The St. George Memory Project is among those historical projects at the very forefront of the new preservation movement that has seized Greek America. What makes the efforts of the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Manchester New Hampshire truly a project of its times is that it is on the World Wide Web. Certainly every church community in the nation would build its own museum – and many have tried or have, in fact, established spaces on parish property for such facilities. Having said that, many other parishes actively involved in historical preservation are going directly to the Internet to both preserve their documentary holdings and simultaneously make their unique individual church history more widely available. Going on-line has been employed to provide not only readable texts from the existing library collection but also for the preservation and inclusion of historically significant audio and visual records.
To date the St. George Memory Project’s online catalog represents full-color images of 1,083 full-color book covers from the parish library’s collection. Complementing this feature is a complete run of all thirty-three years (1962-1994) of the St. George Observer parish newsletter which are all now completely readable online. Other visual documents include the digitized version of the March 27, 1966 16mm film of the procession from the old to the new church facilities. Yet another digitized item is St. George parish’s 2005 One Hundredth Anniversary
Monthly updates on the latest additions to the online catalog and other events are made available on the parish’s website and/or via Zoom (www.stgeorgenh.org/st-george-memory). They are always broadcast live via Facebook and uploaded to YouTube for further access. All copies of these monthly updates are stored in the library’s digital archive. To achieve the widest possible audience the St. George Memory Project also provides a written monthly update in the pages of the St. George church bulletin.
This entire project came about due to ongoing conversations among a wide array of parishioners. Meletios Pouliopoulos, a parishioner and a hands-on, tech-savvy historical consultant first approached Phil Liakos, Education Chair (and so the parish board member responsible for the library) and 2nd vice president on the board of directors. Pouliopoulos’ basic idea was to not just upgrade and so revitalizing the overall library collection, but also placing this collection online. Mr. Liakos’ immediately agreed with the need for such a project and in his exchanges with the parish board reported, in part, “our church, culture, and heritage all contribute to uniting us as a community. Preserving, sharing, understanding, and gaining an appreciation of our rich 117-year history here at St George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester, NH strengthens our identity and sense of belonging to the community. I believe that the Memory and Library projects currently in progress are also serving as a uniting factor in the community.”
George Skaperdas, the president of the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, concurred by saying, in part, saying: “This undertaking is not just a project for our cathedral, but it is a project that encompasses our journey, our Greek community’s journey, over the last 117 years. The history that we share is all inclusive. Every family in our community share comparable stories of their family’s journey to America. We take pride in recounting the stories of our great- grandparents’, our grandparents’, and even our parents’ arrival in ‘the new country’. Their trials and tribulations, their hard work and sacrifices, their dogged determination to make sure that they provided a ‘better life’ and education for their families, have become intertwined into our history. There is a common denominator in all our individual stories, the Church.
The Church became ‘ground zero’ for our families to be together to worship, educate, socialize, celebrate, grieve, comfort, and support each other. It is of the utmost importance that we preserve and document our history to give us a better understanding of what is important to us as a community.’ Given his background, Pouliopoulos’ role became that of historical consultant and technological administrator. Aside from assessing each book, document, photograph, film, or other object for preservation Pouliopoulos is digitizing each and every item.
Donations in terms of historical items and money immediately began to flow, and the Community demonstrated early on its willingness to preserve and document its history and update its library. Although the library has not officially re-opened, a steady stream of visitors readily stop in to see the work in progress, to leave some historical documents and photographs, or just to come in to share their memories.
The St. George Memory Project, aside from creating a digital library platform is simultaneously expanding into other preservation realms and in-house uses. Along with creating a digital library platform, the project is redesigning the library space to include new computers, a multi-media presentation space, and additional seating areas. Unique among the preserved historical items are the original icons from the first St. George church building.
This project has led to other forms of direct preservation. Parishioners George Kitsas and George Trapotsis are translating a book that was self-published in Greek in 1928 by George A. Papageorge, Greeks of Manchester, N.H.: History of a Greek Colony 1890-1928. An original copy of this book was recently donated to the St. George Library by Baltimore historian, Nicholas M. Prevas. As you read this account, a parish-wide oral history project will begi to interview the senior members of the community, 75+ years in age.
Complementing this effort is the photograph identification project, where the identification and labeling of as many old photographs now held in the library collection is provided. As a point of departure the photographs that appeared in the parish’s church bulletin, ‘The St. George Observer’ will be documented. Project updates are also being provided via a landing page. A landing page is a page that has a home page that would index links to other points of information. For the St. George Library, the landing page explains the project, and then provides links to the online catalog, the monthly project updates, and to the digital archive. The G.O.Y.A. recently visited, as well as the Sunday school supervisor, and begun to discuss future activities and potential projects. Directly involving the youth of the Church as well as its elders has been a theme since this project was first discussed.
Preserving the collective history of Greeks in the United States now seems to be a parish by parish effort. And just like all collective community institutions, the very church itself, the community centers, gyms, libraries, kitchens, and other specialty rooms, we are at a historical moment when each Greek Orthodox community now is actively seeking to preserve their own individuals histories.