Oral history archive of Mercy Sisters, Jesuits to go online

Sister Mary Kelly shares her story with Susan Homant as part of the Jesuit and Mercy oral history project.
Sister Mary Kelly, right, shares her story with Susan Homant as part of the Jesuit and Mercy oral history project.

The stories of the women and men in Detroit who followed their calling and helped build what is now University of Detroit Mercy are being shared in a far-reaching and important new online archive by the Detroit Mercy Libraries and Instructional Design Studio.

The Jesuit and Mercy History and Spirituality in Detroit project, being announced this week, is the culmination of many years of work.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Dean of University Libraries and Instructional Technology Jennifer L. Dean. “This project started under my predecessor, Dean Emerita Margaret Auer, who thought it was important to collect the oral histories of the Sisters of Mercy and their contributions to Mercy College of Detroit and Detroit Mercy.”

Over the years, most of the Sisters of Mercy were interviewed for this project and those interviews were captured on video. They discussed their calling, their work and their lives. Later, the project was expanded to include local members of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits.

Jill Turner, an associate librarian who works at both the McNichols and Corktown campuses, led the committee and, Dean said, never let the project fade away. Turner worked diligently in spite of challenging searches for funding, the painstaking work of transcribing all the interviews, the growing pains brought by technological changes, and when a hard drive crash jeopardized a substantial amount of work that had been completed.

“They trusted us enough to talk to us, and to me, that made it important we get it right,” Turner said. “This was a way to show how much we value our sponsoring organizations.”

One of the bonuses of the work was to see just how much influence the Religious Sisters of Mercy and the Jesuits had on the history of Detroit.

“This archive is also a history of Detroit,” she said. “When you look at the circles they traveled in, and what they did with their persistence and their calling. … I’m not Catholic, but I found their stories inspiring.”

“It is pretty amazing and pretty inspiring,” agreed Pat Higo, Archives and Special Collections librarian, who worked on the project too. “When the sisters tell their stories, we can see how their lives contributed to the mission of Sister Catherine McAuley and we can see what the religious societies have to offer the University today, all this time later.”

The work was funded in part by Faculty Research Awards from the University of Detroit Mercy Professors Union. Much of the interviewing, transcribing and editing work was aided by employees throughout the libraries and Instructional Design Studio.

The Jesuit and Mercy History and Spirituality in Detroit project will be available to anyone on the Archives and Special Collections pages at libraries.udmercy.edu.

A reception to celebrate the opening of the archive will take place from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, in the Lansing-Reilly parlor.

 

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