SAN ANTONIO • The archives of the Congregation of Divine Providence (CDP) was the site of a visit on June 27 by the Catholic Library Association’s fifth Introductory Archives Workshop for Religious Communities. This five-day intensive program was held at the Oblate Renewal Center for those interested in learning about archival theory and practice, as well as persons wishing to update their archival training.
“It is open really for people who are doing work in religious archives,” said Dr. Malachy R. McCarthy, president of the Catholic Library Association. “We do basic archival theory and also how to handle materials and issues of concern that religious orders would have to preserve and protect the records and also make them accessible when they are aged.”
The 32 participants touring the CDP archives hailed from across the United States and included priests, brothers, sisters and lay persons who serve as archivists for religious orders, explained Sister Ruth Beltran, MCM, a member of the group. Leaders of the workshop, she said, “teach the mechanics of keeping archive and file systems for religious congregations and they tell us all the ins and outs of keeping and preserving the archives and files.”
Sister Helen Marie Miksch, CDP, of the General Council, welcomed the workshop participants to the community room at the Congregation of Divine Providence Convent, and introduced Sister Charlotte Kitowski, CDP, archivist for the sisters, assisted by Sister Isabel Ball, CDP.
Sister Charlotte related that the CDP archives they maintain are one of three archives on the premises. Separate ones are kept for Our Lady of the Lake University in a different building on campus and a special Mexican-American archives, containing papers from the Old Spanish Missions, is located across the street in the Sister Elizabeth Anne Sultenfuss Library.
Following a short film celebrating the 250th anniversary of the congregations’ founding, Sister Charlotte related that the CDPs had kept records since their arrival here in 1866. However, 20 years later, after the convent had been built and the sisters were teaching in around 20 schools, their superior had a very serious disagreement with the bishop that resulted in her being deposed and most of their records were burned. “We did survive and went on,” she said, “but we are missing a chunk of our heritage.”
The archives began as a cabinet full of materials on their founder, along with a few other papers. Then, in 1973, it was mandated that an official archives be formed. Originally relegated to an organ practice room in the basement of the large chapel scarcely large enough to hold two people, the archives was moved to various locations over the years, Sister Charlotte said, before finding a home in what had been the sisters’ former kitchen and scullery.
Their first Heritage Room began in the 1980s and has changed locations over the years, presently located in what had once been novitiate workrooms. They have been fortunate, she said, to be assisted with it by someone from the Witte Museum. Sister Jane Marie Gleitz, CDP, is currently in charge of the Heritage Room and its artifacts.
Those in charge of the archives over the years have had to wear other hats as well, Sister Charlotte related. One of their recent tasks was helping with the book, “Living in God’s Providence — History of the Congregation of Divine Providence of San Antonio, Texas, 1943-2000,” by Sister Mary Christine Morkovsky, CDP. Help from the archives for it included, she said, “proofing 1,400 footnotes and things of that nature.” The book received the 2011 Texas Catholic Historical Society’s Paul J. Foik, CSC, Award for being the outstanding book written in the Southwest concerning Catholicism.
The judges were especially impressed, Sister Charlotte noted, by the 300 oral histories of the sisters and their colleagues that were recorded in the book’s making. The recordings and their transcriptions now reside in the archives.
The sisters are also proud that a number of their pictures were chosen for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) traveling exhibit.
These pictures, along with displays from Heritage Day in San Antonio were viewed by workshop attendees during their tour.
For Heritage Day, held at the Alamo, Sister Charlotte noted that Our Lady of the Lake students and one of the sisters actually wore some of the old habits that had been saved.
Touring the archives, the group was shown storage facilities holding books on the CDP’s founder, Blessed John Martin Moye, histories of the congregations he founded, information on the CDP’s constitution and chapters, as well as records of the chapters, superior generals and of the membership, both living and deceased.
Publications are also stored here, with Sister Charlotte pointing out that at one time these were bound by a bindery that OLLU had on campus. “But when we started putting news on the Internet or on the computer,” she said, “this fell by the wayside.” Records of all the sisters’ missions dating back to 1905, yearbooks and scrapbooks are also stored in the archives, as are manuscripts, dissertations and books of music composition written by the sisters.