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April 29, 2021, Adrian, Michigan – Lisa Schell, Archivist of the Adrian Dominican Congregation, was recently elected Vice President and President-Elect of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious (ACWR), a professional organization of about 350 archivists serving congregations of Sisters in the United States.
“It’s pretty exciting and quite unexpected,” Lisa said in an interview, noting that she has been a member of the ACWR only a short time. Her first year in leadership will involve getting to know board members, serving in a supportive role, and “learning the lay of the land,” she said, adding that she appreciates the chance to spend a year gaining a better understanding organization and archivists’ needs. Next year, she will serve as President, and the following year as Past-President, when she will again take on a supportive role.
Lisa is also co-leader of a specialized group of archivists serving Dominican Congregations, helping to lead the monthly meetings and an annual summit. She hosted the first Summit at the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse in September 2019.
Lisa began working with Adrian Dominican Sisters in 2018, bringing a great love for history and for women’s studies. Her love for history, she said, is related to her love for telling stories. “I had a grandfather who was a survivor of the work camps in World War II,” she said. “I come from a family of story tellers. I remember listening to his stories and being so fascinated by the life he led.”
Lisa lived out this love for history in part as a high school history teacher, but after 15 years, she felt that her teaching career had “run its course.” She earned a Master of Library and Information Science degree and certificates in Archival Administration and Records Management from Wayne State University in Detroit and worked as a corporate archivist for eight years before beginning her work with the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
With her interest in history and women’s studies, Lisa said, working as the Archivist for the Congregation is a good fit for her. “I get to capture history and work with women and tell women’s stories, and that’s the best of things for me,” she said. She focuses on the stories of the individual Sisters, their ministries, and the history of the Congregation.
Roles of an Archivist
As Archivist, Lisa has many roles. She frequently receives questions about the history of the Congregation, especially as it relates to current events. For example, in the past year she has been asked about how many Sisters we lost during the 1918 pandemic and how the Congregation leadership responded to the pandemic, about the involvement of Sisters in the campaign to allow women to vote, and about rumors of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross on the Motherhouse campus. “We contribute to the national story of what was going on in America at that time – the racial tensions and violence,” she said.
But a major part of her service, Lisa said, is preserving the stories from current events. “Many people think of archives as saving the old stuff, but history is happening now,” she said. “We have to be really strategic about the material we keep. Keeping the new stuff is really about predicting what is going to be important years from now.”
Lisa’s focus recently has been on the Sisters’ responses to the Black Lives Matter issue, the coronavirus pandemic, and other issues that confront society today. “That is the most important thing that I can offer this community, to reinforce the idea that we need to be saving for the future legacy, these mini-time capsules that come to us,” she explained.
Lisa also hopes to work on some of the “holes” in the history of the Adrian Dominican Congregation and the ways that that history can benefit other organizations, such as colleges, universities, and businesses. “There are a lot of really great untold stories,” Lisa said. “How do women govern themselves? Who are some of the ‘heavy hitters’ that haven’t been written about? There’s a lot of content there.”
Lisa also sees herself as a guide to other congregations, to help them create professional archives. “Some congregations can’t afford to hire a professional archivist,” she noted. “How can we serve as a resource to Sisters who serve as archivists but don’t have a professional background?”
Looking to the Future
Lisa feels a sense of urgency in offering outreach from the ACWR to congregations of religious Sisters whose leaders make up the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).
The leaders of the ACWR are trying to encourage LCWR members to focus on their community’s archives, making sound decisions before some of them come to fulfillment and as forms of religious life change in the future. “We want to make sure that LCWR is thinking about this way in advance, knowing that we’re here to help,” she said.
Lisa’s hope is to reach out to institutions like colleges that offer women’s study programs and recruit students involved in master’s or doctoral work to gather first-hand stories from the Sisters. “Only Sisters can tell their stories, but lay people can preserve them,” she said. “We need to get the first-hand accounts as soon as we can because that history will not be as available in the next 10 to 20 years.”
Finally, Lisa sees herself taking an active role in shaping the archive and the sense of history of the Adrian Dominican Sisters as the Congregation looks to the future of religious life. “I’m here to shepherd that content and make sure it’s safe and confidentially protected – and yet [provide others with] access to what can be shared.” Adrian Dominican Sisters have always been blessed, and we try to share with others, she said.
October 29, 2019, San Fernando, Philippines – Adrian Dominican Sisters from North America – the Dominican Republic and the United States – experienced inspiration, joy, and many graces and memories when they attended a Congregational gathering with the Adrian Dominican Sisters serving in the Philippines and their Partners in Mission.
This summer, July 31 to August 4, 2019, the Adrian Dominican Sisters held a congregational gathering, Embracing the Future / Encuentro con el Futuro / Pagyakap sa Hinaharap, during which Sisters, Associates, Co-workers, and Partners in Mission from sponsored institutions gathered in Adrian, Michigan, to celebrate the present and look together toward the future. The Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in Pampanga, the Philippines, hosted its own Pagyakap sa Hinaharap at University of the Assumption in San Fernando October 5-6, 2019, with 300 Partners in Mission.
Special guests of the October gathering included eight North Americans from the United States and the Dominican Republic: Sisters Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress, who spoke at the event; Patricia Harvat, OP, General Councilor; Carol Jean Kesterke, OP, Chapter Prioress of the Great Lakes Dominican Mission Chapter, based in Detroit; Basilia De la Cruz, OP; Marilín Llanes, OP; Carolyn Roeber, OP; Maria Eneida Santiago, OP; and Nery (Luchy) Sori, OP.
Read the reflection on Pagyakap sa Hinaharap, written by Sister Liberty Mendoza, OP.
Three of the North American visitors reflected on what they learned at the gathering, their experience of the culture of the Philippines, and the ministries of the Sisters: Sister Carol Jean; Sister Marilín, a school psychologist at the Joliet, Illinois, School District; and Sister Luchy, who ministers at Espíritu Santo School, Sección San José de Arroyo Hondo in the Dominican Republic.
Sister Luchy said she benefited from the presentation by attorney Alex Lacson. “The presentation helped us to understand the situation in the Philippines,” she said. “He explained very well what the problems are and where they are, the political and economic situation.”
She noted similarities between the economic challenges of the Philippines and the Dominican Republic – extreme poverty, with people owning small businesses to make some money, and a “deep division between the rich and the poor.” Sister Luchy said the division is greater in the Philippines than in her own country.
Sister Luchy also noted the situations of many families in both countries in which one parent has to leave home to earn money to send back to their families. “The children feel abandoned, and they don’t feel the same love from an uncle or aunt or brother or sister,” she said. “They understand that their parents have to go out of the country to make money so they can survive, but it isn’t the same.”
Sister Carol Jean also spoke of this challenge. “So many leave their country to support their families, which is so disruptive,” she said. She spoke to two lay co-workers who had once been in that situation, one working in Jerusalem and the other in Taiwan, both to support their families. “Their economy didn’t support them,” she said.
Sister Marilín, also reflecting on the presentation by the attorney, said she learned how the economy of the Philippines “plummeted” in 50 years. “This is happening because of 40 families in the Philippines who own the Philippines,” she said. “It’s a dynasty and they insert themselves in all the circles of power.” Sister Marilín also learned of the daily violence caused by extrajudicial killings – drug dealers, but more drug users who are targeted by the government and killed as part of the nation’s war on drugs.
Sister Marilín was also impressed by Father Quirico Pedregosa, OP, and his encouragement to Dominicans to follow their call to preach to people on the peripheries of society. “At the end he says that every time the [Dominican] Order flourishes, it’s when we respond to the peripheries,” to people who are cast aside or neglected by society.
The Sisters from North America also recognized many admirable qualities in the Filipino culture. Sister Luchy noted that one of the biggest differences between the Filipino and the North American cultures is the respect that the people in the Philippines have for their elders. She said she was especially impacted by the way children and young people come to the Sisters and humbly ask for a blessing.
“To experience another culture was just personally enriching,” Sister Carol Jean said. “It kind of changes you. You take in these beautiful people and you learn something of the sufferings that they endure.”
Sister Marilín was struck by the hospitality of the Sisters. “The Filipino culture is the most welcoming and so attentive to detail and to making sure you feel at home,” she said. “The minute I stepped into their house, I felt at home.”
The guests from North America also had the opportunity to come to know the Sisters from Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, their various ministries, and the influence they have on the people they serve. The Sisters teach and administer in various schools; teach catechism and serve in a feeding program for students at Villa Maria, a private school that serves the indigenous Aeta people; reach out to street children; and advocate for justice and peace for their people.
“It was just such a gift to be with the Sisters and to be with the people they minister to,” Sister Carol Jean said. “[Ministry is] their life, and you can really see that – and how grateful the people on the panel were on Saturday to have the Sisters in their lives.” But, recalling the injustice and the difficulties that the people in the Philippines face, she added, “It’s hard for me to imagine how our Sisters carry the pain that is so prevalent there.”
Sister Luchy saw that the greatest gift the Sisters in the Philippines can give is hope. “They bring hope to the people they have in ministry,” she said. “Our Sisters are doing their best to bring hope to those people who are very poor.”
“It was a rich experience of integrating our Dominican charism in Asia and beyond, and then to understand how together we are embracing the future,” Sister Marilín recalled. “I was so honored to have had the opportunity to go.”
Feature photo (top): Sister Patricia Harvat, OP, left, and Sister Carol Jean Kesterke, OP, speak to some of the school children who danced for participants of Pagyakap sa Hinaharap.