By Ignatius Plato
Megan Gilmore is passionate about history and the role archives can play in preserving it. With an academic background in both journalism and history, she finds rediscovering lost bits of the past an invaluable tool for storytelling. Gilmore recently completed an internship with the Jesuit Archives and Research Center (JARC), where her main assignment was to process incoming materials for the collection of the late Anderson E. Bakewell, SJ, which had just received a major contribution from Fr. Bakewell’s nephew. Her work will go a long way in telling the story of this priest, outdoorsman and scientist.
“In archival work, you get to know people through what you find,” said Gilmore. “Letters, photos, manuscripts – you get to meet a person without ever actually ‘meeting’ them.”
And meeting Fr. Bakewell, she said, proved beyond fascinating. Anderson Bakewell was born in St. Louis in 1913 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1942. It is safe to say he was not a typical Jesuit priest – if such a man exists. Bakewell discovered a new species of reptile in Mexico while climbing volcanoes for geological research. He scaled uncharted mountain summits for scientific studies, including then-unscaled peaks in the Yukon. He was missioned in India, where he spent his first years of ministry capturing venomous reptiles for use in a communal survival training program. He braved a then-undocumented face of Mount Everest.
His exploits continued after he was ordained to the priesthood. He once survived an attack by a sloth bear. He joined the first flight to circumnavigate the North and South poles, and he participated in numerous scientific expeditions. Father Bakewell died in 1999.
Gilmore’s work involved cataloging the new additions to the Bakewell collection, ensuring that the archives houses an accurate account of Fr. Bakewell’s life as a Jesuit. Sorting through the collection, searching for duplicate materials and organizing the materials for researchers’ use were among her main responsibilities.
Gilmore was fascinated by the work the JARC does to capture how pivotal points in Church history affect the Society and its members.
“It was interesting to see how his (Bakewell’s) correspondence evolved along with the Church – his ministry took place during the Vatican II transitions,” she said, referring to the letters Fr. Bakewell wrote to his family and the Society of Jesus.
Finding small bits of history like this scattered throughout the Bakewell collection reinforced for Gilmore the importance of her work.
“Throughout my internship, throughout my studies, in my personal life, I’ve always thought about my work as a preservation of history,” Gilmore said. “Archiving the life of Fr. Bakewell correctly was more than just a technical thing; there will be someone in the future doing research who might happen to come across his name and his work. My job is to make sure I’m giving that future person an accurate account so that they can rediscover his life – and a small part of Jesuit history – with as much interest as I did.”
Gilmore recognizes that her internship is just one part of the JARC’s role in preserving the Society of Jesus’ history. A Jesuit friend made sure she understood just how important this mission is.
“He said to me that he appreciated the work I was doing for his brother Jesuits at the JARC,” Gilmore said. “Jesuits are priests and brothers, people who will not have a biological lineage to their name. In a sense, we are helping ensure their lives and memories persist through the materials we save. Those materials in the JARC are a kind of lineage for them, and I was helping to curate it.”
This project is only a small piece in the greater work of archiving. “I met with Fr. Bakewell’s nephew shortly after I finished the project,” Gilmore said. “Meeting someone in the peripheral part of Fr. Bakewell’s life made me realize that there are a lot of stories out there that we have yet to tell. It is our responsibility to keep those stories saved for future generations.”
Megan Gilmore has completed her internship at the JARC. She plans to pursue a career in archives collection management after graduating from the iSchool at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She thanks JARC Director David Miros and Archivists Ann Knake and Maddie McDermott for their assistance in her research. “The team was incredibly gracious in helping me navigate these hands-on experiences in the archives.”
Megan Gilmore’s experience was made possible through an internship opportunity funded by the Missouri Humanities Council through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).