Good sacramental record-keeping is a must

CHARLESTON—Sacramental records are vitally important documents that can affect the lives of every practicing Catholic, but they frequently aren’t updated or maintained correctly.

St. Mary of Namur Sister Sandra Makowski, chancellor for the Diocese of Charleston, and archivist Brian Fahey are leading an effort to train pastors and church staff about the proper way to fill out and maintain records at the parish level. They are working on a handbook and plan to attend upcoming deanery meetings and visit parishes to discuss proper record keeping.

They said sacramental records are an important way to preserve diocesan history, and many people need access to them. Keeping the records properly is also required by canon law, Sister Sandra said.

Ideally, parish records should include baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, perpetual vows, marriages and deaths.

“Baptismal records are probably the most important because they serve as a master record for a person’s membership in the church,” she said.

While many have turned to digital record-keeping, the Catholic Church still requires hard copies, Fahey said.

Baptismal records include space for notations of future sacraments, including first holy Communion, confirmation and marriage.

“If you were baptized at St. Joseph, and years later you get married at St. Mary’s, someone at St. Mary’s is supposed to call the church where you were baptized so the note can be made on your record,” he said.

Current records are a necessity, such as people preparing for marriage who must provide a recent copy of their baptismal certificates.

“When the church says they want a recent copy, they mean dated within the last six months,” Sister Sandra said. “They want to see the very latest notations that may have been made on the record. That’s why it’s so important to keep it updated.”

Fahey said people also request records to trace genealogy or for proof in civil or legal matters. He said South Carolina is one of many states that allow a baptismal certificate to serve as a civil record if other records can’t be located.

“I received a call from a retired marine who had received an honorable discharge, but needed baptismal records to prove his citizenship because he’d never had a birth certificate,” Fahey said.

The archivist also heard from a woman in her 80s who needed her records to seek an annulment. Catholics can face serious delays if records are not current or cannot be located.

“We require parishioners to have this information, yet we often don’t maintain it for them,” Fahey said. “This isn’t unique to our diocese by any means, especially now that everybody is so transient. Nobody has disregarded sacramental records out of malice. A lot of people were just never instructed on how to keep them properly.”