Friday, May 2, 2014

Sister Joan Chittister Archive Dedicated at Mercyhurst

This past Wednesday, Jackie Esposito (University Archivist), Tim Pyatt (Head of Special Collections), Robyn Dyke (Records Management/PSUA), Nicole Hendrix (Library Development Director), and Jane Ingold (Penn State Behrend Reference Librarian/Archivist) attended the dedication of the Sister Joan Chittister Archive at Mercyhurst University. It was a momentous occasion that celebrated the culmination of hard work, dedication, and collaboration in creating a truly amazing collection. We at Special Collections are honored and excited to make Sister Joan's collection accessible to the public and preserve it for future generations.

We would like to thank Erie TV News and the Erie Times News for their coverage of the event and permission to post their videos on our blog. You can find video clips of Sister Joan and the dedication of the Archive at Mercyhurst University here and here. Additional pictures from the event are also available on the Benedictine Sisters of Erie website here. Below, you will find the text from Jackie's speech at the ceremony, which beautifully illustrates the contributions, struggles, and the lasting legacy of Sister Joan, a truly amazing woman.

Dedication of Joan Chittister Room, Mercyhurst University
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Presented by Jackie Esposito

It is my pleasure and privilege to address you this afternoon to honor Sr. Joan Chittister and her contributions to Mercyhurst University, Mount St. Benedict Monastery, Penn State University, and, perhaps most importantly, to the archival traditions of women nationally and internationally.
Sr. Joan has made numerous bold and courageous choices over the course of her life. Each choice bracketed by challenges and obstacles to be overcome. She has faced head on many battles over which she emerged victorious. But, perhaps, no action of Joan’s was quite as courageous or forward thinking as consciously and deliberately establishing research centers that document her activities as a writer, a social scientist, a theologian, and as a woman. This seemingly fearless act defies tradition and patterns of historical knowledge development. For hundreds of years, history ignored or deliberately censored the role of women and their contributions to society. Historical accounts treated women as invisible to the event surrounding them or, more likely, treated them as completely and totally non-existent. Women’s lives and narratives were unheard. Their voices were silenced.
Joan Chittister evaluated her personal contributions to society, reviewed her own history, and scanned the horizons of documentary evidence. The vision she saw was lacking in voices which she recognized as resonating her experiences, documenting the cries she had heard around the world, and, most significantly, preserving for all time the everyday lives of women. Joan stood back and decided this void had to be filled and it needed to be filled deliberately, professionally, academically, and with careful thought and planning. Joan’s desire to change the landscape of history, archival services, and personal documentation has resulted in the treasures we celebrate today.
By creating research centers at the Mount, Mercyhurst and Penn State, Joan Chittister has challenged the historical record to explain the narratives she has witnessed, to listen to the voices she has heard, to validate the experiences of women across five continents, and to honestly acknowledge that these women represent realities that must be recognized, cherished, and valued in a manner no less important than the great words of the great men vaulted in archives, museums and libraries internationally.
At an archival conference held here in Erie last year, Joan entreated the attendees to value their vocation by recognizing that “it is a matter of going where our talents, our interests, our excitement, our gifts, our skills lure us and lead us rather than struggling to go where prestige or status or power or money are our only real goals…” Without archival collections documenting the lives of women, there are no role models to follow, no leaders to emulate, no seers to open our eyes to what is possible, no traditions to follow.
The Joan Chittister Research Center at Mount St. Benedict Monastery establishes for visitors a place of peace and comfort to follow the footsteps of a woman who served a “good, holy and devoted life” within a ministry of God and in a sense of religion.
The Mercyhurst University Center establishes a sanctuary for undergraduate students to explore their own personal futures by questioning the various trends of times, recognizing social change and the engines that drove it, defining sweeping transformations, and acknowledging epochal undertakings for their soundness.
Penn State University’s Joan Chittister Collection establishes a formal repository for the various formats and creations documenting Joan’s long and distinguished career. Highlighting her correspondence, writings, broadcasts, speeches, and public policy statements, the Penn State collection is open to researchers worldwide to investigate the course of one woman’s life and the impact this life had on the thousands of people she came into contact with over the course of her varied and successful career.
As Joan has stated, “without archivists a society loses its history, whole peoples are made invisible. The world ignores the richness of difference, the lessons of social change, the paths that were tried and failed, the paths that were trodden over, the paths that were never tried at all. And great ideas are lost in cobwebs of time.” If Joan is correct and archivists are “the real keepers of a culture,” they cannot do their jobs without collaborating with courageous creators of the record. In this case, Sr. Joan Chittister.
So I ask each of you here today to contemplate two archival realities. The first is positioned solidly in the decision of Sr. Joan to preserve her heritage, to document her activities, to recognize that voices need to be heard and narratives need to be shared. The monumental work of creating the Chittister Collection has fallen onto many shoulders, has taken numerous hours, and required enormous prescience and patience. Without the day-to-day development of her documentary heritage strategy we would not be here today. My personal and professional gratitude is extended to the many hands and hearts who have developed and preserved this collection.
Second, let’s take a moment to recognize and acknowledge the leaders of the three research centers for their dedication and perspective. The Mount, Mercyhurst and Penn State have each taken on their individual responsibility to maintain and provide access to this collection in perpetuity. I don’t say the word perpetuity lightly because it assumes a commitment for generations to come. It also provides those generations with history that otherwise would be lost. These administrative decisions require significant resources and a commitment for the future that recognizes the value and need to document this particular history, to bring the voices to life once again, and to stand at the crossroads and welcome the challenges with open arms. Congratulations to the leaders who stood at the precipice and said yes to the future of knowledge for tomorrow. Well done.
I will close my remarks with a quote from the feminist author bell hooks which envelopes the concepts and ideas we have discussed so far. Hooks has stated, ”…education is and should be a place where there is a sense of struggle, where there is visible acknowledgment of the union of theory and practice, where we work together as teachers and students to overcome the estrangement and alienation that have become so much the norm…” For all of us here today, let us allow the Chittister Collection, the Chittister Research Centers, and the Chittister legacy be writ large as the opening of the doors to the sounds of joyous voices and narratives of human beings, particularly women, here in Erie, Pa., throughout the nation, across the world, and, perhaps one day, through the universe.

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