Sr. Angela Bugler
Archives are unique, irreplaceable, original documents. Archivists ‘manage’ them, in a physical sense, by developing and implementing storage and retrieval systems, and, in an intellectual sense, by researching and providing details about the provenance and context of the records’ creation – who, why, how, when and where they were created, and, also, by engaging with the questions – ‘What relationship have the records with other records?’ ’What is the relationship between the creator of the records and other people?’ ‘How do the records fit into the broader social context?’
The Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy came into being on 14th July, 1994 linking the twenty six diocesan groupings in Ireland and the Irish Mercy Sisters in South Africa, Kenya and United States. The Congregation was divided into seven provinces, each one with its own archives.
The South Central Provincial Archives opened in 1996 and it is housed in the Mercy Convent in Booterstown, Co Dublin. The term ‘sole operator’ is used for those entrusted with the care of archives in voluntary societies, religious institutions, houses of historic interest, and other small-scale but important places.
The South Central Archives holds the records generated by the Provincial Leadership teams and those created by the diocesan generates which preceded them. There are records from houses which have closed and ministries which have finished, and those concerning new ministries and new houses. It also contains all material relating to governance – constitutions, chapter material and minutes, agendas and decisions of meetings. Material generated from the offices in the Province – Stewardship, Justice, Property, Vocations, Missions and Education is held there. There are membership records and registers, and material connected with formation. Legal documents and communications with ecclesiastical authorities are kept. Audio-visual material and personal papers of Sisters are stored.
Probably the single greatest influence on the creation of documents was Vatican II. It brought about a shift in meaning and in activity, and hence, in record keeping. This is documented in the Archives. Everything cannot be kept because space and time are at a premium; one of the skills of the archivist is making decisions on what to keep and what to discard, always with caution. Archival material is transferred to the Congregational Archives, Herbert Street, Dublin, in accordance with retention schedules.
The Archives also process enquiries which can come from relatives of deceased sisters or from researchers. Annals from each house and obituaries of deceased sisters are collected, collated and sent for printing. The annals are one of the most valuable sources of historical information available to succeeding generations of Mercy Sisters and to historians. Archival documents not only tell us about the Sisters of Mercy but another layer of meaning can also be gleaned. They are irreplaceable storehouses of information about the social history of places where Sisters settled, the Catholic Church and its development in Ireland, the evolution of liturgy and forms of prayer, the evolving shape of governance structures, the personalities and opinions of ecclesiastical leaders, Roman pontifical law in relation to religious orders and church/state arrangements in Ireland.
Archival practice follows professional standards, (ISAD(G)). As well there are several acts governing archives and records; The National Archives Act, 1986, Local Government Acts, 1994, 2001, the Heritage Act, 1995, Data Protection Acts, 1988, 2003, the Freedom of Information Acts, 1998, 2003, and copyright legislation and fair dealing.
Sr. Mary Coyle, Provincial Archivist
Working with archives is really taking part in the preservation of our wonderful heritage. It is sacred work which constantly gives insight into the early and present history of the Congregation and the lives of the Sisters who have gone before us, who inspire us by their dedication, single-mindedness, resourcefulness and great love for the poor. Archival material, properly stored and easily accessible is also vital for accountability and transparency in our undertakings.
‘History is made with documents. Documents are the imprints left of the thoughts and the deeds of men [and women] of former times. For nothing can take the place of documents. No documents, no history.’ (Charles Seignobos, Histoire de la civilization contemporaine (1920). Translated by Eamon de Valera in a letter from prison to Kathleen O’Connell, his personal secretary, 2 February, 1924, enjoining her to safeguard his papers).