ACWR Conference New Orleans

6Archivists Veronica Buchanan and Mary Milburn attended the seventh triennial conference of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious (ACWR), held in New Orleans, Louisiana, from September 6th through the 9th 2012. The theme of the conference was “Meeting the Challenges of the Present: Shaping our Future Now.”   The feature sessions discussed the recovery process of many New Orleans archival institutions following Hurricane Katrina, archives and records management policies from a civil and canon law perspective, and database software comparison presentations.

As an archives that documents the history of a congregation of women religious, there is no better network of resources or conference presentations that are tailored to our specific needs and inquiries offered in an archival organization at the local or national level than ACWR. The session on archives and records management policies by canon lawyer Sister Deborah M. Cerullo, SSND, was particularly eye-opening at times. It made us reconsider policies and procedures we had previously considered standard or acceptable.

5Old Ursuline Convent 2St. Mary Chapel (in the Convent) 8Sr. Clare of Assisi Pierre (at right) greets the tour group

9Site of Archdiocesan Archives ca 1899 (inside the convent)

The opening session, “Mining the Archives You Mind: Potential Uses and Connections” stressed collaboration with other Archives in an effort to piece together connections and to realize the larger story that exists among us, even those outside of the religious community.  During the conference, Veronica put this into practice and sought out archivists whose Congregations share a meaningful connection to our history. One of the most poignant stories stemmed from her meeting with Joel Shedlofsky, archivist for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, who was not at all aware of our Congregations’ shared past. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd offered our pioneer Sisters hospitality in their convent on Bank Street in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1858.

That first evening, we attended a social in which we soon realized there were so many archivists to meet and so much to share, but at least this allowed us a good start!  Another realization was the increase in lay people as archivists for the Sisters.  It is always good to see familiar faces, especially since this group meets every three years.

Although the conference was held over an extended weekend, each day’s schedule lasted 12-14 hours.  However, this close-knit and almost continuous contact with other members allowed us to get to know the fellow archivists on a deeper level. This led to the discovery that many were facing the same sorts of projects and challenges that we had been facing the past year, thus making us friends, more than colleagues.

1St. Louis Cathedral – Site of the Liturgy

4Another view inside St. Mary Chapel
7St. Mary’s Academy

Being in New Orleans, disaster preparedness and recovery were the hot topics.  As local archivists were preparing to share their stories of Hurricane Katrina with attendees, Hurricane Isaac hit the city the week before the conference. The storm did enough damage to alter the local tours that were offered to conference participants.

As archivists, we are all well taught and constantly reminded of having a disaster preparedness plan for our archives.  While still proclaiming merit for a preparation plan, those who experienced Katrina soon realized that a disaster recovery plan is obviously more helpful in the wake of a real disaster.  Having a list of important contacts is more useful than having a broom, bucket, and paper towels on hand.  When you cannot enter a building because its structure has been compromised, it is essential to be able to reach the professionals under which you have contracts, etc.  The Archives staff is working on our list of phone numbers that we will keep off-site. While we have no designs to disregard our current disaster preparedness plan, prayers are always appreciated as a precautionary measure!

We are already looking forward to the 2015 conference, as we so enjoyed our experience in New Orleans, a city so rich in Catholic history. We are also excited to see how we can “shape our future” with the goal of making our Congregation’s history and the Charism of Mother Frances  more accessible and identifiable in this increasingly fast-paced digital world.

 “Lord, let us remember that the trailblazers of yesterday are our traditions today . . .”
--Excerpt from “The Archivists’ Prayer” written by Sr. Anne Courtney, SC

Associates Veronica Buchanan and Mary Milburn

[Photos courtesy of Veronica Buchanan, Kathleen Daly, Sisters of Charity of NY.  Photo of Sr. ACWR Logo used with permission.]

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