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Preserving history by sharing history: Ursuline Sisters’ archives help fill in missing pieces of Louisville’s Catholic past

Tim Tomes holds a Sept. 24, 1949 copy of The Record, which includes a headline “Father Lombardi Tells Of Pope’s Wish That Nuns Increase Apostolic Works.” The pope referenced is Pope Pius XII, and the article includes the statement that “This renewal has need of Sisters.” ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC


On the windy but sunny morning of Nov. 4, 2019, several figures could be seen carefully carrying boxes from the archives office of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, into a truck parked outside.

The boxes were full of collections of old newspapers, some of which dated back to 1843.

Up until now, the newspapers had been stored in the Ursuline Sisters’ archives, but today, after several years of correspondence and planning, they were being taken to a new home: the archives of the Archdiocese of Louisville.

Heidi Taylor-Caudill, archivist for the Ursuline Sisters and the Diocese of Owensboro, told The Western Kentucky Catholic that the newspaper collections comprised old issues of The Record – the newspaper of the Louisville archdiocese – as well as The Guardian and The Catholic Advocate, both Catholic newspapers from early Catholicism in Kentucky.  

These collections included copies of The Record dating from 1890-1893; 1900-1941; 1946-1954; 1973-1975; and April 7, 1977-August 11, 1977. The copies of The Guardian dated from July 1858-May 1861, and the copies of The Catholic Advocate included Volumes 8-10, February 1843-1846; and Volumes 11-14, January 1846-July 1849.

Tim Tomes peruses an old bound volume of The Record in the archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph on Nov. 4, 2019. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

“It was a conversation that originally started between Sarah Patterson (the archivist before me) and Fr. Dale Cieslik,” Taylor-Caudill told the WKC. Fr. Cieslik formerly served as the archdiocese’s archivist and today is the archdiocesan historian.

Recently, after receiving the green light from Sr. Amelia Stenger, OSU – the Ursuline Sisters’ congregational leader – Taylor-Caudill had followed up with the archdiocese’s current archivist, Tim Tomes, to see if his office was still interested in receiving the newspapers.

Louisville’s archives had some of these copies themselves, but others they did not. Some of the copies they did have were fragile and crumbling.

Needless to say, Tomes readily agreed to accept these newspapers from the Mount.

“It really has been interesting to come to the realization that the Ursuline Sisters have so much of the history of our diocese – before it was even a diocese,” said Sr. Stenger in an interview with the WKC. “Having so much of that history makes it really important for us to share it.”

Sr. Stenger and Taylor-Caudill said it is likely that these newspapers were saved by Ursulines as they went on mission to the many small, rural parishes and schools established for the early Catholic settlers of Kentucky.   

Before the days of fast-paced social media, these newspapers had helped the sisters stay connected to each other, and also inform others about their various missions.

Heidi Taylor-Caudill, Sr. Amelia Stenger, OSU, and Tim Tomes place boxes of newspapers in Tomes’ truck for his journey back to Louisville. ELIZABETH WONG BARNSTEAD | WKC

“We taught in all those little parishes and brought back to the Mount the information about all that was happening,” said Sr. Stenger.

But the newspapers pertained more to the history of the Louisville area than the Owensboro area, which meant Louisville’s archives were missing significant pieces of their history.

“We decided that we would share with the Louisville archdiocese this history that our sisters had saved,” said Sr. Stenger.  

Sr. Stenger pointed out that the Ursuline Sisters’ foundress, St. Angela Merici, “was an educator from the beginning,” and that sharing this preserved history with Louisville continues the mission that St. Angela began.

When Tomes arrived at the Mount on Nov. 4, Taylor-Caudill had packed up the newspapers into plastic tubs for their safety. Sr. Stenger was also present to meet Tomes and to help with the transfer. 

“It’s nice to have another complete set for the (copies) that we don’t have, and for the ones that have deteriorated,” said Tomes.

Before loading the boxes into his vehicle, Tomes, Sr. Stenger and Taylor-Caudill spent some time perusing the pages. For his part, Tomes had never before seen an actual issue of The Guardian.

“I can’t thank you enough,” said Tomes. “This is a wonderful gift from one diocese to another.”

Editor’s note: As of this story’s publication, Heidi Taylor-Caudill has since moved on to take a position as curator of the John James Audubon Society Museum in Henderson, KY. The role of diocesan archivist has been filled by Edward Wilson as of Nov. 18, 2019.

Originally printed in the December 2019 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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