Missionary priest catalogued history so others could learn

Father James Artzer, 1923-2012

Artzer,_Fr_James_for_webFather James Artzer SVD, who was instrumental in computerizing the archives of the Society of the Divine Word’s worldwide headquarters in Rome, passed away at Techny on Nov. 1 at age 89.

"An academic, librarian and pastor, Jim was well-suited as a consultant for the SVD Generalate archives," said Father Thomas Ascheman SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province. "He pursued education throughout his career. He did not rest on his laurels after he earned his doctorate and established himself as an expert. Instead, he kept learning about new technologies and new ways of keeping historical data."

James Artzer became a Divine Word Missionary in 1943 and was ordained to the priesthood in December 1950. During the first 16 years of his priesthood, he taught in Divine Word seminaries in Girard, Penn.; Bordentown, N.J.; and Duxbury, Mass.

In 1966, he was assigned to Washington, D.C., to begin work on his doctorate in Greek and Latin. In addition to his academic work to become a priest, Father Artzer held three other advanced degrees: a master’s degree in library science from Rutgers University, as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate in classical languages from The Catholic University of America.

He was a member of Rutgers University’s library faculty from 1974 to 1988. During that time, he held a number of positions, including chief descriptive cataloger, head of the Humanities Group in the Technical Services Department, and humanities bibliographer at the university’s Alexander Library.

In 1986, Father Ralph Wiltgen, the prolific journalist who founded and directed the Vatican Council News Service, made mention of Father Artzer in one of his books, "The Founding of the Roman Catholic Church in Melanesia and Micronesia, 1850-1875." In it, he credits Father Artzer with finding a copy of an 1849 manual that was important to the author’s research.

According to the book’s footnote, Father Artzer searched 13 million entries in the Online Union Catalog of the Online Computer Library Center in Dublin, Ohio. In those millions of entries, only one copy of the manual existed, and he found it.

Father Artzer stayed current with new technology. He regularly attended conferences and seminars sponsored by the American Library Association and the Library of Congress. In addition to his work in academia, he also spent weekends and summers doing parish work. He served as an assistant pastor at Visitation in Brick Town, New Jersey, and as pastor at Immaculate Heart in Mercer, Penn.

In 1988, the Society of the Divine Word assigned Father Artzer to Bordentown, N.J., and employed his expertise to computerize the SVD Generalate archives.

Born in Fort Dodge, Iowa, he was the sixth of John and Barbara Madelyn Artzer’s 12 children. As a child, he attended Corpus Christi School before entering St. Joseph Seminary in Epworth at age 14.

Father Artzer is survived by his sister Florence Stringer and many nieces and nephews.

His wake took place on Nov. 4 and a funeral on Nov. 5. Both were held in the Divine Word Residence chapel. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Artzer can be made for the care of retired missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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