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Preserving our Past: Archivist keeps watch over history of the Diocese of Burlington

Kathleen Messier, assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington, shows a chalice stored in the archives, which, she says, “tells the story of Vermont Catholics.” Photo by Cori Fugere Urban Kathleen Messier, assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington, shows a chalice stored in the archives, which, she says, “tells the story of Vermont Catholics.”
Kathleen Messier picked up third Burlington Bishop Joseph J. Rice’s shaving brush — part of a set with a shaving cup bearing his name. “Imagine all the DNA I could get off of this,” the assistant archivist for the Diocese of Burlington who once worked as a pharmaceutical chemist said with a smile.

For her, the move from science to history wasn’t a leap: “I know how to do research.”

These days her work is part time in a small office at diocesan headquarters on Joy Drive in South Burlington. But more than an office, the space is a repository of history.

It’s filled with shelves and boxes and cabinets that hold mementos and memories of times past in the Church of Vermont: sacramental records, chalices, records from closed parishes, Catholic high school yearbooks, various ephemera, tabernacles, thurifers, relics of saints, sixth Burlington Bishop Robert F. Joyce’s war medals, photographs, parish histories, early bishops’ vestments and books that include volumes written by the first Vermont bishop — Bishop Louis deGoesbriand — and the exhaustive Vermont history, “The Vermont Historical Gazetteer,” by Abby Maria Hemenway.

The holdings even include a link of a chain that bound St. Peter before his crucifixion obtained by Bishop deGoesbriand.

Messier speaks French and likes to read notes and letters Bishop deGoesbriand wrote in his native language.

“The history of the Diocese of Burlington is here,” Messier said. “You read it. You see it. You talk to people” about it.

She recalled a recent visit from Burlington native Bishop Louis Gelineau, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Providence. “He is a wealth of information” about the diocese, she said.

A member of the Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists, Messier earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 1997 from St. Michael’s College in Colchester. A mother of three and parishioner of Holy Family/St. Lawrence Parish in Essex Junction, she has worked as a part-time archivist for the diocese since May 2015.

She writes a monthly social media post for the diocese about the “obscuriosities” of the archives and enjoys helping people find information about their family tree or about the closed Catholic school they attended and demystifying myths. “In doing these things, I learn,” she said.

More and more historical information is stored digitally, but she welcomes items of historical significance to the Vermont Church. 

“This is a big deal for the Church in Vermont,” Messier said of the archives. “This tells the story of Vermont Catholics.”

Article written by Cori Fugere Urban,
Vermont Catholic
content editor/staff writer.
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