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Our First Archivist, M. Antonella Hardy

Posted on January 18, 2018, by Loretto Community

By Katie Santa Ana

Archivist Antonella Hardy in front of the log cabin of Charles Nerinckx.

This article marks a first for the Loretto Heritage Center, posting from Nerinx, Kentucky: the inaugural post for our new blog, LOREtto. Through this platform, we hope to share stories from the vibrant history of the Loretto Community we at the Heritage Center encounter daily in our museum and archives. In keeping with the spirit of “firsts,” for this first article we will look into the history of the archives itself and our very first archivist: Mary Antonella Hardy, better known as simply “Antonella.”

Born Virginia Lee Hardy in 1868 near Monroe City, Missouri, to a Kentucky Catholic family, she studied stenography prior to joining the order. Some of her first work was as a substitute stenographer for the architects preparing specifications for Union Station in St. Louis. After deciding to enter religious life, she received the veil as a novice at Loretto Motherhouse in 1894. When she first arrived at Loretto, she slept on a shuck bed so tall she feared she would need a ladder to reach the top! In those early days, Virginia found the Motherhouse and surrounding areas so secluded and quiet she described it as “not quite Heaven, and not entirely Earth.” When it came time to receive her religious name, Virginia asked for the name “Magdalen.” Mother Superior Catherine Connor replied that the Sisters of Loretto already had plenty Magdalens in every shape and form and she might choose either “Callisanctius” or “Antonella” instead.

How Antonella became Loretto’s first archivist is a bit murkier. In one telling of the story, she was formally appointed as Archivist and given a single sheet of paper to steward. She laughed over the irony of having only one piece of archival material to look after and, over the years, began collecting and organizing file after file to grow the collection. However, Antonella wrote in a 1952 letter to Reverend Mother M. Felicitas Quinlivan another, somewhat different version of her archival origins: “There was no formal assignment – things grew up around me. Conditions have shaped matters now – the archives were placed there and I was placed there.”

An early photo of the Nerinx Post Office building (where the Archives was also located) from an album of photographs prepared by Antonella.

Whichever way she assumed the role of Archivist, she began her responsibilities in 1896 at Loretto Motherhouse, but focused on the work especially after 1911. She became known for her knowledge of Loretto history and love of founder Father Charles Nerinckx. Though she has the peculiar distinction of never having an assignment away from the Motherhouse, her employment varied. In addition to her work in the archives, she handled all the insurance for the community, kept the annals for the Motherhouse from 1911 till her death in 1955, as well as wrote poetry. While most of her poems commemorate jubilees and other noteworthy Loretto events, one of her more whimsical odes recounts how she came to the aid of a distressed Sister with a wad of cotton stuck up her nose!

We will leave you with one final anecdote from this remarkable woman’s life as recounted to Matilda Barrett, her successor in the role of Archivist. Antonella had always wondered what a grave felt like and so one early morning, clambered down into a freshly dug grave for a Sister she admired. Upon reciting Psalm 130 (De Profundis) for her friend soon to be buried there, she was satisfied with the experience and hauled herself out of the grave. Today at the Loretto Heritage Center, we love thinking of the dry wit, creativity, and sense of adventure of our very first archivist and hope to carry on her legacy… though perhaps with fewer cemetery adventures.

One of Antonella’s more playful poems, written for a Sister with an obstruction in her nose.
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