October is Archives Month, a most appropriate occasion to remember the first archivists for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth.
The Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth treasure their history, and the historians among the sisters have lovingly recounted and critically examined the community’s origins, successes, challenges, and changes. Sisters Marie Brinkman, Mary Buckner, Mary Carol Conroy, Mary Paul Fitzgerald, Julia Gilmore, Rose Dolores Hoffelmeyer, and Mary Lenore Martin, to name a few, have written outstanding books and articles that interpret the individual lives and communal life of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. But what about the sisters who preserved the documents, photographs, and artifacts from which these histories were written?
Two sisters played significant roles in the history of the archives of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth: Sister Agnes Vincent Bauman (1899-1996), a long-time community secretary and archivist at heart, and Sister Leo Gonzaga Erbacher (1892-1969), the first sister to hold the title of archivist.
Sister Agnes Vincent Bauman worked as an “office girl” prior to her entry in the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth in 1919 at the age of 20. Her background in business administration no doubt helped shape her sense of the importance of historical records, as secretaries were typically responsible for maintaining files of current and non-current office documents. Sister Agnes Vincent taught at various schools in Kansas, Missouri, and Montana before settling in as the business educator at St. Mary Academy in Leavenworth from 1934 to 1950. While teaching at St. Mary, she also served as part-time secretary to the Mother General.
From 1950 to 1968, Sister Agnes Vincent served as the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth secretary general. In the early 1960s, she secured designated space to house the community’s archives. A biography written for her 70 year jubilee states:
Sister Agnes Vincent could also be described as the “Foundress of the SCL Archives.” It was she who saw the need and value of a recognized “home” for the community’s historical records and artifacts, and it was she who prevailed and finally received permission for definite space in the Mother House in which to establish a community archive. She attended workshops on archival procedures and came back to carry them out for the community. Her foresight, energy, and persevering hard work garnered community archival materials from various nooks and crannies, organized them, and laid the ground work for the SCL Archives as they are today.
Sister Leo Gonzaga Erbacher, the first archivist for the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, assumed the position of archivist in 1965 after retiring from a long teaching and administrative career at St. Mary Academy. A gifted writer, Sister Leo Gonzaga combined her work in the archives with public relations work for the community. One surmises that her interest in SCL history long predated her appointment as archivist, for in 1934 she wrote the Diamond Jubilee history of the community, and in 1938 she assembled a forty year community history that serves as a sequel to Mary Buckner’s work.
Sisters Agnes Vincent and Leo Gonzaga were the first two of many sisters whose work in the archives laid the foundation for the community’s strong archival program today. Let us give thanks for the lives and work of these two women and their loving care for the documents, photographs, artifacts, and stories that comprise the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth!