In a temperature-controlled room on the ground floor of the Chancery building, Renae Bennett (pictured) was going through the contents of small box when she came across a stunning discovery – a second-class relic of St. Katharine Drexel, the 19th century founder of the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Black and Native American Peoples. As the Diocese of Orlando Archivist, every day is an adventure for Bennett.
“I think of myself as Indiana Jones,” Bennett said, “and I liken all of those boxes to little caves. When you open one up, you don’t know what is going to be in there. Part of my job is to get a handle on the scope of the things we have in those collections.”
Forty-five years of diocesan history is stored primarily in two locked rooms of the ground floors of the Chancery. Bennett said the collection largely reflect the bishops who have ministered to the people of Central Florida and their governance of the parishes, schools & entities. Items include correspondence, vestments, chalices, and articles from their homes. The collection also contain bits and pieces from the various diocesan departments and the schools, as well as photos, development plans, blue prints, etc. that represent all of the parishes.
Bennett said among the most captivating pieces to her are the original documents from Rome when the diocese was established as well as correspondence from our Holy Fathers to the bishops who served under him.
“It is fascinating when you come across those kinds of documents. They are all little treasure that you discover,” she said. “What is in the archives represents the story of us. It is a story of our parishes, our people, our faith and our community. To be able to have all that tell the story of who we are is the goal and the beauty of my job.”
Bennett, who grew up in the diocese and thus has an in-depth knowledge of its history, said her position serves two primary purposes – preserving diocesan history and sharing historic information. Bennett is currently helping a parishioner find the rightful owner of the crook from a bishop’s staff. The man found it in the lost and found of a Miami airport 39 years ago and has recently had the desire to return it to its proper home.
In addition, since joining the Chancery staff in October, Bennett has been working diligently to organize and better preserve the collection. Her goal is to be able to put a story on the items in the collection, a step she has already taken by creating a detailed intake form for new items.
Bennett said there is a certain reverence to the work she does. “Part of my work is not only thinking about what is happening today, but thinking about the diocese 100, 200 years from now,” she said. “What I am doing has an impact on not only what we have in our collection but how the people of the Diocese of Orlando in the future will find about us and know what was important to us. The idea is that 200 years from now, they will be able to open up a box and know our story.”