By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published February 7, 2008
Carolyn Denton has spiffed up the first floor rooms that hold the oldest records of the North Georgia Catholic Church.
“I’ve got a good foundation to start,” she said. “Wonderful cornerstone.”
The archives for the archdiocesan Catholic Church include letters, memoranda, reports, official documents, publications, photographs, audio and videotapes, architectural drawings and artifacts.
These are “vital and important information about people’s lives,” said Denton, the fourth archivist for the archdiocese, who started in January.
Putting records in order is a thrill for the woman who traced her genealogy to 14th-century England.
Denton moved to Atlanta from Florida where she worked as the archivist for the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach, a nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation. She earned her master’s degree in library science with a concentration in archival management in 1984 from the University of Kentucky. Denton worked as a curator of special collections and archivist at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky., for a dozen years. She later moved to Florida and became the first archivist for the corporate records of Blockbuster Corp. She is a certified archivist and a charter member of the Academy of Certified Archivists since 1989.
Her move to Atlanta was prompted by a desire to cut the distance to family still living in her native Kentucky. A photo near her desk shows her two sons, Kevin Palmgreen, a computer specialist in the Army, stationed in Iraq, and Michael Palmgreen, an Army captain, who recently returned from a stint mentoring the Afghanistan army.
She is looking forward to celebrating a belated Christmas this month when her youngest, Kevin, is on leave from Iraq.
Deacon Dennis Dorner, chancellor of the archdiocese, said a national search brought Denton to Atlanta.
Her experience with both records’ management and archives was attractive, he said.
“We also feel that her willingness to ‘get her hands dirty,’ not just run the show, is a very important quality. During the interviews her positive and optimistic attitude along with her knowledge and approachability just sealed the decision,” he said by e-mail.
Most of the archives collection begins in 1956 when Atlanta became a diocese as the northern Georgia counties were split from the Diocese of Savannah-Atlanta. Six years later, it became an archdiocese.
The archives office, however, was started in 1995 with the first archivist, the late Anthony Dees. He built it from the ground up.
Denton praised his efforts. “I wouldn’t change a thing with how he set it up,” she said.
An 1822 parish register from the Church of the Purification then in Locust Grove is the oldest document. The next oldest is a 1902 letter from Mrs. Joel Chandler Harris, wife of the author of the Uncle Remus stories, asking Bishop Benjamin Keiley for a church in the West End of Atlanta. In reply, the bishop reviewed the neighborhood and St. Anthony of Padua Church was built.
Just a few years ago, the records of the prominent Catholic spiritual leader during the civil rights era and the Second Vatican Council were returned.
Archbishop Paul J. Hallinan, who attended council sessions, also guided the church during the 1960s as Jim Crow laws fell and Atlanta’s own Dr. Martin Luther King led marches against segregation. Archbishop Hallinan, the first archbishop of Atlanta, died in 1968 after serving for six years.
John “Jac” Treanor, a Chicago Archdiocese archivist, returned nine boxes in 2001 of Archbishop Hallinan’s journals that revealed a piece of the history of the church.
The materials were in the possession of the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, who served as an Atlanta auxiliary bishop under Archbishop Hallinan and as the executor of the archbishop’s estate.
For Denton, the job is already a thrill. She uncovered a book with a letter from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And what she thought was a tissue on top of a shelf turned out to be a large pencil architectural drawing of the cornerstone of St. Anthony of Padua, one of the city’s first Catholic churches.
“It was just wadded up there,” she said. “I love to hunt. It’s a scavenger hunt every day.”