Just recently while chatting with several sisters during lunch, I realized how grateful I am to be working in the Archives. I was telling the sisters about transcribing letters and documents that sisters have stored in their personal papers file.
Some time ago, the director of Saint Benedict’s Archives became aware that researchers cannot read much of what is written in personal folders. Many of these documents are written in cursive and sometimes even in pencil. Because many schools determined that teaching cursive writing was no longer necessary, the present generation often cannot decipher a document written in cursive. Personally, I was aware of this strange phenomenon because as I was leaving the classroom, many students were telling me they could not read my comments. Thus, it has become a time-consuming job in the Archives to be transcribing letters and personal papers. We also transcribe oral histories sisters have taped with Sister Renée Domeier or in the past, Sister Etienne Flaherty. When completed, both oral and written forms of a sister’s history/story are stored.
But working in the Archives can mean several different things. Some people collect articles from news sources which highlight particular sisters. These news articles are placed in the sister’s file.
Another staff member sorts through all the artifacts, articles, pictures and papers that each sister has turned over to the Archives. This sorting happens only after a sister has gone to Heaven.
A tech person makes digital copies of all the pictures and documents about each sister and stores them in a digital file.
When requests are received from relatives of sisters or someone doing research, a staff person is assigned the task of responding to the request. Sometimes it requires pictures be sent, but other times, locating the information is perfect as an answer.
Community business is also saved and stored in the Archives. When any member wants to know some event historically, a file or record is sure to have the information. Chapter Minutes have been kept over the 160 years of Saint Ben’s existence. Federation business is also part of the archival holdings.
Because I have been transcribing many personal letters and papers of a variety of sisters, my knowledge of the community has grown. For example, I was fortunate to transcribe Sister Juana Raasch’s collection of letters and papers. She was a prolific letter writer, and her correspondence was so fascinating. Even if she died about 10 years before I joined the community, I know a lot about her research and her work on “Purity of Heart.”
Another letter writer was Sister Alfreda Zierden. Her letters were just wonderful, but she slipped into German in almost every letter she wrote. She sometimes asked why that happened, but it was amusing to say the least. We are now attempting to have these letters translated.
Archival holdings absolutely fascinate me because of the richness they hold in stories alone. I believe there is a power in stories. Therefore, the Archives is a powerhouse!
Mary Jane Berger, OSB