GATES — For many people, simply hearing the word “archives” often conjures up images of dimly lit rooms and shelves bursting at the seams with dust-covered books and papers, said Bob Vogt, who last spring retired from his volunteer position as associate archivist for the diocese.
“When people say archives, they expect to come in and find cobwebs,” Vogt remarked.
When it comes to the diocesan archives, however, that mental image couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Around here you don’t have time to make cobwebs, with all the things you have to do,” he said with a chuckle. “The archives, it’s not a dead issue.”
Vogt began doing volunteer work for the diocesan archives in the mid-1990s, while he was still director of Rochester’s Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. In his free time, Vogt helped the late Father Robert F. McNamara gather information for Ambassadors for Christ, Father McNamara’s necrology of priests and permanent deacons who served in the diocese between 1818 and 1993.
“I started out way back then, getting interested in the history of things,” Vogt recalled.
He eventually began taking Wednesdays off from work at Holy Sepulchre so he could photograph Catholic churches throughout the diocese. When he retired from his position at Holy Sepulchre several years later, he began volunteering in the diocesan archives on a regular basis.
“When you retire you’ve got to have a place to stay busy. I just wanted to be busy, be active,” he said.
Although he began working in the archives five days a week from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Vogt maintained his volunteer status.
“If they’d had to pay me what I earned at the cemetery I never would have started,” he said. “But I didn’t want to be paid. I didn’t even want to put in for mileage (reimbursement).”
Vogt eventually photographed the interior and exterior of every church in the diocese and organized the photographs in a series of albums, located in the archives at the diocesan Pastoral Center in Gates. He also photographed all the chapels, hospitals, schools, rectories and convents in the diocese. Partway through this process Vogt began photographing the pipe organs he found in churches.
“I’ve documented every pipe organ in the diocese, all 97 of them,” said Vogt, who served as volunteer organist for Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brighton for 24 years.
As the years wore on several health concerns — open-heart surgery and two separate instances of broken bones — forced Vogt to trim his hours in the archives, and by the time he retired in April, he was only coming in once a week. In the archives, he created and maintained information files about every diocesan priest, catalogued information and new acquisitions, and fielded phone calls from parishioners looking for information.
“You didn’t have time to get dull. I used to get maybe six or seven phone calls a day for information, and I got to be a real bird dog,” Vogt said.
Many of these callers weren’t exactly sure where to find the information they were seeking, he said. Some callers, for example, wanted their baptismal records, but weren’t sure where they’d been baptized. Vogt said he would narrow down his search to several churches by asking what neighborhoods the callers lived in as children and asking about their parents’ ethnic backgrounds.
“Then you would call the secretaries, and they just loved you,” he said with a laugh. “Eventually, probably in 50 or 60 percent of the time, we would come up with the right place. And that all took time.”
When he wasn’t busy tracking down information or photographing churches and organs, Vogt was busy organizing the materials in the archives, said Mercy Sister Connie Derby, diocesan director of archives and records. Vogt was in his element when he was working on such projects as the church-photography project or his reorganization of the priest files.
“This is what Bob is good at. He gets a job and he keeps working on it until it’s done,” Sister Derby said. “A lot of what he accomplished were things he saw that needed to be done, and a lot of them are things that are going to be useful for future years.”
As a result of his work in the archives and at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Vogt knows more about the Diocese of Rochester than most, noted some of his coworkers.
“He’s just a wealth of information,” said Sylvia Mancuso, longtime secretary in the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Catechesis.
Diocesan staff no longer have this source of information at their fingertips, as Vogt moved to Birmingham, Ala., in April. Vogt said he enjoyed his years working for the Diocese of Rochester and is grateful for the many friendships he made.
“It wasn’t work,” he said.