Members of the Saint Mary’s community gathered at the Cushwa-Leighton Library to view The Displacement Project exhibit on Wednesday afternoon. Participants were able to learn more about the Sisters of the Holy Cross and their mission to help people displaced by conflicts in Cambodia, El Salvador, Lebanon and the United States through the Sisters’ archives. The project received funding from the Council for Independent Colleges and The Humanities Research for the Public Good Initiative.
The displacement project was chaired by Humanist Studies professors Laura Williamson Ambrose and Jessalyn Bird, English professor Sarah Noonan, as well as student researchers Kaitlin Emmett ’20 and Mary Coleman ’20.
Ambrose opened the event by reminding the audience that the stories found in the archives are a treasured part of the history of the Sisters.
“First I want to recognize that these stories are part of a living story – a story that plays out every day in the work sisters do in dedicating their lives to the needs of the world,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose went on to discuss the storytelling mission.
“Stories, I often tell my students, give us more than entertainment,” Ambrose said. “Any act of storytelling functions as an act of creating meaning, or in some cases even a revolutionary act, especially when one’s voice and experiences have been actively silenced or passively lost in the silences of history. Today we seek to harness the power of storytelling to raise voices to encourage thought and as you will hear later from my colleagues, to call us to action.
Bird then explained how the archival preservation process went.
“For seven months, we met every two weeks in this room at Bertrand Hall, reviewing documents related to four key conflicts – the American Civil War, the refugee crisis in Cambodia, and the civil wars in Lebanon and El Salvador. “Bird said.” We learned about these conflicts, the violence and displacement that followed. And we began to create a nuanced understanding of the individual women who were instrumental in making it happen. this work. “
Focusing specifically on displacement during the American Civil War (1861-1865), Bird presented the many ways in which soldiers were displaced by conflict.
“Imagine the young men and boys who enlisted and enlisted in armies on both sides,” she said. “Particularly in border and confederate states, many people lost their property and possessions or were forced to flee when neighbors turned hostile or armed forces invaded their area. America itself was a land of immigrants. Many of the newer ones will be served with distinction, along with soldiers, officers and nurses. It is estimated that up to one in four Union soldiers were recent immigrants to this country.
Bird also described the long-term displacement of enslaved black individuals.
“Enslaved African Americans in the South have been displaced for centuries,” she said. “Torn from their culture of origin, many have been separated from their family and friends on several occasions by being sent to work or worse yet sold. Some risky fleeing to Free States, using Underground Railroad contacts, fend for themselves. “
The sisters themselves came to America to participate in the war effort as nurses, but were forced to travel with their patients as the conflict encroached on their hospitals, Bird noted.
“Many of the Sisters of the Holy Cross who volunteered as nurses were themselves recent immigrants from France, Italy, Germany and Ireland,” said Bird. “Even the hospitals themselves were subject to displacement. The wounded and sick were transported in hospital ships from the battlefield to tents or fixed hospitals, where battles, fires and floods sometimes involved rapid evacuations of patients to safer areas. Nurses and patients are under artillery attack and have been caught in the crossfire.
Additionally, Bird said the Congregation worked with free black individuals whose stories are often difficult to find in the archives.
“The sisters also collaborated with free black men and women seeking to aid in the war effort by then working as nurses,” Bird said. “They are often difficult to find in existing files. Susie Katie Taylor pictured here is an exception. She wrote a memoir of her experiences as a nurse and educator.
Noonan focused on the Cambodian refugee crisis (1979-80) and told the story of Sister Olivia Marie who realized that sisters needed to have a practical approach to helping them.
“At the end of the 20th century, the suffering unfolding in Cambodia caught the attention of Sister Olivia Marie, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross,” said Noonan. “The Sisters had previously shown their support for Cambodian refugees through financial means, but after witnessing the unrest Cambodia was facing in the late 1970s. Mother Superior understood that on-site assistance was needed for the hundreds. thousands of people who were forced to flee Cambodia in search of protection from the Pol Pot regime.
Noonan said the sisters sent to Cambodia then served in other countries.
“This decision laid the foundation for what would become emergency services overseas,” she said. “A core group of sisters mentioned in this article, represented here as a ‘SWAT team of refugees’, would continue to serve in Thailand, Lebanon and El Salvador for years to come.”
Ambrose spoke of the danger the sisters face when working with the people of Lebanon.
“In our research on Lebanon, we focused on two sisters, Madeleine Trace and Maureen Grady,” Ambrose said. “Their letters and photographs highlighted how very dangerous this particular mission was. Bombs, death threats, blackouts and bombings were part of their daily experience as they strived to improve the medical and educational needs of those displaced by war.
Focusing on El Salvador, Ambrose introduced Sister Marianne O’Neill, a sister who has traveled the country three times, even after the murder of Archbishop Romero and four churchwomen earlier this decade.
“[Sister Marianne’s] The account mentioned reluctance to be sent there because she was well aware of the murders that took place in 1980, ”Ambrose said. “She also mentioned that it is this very fact of the murders that convinces the Bishop that she would be safer, as if there was less likelihood of a second strike at work. Sister Marianne has been involved in everything from basic adult literacy classes, which she fondly remembers, to writing project grants and distributing supplies.
Noonan emphasized the distinct nature of each archival piece that has survived to the present day.
“Most importantly, we recognize that each piece of an archive tells a different story,” Noonan said. “Each has a unique origin and history of circulation, and our understanding of the past is necessarily shaped by the accidents of survival and the privilege of certain objects and stories over others.”
The story of Noonan’s book and Digital Humanities Laboratory the courses obtained the unique experience to work with the Sisters’ Archives during the Fall 2019 and Spring 2020 semesters respectively, Noonan said.
She concluded by praising the empathetic work of the Sisters.
“But the sisters responded to this move with compassion,” Noonan said. “They offered times of refuge and stability for those who needed a safe place. Even if only for a short time, they recognize the humanity of those they met on their journey and this provides us with a vibrant example of how to offer hospitality and care to those whose life has been turned upside down by forces beyond their control.
The audience had the chance to interact with the artefacts taken from the archives in groups led by a facilitator and watch a video of student testimonials as they helped with the research.
Ambrose concluded by thanking the sponsors of The Displacement Project and announcing the creation of the College’s new Digital and Public Humanities minor based on the work done by previous students.