A Report on the "Envisioning the Future of Catholic Religious Archives" Conference

On the campus of Boston College.
"Envisioning the Future of Catholic Religious Archives" was held at Boston College July 11-13, 2018. The conference was unique because it brought together archivists, congregation leaders, and historians to discuss the major issues facing Catholic religious archives. Attendees numbered 165, including 110 archivists, 25 leaders, and 30 historians. Of the 165 participants, four were from Europe and six from Canada. The conference was organized and presented under the auspices of Boston College by a national advisory committee comprised of religious leaders, archivists, and historians. CARA member Malachy McCarthy was a co-chair of the advisory committee.

Reading room in the Bapst Library, Boston College.
As stated on the conference website, the goal of the conference was "to assess and articulate common needs shared by religious archives as they plan for the future, and to develop strategies and resources for meeting those needs so that the stories and contributions of Catholic religious communities may be appreciated, understood and valued by scholars and society at large."

A stained glass window in the Bapst Library, Boston College.
The conference included an opening mass, panel discussions, lectures, facilitated small group discussions, lightning round presentations, a reception, and a banquet.

Conference participants were given a tour of Special Collections at
the John J. Burns Library, Boston College.
The sessions were held in Boston College's Robsham Theater, and included topics like "Why Are We Here?", "What Do We Know?", "What Is the Ideal?", and "How Do I Envision the Future?".

Panelists Margaret McGuinness, Jennifer Halloran, Ginger Downey, OLVM,
and moderator Carol Coburn in a session entitled,"Why Are We Here?"
In the kick-off session, "Why Are We Here?", the perspectives of religious leader, archivist, and historian were represented by Sr. Ginger Downey, a member of the leadership team with Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters, Jennifer Halloran, archivist for the Maryknoll Mission Archives, and Margaret McGuinness, a history professor at LaSalle University. The speakers addressed the concerns, motivations, expectations, and goals that they held for the conference, and set the stage for a discussion on the difference in perspectives the three constituencies hold when it comes to archives.

A break-out session where conference participants discussed the key issues
raised in panels and lectures.
During her presentation on "What We Know", Sr. Patricia Wittberg, SC, presented statistics from her work with the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), which showed that young people, and young women in particular, are less religious than previous generations. Young people need to be shown the different leadership roles that religious women and men have held in order to understand the true diversity of the Church. Sr. Wittberg called the absence of the stories of religious women and men dangerous and an existential crisis for the Catholic Church.

Jean Bartunek, RSCJ, Professor at the Carroll School of Management,
Boston College presented during a session entitled,
How Do We Transmit Charism to the Future?
During the small group discussions, participants responded to the conference talks and addressed issues of access versus confidentiality, digitization, personnel, outreach, continuity and sustainability, and how to manage collections for congregations that may be reaching completion. The idea of a regional or even national depository for religious archives was mentioned and will need to be considered in more depth.

Lightning round session on writing a congregational or community history
with Carol Coburn of Avila University and Margaret McGuinness of LaSalle University.
Gathering archivists, religious leaders, and historians for this conference was a great first step in determining the future for religious archives, as these groups must work together to create sustainable solutions. In order to harness the energy and enthusiasm of those July days at Boston College, conference organizers intend to issue a white paper that can serve as an inspiration to everyone who has a stake in preserving the history of religious congregations.