One of the tasks of the Archivist is to seek unsolved answers of mysteries gone past. Some of these have been the location of Passionist graves, the locations of previous foundations, the lives and ministries of some of our men (often forgotten with time). The sacramentals pertaining to the Congregation (now not so common).
This all calls for a sense of determination and a bulldog tenacity not to let go, because the answers might be just around the corner.
Yet hard work comes with its rewards, a sense of completion and the answers to long standing puzzles solved.
One example of such was the burial place of Fr Seraphim McIvor CP, who drowned when the Steamer “Wairarapa” sunk in a severe storm, the ship struck the coast of Great Barrier Island, near Auckland New Zealand.
It had been observed that a headstone had been present at the Symonds Street Cemetery, but was he buried there? Investigations showed that he couldn’t have been buried there as the cemetery had been closed and was only available for those who had purchased plots or had relatives buried in that Cemetery.
Here the first problem came to light that this Irishman did have a brother in Auckland, but was there any proof that any of his family were buried at this location. As the cemetery had been closed since the turn of the century the records had to be tracked and were located in the Auckland State Library who were wonderfully helpful. But no person by that name appeared in those records so the headstone was probably just a memorial stone for the benefit of his family living in Auckland.
A further complication came with the change of vessel he sailed in, as this was swopped at the last minute, and about this time the man we knew as Fr. Seraphim McIvor CP started to appear in the baptismal books as Fr Seraphim McKeever CP. This was no secretarial mistake because he had signed the certificates of Baptism this way himself. Who, then, was the man we were looking for?
The bulk of the victims of the disaster were buried in two mass graves on Great Barrier Island, by a Maori crew working with Police supervision. Which mass grave was he then buried? Or did it matter? It seemed a priority with me that his grave be marked and investigations began as to how we could get a headstone placed on one of the graves. Like most Goverment Departments I was bounced around from pillar to post, but I wouldn’t let go and perservered. Yet while some readily handballed me, I met with some very dedicated and helpful people along the way, and hence, on the grave site on the side of the Island where the ship was wrecked we now have a headstone that recognises this young and wonderful Priest who died at the age of 28 years working hard to calm the stricken passengers in such a disaster.
In all it took me 38 letters to unravel the complications of this death, but such is the joy of completion that a headstone now stands proudly on a lonely grave site, and he is also mentioned on a headstone in the Passionist Area of Rookwood cemetery.
Hard work, rewarding work, but all part of the joy of Archives