Mission Effectiveness Through Archives

The value of religious community archives is much more than preservation of the history of a particular religious community. They are also an important resource for mission and heritage formation in health care, education and social-service ministries that are, in large part, led today by laity. Such is the case with the Sisters of Providence and Providence Health & Services (PHS), which was born of the Sisters’ early work in the American West.

Stained glass mural, incorporating images from Providence Archives collections, reflects the heritage of the Sisters of Providence in the West. Dedicated in 2014, the mural is prominently displayed in the main entrance of Providence St. Joseph Health system office in Renton, Wash. It replicates one in the International Center of the Sisters of Providence in Montreal.

The Sisters of Providence were founded in 1843 by Ignace Bourget, Bishop of Montreal, and Blessed Emilie Tavernier Gamelin. Today this international congregation is celebrating its 175 th anniversary. Laity have always been active participants in the ministries of the Sisters of Providence and have shared the
Sisters’ charism and spirit. In earlier years, these values were absorbed simply through the experience of the Sisters’ personal actions and service in multiple roles. In the late 1970s, as Sisters filled fewer roles and became less visible in PHS ministries, mission effectiveness programs were developed in response to a movement for hospital staff to relate mission to all facets of their daily work. Mission statements and core values became part of the work culture. Today, these programs have developed into full- fledged, system-wide mission and heritage formation programs ranging from a daylong orientation to annual weeklong celebrations and several-month and multi-year programs. The foundation of each of these programs is the history preserved and made accessible by the archives.

At Providence Archives, Seattle, we host archives tours for formation groups, write interpretive and educational articles in our departmental newsletter, create relevant exhibits, and make presentations at formation workshops. Leaders rely on the archival collections for past and not-so-distant history,
photographs and artifacts for spiritual reflections, insight into past responses to similar contemporary events, examples of the lived core values, and for teaching the Providence charism, mission and heritage. At no time is this more important than today. As all religious communities are challenged by a decrease in membership which has affected their ability to fully participate in their ministries, they look for alternate means of sponsorship. With each merger, affiliation and sponsorship model, the heritage of each founding community or organization has to be sustained and imparted to all who work in that
ministry. Providence Health & Services is now part of Providence St. Joseph Health, created by PHS and St. Joseph Health. It includes the heritage of the Sisters of Providence and two other religious communities, Little Company of Mary and Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, as well as six other affiliated health systems.

Sister Susanne Hartung, SP, Chief Mission Integration Officer, and Mike Butler, CEO Providence Health & Services, participate in a mini-pilgrimage at a statue of Blessed Emilie Gamelin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence in Montreal. The statue stands outside the health system office in Renton, Wash., and at several other Providence ministries in the west.

Loretta Zwolak Greene, MA, CA
Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph Province
Providence Health & Services

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

Mercy Archives Educating and Advocating As the Community Evolves

The role of archives within an institution is a reflection of the organization’s values.  Unlike the world of secular archives, Catholic religious’ archives have a mandate, that of Canon law, stipulating “all documents concerning the diocese or parishes must be kept with the greatest care” (Canon Law, cc 486).  However, how each Catholic entity interprets and executes such directives varies greatly. . While religious community members can agree that archiving records of historic value is important to the legacy of the community, it becomes less clear where the necessary resources will come from to create and maintain such an endeavor. And the looming question remains…what becomes of the archives upon the closing or transitioning of the community?

However, the Sisters of Mercy are facing issues similar to the rest of religious communities, including, limited resources, and a future in transition.  How do we Archivists advocate the allocation of such finite resources to our work, given those circumstances?

Currently, advocacy for the SOM archivists means not only educating key audiences on what archives is and how it functions, but how it is important to an organization beyond the “history”.  To be relevant, we try to take advantage of every opportunity to educate the Community members, leadership, and staff on what it is we do and how it can serve the Institute. Beyond building credibility, we want them to understand that being an archivist requires specific education, training, and experience – a certain skillset and personality.  One could argue it is a calling – a passion to preserve and relate the history of an institution.  As the Sisters of Mercy evolve as a Community, so too, we hope the Mercy Archives can evolve to reflect the new reality.

As religious orders are faced with limited incoming membership and resources, where do Archives fit into that scenario?  The upcoming working conference, “Envisioning the Future of Catholic Religious Archives” will attempt to have dialog around these issues and explore potential solutions, through the leaders, archivists, and historians of religious communities.

Kathryn Oosterhuis, MLIS
Director, Mercy Heritage Center
Belmont, NC

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

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

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

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