diocesan archives contain the papers of the
Vicariate Apostolic and of the Bishops of
Saint Augustine, from Augustin Verot
(1858-1876) to the present ordinary, Bishop
Victor Galeone. The mosaic cross above
belonged to Bishop William Kenny.
Right: Sister of St. Joseph Thomas
Joseph McGoldrick, archivist for the Diocese
of Saint Augustine, examines one of the
oldest documents penned in the United States
The City of St. Augustine has been a
favorite travel destination since just
before the American Civil War. Visitors are
fascinated with the historical significance
of the “ancient city” and historians
consider it a land of treasure. Catholic
faithful have played a significant role in
the establishment of this community and
throughout Florida. A large deposit of
documents testifies to the work, in this and
the previous century, of priests, women
religious, and laypersons in the operation
of parishes, schools, hospitals and
The Diocese of Saint Augustine preserves in
its archives the oldest written records of
American origin in the United States. These
are the Spanish parish registers of St.
Augustine, dating from 1594 to 1763. The
first pages (1594-1638) record baptisms,
marriages and burials. Subsequent Spanish
registers carry the St. Augustine parish
data forward to 1763 and from 1784 to 1821.
Also preserved in the diocesan archives is
the “Golden Book,” the sacramental register
of the Minorcan community from 1768-1784,
with the signature of Father Pedro Camps.
Later registers in the archives continue the
administrative and sacramental records
through the United States period from 1821
predates these records in our country’s
history. “They are the oldest European
historical documents of what is now the
United States,” says Bruce Chappell a
historical archivist and coordinator of
special collections for the George A.
Smathers Libraries of the University of
Florida in Gainesville. A parishioner of St.
Patrick’s, Bruce has been deeply involved in
the diocesan archives for the past 30 years.
After many years of study, the diocese is
moving forward to ensure these archival
treasures are conserved for future
generations. In 2005, Bishop Victor Galeone
designated the diocesan records dating from
1594 to 1905 as the official historical
archives of the Diocese of Saint Augustine.
At the same time, he appointed Sister of St.
Joseph Thomas Joseph McGoldrick as the
Under the leadership of Father Michael
Morgan, as chancellor of the diocese, the
1594 Committee was formed to help the
diocese preserve the records of the
historical archives and to find ways to
establish a major center for the study of
Christianity with an emphasis on Catholicism
in North America.
“We are very fortunate to have a number of
experts willing to provide professional
guidance toward the goal to preserve the
historical archives through sound archival
methods and practices,” said Father Morgan.
He said the 1594 Committee has been working
hard for about a year to secure funding to
complete the conservation work and to build
a center for research, which is expected to
To date the 1594 Committee has raised
$20,000. A grant of $10,000 from the
Catholic Foundation of the diocese along
with another $10,000 in contributions was
obtained by Father Greg Fay, pastor of Holy
Family Parish in Jacksonville and a member
of the 1594 Committee. Another significant
contribution was made by the Sisters of St.
Joseph of St. Augustine.
In partnership with the diocese, the
congregation is providing a building where
their own archives have been kept to house
the historical archives of the diocese. “It
is probably the strongest building in St.
Augustine,” said Sister Thomas Joseph.
Located on the grounds of the convent, next
to the O’Reilly House Museum on Aviles
Street, the two-story building was built
like a fort in the 1940s and is located in
the heart of the city.
The property of the motherhouse belonged to
Father O’Reilly. He left the property to the
Sisters of St. Joseph upon his death. And
the people who lived on the property before
Father O’Reilly are some of the very
families that are listed in the early parish
registers. Families like the Florencia’s,
the Leon’s, the Sanchez’ all lived there.
“These records really document the lives of
families that started our church here in
Florida,” said Sister Thomas Joseph.
Work is already underway on the building
that will create a safe environment for the
historical archives. “We have emptied the
building, the contractors are lined up and
the architect is on board,” said Sister
Thomas Joseph. All that is needed now is
funding to complete the project.
Once completed, the second floor of the
building will house all the materials on
compact mechanical shelving. All the
digitizing equipment and a dark room will be
located there. Downstairs, on the first
floor, will be rooms for research,
administrative offices, a library and
workstations complete with Internet
connections for other institutions to access
information. With much of the materials in
the diocesan archives already on microfilm,
the next step is to create digital images of
the oldest records. According to Bruce
Chappell the digital records will be kept on
servers and back-up servers making it easier
for qualified historians to access them for
research. But he adds this is a very lengthy
process - a process that will take many
The diocese is hoping the conservation
project and research center will be
completed in the next couple of years -
provided funding is obtained from grants and
“The historical archives of the diocese
means so very much for us as Catholics,”
explains Bruce. “Our patrimony binds us
together and the preservation of this
patrimony is absolutely vital to us as a
To contribute to the diocesan efforts to
conserve its past, please send a check made
out to the Florida Catholic Heritage Museum,
Inc., c/o Father Michael Morgan, 11625 Old
St. Augustine Road, Jacksonville, FL 32258
or call (904) 262-3200.