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Experiencing the Stories: Learning History That Makes Loretto Unique

Posted on December 2, 2019, by Ayla Toussaint

Ayla Toussaint,
Loretto Heritage Center Archivist

When I was hired straight out of graduate school as the Loretto Heritage Center archivist, I was ecstatic.

As an archivist, my job revolves around saving stories and preserving them for future generations. To do this, archivists collect administrative papers, photographs, personal diaries and writings and a host of other documents. 

Women’s history has been neglected and is often absent from archival holdings. Finding a collection that not only holds these items but is entirely focused on them excites me. I arrived at Loretto eager to begin processing the backlog of materials and to share my findings.

Although I had always known I wanted to support communities by preserving their stories, it never occurred to me just how long it would take to learn the stories before I could start working! It came as a bit of a shock when I began looking through materials and realized I did not have the background knowledge to process them justly.

Taking this realization in stride, for the past eight months I have slowly been broadening my understanding of the Loretto Community. Because the Community is still active, learning the history is not as easy as reading history books. Thankfully, I have an amazing resource at my fingertips — the Community members themselves.

‘Entering into the Loretto Community as a stranger, I never would have guessed how quickly I would be welcomed into the story of Loretto.’

In July of this year the Heritage Center staff decided to take a research trip along the Santa Fe Trail, which our sisters traveled in the mid-19th century. To make this a more meaningful experience, the Heritage Center invited eight Community members to make the trek with us. The 12 pioneers loaded into three cars and made a two-week cross-country road trip with stops in significant Loretto locations along the way.

I took this as an opportunity to learn more about both the past and present of Loretto by listening to the stories told by members during the long car rides and trying to connect the places with what past sisters experienced.

After a few months catching up on other archival duties, I was off to Denver, another pocket of Loretto history. My weeklong trip was a blur of activity. Along with sorting through papers in the Denver Office and the personal papers of several sisters, I also was taken on tours of current and past Loretto schools by sisters who had personal connections to the grounds and who told me wonderful stories I could not have found in the administrative papers housed in the collections.

Recognizing the importance of capturing these vignettes of past days, we are asking Community members to write short pieces relaying memories that have shaped their experiences of Loretto.

Entering into the Loretto Community as a stranger, I never would have guessed how quickly I would be welcomed into the story of Loretto.

Reflecting on my first eight months of working alongside the Community I can see the progress I have made.  Though the processing backlog is still present, I am slowly learning the history that makes this Community unique. 

Ayla Toussaint

Ayla Toussaint

Ayla Toussaint is archivist for the Loretto Heritage Center on the Loretto Motherhouse grounds in Nerinx, Ky. Her occasional posts may be found on the Heritage Center’s blog, “LOREetto.”
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Loretto welcomes you

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