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The Women Religious Archives Collaborative (WRAC) was founded in 2022 to assist congregations, primarily in Ohio and the surrounding region, with their plans to appropriately preserve, protect, and make available for research their meticulous records and treasured archives.

The urgent archival needs of congregations for physical repositories and professional stewardship was highlighted in “Preserving the Past, Building for the Future,” a paper that was an outcome of a 2018 conference convened by Boston College to discuss the future of religious archives. This paper noted that many congregations lack resources to address their archives and called on institutions to collaborate as no one institution could possibly meet all congregations’ needs. 

In addition, in 2020, the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO) surveyed 404 congregations nationwide and concluded that 15% have fewer than 10 members and 40% fewer than 25, and that 50% of all women religious are 80+ years-old.

In 2022, the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University conducted a study of 522 women’s religious institutes, which involved focus groups and a survey. Of the 208 congregations that responded, there are presently at least 80, including many in the midwest, that need to relocate or transition their archives in the next 1-10 years. These congregations have aging or declining memberships and some are planning to peacefully complete their mission. Many cited not having trained archivists and permanent sites to house their collections, particularly those congregations not affiliated with academic institutions and those exploring the future possibility of leasing or selling their buildings. 

At risk are the legacies of women religious and their impactful contributions to the development of the U.S. communities they served, their scholarship in religious studies and philosophy, as well as a larger understanding of women’s labor and societal achievements. As Dr. Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of Notre Dame’s Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism and Professor of American Studies said in 2022, “The history of women religious is the history of women.” 


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