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The final merge

Gratitude for 10 years - SSND Central Pacific Province
Central Pacific Province
2011 - 2021

By Michele Levandoski, Archivist
Sisters in St. Louis packed up the archives to send to their new home at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. Michele Levandoski, Archivist and Sister Carol Marie Wildt pose for a photo.

In late 2017, moving trucks carrying the archival collections from the eight former North American provinces, arrived at the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) North American Archives (NAA). Every time the driver opened the back of the truck, I would see the rows upon rows of boxes and I would become overwhelmed. How would I ever get all the boxes put away and more importantly, how would I ever find what I needed? The biggest hurdle by far, though, was how little I knew about the history of the congregation and each province.

Before the moving trucks arrived, I was able to visit each campus to see the archives and meet each of the archivists. It was a wonderful opportunity to see each of the collections before they arrived at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. I was also able to grill the archivists about each collection and the history of their province. The visits were immensely helpful and also enlightening. Although the former Milwaukee, St. Louis, Mankato and Dallas Provinces had merged to become the Central Pacific (CP) Province, their archival collections and therefore, their histories, were kept separate.

One of the fundamental principles of archives is something called “provenance,” which dictates the records created by the individual, family or organization (or in this case, province) be kept separate from other collections to preserve their context. I set up the NAA according to this principle, so each provincial collection is kept separate from the other.

Sisters in St. Louis packed up the archives to send to their new home at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee. Sister Carol Marie Wildt goes through each archived folder.

This system makes sense, because although each of the former provinces operated under similar rules and structures, they were all unique entities. The world that existed when the former Milwaukee Province was formed in 1850 was very different from the world in which the former Dallas Province was formed in 1961. The provinces were also unique in their climate, population density and number of sisters.

In January 2018 the NAA officially opened and requests for information started to pour in (over 1,000 in the first year). Each new request was an opportunity for me to learn a little more about the collections and the history of each province. When I started doing these searches, I always approached it by province of origin. Where was the school located? Which province did the sister belong to? Which province had missions outside of the United States? I kept everything in distinct categories based on the province. However, it didn’t take long to realize that this approach had its problems.

Although each province was unique, they were all intertwined. When a new province was formed, archival materials related to the geographic area of that province were moved from the original province to the new province. That means that older missions have records that can span multiple provinces. For example, the former St. Mary of the Pines in Chatawa, Mississippi, opened in 1874 as part of the former Milwaukee Province, but was transferred to the former St. Louis Province when it opened in 1895, then Dallas and finally the Central Pacific Province!

Once I understood this interconnectedness, I was able to be a more effective researcher by approaching some requests like I would a puzzle. I might have to search between the provinces in order to get all the pieces needed to complete the picture. For example, a recent request involved a Canadian sister who was a member of the former Milwaukee Province, who was injured in a fire while serving at a school in the former St. Louis Province. After she lost both of her hands, she worked in various capacities in Canada and Wisconsin. In order to fully understand her life, I had to look in the former Milwaukee, St. Louis and Canada province collections.

The rule of provenance means that the former Milwaukee, St. Louis, Mankato and Dallas Provinces will be kept as separate, unique collections. However, having them together under one roof makes it possible to use the collections in tandem to get a full and complete picture of the history of the SSND in North America. I believe that the creation of the NAA was the final step in the merger that created the Central Pacific Province. Each collection brings its own unique flavor while working together to create a unified whole.


Read more reflections and stories celebrating our 10 years as the Central Pacific Province.

Gratitude for 10 years


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