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Inspiring the Future by Preserving the Past: Women Religious Archives Collaborative

The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland is proud to be a founding funder of the newly established Women Religious Archives Collaborative, which honors the past accomplishments of women religious through preservation and education and will inspire future generations to think, dream and serve.

That Women Religious have significantly impacted this country since their arrival in 1727 is indisputable. Through their tireless efforts in spiritual formation, education, health care, and social service, and in their commitment to contemplation and action, sisters have forged a rich history of transformative service and empowerment, captured in the annals of individual communities, each with its own distinctive character and contribution.

The decreasing numbers of sisters in the United States highlights the urgency in developing a plan for keeping the mission, charism, and history of sisters alive. Based on 2020 statistics from the National Religious Retirement Office (NRRO), of 404 congregations surveyed nationwide, 15% have fewer than 10 members and 40% fewer than 25. Perhaps most telling of all, half of all women religious are beyond 80 years of age. Women Religious across the United States are engaged in strategic legacy planning that is multifaceted in scope and yet specific to the varying needs of each congregation. One such issue is the management and planning for the preservation of congregational archives.

Over the decades, Women Religious have painstakingly maintained their archival collections as repositories of history and accomplishment, providing context to their service of the past while also helping to inform future works. Given the rapid aging of congregations and the attendant challenge of each maintaining its own collection, there is an urgency to begin a process to plan for a collaborative archives and heritage space. Otherwise, we risk losing these valuable resources.

The Women Religious Archives Collaborative Center will serve as a permanent repository for the archives of Women Religious in Ohio and surrounding regions, as well as a dynamic space open to the public for research and programming. Thus far, 12 congregations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky are committed.

Congregations are welcome to participate based on their unique needs. Some may need this space to house their total collection; others may already have permanently housed collections or plans toward that end but could contribute or loan pieces of their collection to highlight their unique contributions in ministry and service.

The impact of vowed Women Religious across the United States is immeasurable. The many ways they helped build the communities in which they have served and the institutions and ministries they created to serve basic needs have made their mark on generations of individuals. Some archival collections have already been lost forever; others may still be lost without a resource like this one.

The creation of this archive center will offer future generations a great resource and gift. Those never directly impacted by a vowed religious will now have the opportunity to meet them in a new way, to glean from their histories how Religious Women responded to the needs of their times, and to utilize that learning in establishing ministries in service of present and future needs. We celebrate these faithful women and their faith-filled service.

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