Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Practicing History

Practicing HistoryThe Art of Historiography,
or How Historians Do What They Do
We’re preparing for publication a little book of short biographies of the recently deceased confreres of our province, mostly for the 1999-2009 span. The designer and I thought it would be good to put a group photo on the cover. So I asked our province archivists to find something old but not too old—something that would include some of the confreres whose lives are told in the volume. They came up with this photo: Fr. Aloysius Ricceri, rector major from 1965 to 1977, and a group of Salesians posed in front of the provincial house. We could, of course, just use the photo. But why not describe it? Who are the confreres, when was it taken, and what was the occasion?

For some 15 or 20 years, Fr. Bob Savage did heroic work in the photo archives of the province, identifying places, dates, and names as best he could, using not only his own knowledge from his 50+ years of life in the province, but also consulting anyone he thought could help with the information.

This particular photo he had labeled, more or less (I’m relying on memory): “The Rector Major Fr. Aloysius Ricceri in 1973: Meeting of Directors and Pastors,” and he had identified all but three of the men in it.

While Fr. Ricceri did indeed visit the province in 1973, that date seemed unlikely to me for three reasons: 1st, the priest standing directly behind Fr. Ricceri was identified as Fr. Aloysius Ronchi, who died in 1962; 2nd, neither Fr. John Malloy, provincial until June 30, 1973, nor his successor Fr. Sam Isgro is in the picture; 3rd, Fr. Francis Knific is seated prominently next to Fr. Ricceri.

Fr. Knific was one of the 3 confreres whom Fr. Savage didn’t identify. Having seen photos of him (I never met him), I tentatively identified him. I asked Fr. Ed Cappelletti and Fr. Frank Wolfram, and both confirmed the identification. But Fr. Knific, I knew, had suffered a serious head injury that left him hospitalized for the rest of his life. I didn’t know exactly when it occurred, but I was sure it was well before 1973.

I was initially unaware/had forgotten that Fr. Ricceri had visited the province in 1973, perhaps because he didn’t come to Boston, where I was in practical training. I remembered his visit to Newton in December 1967, when I was newly professed; and a program that he autographed for me on that occasion confirmed it. So my first thought was that this photo had been taken during that visit rather than in 1973.

That still left questions about Fr. Knific and Fr. Ronchi. Not knowing then when Fr. Knific had been injured (in fact, it was on Jan. 1, 1962), I thought perhaps he’d been brought in from the hospital to meet the Rector Major. Fr. Ronchi? Quite possibly a false identification. But Fr. Cappelletti, who’s in the photo, and Fr. Wolfram both said it was Fr. Ronchi and couldn’t see any resemblance to anyone else.

Besides Fr. Knific, the other 2 confreres whom Fr. Savage hadn’t been able to identify were 2 coadjutor brothers in the back row. Neither Fr. Ed nor Fr. Frank could identify them. I showed the photo to Fr. Terry O’Donnell, my communications office colleague, who immediately said of one of them, “That’s Bill Hughes. We were novitiate classmates.” Oh, good! I thought, we’re making some progress.

I asked Bro. Andy LaCombe for help. He came to the provincial house in the summer of 1967 (and has been here ever since). He couldn’t identify the brothers or the priest behind Fr. Ricceri who might, or might not, be Fr. Ronchi.

A check of the province obituary list showed that Fr. Frank Nee, who’s in the back row, had died in 1970—further confirmation that the photo wasn’t from 1973.

More complications surfaced when I looked in the province directory for 1967 to see who was on the provincial house staff at that time. Neither Bro. Hughes nor Fr. James Rossewey was in the directory. Fr. Rosseway had left the Salesians during the 1966-67 year. But maybe he was staying at the provincial house waiting for paperwork? Bro. Hughes had left the Society around 1965. Either Fr. Terry was mistaken, or the photo predated Fr. Ricceri’s December 1967 visit.

I started to ask myself about another possibility: Is it certainly Fr. Ricceri in the photo, or could it be someone else?

In addition to Fr. Cappelletti, two other confreres in the photo are still alive (other than maybe the unidentified brothers): Frs. Emil Fardellone and Clem Cardillo. Asking Fr. Clem for help wasn’t an option. I e-mailed the photo to Bro. Jerry Meegan in Marrero to relay to Fr. Emil Fardellone, to see whether he could offer any clarifications. I thought Bro. Jerry, also, might know the brothers.

Then I sent the photo to several other senior confreres and even to the Central Archives in Rome, laying out the problems with the 1967 dating and asking whether perhaps Fr. Ricceri had been to New Rochelle before he was elected Rector Major in 1967. Fr. Cappelletti couldn’t say whether he had, nor could anyone else I asked.

Fr. Romeo Trottier e-mailed back from Sherbrooke that he couldn’t identify as Canadians any of the confreres about whom I had questions. He was certain that the superior in the middle of the front row is Fr. Ricceri. He also made a very valuable observation: if the photo were from the 1967 visit of the Rector Major, not only would Fr. John Malloy, the provincial, have been in it, but Fr. Bernard Justen, who was San Francisco’s provincial in December 1967, would not have been standing in the second row but would have been seated next to the Rector Major—such are the hierarchical arrangements of things.

The Central Archives affirmed that the main figure is Fr. Ricceri, and opined that the photo must be from the 1967 visit.

By this time—a full day after beginning my inquiries—I was becoming convinced that the picture had to predate Fr. Ricceri’s election as Rector Major. If the priest behind him were indeed Fr. Ronchi, the photo was shot before Aug. 8, 1962 (the day he died). Fr. Knific was director of the provincial house until his injury, and in a provincial’s absence he’d have been seated next to a member of the superior chapter (what we now call the general council)—Fr. Ricceri was general councilor for the Salesian Cooperators and communications media prior to his election as Rector Major.

A pre-August 1962 date would also explain why so many of the confreres in the photo looked so much younger than I remembered them.

Meanwhile, no one was getting us any closer to identifying the two brothers in the back row, although a photo in Fr. Ronchi’s lifetime would bring Fr. Terry’s identification of Bro. Hughes back into play.

I went to the archives and pulled out the Congregation’s directories from 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962—Fr. Ronchi’s death being what historians call the terminus ad quem. Only for 1961 did Fr. Nee and Fr. Rossewey show up as members of the provincial residence community; they were doing a pastoral program for recently ordained priests.

In that year of 1960-61, as for several others, the provincial house’s director was Fr. Knific, the prefect (and province treasurer) was Fr. Joe Stella, and the catechist was Fr. Joe Perozzi—all of them in the front row of the photo. Fr. Ronchi was catechist at Salesian High, and Fr. Emil was director. All but one of the other identifiable confreres were directors and pastors from the area—Port Chester (Fr. John Celoria), Paterson (Frs. John Divizia, Dominic DiGuardo, Joe Tyminski, and Ernest Faggioni), Haverstraw (Fr. Justen), Goshen (Fr. Henry Sarnowski), Newton (Fr. Aloysius Bianchi), Boston (Frs. Joe Caselli and Vince Duffy), and Ipswich (Fr. Cardillo)—or the provincial house staff (Frs. Frank Nugent, Diego Borgatello, and Bill Kelley and Bros. Mike Frazette, Alfred Rinaldi, and Fiore DaRoit). Bro. Bill Hughes was stationed at DBT in Boston, and his director, Fr. Duffy, was in the photo; it’s quite reasonable to suppose that they came together to meet with Fr. Ricceri.

The only “problem” presences remaining were a minor one: why is Bro. John Casula, who was stationed at Huttonsville, W.Va., in the photo, but his director, Fr. Alvin Manni isn’t? and a major one: who was that last coadjutor, the one between Frs. Borgatello and Kelley in the back row?

So the date of the photo had been narrowed down to, most likely, the 1960-61 school year. Would one or more house chronicles speak of a visit of Fr. Ricceri that year? Now, every house is supposed to have a copy of its chronicles in the provincial archives (as well as in the Central Archives in Rome). There was one dinky one from the provincial house in the archives, but not for the right period. There was nothing from the period from Salesian High. The Ipswich chronicle made no mention of Fr. Clem’s trip to New Rochelle.

I asked Fr. Steve Dumais, the current director of our community, whether he had old house chronicles in his office. Yes, he did. Did he have one for 1960-61? Yes, he did. He started to leaf through it. Lo and behold: Fr. Aloysius Ricceri, member of the superior chapter, arrived on June 3, 1961, passing through on his way to South America; and on June 9 he met with “directors and priests in special offices from the area.” So we had arrived at a precise date for the photograph.

Armed with this information, I relayed it to the Central Archives, and with the 1961 directory in hand I queried more confreres in person and by e-mail about the brother in the back row. Still no clue. I was about to give up on it and was in the process of sending the book designer an almost complete list of names to go with the photo, when I thought of contacting another branch of our Salesian Family: the Salesian Old Boys (former Salesians and aspirants). A couple responded rather quickly with some suggestions as to who the brother might be.

One suggestion was Bro. Jerry Harasym, now serving in Surrey, B.C., who could have come from Newton with Fr. Bianchi. I sent the photo to him. He replied, “No, that is NOT yours truly. I recall that he was at Paterson, NJ at Don Bosco Tech. -’58-’59 when I was there in training.” Shortly after, he sent a second reply: he’d gone to an old yearbook and identified the brother as “R. Peterson,” who was in the commercial art shop. That was perfect because according to the 1961 directory Bro. Russell Peterson was on the provincial house staff.

Later in the day, Bro. Jerry Meegan finally answered my query and, independently of Bro. Harasym’s information, also identified the brother as Russell Peterson, adding that he worked with Bro. Fiore in the architect’s office.

And so the historian’s work—the historiographical process—came to a successful conclusion all around: the result of asking questions of documents (photos are documents just as much as chronicles and directories are) and of people, and accumulating the information one datum at a time until it all fits, if possible.

Caption for the photo
Meeting of Fr. Luigi Ricceri, general councilor for the Salesian Family and communications media, with the directors and pastors of some of the local communities at the provincial house in New Rochelle, June 9, 1961.

Seated in front row: Fr. Joseph Caselli (director East Boston), Fr. Emil Fardellone (director Salesian HS), Fr. Joseph Perozzi (catechist provincial house), Fr. Francis Knific (director provincial house), Fr. Ricceri, Fr. Joseph Stella (prefect provincial house, province treasurer), Fr. John Celoria (pastor Holy Rosary Port Chester), Fr. Edward Cappelletti (director Salesian Missions), Fr. John Divizia (pastor St. Anthony Paterson). Standing in 2nd row: Bro. John Casula (teacher Huttonsville), Fr. Aloysius Bianchi (director Newton), Fr. Clement Cardillo (director Ipswich), Fr. Bernard Justen (director Haverstraw), Fr. Aloysius Ronchi (delegate Cooperators, catechist Salesian HS), Fr. Ernest Faggioni (director coadjutors Paterson), Fr. Dominic DiGuardo (assistant pastor Paterson), Fr. Vincent Duffy (director DBT Boston), Fr. Frank Nugent (vocations director), Bro. Michael Frazette (director Savio Club). Standing in back row: Fr. Joseph Tyminski (director DBT Paterson), Fr. Francis Nee (student), Fr. James Rossewey (student), Fr. Diego Borgatello (prefect Newton), Bro. Russell Peterson (architect’s assistant), Fr. William Kelley (provincial secretary), Bro. William Hughes (staff DBT Boston), Fr. Henry Sarnowski (director Goshen), Bro. Alfred Rinaldi (staff Salesian Missions), Bro. Fiore DaRoit (provincial architect).

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