Personnel files: another valued research resource

By John Lutman

The Diocese of Huron Archives’ personnel fonds is among the most frequently consulted by patrons.  Users from within the Diocese include priests, wardens and congregants, and Huron Church House for administrative reasons; from without, students for course assignments, faculty researchers, regional historians and, most especially, genealogists.

The files hold a wide range of materials including church and public published items such as newspaper reports around church activities that focus on the priest, newspaper obituaries, news releases from the Diocese, biographies, photographs and videos, ordination services, photocopies of death notices from Synod Journals and e-mails from Huron Church House noting a present or past priest’s death as well as past genealogical inquiries and responses.

The files also hold printed forms unique to the priestly profession. The forms reflect the canon law of the Diocese of Huron at the time of the signature of the document by the bishop.  The origins of some the documents predate the Reformation and the establishment of the Church of England in 1534 and are a carry forward to the modern era.

The personnel fonds is closed by the Archives for 100 years counting backwards from the priest’s death or that of the spouse, which ever dies last; items redacted before consultation comprise pension information, stipendiary matters, leaves of absence and medical examiners reports, disciplinary and dismissal matters, and any correspondence of whatever nature between the priest and the Diocese; thus, only published materials are made accessible to researchers.
Access exceptions apply to family members with proof of identity.  This practice is applied universally by all Anglican diocesan archives across Canada.

The forms in most instances either relate to the ordination of a priest or the leaving of a priest.  They are printed using invariably a flowery font with blanks left for the bishop to fill in by hand the priest’s name, the location of the parish church, his signature and the date signed.  By the 1890s as typewriters becomes more common, the above information, other than the bishop’s signature at the bottom, was typed in the blank spaces.  Some of the forms were generic and thus applicable to all Anglican dioceses in Canada; others were particular to a diocese, especially those that quoted canon law.

Today, forms still exist less, but are less flowing in their language and the style of font or are superseded simply by a letter signed by the bishop and notarized by the seal of Diocese of Huron.  In every case the subject priest in the documents was a male as the first female priest was not ordinated until the 1960s.

Bene discessit reply (the name of the priest has been redacted)

Ordination: Si Quis and Certificate

“Si Quis” is a Latin term meaning “if anyone”, which takes on meaning in the context of the document which relates to ordination.  The document was to be read on a Sunday, to quote the wording, “at least one month before the day of ordination” and read at a church within the parish where the candidate resided.  To further quote the document, the person “intends to offer himself as a Candidate for the Holy Office of Deacon/Priest at the ensuing Ordination of the Bishop of Huron.”  Similar to the reading of the bans for marriage, the text continues: “If any person [thus, “if anyone”] know any just cause or impediment why he ought not to be admitted to the said office of Deacon/Priest he is hereby requested to declare the same to me, or to signify the same forthwith to the Bishop of Huron.”  Thus, “certificate” in the sense that the candidate has fulfilled the requirements.  The document concluded with the named location of the church in which the Si Quis and Certificate was read, the date and on the lines indicated the signatures of two churchwardens and that of the officiating minister.

Leaving: Letters of Bene discessit

Bene discessit, a Latin term, translates into English as “well left”. The printed Bene discessit form (see illustration) with its flowery font was completed by the Bishop of Huron in response to a priest requesting transfer to another diocese.  Under the heading “Letters Testimonial”, the bishop fills in the blanks with the priest’s name and church thereby testifying to a priest’s worthiness and character.  The latter is expressed as “good life and conversation” and “did behave himself piously, soberly, and honestly, nor do we know that he behaved or maintained any opinion contrary to the doctrine or discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada.”

Bene discessit reply

In order for the transfer to take effect allowing the priest to practice his priestly duties in his new diocese, the bishop of the diocese on receiving the Letters of Bene discessit would respond immediately using another form indicating that he has been presented with it and has accepted it (see illustration).  A portion of the wording stated “I hereby certify that the Letters of “Bene discessit” of the Reverend [blank space to include name] from the Diocese of [blank space to name the diocese] have been presented unto me, and been by me accepted and the date of record thereof is [blank space]”.  Thereafter the Bishop would date and sign, e.g. “James Toronto” (see illustration).

Letters Dimissory (the name of the priest has been redacted)

Letters Dimissory

A “Letters Dimissory” is a printed form (“letters”), again in a flowery font, from one bishop to another certifying that the priest in question [blank space in which the priest’s name is hand written or typed] “has signified his desire to be transferred [from the Diocese of Huron] to the Diocese of [blank space in which the name of the diocese is hand written or typed] thus “dimissory” (“dimissed” or “sending away”).

The bishop from whose diocese the priest is leaving certifies that the priest is “in regular standing, and that during the time that he labored in this Diocese, which was for the space of [blank space in which the time in years and months is hand written] he has not, so far as we know or believe, been justly liable to evil report for in religion or viciousness of life.”

The bishop signs off recommending the priest to the bishop in question “under our hand and seal” including the date in the blank spaces provided.

Form of Resignation to the Bishop

This form is different from the Letters dimissory in that the priest is resigning from a parish from within the Diocese of Huron and requesting transfer to another parish within the Diocese rather than another Diocese.  The font, now more business-like, quotes the then Canon XIII of 1922 (“On notice to be given on leaving a parish or mission”) which is relevant to the discontinuation of the services of a curate or assistant as requested by an Incumbent; the resignation at the request of a curate or assistant; or the wish of a clergyman to resign his charge and transfer to another parish.   Addressed to the “Rt. Rev. The Lord Bishop of Huron”, the curate, assistant or priest would provide the date when the resignation would take effect, sign in the space indicated, give the charges of the parish and date.  The form continues “We, the undersigned Churchwarden, have received notice of the above Resignation, in accordance with Canon XIII”; they sign, one churchwarden for each of the charges.

Other examples of personnel file will comprise our next column in the Huron Church News.

John Lutman is archivist for the Diocese of Huron.