Archives: An Opportunity for Leadership and Religious Archivists

Benedictine Sisters at Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama

As president of the Benedictine Sisters of the Federation of St. Scholastica, I have become more and more aware of the importance of keeping well organized and accurate archives. However, it seems that tending to archives is often left on the backburner of issues considered by religious superiors, given the huge array of pressing matters before them. Nevertheless, I am convinced that if we do not tend to the necessary work of well-kept archives, we are destined to make the same mistakes of our past. We can learn from our past what is ours to do today as well look to the future.

Saint Ottlla Hall, Sacred Heart Monastery, Cullman, Alabama

I am most grateful to Boston College for sponsoring the Envisioning the Future of Catholic Religious Archives conference and making it so affordable to attend. What a gift and contribution to women religious! I hope that many religious leaders and archivists will take advantage of this important conference.

Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB
President, Benedictine Sisters of the Federation of St. Scholastica
Cullman AL 35055
Lynnmckenzieosb@gmail.com

A Rich, Painful Experience

On July 31, 1973, Sister Rita Anne Houlihan, r.c., was arrested and held prisoner for 14 days for picketing with the United Farm Workers in Fresno, California. Fifty-three women and 150 men were arrested that day, including 16 sisters and 24 priests. The religious men and women had come to Fresno to “witness to the presence of the Church in the struggle of the workers against the unjust injunction preventing adequate picketing, and to encourage them in their efforts to remain non-violent, when they had been the victims of so much violence.”

While at the prison camp in Fresno, Sister Rita Anne Houlihan (center) was visited by the Cenacle Superior General Rita Foy (left) and Assistant General Mary Ann Carroll (right). Photo courtesy of the North American Province of the Cenacle.
While at the prison camp in Fresno, Sister Rita Anne Houlihan (center) was visited by the Cenacle Superior General Rita Foy (left) and Assistant General Mary Ann Carroll (right). Photo courtesy of the North American Province of the Cenacle.

In a series of letters and an oral history interview, Sister Rita Anne described this “rich, painful experience.” While imprisoned, she met Dorothy Day who was detained at the same jail, and was introduced to César Chávez. She even heard a concert by Joan Baez who came to help raise the spirits of the prisoners. Despite the long days of stress and uncertainty, Sister Rita Anne witnessed a beautiful sense of community among the imprisoned women. There were daily morning exercises, daily Mass, and everything was shared in common (even toothbrushes!). The Chicano women were tenderly solicitous of the sisters because they had never been “in” before. For their part, the sisters refused to sign a release unless everyone was freed together. Sister Rita Anne was able to continue the Cenacle ministry of retreats by giving private directed retreats to some of her fellow prisoners. Looking back on the experience, Sister Rita Anne wrote, “I am very happy I did this and have no regrets though it was a little scary at first.”

Jerice Barrios, Archivist
North American Province of the Cenacle

My Journey in Religious Archives

Schultz photo 2 July 1, 1930 view MC
Mundelein College skyscraper construction

I had plunged into the waters of religious archives as the result of research in women’s history in Chicago. One particular episode had to do with the historical research I contributed to my colleague Ellen Skerrett’s curation of the B. V. M. section of the Loyola University Chicago’s Art Museum exhibition “Crossings and Dwellings: Restored Jesuits, Women Religious, American Experience, 1814-2014.” Having studied immigrant neighborhoods in the city, I knew that Catholic women—both lay and religious—held the key to a larger story of community building, social service, and education. Catholic sisters were, indeed, “Sister Builders” of the cityscape in brick and mortar and of the social infrastructure that held urban centers together. However, as Ellen and I soon found out, Catholic women religious archives presented challenges for the historian. This became crystal-clear when we found scant information about Mother Isabella Kane, B. V. M. , an important leader during the expansion of higher education for women in Chicago and, as we found, mainly responsible for the conception and implementation of Mundelein College. I had spent several nights and days at Mount Carmel, Dubuque, Iowa, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity Blessed Virgin Mary—the BVM, I knew what little biographical information existed for many of the women of the congregation. This was, by the way, the congregation of predominantly Irish women, who first set foot in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love, only to barely escape the burning of their convent and school during an anti-Catholic riot in 1844, headed to Iowa; here, on the banks of the Mississippi, they established a foothold in the vast new continent; from this perch, they sent forth sister-teachers and sister-builders in many parts of the United States. In Chicago, they developed high schools—St. Mary and Immaculata– and designed and built a modern skyscraper college: Mundelein College. Mother Kane was the daughter of an illiterate Irish immigrant woman, widowed and bringing up her family on Chicago’s Near West Side in the Holy Family parish. Sent to parochial school, the young girl learned to read and more than read, she learned to think, to draw and appreciate art and architecture, and, eventually, to be the intellect behind the conception of a skyscraper college for Catholic women in Chicago. How did we find out? Often reading between the lines– -finding a “little black book” – brought to our attention by the archivist at Mount Carmel, and also, studying Mother Kane’s correspondence with Cardinal Mundelein, with the architect chosen initially for the work, and with an expert from Harvard University who was both a designer and an historian of heraldry. What we found was evidence that this first generation American Catholic woman had negotiated the buying of property, the incorporation of the college, and had significantly influenced the architectural style, the iconic external and internal decorations, the sculpture and symbolic statuary of this 20 th century innovation, a skyscraper building housing a woman’s college centrally located in, at the time, the second largest city in the United States which had a large Catholic population in need of higher education. She knew it was time for women to be educated in the professions, for Catholic women religious to have greater access to higher education for themselves as teachers and as students. Our sources were not “personal” since Isabella Kane did not write memoirs or even one or two revealing, intimate letters to close friends or kin! To learn about her aesthetics and her educational goals we had to plumb her “black book” which did not directly address such issues but had her administrative notes; we had to piece together her ideas from her business correspondence with architects, the church hierarchy, real estate people, and an expert in heraldry. Ellen Skerrett and I were able to find blueprints that revealed the kinds of changes Mother Kane instigated in design of the building, establishing her agency in the creation and implementation of the B.V.M.’s dream of higher education for Catholic women.

Rima Lunin Schultz
Advisor to the Jane Addams Papers Project and Independent Historian

Schultz photo 1 S11-Angels & BVMs
Angels in place, 1930

Southwest Franciscans, An Evolving History

The Franciscans have a long history in the Southwest. Fray Marcos de Niza saw Zuni Pueblo in 1539, leading to centuries of evangelization and struggle. After Mexico gained independence from Spain, trust in the Franciscans diminished and their numbers in the Southwest declined until the last died in 1848.

Fifty years later, at the request of Mother Katharine Drexel, the Franciscans returned to the Southwest. Three friars from St. John the Baptist Province, Cincinnati, Ohio arrived on the Navajo Nation and manned a mission in St. Michaels, Arizona. The ministry flourished and the friars helped to develop a written Navajo language, facilitated additions of more than 1,000,000 acres to the reservation, and expanded their ministries to New Mexico in its Pueblo settlements, Hispanic villages, and other outlying missions.

After many years of running missions in the Southwest, and after decades of discussion, the friars voted to establish a separate Franciscan province. On January 3, 1985, the Province of Our Lady of Guadalupe was founded. Most of the approximately 100 founding friars were already living and working in the Southwest. Today, members of OLG Province continue to minister among the Navajo, Pueblo and Hispanic people of Arizona and New Mexico.

The early friars at St. Michaels also ran the area’s post office out of a room at the mission. It was established in 1902. During a recent spring cleaning, Br. Jose Rodriguez found the old Post Office sign and brought it to OLG’s archives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The first photo shows Fr. Anselm Sippel outside St. Michaels Mission c. 1948. The sign can be seen hanging in the background. The second photo shows the sign as it is today, with the zip code which was a later addition.

Brie Montoya
Provincial Archivist

 

Responding to research needs: the response of the Maryknoll Mission Archives

Maryknoll Mission Archives

Late in the spring of 2011 the Maryknoll Mission Archives, a collaborative venture of the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters and Maryknoll Mission Association of the Faithful, launched its website and opened its virtual doors to the world. The site included information for researchers about using the Archives, an Archon component through which we began sharing finding aids for our open collections and a form for contacting the Archives. This step into the cyber realm backed by leadership’s support resulted in attracting a global body of researchers working on a wide variety of topics to the Archives.

Over the last six and a half years, professors and doctoral candidates from US-based and international educational institutions such as the Australian National University College of Asia and Pacific, Catholic University of Korea, Hong Kong Baptist University, Indiana University, Iona College, New York University, Seoul National University, University of California Berkley, University of California Riverside, University of British Columbia, University of Maryland College Park, University of Tokyo and Yale University have found the Maryknoll Archives through our online presence. These researchers came with questions about U.S.-Japanese relations in the 1940s, indigenous art, Catholicism in modern Korea, religion in Manchuria, medical mission work, social history of workers in Central America, cinema in Africa, contemporary history of the Catholic Church in Taiwan, healthcare in the Marshall Islands and childcare in Los Angeles Japanese immigrant populations just to name a few. They came to research questions we as archivists didn’t dream of while organizing and describing the records. Each individual archivist-researcher interaction is a valuable partnership.

For our part, we utilize our understanding of the record structures and content to help researchers identify meaningful collections, often offering new avenues as the research process develops and new questions emerge. Researchers, in turn, provide us with a better understanding of our records and offer the invaluable service of bringing these records to life and incorporating them into the wider history and understanding of the world. They help ensure that Maryknoll’s voice and contributions live on beyond the Archives’ stacks. The Archives’ website will continue to be a work in progress, refining our response to researchers and finding more avenues though which to make the broadest section of potential researchers aware of what resources we can offer their work. This conference is a rare and exciting opportunity to gather together all the voices that help shape our work as Catholic religious archivists in order to best share our stories.

Jennifer Halloran
Director, Maryknoll Mission Archives

Alexian Brothers

1987 Br Felix Bettendorf -Provincial and Br Frank Souza – Director in front of Bonaventure House.

The Alexian Brothers, working closely with the Archdiocese of Chicago, responded to the problem of support for men and women with AIDS or ARC with a residential facility called “Bonaventure House” after the founder of the American province, Brother Bonaventure Thelen, C.F.A. The facility was not a hospital or hospice; rather, it provided room and board, pastoral and psychosocial counseling, and support groups. The facility was dedicated on April 6, 1989 by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and officially opened.

Donna Carl Dahl
Director
Alexian Brothers Provincial Archives

A Community Leader’s View

One of the responsibilities of Leadership is preserving the legacy of their congregation, especially as some congregations are growing smaller and looking at some type of closure. I know that there is a fear of losing the history and contributions of smaller less known congregations. Although these congregations are small, they hold a unique part of the history of Catholicism in the United States.  Being in leadership from one of those congregations, I am interested in meeting historians who may be interested or know others who may be interested in writing the history or exploring a particular aspect of our Charism that is unique to my congregation.  I am also hoping to be able to network with other leaders to think creatively on how we can house our archives and artifacts going forward.  Not only so the documents and manuscripts are available for research but also the story of religious life may be made accessible to everyone.  It is important to understand the circumstances and lives of these remarkable women and men who forged paths that have led to some of the most sought after education and medical treatment in the world.  Not to mention a myriad of ways a foundational grounding in one’s faith has made a significant impact on the decisions and choices one has made in their lives.  Networking and collaboration are the ways of the future and this conference is a place to start for leaders, archivists and historians.

 

Sr. Ginger Downey, General Secretary
Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters

Sister St. Francis Sullivan, CSJ

Sister St. Francis Sullivan devoted her career as a Sister of St. Joseph to the education of young women. By 1931, she had earned a doctorate in French. After teaching high she began her forty-year career in the French Department at Regis College as faculty and chair, in addition to fulfilling other collegiate duties, as well as directing the Extension School for the education of young Sisters. During her academic career, she did research and published articles and book reviews, as well as editing, and was active in a number of professional organizations.

In addition to her collegiate duties, she became a member of a group of nine Sisters of St. Joseph engaged in translating from French the Maxims of the Congregation, which had been written in the seventeenth century.

In 1952, the French government bestowed on her its highest academic award, Les Palmes Académiques, with the added distinction of Officier de l’Académie. Due to a glitch in communication, Sister St. Francis was studying in France when the French consul-general in Boston conferred the award at an Academic Convocation at Regis College.

Mary Rita Grady, CSJ, Archivist
Boston CSJ Archives

“Don’t forget the Sisters!”

OSF Englewood

When I started research for my forthcoming book Chicago Católico: Making Parishes Mexican, 1920-77, historian Ellen Skerrett sagely suggested “Don’t forget the Sisters!” I gathered abundant material from Mexican parishioners and Claretian clergy at St. Francis of Assisi, a church known as Chicago’s catedral mexicana. But with Ellen’s words ringing in my ears, I contacted the Sisters of St. Francis who had staffed St. Francis School from its founding in 1867. The school had great historic importance, I realized, as Chicago’s first parochial school that served a primarily Spanish-speaking population.  At the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Francis in Joliet, archivist Sister Marian welcomed me and shared the school convent’s annals. The monthly annals became bedrock material for two chapters of my book. These orderly, typed pages allowed me to glimpse the lost world inside the school (closed in 1964), where Euro-American sisters sometimes struggled with ethnic Mexican students and families. Moreover, the annals allowed me to see the world from the Sisters’ convent, perched on a crowded, multi-ethnic residential street. The Sisters offered straightforward reflections about ethnic transitions in the neighborhood, offering vignettes of “pantry parties” with old time German American former students, a Mexican American boy’s funeral procession, or African Americans avidly attending the parish street festival, just in front of the convent’s door.

 

Deborah Kanter
Professor of History, Albion College