The Provincial Archives maintains the Heritage Room to showcase the past and current missions of the Daughters throughout the Province. Along with our exhibition space and future art gallery, these rooms seek to show the treasures, works, and charism contained in the Daughters of Charity archive. We are open to the public from 1-4 on Wednesday afternoon to the public, at during business hours to sisters, and at special request for tours.
September 13 was a special day at the National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. As part of their celebration of the 40th anniversary of the canonization of Mother Seton, Seton Heritage Ministries hosted a gathering of sisters from the congregations of the Charity Federation. There were tours of the Shrine, its museum, and the historic houses in which Mother Seton and her Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s lived in the early 1800s. In addition, the Provincial Archives, along with our fellow Federation archives, arranged a special display of copies of the Federation congregations’ Rules, nineteenth-century documents that defined the religious characteristics and activities of their early sisters.
Some of these Rules clearly trace back to a single source: a manuscript copy of St. Vincent de Paul’s Regulations for the Daughters of Charity, the community he began in Paris in 1633. In August of 1811, Bishop Benedict Flaget brought the volume to Emmitsburg where it was adapted by Rev. John Dubois, founder of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. Then, with the approval of Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore and Rev. John Tessier, the new “American Rule” (Image 1) was presented to and accepted by Elizabeth Ann Seton and her community on 17 January 1812. In brief, this new Rule was clearly crafted for women religious working in the New World.
The Provincial Archives is privileged to have among its Rare Books the copy of the Vincentian Rule brought over by Bishop Flaget as well as the original American Rule accepted by Mother Seton. We shared those precious links to Setonian and Vincentian heritage with other Federation archivists who graciously brought their own copies of their Rules for the display. In addition to Emmitsburg’s , on exhibit were original copies of the Rules of the Sisters of Charity of New York (Image 2); the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, New Jersey (Image 3); and a scan of the first page of the Rules for the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, KY (Image 4). In this blog, we share those images along with others from the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati (Image 5) and the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Charleston, S.C. (Image 6).
By comparing and contrasting the various Rules, one finds that the links among the Charity congregations are as rich as threads in a tapestry. For example, Bishop Flaget, then prelate of neighboring Bardstown, KY, brought to Catherine Spaulding’s congregation in Nazareth a copy of the same Rule accepted by Elizabeth Ann Seton’s community; Mother Spaulding, however, chose to adapt theirs slightly differently– and in definitely more “American” English. Showing yet another link is a page from the manuscript of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati’s Rule which bears the language of the approvals of both Archbishop Carroll and Rev. Tessier given to the Seton document in 1812. Finally, the Rule for the South Carolina Sisters shows a link to Emmitsburg via Bishop John England of Charleston, who had procured a copy and proposed it for the congregation of Sisters which he started in 1829.
Our thanks to the archivists of the Sisters of Charity of New York, Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth for granting permission to share images from their Rules. Thanks to Sr. Noreen Neary, archivist of the Sisters of Charity of Convent Station, for assisting with the Rules display at the National Shrine.
By Dee Gallo, Provincial Archivist
It seems impossible that anyone who followed Pope Francis’ visit to the United States did not hear that one of two gifts President Barack Obama gave to His Holiness was a key to the original door of the Stone House, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s first residence here in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on the property on which she founded her religious community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s. Dating from 1809, this key appears to be like so many others of its time. Yet its symbolism sets it apart – it literally and figuratively opened the door to let in new students who would experience Catholic education and to send out women religious to care for the poor and voiceless by opening service ministries that continue on into our own century.
Up until recently, the key given to the Pope and a second one like it were under the curative care of Provincial Archives of the Daughters of Charity, just across the lawn from where the Stone House now sits. Some people have wondered how President Obama ever came in possession of the key and whether it was really his to give. Well, this key’s path from its archival home to the United States Department of State is an excellent example of the legalities which all archives and archivists must observe when transferring items from their collections.
About two months ago, my colleague, Rob Judge, Executive Director of The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, told me he wanted to discuss something “confidential” with me. Now, we collaborate with the Shrine frequently to assist in loaning our artifacts for their exhibits; the “gift key,” in fact, was until recently on exhibit in the Shrine’s museum. However, the committee Rob had convened – and sworn to secrecy – was to face another challenge. He had been contacted by the State Department who wondered whether some artifact representing the life of Mother Seton might be obtained and transformed into a gift from the President to the Pope. The Shrine folks were elated – what a wonderful way to let the world know about Mother Seton and the National Shrine! For my part, I was elated as well – an artifact from our Archives would become a part of national history! But “loose lips would sink Papal gifts”; if any news leaked out, we were out of the running.
And so began weeks of closed-door meetings. I enlisted the help of one of my staff, Bonnie Weatherly, who has been working in the Emmitsburg archives for 35 years and has been assisting the Shrine museum with their displays for almost as long. We went through Archives’ collection of Seton artifacts, making lists of objects that might meet the criteria. Our little committee, however, kept coming back to the key for it had the best “narrative.” As Rob suggested, as a gift, it would be “a fitting tribute for a woman who opened the doors for so many women to serve the poor,” and for Pope Francis, “a man who has been a strong advocate for those who are poor and marginalized.”
Then came the legal transfer of the object from our Archives to the State Department.
Any item in an archives has to be “accessioned” or taken into a collection by making a record of its existence and location. This ensures that the repository has the legal “physical” right to it as property. In order to give the key to the State Department for the President to present it as a gift, however, we had to “deaccession” the key. As Provincial Archivist, I’m just the curator of the collections – the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise, actually own everything in the archives. So the State Department presented us with a Donor Form, which I prepared and sent off for the Provincial Visitatrix, Sr. Louise Gallahue, to sign. In addition to acknowledging donation, the agreement also expressly stipulated that were there some change of plans and the key not be given to Pope Francis, it would be returned to the Archives. Only when that document had been completed and received was the key legally no longer part of our collections. The final step, then, was to change our records to show that one of the two keys labeled as items 1-3-#266 [“keys to the original doors of the Stone House”] was donated to the State Department. This will show to archivists (and researchers) in years to come that the Provincial Archives once possessed TWO keys to the original doors of the Stone House and what the disposition of one of those had been. The second key will go into the Shrine Museum to replace its predecessor.
The overall implications of the gift are more numerous than one can count. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s name has been mentioned in the national press and in almost every Mass and religious ceremony at which the Pope presided. The Daughters and Sisters of Charity who follow in her works have been highlighted as continuing her wonderful legacy. And the story of her roles as wife, mother, and widow now give refreshed meaning to Catholic family life. Ah, but to the archivist who was lucky enough to attend that first confidential meeting and to navigate the legal steps of this once-in-a-lifetime property transfer – wow! Just wow!