Some 200 slides containing images of religious statuettes and badges in the library's Liturgy and Life Collection already have been posted.
"We are creating a visual archive of the Church in America before everything changed," said Burns Archivist Ronald Patkus, who aims to have as many as 1,000 slides online by the end of the year at http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/ulib/Burns/litartifacts.html.
The Liturgy and Life Collection contains missals, chalices, Communion bells, crucifixes, monstrances, vestments, sick call sets, holy cards, medals and other artifacts dating from the turn of the century to the mid-1960s, when the Second Vatican Council adopted sweeping liturgical reforms. They offer what Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill describes as "perhaps the world's most complete guide to what it was like to be Catholic in America in the middle half of this century."
Burns staff working on the project are, from left, Catalog Technician Jean Maloney, Digital Project Supervisor Edward Copenhagen and Archivist Ronald Patkus.
The collection was founded by William Leonard, SJ, a longtime teacher of English and theology at Boston College, who, at 91, continues to serve as its curator.
"The rosaries, scapulars and statues of saints kept in people's homes say a lot about the day-to-day spirituality of the average Catholic of the time," said Patkus.
The collection's estimated 5,000 items range from the artistic to the kitschy, he said, with beautifully hand-painted statuettes of saints sharing space with plastic dashboard Madonnas.
"There's an incredible variety among these items," said Patkus. "We wouldn't want to include only the 'nice' things. We want a representative archive of what was actually used."
Patkus hopes the online archive will encourage professors and students to make greater use of a liturgical collection he sees as a valuable resource for the study of religion and the arts. "We should be involved in the educational enterprise," he said, "not just collecting things and putting them on shelves."
O'Neill said the digitization project is being carried out under a two-year grant of $100,000 from the Quincy-based Trinitas Foundation, which previously awarded a three-year grant of $150,000 for the cataloging of books in the liturgical collection.
As many as 1,000 of the objects in the collection were photographed by the Audiovisual Department last summer. Burns Digital Project Supervisor Edward Copenhagen has been transferring the images to the Web, with accompanying descriptive copy provided by Burns Catalog Technician Jean Maloney.
"To get to this point has taken a great deal of work," said Patkus. "All of these items were intermixed and unorganized. They were completely inaccessible unless you wanted to pick through boxes for hours.
"It's such a rich and important collection," he said. "We can now provide access to it."
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