‘Beyond the Frontier’ — A new book on the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia

July 20, 2020 by

The 1948 book “Footprints on the Frontier” by Sister M. Evangeline Thomas, PhD, has long been considered the most comprehensive history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Updating that work left big footprints to fill. Following in those footsteps was historian Sister Sally Witt, CSJ, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden, Pa., who took on the task of writing an updated history of the Concordia congregation.

And now, after years of meticulous research and writing, Sister Sally has completed a detailed book documenting the rich history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Her book, “Beyond the Frontier,” builds upon the pioneering work of Sister Evangeline in order to document the complex history of this religious Community.

Witt said that while the book follows Sister Evangeline’s work, it is not a sequel, although it is done in a similar style.

“The book doesn’t start where ‘Footprints’ left off,” Sister Sally said. “It actually starts in prehistoric Kansas and then gets more seriously in depth when the sisters go to Canandaigua, N.Y., in 1854.”

Sister Marcia Allen, who initiated the project when she was president of the congregation and read the manuscript throughout the process, was pleased to see the project culminate in success.

“ ‘Beyond the Frontier’ — finally Sister Evangeline Thomas’ dream is fulfilled! She dreamed of bringing her history, ‘Footprints on the Frontier,’ up-to-date and took comprehensive notes. Her death interrupted her work,” Sister Marcia said. “Sally has brought about that dream in a work that is respectful of Evangeline’s work and enriches it with information that Evangeline did not have. Sally’s own work is an artful and research-grounded portrayal of a Community, not shy of risks that the frontier demands, yet firmly grounded in its charism of inclusive and active love. Congratulations, Sally!”

While Sister Marcia first contacted Sister Sally about the project in 2009, she was not available to begin work on the project until October 2013 — her first visit to the Motherhouse in Concordia. Over the years since, she regularly returned to the Motherhouse archives three to four times a year to stay for three-week intervals.

Throughout the project she worked closely with Sister Bernadine Pachta, archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia.

“Sally’s writing of our history is a great and enduring gift for us as a Community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia and to all religious communities in the world,” Sister Bernadine said. “It was thoroughly researched using primary source material. Sally used books, articles, face-to-face interviews, visits, phone and email interviews. The material she has cited in the book is voluminous. No stone was left unturned.”

“I feel very privileged to work so closely with Sally, and indeed it was a learning experience,” Sister Bernadine said. “I tried to be as helpful as I could.”

This was not Sister Sally’s first venture into historical research and writing. She is the author of “A Hidden Spirit,” a 2014 book about the Sisters of the Holy Spirit of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, and the 2005 book “Sisters of the North Country,” about the Sisters of St. Joseph of Watertown N.Y.

Yet, she said every Community reveals a different history.

“I already knew that each congregation is part of a particular place and carries within it the marks of the people and land of that place. In Concordia, I found the power of the daily faithfulness of sisters past and present and how this has been a gift to the area and to the world,” Sister Sally said. “The education, health care, and spiritual development among the people give evidence to daily life with sisters as neighbors. The land and sky of Kansas, with the particular loneliness and independence, have given their mark to the congregation. The small missions in western Kansas are good examples of this. In 1966, statistics from the national Sisters Survey confirmed the rural characteristic of this Community.”

“It was amazing to learn about the development of the Community in Brazil. It became so clear that the sisters were considered subversive when they dared to tell the people they had dignity as God’s children,” Sister Sally said. “All the sisters, Brazilian and North American, lived in danger just by doing their daily work. The entire history brings up all the issues of public life. The sisters’ entire lives, whether they were in small parishes or large institutions, were intertwined with the major happenings of the world.”

“I hope in some way this book will help future researchers of religious life. Many historians are interested in this field,” Sister Sally said. “My hope is that I might have provided some insight into this one congregation from the perspective of an ‘insider’ to religious life. And for all of this, I am grateful.”

The book, published by Word Association Publishers, spans 541 pages and contains 30 black and white photographs. The extensive appendices includes a list of all living sisters as of March 2020, as well as all deceased sisters.

The book is available for purchase at the Nazareth Motherhouse gift shop in Concordia, Kansas. While the Motherhouse is currently closed to visitors due to Covid-19 restrictions, the book can be ordered for shipping or curbside pickup by calling Jane Wahlmeier, administrative services coordinator, at (785) 243-2113 ext. 1101 or emailing jwahlmeier@csjkansas.org.

Comments

Feel free to leave a comment...