Leaving her mark on history

October 28, 2020 by

Every archivist leaves behind a bit of themselves in the archives they oversee. The legacy might seem challenging, such as preparing for a congregation’s 125th anniversary — an event close to the archivist’s heart. It might be the simple, quiet act of documenting the lives of deceased sisters. Or it might be a quest for information to satisfy a genealogist’s random inquiry, which then turns the archivist into a bit of a detective.

Sister Bernadine Pachta did all that and more during her more than 25 years as archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia. Sister Bernadine “retired” as archivist this fall, and was honored with a gratitude party and ice cream social Aug. 27 at the Nazareth Motherhouse.

“I’m not really retiring, I’m just going to not be working maybe quite as hard as I was,” Sister Bernadine laughed. “Once an archivist, I don’t think you can ever leave it totally. So I just want to say, things will carry on, and Jean Ann will carry on.”

Sister Jean Ann Walton has assisted Sister Bernadine in archives for the last five years. She was appointed to succeed Sister Bernadine as archivist, taking on the role on Sept. 1.
“After she relinquishes the office she is willing to continue to serve as a consultant to Jean Ann when she is needed. And for that we are very, very grateful,” Sister Jean Rosemarynoski, president, announced during the celebration. “And it speaks so highly of Bernadine’s dedication and her love of Community.”

In 1995, while still working at Harvard University, Sister Bernadine was asked to be a field agent working with then-archivist, Sister Liebe Pellerin. She worked with Sister Liebe in that capacity for 10 years prior to moving to Concordia in 2005 to assume full-time responsibilities after Liebe’s retirement.

During those 25 years Sister Bernadine has fielded many individual requests from genealogists working on family histories, academicians doing scholarly research on women’s issues, historians and former students. She has been instrumental in providing material and giving input for the newly designed Heritage Rooms on the second floor of the Nazareth Motherhouse and was indispensable to Sister Sally Witt and her work on the book “Beyond the Frontier,” an updated history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, published in 2020.

She also has provided materials for Leadership Council of Women Religious and the U.S. Federation of Sisters of St. Joseph. She has been an active member of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious. And, Sister Bernadine contributed significantly to the work of the Community’s 125th anniversary in 2008-09.

While the work of an archivist is often done behind closed doors and amid dusty files, Sister Jean noted the essential qualifications that make for a good archivist.

“Having a sense of history and having a knowledge of the community — while that is an essential aspect of the job, the job is so much more than that. Sometimes its like detective work, you know that something is there, you know somehow it is related but it’s not obvious,” Sister Jean said. “And so it takes going from one file to get a clue to another file to get a clue. Its detective work, you have to have great organization and decision making skills because each item that is stored in archives could be categorized under a dozen different headings and so you have to at some point make a decision, and then the real trick is you have to remember which category you put that in. But then it also requires a lot of confidentiality, a lot of trust. But most importantly it is a position that requires a real love of the work because of the love of the Community. And Bernadine has done that very, very well. She was excelled at that.”

Sister Bernadine thanked all of the archivists who came before her in the Community, particularly her mentor Sister Liebe.

“Liebe was a wonderful mentor. All I did was stand on their (prior archivists’) shoulders and keep going,” Sister Bernadine said. “I just feel there are so many wonderful things, and I feel this has been very much of a privilege, and also a capstone of everything I’ve done through my life.”

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