some practical norms for improving the situation.


1.      The importance of the house chronicle


It is not difficult to understand the importance of the house origins. We can say in fact without hesitation that the historical details of the Valdocco Oratory, of the origins of our Society and of the entire life of our Founder have been compiled to a great extent from the “chronicles” which Don Bosco’s first sons and collaborators took such pains to draw up. This subsequently became a characteristic of our Family as we have said: the first Salesians were intuitively aware of the importance of collecting and passing on the details of everything that happened at the Oratory, especially items which involved Don Bosco directly, and they gave themselves wholeheartedly to a laborious task of which we at the present day are able to reap the benefits. In our central historical Archives we have many of these “chronicles” of the early days: one need only mention Don Bonetti’s “History of the First Twenty-five Years of the Oratory”, and the chronicles of Don Ruffino, Don Rua, Don Barberis, etc. The author of the “Biographical Memoirs” explicitly acknowledges that the rich documentation he used was drawn to a great extent precisely from these sources. Don Lemoyne wrote in fact: “Don Ruffino and Don Bonetti are absolutely trustworthy as witnesses… We have linked their two chronicles together because one supplements the other… And to their testimony we shall add the highly authoritative witness of Don Michael Rua, of Mgr Cagliero and of other veteran Salesians” (cf. BM VI, 283; VIII, 396).


In connection with the chronicles of the individual houses we find in the same Biographical Memoirs a conference given by Don Bosco to the assembled rectors on 2 February 1876, in which he warmly recommends this duty. He put it like this: “He recalled his own practice and explained the reasons for it: “I have already briefly jotted down various items concerning the Oratory from its beginnings until now: in fact I have written a detailed account of many things up to 1854. From that year on we concentrate on the Congregation as such, and the subject matter becomes much vaster and more complex. I see this work as very useful to those who will follow after us and as redounding to God’s greater glory. And so I shall strive to continue writing” (cf. BM XII, 52).


The same idea is repeated by Don Bosco in his introduction to the Memoirs of the Oratory: “To whom will this work be of use? It will serve as a guide for overcoming future difficulties by past experiences; it will show how God has always been our guide in everything… (MO, p. 16).


From this conviction of the Founder the Salesians learned to hand on the memory of works and individuals; and we can see for ourselves from our Archives how the subsequent foundations of the Salesians and Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, especially in the Missions, have been amply documented in a wonderful way.


And so we can understand why the Regulations continue to recall at the present day the importance of keeping chronicles: it is a question of remaining faithful to our history, of a duty of praise and gratitude to the Lord for what he has done through each Salesian and every community, and of a courageous trust in the future.


The need today is to endorse this obligation: we are aware in fact that the sensitivity shown by the first Salesians in this field has fallen off to some extent, and there are several places where the chronicle has been largely left aside!




2.      Those responsible for keeping the chronicle


The Regulations indicate who has the obligation for compiling the chronicle.

According to our tradition, the primary responsibility obviously rests on the rector in his role of animator of community life, and in consequence as the one responsible for organizational aspects of the community and its work. The recording of the history of each work forms part of the concern of the rector, in so far as his ministry includes the preservation of everything the confreres and their collaborators have succeeded in doing in the spirit of don Bosco.


It is not stated however that the rector must write the chronicle himself. The article of the Regulations says in fact: compile or see to the compiling. What the rector must do therefore is find an able and sensitive person who will write the chronicle carefully and keep it up to date.


One must insist on the fact that the one chosen should in fact be able to write the chronicle, i.e. that he should be aware of the main criteria to be applied in the drawing up of a document that will be valid from a historical point of view. Emphasis to needs to be laid on the timely updating of the chronicle; it should not be written up at long intervals with the risk to deteriorate into a dreary and shabby summary.


    Here we may mention an objection that is frequently heard: there is no time for these “bureaucratic” obligations! The best response is perhaps given by the example of Don Bosco and our first missionaries, men dedicated to a quite extraordinary apostolate but who nevertheless found the necessary time to write for the benefit of those who would follow them.


3.      The Content of the chronicle


   It is very important that the chronicle be compiled according to specific criteria, in order to provide a valid document for those who will come along later and look in it for characteristic aspects of our charisma. The chronicle in fact is neither a simple diary nor an enlarged calendar, but should be a book from which one may glean the physiognomy of a community or a work and which highlights the more significant events of the community’s life.


  The fundamental criteria is certainly that of seeing to it that by reading it over a year one can get an idea of the way the community is made up, especially as regards personnel, the activities that have been carried out, and events of an educative or pastoral nature that have marked the year: events that should be written up with the concern to pass on to posterity what was most significant about them.


Following this criterion it is possible to list certain items which should be found in the chronicle every year:


a.     A description of the community and its work: each year the chronicle should begin with the presentation of the Salesian community (the individual members with their respective duties) and of the work (in its various sectors, with the collaborators, young pupils, members of the faithful etc. involved);


b.     The community’s programme: that of the Salesians community as such and also, when possible, those of the various sectors the work;


c.     The more important feasts and events: these should be presented so as to include their more interesting aspects and should be accompanied by adequate documentation (photographs, newspaper reports, etc.);


d.     Characteristics and important visits: of superiors, of religious and civil authorities, of other guests who have enriched our Salesian spirit, etc. Special reference should be made to the canonical visitation of the provincial, and also to the extraordinary visitation when the latter takes place;


e.     Evaluations carried out at the end of the year or at other special times.


These are only examples of what should appear in the chronicle; the creativity of the chronicler will find many other items for inclusion.

It will also be useful if to the chronicle are attached the various local newsletters, bulletins etc.; these are valuable sources of information.



4.      Photograph documentation


As already stated, the chronicle should be accompanied by a good selection of photographs to be suitable preserved in the house archives as an integral part of the chronicle itself. Nowadays photography has been developed to an extent, which permits of a much better and precise documentation than was once the case; but if this is to be realized in practice some individual needs to be given the specific task of looking after such documentation. There is no need for a superabundance of photographs, but it is important to have such documentation of essential matters and that it be given proper attention; in this field too we must have in mind that what we want to do is to pass on historical souvenirs to the young confreres who will come after us.


With regard to photographs there are two points that should be safeguarded:


a.     Photographs preserved in this way should be accompanied by written details, so that at a future date it will always be possible to say precisely to what event or persons they refer. Each print should therefore carry the date, place, nature of the event, and persons included.


b.     Photographic documentation of more important events should be sent to both the Provincial Centre and the Secretary General, for preservation for the use of everyone. This is a point which calls for loving interest!



There may be some particular events for which audiovisual documentation may be appropriate in addition to the usual photographs, e.g. by way of film, audiocassette, videocassette, etc. In these things the spirit of religious poverty will naturally be observed.


Archives (SDB 'Red Book' - Juridical elements in the Administration)

13.4.2  The Local Archives


In the archives of every house the following documents must not be missing:


1.        Constitutions and General Regulations of the Society;

2.        Collection of the Acts of the General Chapters (beginning at least with GC19) and the Acts of Provincial Chapters.

3.        Possibly, the complete collection of the Acts of the General Council;  from Don Albera to the present.

4.        Copy of the documents of the foundation and canonical erection of the house;  if the house has an oratory or a public church attached to it, a copy of the document witnessing the consecration or blessing of the church;  likewise for the other works of the house (for example, the school) a copy of the acts of foundation and the documents of civic recognition;

5.        Forms for the appointment of Rectors who have succeeded each other in the house;

6.        Complete annual lists of the confreres of the house, with their roles;  it will also be useful to keep the annual General “Elenchi” (Annuario) of the Society;

7.        Minutes of the Council of the Community (Reg. 180);

8.        The chronicle of the house, by norm of Regulation 178 (and the periodical synthesis sent to the Provincial Archives and the Central Archives);

9.        Mortuary letters of the Confreres of the Province;

10.     Observations left by the Provincial (or by the Extraordinary Visitor) at the conclusion of the Provincial Visitation (Reg. 146.3);

11.     Correspondence of the Rector Major or of the Provincial which concerns the house in a special way.   It will be useful if the Circular Letters of the Provincial are kept;

12.     Updated lists of the Past Pupils of the house, and of the Salesian Cooperators;

13.     An updated list of the benefactors of the house;

14.     In the sector of the administrative archives the following will be kept:  a copy of the plans of the house and relative public acts, a copy of the contracts of buying-selling of buildings and property of the house with the relative plans and maps, private documents of any kind, accounts, inventory of goods (to be updated periodically), legal documents of pious foundations, wills and bequests of the faithful donors, a register of possible obligation of masses, the original copy of possible legal transactions.


There should also be a photographic section of the archives (both at provincial and local level) where photographic and audiovisual documentation of the life and history of the house will be carefully preserved.

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