Jenny, Archivist, led this lunchtime to lunchtime event. It was attended by 16 Sisters, including two members of St Mary’s community. Sister Brigid led us in prayer each day. Jim, Archivist at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, gave us an input on day one on “Perspectives on Archives for Pastoral Work.” Victoria, Freelance Library and Archive Conservator and Preservation Consultant, shared with us some of the conservation work she had carried out on Mercy Archives. A student on a placement from Birmingham University, Josiah, worked with Jenny on the creation of a new archive project, a reminiscence film, “Being a Sister of Mercy,” and with his brother Jed helped to deliver it on day two of our Conference.
Jenny (Archivist, Union of the Sisters of Mercy) prepared for the presentations with help from Jim (Archivist at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust), Victoria (Archive Conservator and Preservation Consultant) and Josiah (a Student on placement at St Mary’s from the University of Birmingham).
We had access to unique material and artefacts which are stored at St Mary’s for permanent preservation. These show the history and work of our Sisters from the 1840s, their pastoral work, their practical response to need and the spiritual dimension of their lives.
All the talks emphasised to us the importance of Community Annals (with photographs where possible) remembering that these records will become an extension of human memory in the years ahead.
It was a very helpful and informative conference where we were given an opportunity to express our hopes and fears, and our enthusiasm! The atmosphere was very relaxed, it was a good place to be.
A special ‘Thank You’ to Jenny.
The collection of photographs generated real interest and the reminiscence film created by Jenny and a student, further reinforced the importance of recording our story.
Jim, Archivist at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was known to some Sisters as he had provided maternity cover for Jenny. He spoke on perspectives on Archives for pastoral work and used photographs to support his talk.
“Do unto others as you would they should do unto you”
Precept divine, to Earth in Mercy given
Oh sacred rule of action worthy Heaven
Went thou the guide of life, we should all know
A sweet exemption from the worst of woe
No more the powerful would the weak oppress
But all would learn, the luxury to bless
And avarice from its hoarded treasures give
Unasked the liberal boon that want might live
Thou righteous law – whose dear and useful light
Sheds over the mind a ray divinely bright
Condensing in one line what erst the sage
Has vainly taught in many a laboured page
May every head, thy hallowed voice revere
To justice sacred and to nature dear
The wonderful hospitality added to the enjoyment of our gathering in St. Mary's. The Sisters and all staff could not have done more to make our stay so worthwhile.
To Jenny, we owe a huge debt of gratitude for all the hard work which has gone into preserving, restoring and cataloguing all the material that was sent to St. Mary's.
We might reflect, “are we willing to preserve our bit of the Mercy history in the twenty first century?”
As we gathered in St. Mary’s all eager to explore the ministry of archivist we were not disappointed but enthused in a new and different way. A glance at the proposed timetable assured us that this was going to be more than merely keeping a community diary! Jenny had pulled out all the stops to give us a new and exciting experience.
What drew everyone’s attention before the day actually started was the little table towards the end of the conference room holding two photograph albums. This proved an animated talking point, whether one’s formation was in Westminster or Birmingham/Offchurch. It was certainly a case of “back to one’s roots” and Sisters gravitated towards the albums again and again. Was this nostalgia at work? Or a desire to re-live how we used to be in days long gone? Or the delight of looking at youthful, unlined faces as we set out to serve the Lord in gladness?
What was really powerful was the video Josiah had made for his project work at Birmingham University. Looking at the video clip, listening to the background of Sisters’ voices and immersing oneself in the action on the screen was really as good as a Retreat. It left me wishing that this could be seen and heard in all our communities.
The question of keeping the community diary DID come up but in small groups which proved very helpful as new ideas came to the fore which could be acted upon easily by any annalist. We could misquote St. Paul and say we do not forget the past in order to strain on for the future as the past is who we are and needs to be remembered for the future.