Keeping archival records across provinces

About twenty years ago, each of the three North American provinces independently created a central archive to hold and preserve important records that tell the story of Good Shepherd’s work in North America. Each province invested significant time and resources gathering founding documents, photos, board minutes, and many other types of records. This work was critical for preserving much of the historical Good Shepherd record in North America.

Since then, convents and programs have evolved, with some transitioning and some closing. I have responded by continuing the original acquisition efforts of the three archives.

Working across province boundaries

I now work across province boundaries to support all three archives in managing information requests, monitoring preservation conditions, and acquiring and integrating new records into the archives.

Most recently, I visited the Central South communities of Green Bay, El Paso, and Dallas. When I arrive at a convent or program, I begin by getting to know the people, asking about their lives and histories, viewing records rooms, and exploring buildings.

Often, the conversations lead to the recognition or rediscovery of important historical materials that are endangered by storage conditions, decay, or pests. Sometimes, important records may be viewed as “discardable” because a set criteria has not been adopted across provinces.

I organize, index, and box the records, and ship them to the province archives. Once the boxes arrive, I carefully unpack each box, check shipping manifests, and spread the records out across an entire room.

Organizing and filing one collection of historical records can take a year or more. I examine the records numerous times in a complex workflow where each record is individually read, understood, assessed for historical importance, cleaned, repaired, or conserved, added to a permanent index, and finally, filed into archival folders and boxes, labeled, and shelved.

Work was scheduled to begin in January on the Green Bay, El Paso, and Dallas records, but COVID intervened, and the trip was postponed. Current projects in St. Louis include integrating several new collections, including those from the Good Shepherd Mediation Program in Philadelphia, Good Shepherd Shelter in Los Angeles, and local communities that have closed. Work in the New York archives continues as well, where I am executing a very large project to sort, organize, and house records from about 20 programs and communities.

So what is next? For now, I am staying close to home, working in the St. Louis archives. I plan to visit Carrollton as soon as possible. A New York trip will likely be scheduled later in the summer.

Monte Abbott

Monte Abbott

Monte Abbott is the archivist for the Province of Mid-North America and Director of Center Operations for the Province Center in St. Louis, Missouri.