Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In the Archives

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! I feel bad that I have been blogging this long and not mentioned a person whose value, as is that of most archivists, is too easily and too often overlooked, Dr. Gary Topping, Archivist and Historian of the Diocese of Salt Lake City. Dr. Topping took over his duties from Bernice Maher Mooney, who left big shoes to be filled. During her many years on-the-job, Bernice oversaw the writing and publication of a comprehensive history of Catholicism in Utah, Salt of the Earth, and a most remarkable, not to mention lovely, book on our beloved Madeleine: The story of the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

Gary is also a Professor of History at Salt Lake Community College, and, until recently, a member of the Board of the Utah Historical Society, to whose quarterly he has contributed many great articles, not a few of which are on aspects of Catholicism in Utah. Dr. Topping is a wonderful person, an extremely competent historian and archivist, and an exciting teacher. He is also the author and editor of several books. The works of Dr. Topping I most appreciate are Utah Historians and the Reconstruction of Western History , in which he profiles Juanita Brooks, whose granddaughter I dated and courted for awhile in the late 1980s. Our first date was me driving to BYU in 1987 so we could attend a lecture given by former President Gerald Ford. How's that for romance?

Juanita Brooks was a very brave woman and, like her forbearers, a pioneer in her own right. In no way was her courage manifested more than by the publication of her book, The Mountain Meadows Massacre, which was based on pioneer diaries, which she oversaw the transcription of during the Depression with a grant through one of President Roosevelt's alphabet soup agencies. The following account was told me by Junita's son, Tony, who lived in Albuquerque when I was there in the mid-1980s. In seeking to publish her book, Brooks met with Joseph Fielding Smith, then of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Church Historian. Joseph Fielding Smith was the grandson of Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr.'s brother, who perished with him in the jail (I prefer the English spelling gaol) at Carthage, Illinois. Joseph Fielding Smith later became President of the LDS church.

Anyway, she presented then-Elder Smith with the manuscript of what became The Mountain Meadows Massacre with the intent having it published by Deseret Books, the publishing house of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After reviewing the manuscript he threatened her with excommunication, but did not act on the threat and, of course, refused to allow publication of her manuscript by Deseret Book, Company. Juanita told him she was determined to publish the book. She also said that if, once the book was published, it did more harm than good to the Church, she would voluntarily withdraw her membership. Even though no formal disciplinary action was taken against her, after that interview she was never called to another position in the LDS church, unusual for a well-educated woman who had served diligently in a variety of leadership positions up to that point. Undaunted, she published her book through the University of Oklahoma Press and gave the first truly historical account of this ugly episode in Latter-day Saint history, which she wrote to counteract the far more terrible legends that persisted among southwestern Utah's saints.

Dr. Topping also edited If I Get Out Alive: The World War II Letters and Diaries of William H McDougall Jr. William H. McDougall, of course, got out alive, was ordained to the priesthood, and, as Monsignor McDougall, served for a long time as Rector of The Cathedral of the Madeleine. In the near future at the Cathedral we hope to revive a lecture series named after him, which was inaugurated by another Cathedral rector, and mentor of mine, Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, a Utah and Church treasure in his own right.

What brought all this to mind this evening was my perusal of our Diocesan website and clicking on Dr. Topping's From the Archives link, which is always fascinating and from which I obtained the picture of Archbishop John Mitty, third bishop of Salt Lake City. Like George Niederauer, John Mitty went from being bishop of Salt Lake to becoming the archbishop of San Francisco. Not surprisingly, with the announcement of the Most Reverend John C. Wester of San Francisco as the ninth bishop of Salt Lake City, the topic of the current post is the relationship between the Diocese of Salt Lake City and our Metropolitan Archdiocese of San Francisco, entitled A Tale of Two Cities.

Salt Lake City has been a suffragan diocese of San Francisco for the almost the entirety of our history, except for a brief period of time during which we belonged to the Archdiocese of Denver. So, check it out now and in the future to learn a lot about Utah's Catholic heritage from a person who is well qualified to teach and who does so in a most engaging manner.

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