Dominican Archives for the 21st Century: A Family Conversation


By Sister Janet Welsh, OP

This past June, 35 members of the Dominican Family attended “Dominican Archives for the 21st Century: A Family Conversation” at the Mary Nona McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies, Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Diane Kennedy, OP (Sinsinawa), vice president for mission and ministry at Dominican University, welcomed leadership and archivists representing three Lay Dominican provinces, friars of the Central Province, the Nuns Conference and 14 congregations of sisters. Diane’s address defined the purpose of the gathering: We gather here with a great love of our American Dominican history, but also ready to share dreams and visions about how we can work together to assure that the story of the extraordinary contribution of Dominicans to the building of the Church in America and to shaping the American character will not be lost.

Facilitator Joan Scanlon, OP (Peace) guided the group to think strategically about Dominican archives in the future, and to discuss how we as a Dominican Family can collaborate with one another to ensure both access and care of our diverse archives.

After a festive opening dinner, Janet Welsh, OP (Sinsinawa), director of the McGreal Center, provided a PowerPoint presentation that explained the historical context for the meeting, the results of the survey submitted by participants and reflected upon why this gathering was crucial for the sake of the preaching. The evening ended with prayer prepared by liturgist Patty Gallagher, OP (Sinsinawa).

mcgreal_table3Conversations filled the agenda for the second day. Joan facilitated table discussions on the significance of the U.S. Dominican story in the history of the order, Church and the nation. Participants in leadership positions discussed the responsibilities and challenges they faced with the preservation of their histories. Archivists addressed a similar question from the perspective of their archival work.

The morning included a panel of three archivists: Marilyn Francoeur, OP (Adrian); Maureen Murphy, OP (Blauvelt); and Jill O’Brien (Laity, Central Province). Each responded to the question: What concrete, practical steps have you taken to preserve your archives/documents so that our history will continue to preach in the 21st century?

After thought-provoking input and lively large and small group conversations, all agreed that the Dominican Family needs to collaborate to ensure the preservation of and access to our documents. By the meeting’s end, several concrete “next steps” were formulated. One step, in particular, was the creation of a task force to ensure the continuation of collaborative conversation.

All praised Joan Scanlon for her superb facilitation of the meeting. All applauded the planning committee: Becky Damptz (McGreal Center), Lois Hoh, (Sinsinawa) Suzanne Noffke, (Racine), Jill O’Brien (Central Province), Joan Scanlon (Peace) and Janet Welsh (Sinsinawa). We ended “Dominican Archives for the 21st Century: A Family Conversation” with a reading from The Golden Thread in the Dominican Family Story (Edward Schillebeeckx, OP).

Stories of the Dominican Order keep us “together” as Dominicans. Without a record we would be void of remembrances of the past, we would not find our own place in the present and remain without hope of expectations of the future.

Together we blessed each other, sang the Dominican Blessing, bade farewell and began our journeys home.

Sister Janet Welsh, OP (Sinsinawa), is director of the McGreal Center for Dominican Historical Studies at Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois.