Just Ask Archives

Dreams – God’s forgotten language
September 21, 2017
Cooler Minds, Warmer Hearts
October 2, 2017

by Elizabeth Reiter

There is a quiet room here on campus where three lovely guardian angels tend to the memories and history of the Sisters of St. Francis.

Tucked into the cool temperature-controlled basement spaces of Regina Hall is the Archive Room.  Its guardians are Sister Carol Hoffman, Sister M. Ricarda Witt and Sister M. Thomas More Ruffing. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, this is a little slice of heaven. The place is immaculate.  There is no possibility of misplacing something here.  A pencil lying on the floor would look disheveled.

This room contains 101 years of documents, news clippings, contracts, photographs, audio and video, certificates, maps, awards, gifts and artwork.

Sisters Augustine and Mother Justinian were the first Archivists and began organizing these pieces of history together in the 1960’s.  It took decades to get things in order and many other Sisters stepped in during that time.  Then, of course, we entered the technological age and everything had to be done again, digitally this time.

This task fell to a new team and it took them nearly a decade. Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa took charge of all paper documents.  Sister Thomas More transferred thousands of audio and video files to digital.  And, Sister Ricarda worked tirelessly to scan nearly a century worth of photographs into the computer.

Sr. Thomas More Ruffing and Sr. Ricarda Witt pore through the original ledger.

Sr. Thomas More Ruffing and Sr. Ricarda Witt pore through the original ledger.

Sister Carol Hoffman came on board in 2015.

“When I started working here I looked around and decided that I wasn’t going to touch a thing.  It was all perfect and I didn’t want to ruin it,” she says smiling.

What she does do well is connect families with their history, Sisters with their memories and strangers with old friends.

“Last week I had a phone call from a woman named Delores who lives in a retirement home in Troy, MI.  She is 92 and had an excellent memory.  She used to work at Holy Cross Hospital with many Sylvania St. Francis Sisters and wanted to know if any of them were still alive,” Sister Carol relates.

Delores was an Emergency Room Nurse at Holy Cross for 25 years and started there in 1960.  Sister Carol was able to go to the files and find that Sister Magdala Davlin and Sister M. Dominica Niedbala were also nurses there and are living at the Motherhouse now.  Delores was delighted to find out that both Sisters were well and remembered them both fondly.  She spoke to Sister Carol for some time and shared many of her dear memories of working with the Sylvania Franciscans.

Often, the Sisters receive calls from family members who are either going through old photographs or working on their genealogy and have found a connection to a relative that leads back here.  It takes just a couple of minutes for the Archivist to verify that the family has landed in the right place and then she shares with them pertinent history associated with that Sister’s time in the community.

The Sisters themselves and staff members rely on our Archivists a great deal.  The recent Centennial Celebration kept the archival room busy for over a year as they helped Communications Director Dale Thomas collect their history for publication.

With that excitement over, their days are a little quieter.  While they wait for your calls or emails, they continue collect the information from the Sylvania Sisters of St. Francis as they continue their ministries around the world and preserve it, carefully, in their perfect time capsule downstairs.

If you have a question for the Sylvania Sisters of St. Francis Archive Department, email Sister Carol Hoffman at choffman@sistersosf.org or call 419-824-3619.


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I am trying to verify if this is a Franciscan Reflection and in what year it appeared. Could you help me so I may cite this /Reflection? As follows:
“May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
so that you may live deep within your heart.

“May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
… (and two more verses, ending:)

“… to bring justice and kindness to all children and the poor.”

Sister Brigid O\'Shea Merriman

Thank you for this lovely account of our Sister archivists and the development of our congregational archives. I very much appreciated the story about Delores, aged 92 as well.

Great story Elizabeth. Well done!

Great story about some phenomenal Sisters who keep our history in order
and have a willing spirit to help us when we need to know what’s worth keeping
and what is not. Bless you dear Legacy Keepers!