Five years is the blink of an eye in the nearly 500-year life of the Society of Jesus. It feels like just yesterday that the province announced the opening of the Jesuit Archives & Research Center in St. Louis, but in fact, the JARC, as it is known familiarly, opened to the public in April 2018. Its five-year anniversary is an opportunity to revisit this unique work of the Jesuits USA Central and Southern Province.
In anticipation of the five-year anniversary, we spoke to Director David Miros, Reference Archivist Ann Knake and Collection Management Archivist Madeline R. McDermott.
Q. What do you remember most about moving into the new JARC?
Dave Miros (DM): I remember the excitement and energy around starting something new, along with a sense of accomplishment and being part of something bigger than we are. Knowing that what we’re doing will outlast us and will be here for future generations of archivists and researchers. We are stewards of the collections. I’m the custodian today, but this was a long-term commitment to the future of the Jesuits of the United States.
Madeline R. McDermott (MM): The week that we moved seemed like a never-ending parade of moving trucks. (It was around 16-18.)
DM: The logistics of moving everything that was in the old archives, plus the new additions from other provinces, took a tremendous amount of coordinating and planning. Every day was an adventure. You could try to predict what was going to happen that day, but you couldn’t be sure. All the preparation and thinking that went into it was energizing, but it could also be exhausting. Some decisions were made over long periods, but others had to be made pretty fast. And then there were periods of waiting and wondering when the permit was going to come through.
Q. Is there such a thing as a “typical” day in the life of an archivist?
Ann Knake (AK): My “normal day” would be answering reference requests and having researchers in, when I’ll be at the reference desk where I can answer questions and pull materials for them. Requests come in through our online form, by email or phone call.
MM: For a long time, I was focused on the transfer of materials – finding movers, deciding where things would go, a lot of packing and unpacking. Now I supervise our student workers and interns and process new additions. I also plan classes, along with Ann and Dave. We often do hands-on experiences for the classes.
DM: There’s no such thing as a typical day. I’ve got a reference hat, a collections hat, a facilities hat. I’ll consult with Ann on reference requests and Maddie on collection management. On any given day, I get requests that I divide into three categories: institutional, topical and personnel oriented. Then we figure out how to point the researcher to the right resources. It can be very complicated to find an answer to a seemingly simple question.
AK: A lot of times a reference request will come in that doesn’t have an obvious answer, so Dave will get on the phone to work it through with the researcher. He does a great job getting to the heart of what they really need.
Q. What’s the most interesting project you’ve helped with?
MM: We’re really lucky having people doing really interesting work. It amazes me to see people making connections that I would never think of. And I’m so happy and eager to assist them. Even after five years, and knowing the collections as well as I do, it’s cool to be presented with a question or information you’ve never thought of before.
AK: I am most satisfied when I can tell the researcher is satisfied – or is excited about what they’re doing. So, I really enjoy working with the genealogist who’s digging into the life of his great-uncle, who was a Jesuit, just as much as the historian who’s going to be here for weeks on end, because that person who finds a photo of their great-uncle is going to be so excited to find it. That’s so invigorating to be part of that and to see their excitement.
Q. Do you have a favorite artifact or document?
DM: A 1968 audiotape of a Jesuit who was in Baghdad. He describes the experience of having to leave Baghdad when the Jesuits were expelled by Saddam Hussein. They were there from the 1920s to 1968; they had dedicated their whole lives to that apostolate. To listen to his voice telling the story was really moving.
AK: One of my favorite items in the collection is the films we have from Camp De Smet in South Dakota, which was a summer camp for boys. We have a film of campers climbing on Mt. Rushmore before it was completed.
Q. What’s new in the JARC? What kinds of documents and artifacts have been added in the past five years?
MM: The closing of Jesuit Hall created our largest recent transfer. We worked with the Ignatian Volunteers to help the Jesuits box up their stuff to send over here. I boxed up Fr. John Padberg’s office; that was 90-some boxes. We did two transfers of material from Jesuit Hall.
Q. How would a member of the public work with you?
Short answer: Fill out the online form request as early as possible.
AK: I encourage them to go to JesuitArchives.org so they can see what’s available online. We want people to reach out with their questions. I love digging into the research. But I want people to understand that we’re fielding a lot of requests at any given time. I really want to give everyone the most information possible. Sometimes I won’t find it in the first few places I look, so it might take a few days to think about where else I can find it. We just want to be the best stewards we can be.
Q. What’s next for the JARC?
MM: We’re hoping to grow our team with a digital archivist, expand our digital offerings and perhaps in 2024 bring back our student symposium. We’re exploring options for a new content management system to make more of the collections available online – photos, documents, photos of objects.
DM: We want to be able to share materials efficiently and effectively beyond the physical space we’re in now. We’ll be looking at ways to make the collections more accessible.