State-of-the-art for history

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

To say the new Jesuit Archives and Research Center has "room to grow" would be an understatement ... make that, a vast understatement.

Consider that its new headquarters is more than six times larger than its old space. The archives now have 32,000-square feet of climate-controlled storage space, whereas they used to be crammed into about 5,000-square feet at the provincial offices in the Central West End.

Also, its storage area has room enough for 51,000 letter-size boxes, whereas only 6,000 boxes are needed for the entire current collection of artifacts, documents and books.

And the $10-million building, completed in November, was designed with ample room to grow. Electrical and heating systems were engineered to handle the load for an addition of two stories, which would expand by about a third that 32,000-square feet and 51,000 boxes.

But that possibility is decades in the future. For now, the archives staff is in the midst of "the storm before the storm," as archivist Madeline McDermott jokingly describes this time of preparation before the archives' official opening Wednesday, April 25.

McDermott, the associate archivist for collection management, orchestrated the archives' relocation with colleague Ann Knake. It took about 15 trips in a 20-foot truck for the actual move over a week in late November, with months of planning before and unpacking after. Color- and number-coding kept things organized and facilitated the effort, which was fairly nondescript — "a straight move," Knake said — with little time to tarry and peek at the treasures. However, the unpacking was cool, particularly the collections from New York and New England. Those had arrived in the Fall of 2015 and late Winter of 2016, respectively, but remained unpacked with the move pending.

"That was all brand new for us," McDermott said. "We'd never worked with it before, so it was really exciting."

Before adding the New York and New England collections, the archives had collections from the former Missouri, Wisconsin, Chicago and Detroit provinces. Collections from the former New Orleans and California provinces will arrive in the next year or so, with more to come in the future as the Jesuits realign provinces to form new provinces.

The St. Louis-based Central And Southern Province, which owns the archives facility, is a combination of the Missouri and New Orleans provinces, which joined in governance in 2014. By 2020, the Jesuits will have contracted to four provinces in the U.S. from 10 in 2014.

A stone's throw from St. Louis University, the new facility is an outgrowth of the reorganization. Initial discussions focused on renovating and retrofitting the old factory building at West Pine Boulevard site, but that idea was scrapped to wipe the slate clean and build anew. The facility was designed by Fox Architects, KPFF Consulting Engineers, McClure Engineering, and Cole, and built by BSI Constructors.

Archives director David Miros describes the new facility as a "fortress." With 10-inch concrete floors, a four-inch concrete roof build and concrete-block interior walls, the building is designed to withstand 200 mph wind. It also has an archive-safe fire suppression system.

Best of all, it allows for one-stop archival shopping.

"It makes it so much easier for researchers," Miros said. "They can visit one location for research materials instead of going to all of these small collections in different places."

Once the archives opens for business, researchers and historians from around the country will be able to find what they need in St. Louis, with dedicated reference and research areas, class rooms and conference rooms, and exhibition space, to boot.

"We see this new facility as an apostolic resource, one that can help deepen the knowledge of the history of the Church and the Society in the U.S.," stated Father Ron Mercier, SJ, provincial of the U.S. Central and Southern Province. 

Osage Nation collaborates with Jesuit Archives 

A collection of 19th-century documents related to the Osage Nation is among the collections available to researchers at the new Jesuit Archives and Research Center in St. Louis.

Geoffrey Standing Bear, now principal chief of the Osage Nation, visited the Jesuit Archives nearly three decades ago to see the collection, which contains correspondence and administrative records of the Jesuit Mission to the Osage Nation, established in 1847 near what is now St. Paul, Kan. Documents in the Osage language include a dictionary, Bible, two versions of the Lord's Prayer, a Sign of the Cross and a letter to Pope Leo XIII regarding the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha.

These are some of the few Osage language documents still in existence.

When he became principal chief in 2014, Chief Standing Bear followed up on his visit to St. Louis 1990. He sought and received funding from the Osage Nation Foundation to pay for the preservation and digitization of the documents in the Osage language. Some of that funding paid for the purchase of a large digital scanner that will remain with the Jesuit Archives and Research Center as a gift from the Osage Nation.

The Osage Nation materials have been restored and returned to the Jesuit Archives and Research Center. The digitization of those materials is in process now, using the equipment donated to the archives by the Osage foundation.

The Osage and the Jesuits share a history from as far back as 1821, when the first Jesuit missionaries came to the St. Louis area. They taught the Osage, and most of the tribe became Catholic. Later, when the Osage had been forced to move to Kansas, they asked for Jesuits as their faith leaders.

Today, a high percentage of Osage remain Roman Catholic. The Osage word for priest is "Sho-minka" — derived from the name of one of the first Jesuit priests sent to the mission, Father John Shoenmakers.

In addition to the official documents, the archives contain ancient Osage legends as told to the priests, legends which had been lost through the generations.

The Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province contributed information for this story. 

Legacy lives on

A capital campaign for the Jesuit Archives and Research Center — Engaging the Past, Animating the Future — seeks to raise at least $5 million to preserve the Jesuit history and legacy in the United States. For more information, contact the Jesuits development team at UCSAdvancement@jesuits.org or (800) 325-9924.

Open House

Where • Jesuit Archives and Research Center, 3920 West Pine Boulevard

When • 4-7 p.m. Friday, April 13

Information about the Archives • visit www.jesuitarchives.org 

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