Setting the Context for Consideration of Permanent Housing for Archives

As Dominicans we live by the four pillars – prayer, study, community, and ministry/mission.  As archivists we frequently have the privilege of coming across unprocessed “snippets” of our Dominican Sisters living out these four pillars for over 100 years.

Archives exist to preserve the community history and patrimony for generations to come.  The size of our collection varies depending on the size of our community. From the beginnings of our Congregations sister archivists have labored to accurately preserve and document the significant moments in our lives, e.g. foundation documents, formation and spirituality, schools, hospitals, sisters alive and deceased, and the creative works of our sisters to name but a few collections.

Today we are in a new era.  Our communities are growing smaller, sister archivists may no longer be available for much longer, and our partnership with the laity continues to grow. This is true for our Archives.  Many communities now have lay archivists assisted by sisters or sister archivists working with lay archivists.

 As early as 1984, Sister Janet Welsh, OP (Sinsinawa and former Director of McGreal Center) began hosting workshops to educate archivists of the relationship between the history of the Order and our own Congregations relating to the life and mission of US Dominicans.  This led to the formation in 2016 of a group of 7 Congregations meeting by zoom to discuss the feasibility of a centralized Archives for Dominican Congregations of Women Religious. Since then, other Dominican Congregations have joined the conversation. In 2020 we became Dominican Archivists for a Central Repository (DACR) and continue to meet regularly for support, sharing best practices, and educating ourselves in the best way to preserve our legacy and how to go about it.

Some may remember that in 2017, DSC agreed to sponsor a consultant, Ellen Pierce, to gauge the feasibility of a common repository.  Ellen visited each Congregation and submitted an individual report to each Congregation and a summary report to DSC in 2018. Her conclusion was that this was not feasible.

Meanwhile the Archivists continued to meet primarily by zoom to study the reports and say, “What next?” In 2018 Boston College offered a conference on the future of Catholic Archives.  This along with Ellen’s report encouraged us to examine other opportunities

At the same time other Centers were in process or already offering to house religious archives, and they were evolving regionally. As much as it would be ideal to house our Dominican Archives centrally, this does not seem feasible, making the regional places more attractive. Upon this realization the Dominican group reconvened to discuss their new mission, purpose, and name, Dominican Archivists in Collaboration (DAC)

Currently the possible sites are the Repository at Boston College, the Collaborative Archives Initiative at Santa Clara University, the Women Religious Archives Collaborative (Cleveland), and the Chicago Collaborative Archives Center. A site may also be developed at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, but this is still on the drawing board.

On July 20, 2022, the Archivists gathered by zoom to hear from the directors of each site.

Sharon Casey, OP