Most people aren’t too familiar with archivists and the work they do.

Although Patrick Shank has had a passion for history since grade school, he didn’t know much about archiving until he attended college. As the new head archivist at the Catholic Historical Research Center of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, he is used to explaining what archivists do.

“Most of the time people have never heard of an archivist or archives, so I usually just say that I’m in charge of maintaining historical records,” Shank said. “They’ll try to draw comparisons to the National Treasure or Indiana Jones [movies], but it’s not always as exciting as that.”

A 2011 graduate of Archbishop Carroll High School in Radnor, Shank earned a bachelor of history degree from Saint Joseph’s University and a master’s degree in history with a concentration in public history from Temple University.

“I did an internship in [Washington] D.C. at the U.S. Navy Archive and fell in love with the actual work of archiving,” he said. “It was kind of a combination of always liking history and then stumbling upon the archives field. By chance I was able to work here as a volunteer before grad school.”

Prior to being named head archivist, Shank worked for six years as the assistant archivist at the Catholic Historical Research Center which is located directly next to the former Our Lady of Ransom Church in Northeast Philadelphia. Shawn Weldon had served as head archivist at the center for more than 30 years before retiring earlier this year.

Preserving historical materials of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has greater significance for Shank since he was raised Catholic and has lived in the Philadelphia area his entire life.

“It is definitely a heavy weight to make sure this [material] is properly maintained and available for the future,” he said. “It is a great honor, too, to help people find things, whether it’s someone trying to find their grandmother’s baptismal record, or an academic finding some letter that helps prove their thesis, that definitely makes it worthwhile. Getting people familiar with the archives and coming out to use it is always a special treat.”

Photo: Catholic Historical Research Center

The Catholic Historical Research Center maintains records from current archdiocesan offices and all the papers and correspondence of bishops who have served in the Archdiocese, according to Shank. The center also manages collections from the American Catholic Historical Society, which is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States. He noted that records from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament were recently added to the archives.

“My two favorite collections are records we have dealing with the canonization process for both Mother Katharine Drexel and [Saint] John Neumann,” Shank said. “It’s really fascinating to go through those collections and see the behind-the-scenes process as to how a saint gets canonized.”

Some of the unique items in the archives include chaplain kits that were used during wartime.

“The chaplain kits are really neat because you can set them up and you can imagine what it was like for a soldier to celebrate Mass on the field before battle,” he said. “They’re probably the coolest objects we have in the archives.”

In addition to the chaplain kits, the research center also has collections of Catholic cartoons, some of which date back to the late 1800s.

“We have a lot of [editorial] cartoons from The Catholic Standard and Times, so a lot of them are about Vatican II,” Shank said. “We also have a large collection of anti-Catholic cartoons by Thomas Nast from the 1870s. It’s cool to compare how Catholics were drawn in a disparaging way in the 1800s and then how they drew themselves in the 1970s.”

Creating visual exhibits is another enjoyable aspect of Shank’s archivist work. The current exhibit at the center features photos by Robert Halvey, longtime photographer for The Catholic Standard and Times.

“I designed that and set it up, which was a lot of fun, going through all his photographs and making them available to view,” he said. “I’ve worked on an exhibit about the Spanish flu, and another one on the anti-Catholic cartoons and pro-Catholic cartoons. The exhibits are a lot of fun because it’s a way for people who come in searching for one specific topic to get exposed to a new topic they didn’t know about before.”

Archivist Patrick Shank speaks with visitors who attended the open house for the Robert Halvey Photo Exhibit at the Catholic Historical Research Center last October. The exhibit is currently on display at the center which is located directly next to the former Our Lady of Ransom Church in Northeast Philadelphia.

Outside of work Shank, who recently turned 30, enjoys attending Philadelphia Union soccer games with his family. “I’m a big soccer fan, so I have season tickets to the Philadelphia Union,” he said.

While Shank grew up in St. Anastasia Parish in Newtown Square, he and his wife Lindsay have been members of St. Helena Parish in Blue Bell for about a year and a half. “We’re still kind of settling into the parish and haven’t gotten involved as much as we would like to yet,” he added.

Shank also likes making homebrewed beer with his father. “We’re constantly brewing beer and sharing it with friends and family,” he said.

As an archivist, Shank appreciates the unique role he has in preserving the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and sharing it with others.

“It is really cool to be able to come in every day and do something new because we are a small staff,” he said.

“It is a really great place for someone who loves history to see the history of the Archdiocese evolve over the years and also to get a sense of how a city can change over 200 years.”