The Role of Leadership in a Congregations Archives

Leaders of religious congregations play a pivotal role in preserving a congregation’s archives. When I began my role as the congregational leadership liaison to our archives, I knew very little about the subject. However, as my understanding of archives grew, it is clear to me now that leadership has a proactive responsibility for maintaining and developing their congregation’s archives. I believe that there are three areas of responsibility. First leadership must ensure that their archivist is competent and passionate about preserving and enhancing the congregation’s collection. Second, leaders must provide an adequate budget for archivists. The budget needs to provide more than personnel, space and supplies. Funds for ongoing education and networking with other archivists from religious communities is essential because this field constantly changes. And last, leadership is responsible for ensuring that their archives are open to researchers. The story of religious life is too rich to keep for ourselves.

(l-r) Sister Mary Salvaterra, CSJ (Albany Province Archive liaison), Michelle Hueg (St. Paul Province Archivist), Lisa Gibbon (Congregation of St. Joseph Archivist – COSJ Archives), Sister Danielle Bonetti, CSJ – (Congregational Leadership Team liaison to archives), Sister Jane Behlmann, CSJ – (Consolidated Carondelet Archivist director), Sister Carol Marie Wildt, SSND (Congregation Archive liaison), Sister Patricia Rose Shanahan, CSJ (Los Angeles Province Archive liaison)

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete Et Exsultate, Pope Francis offers an important vision about spirituality that I think also applies to our view of a congregation’s archives. Archives are not about our “life as a museum of memories.” Properly used and understood, archives enable us to “to contemplate (our) history in light of the risen Jesus.” Our collections tell the amazing story of how the mission of Jesus is made real in our time and place. For American religious women, the archives tell the story of how women in the 19th , 20th and 21st centuries were and continue to be leaders and visionaries. Impelled by God’s Spirit, sisters pioneered leadership roles of women. They helped to shape the American Catholic Church. As leaders, we have both a responsibility and a privilege to ensure that our archives are preserved and developed as the public face of our history. Archives tell the remarkable story of God’s spirit working through the lives, the prayers, and the ministries of our sisters.

Sr. Danielle Bonetti, CSJ
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, St. Louis, Mo