Category Archives: Emmitsburg

Unlocking the archival legalities of donating the Seton key

Image courtesy of Seton Heritage Ministries

Image courtesy of Seton Heritage Ministries

By Dee Gallo, Provincial Archivist

It seems impossible that anyone who followed Pope Francis’ visit to the United States did not hear that one of two gifts President Barack Obama gave to His Holiness was a key to the original door of the Stone House, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s first residence here in Emmitsburg, Maryland, on the property on which she founded her religious community, the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s. Dating from 1809, this key appears to be like so many others of its time. Yet its symbolism sets it apart – it literally and figuratively opened the door to let in new students who would experience Catholic education and to send out women religious to care for the poor and voiceless by opening service ministries that continue on into our own century.

Up until recently, the key given to the Pope and a second one like it were under the curative care of Provincial Archives of the Daughters of Charity, just across the lawn from where the Stone House now sits. Some people have wondered how President Obama ever came in possession of the key and whether it was really his to give. Well, this key’s path from its archival home to the United States Department of State is an excellent example of the legalities which all archives and archivists must observe when transferring items from their collections.

About two months ago, my colleague, Rob Judge, Executive Director of The National Shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, told me he wanted to discuss something “confidential” with me. Now, we collaborate with the Shrine frequently to assist in loaning our artifacts for their exhibits; the “gift key,” in fact, was until recently on exhibit in the Shrine’s museum. However, the committee Rob had convened – and sworn to secrecy – was to face another challenge. He had been contacted by the State Department who wondered whether some artifact representing the life of Mother Seton might be obtained and transformed into a gift from the President to the Pope. The Shrine folks were elated – what a wonderful way to let the world know about Mother Seton and the National Shrine! For my part, I was elated as well – an artifact from our Archives would become a part of national history! But “loose lips would sink Papal gifts”; if any news leaked out, we were out of the running.

And so began weeks of closed-door meetings. I enlisted the help of one of my staff, Bonnie Weatherly, who has been working in the Emmitsburg archives for 35 years and has been assisting the Shrine museum with their displays for almost as long. We went through Archives’ collection of Seton artifacts, making lists of objects that might meet the criteria. Our little committee, however, kept coming back to the key for it had the best “narrative.” As Rob suggested, as a gift, it would be “a fitting tribute for a woman who opened the doors for so many women to serve the poor,” and for Pope Francis, “a man who has been a strong advocate for those who are poor and marginalized.”

Then came the legal transfer of the object from our Archives to the State Department.

Any item in an archives has to be “accessioned” or taken into a collection by making a record of its existence and location. This ensures that the repository has the legal “physical” right to it as property. In order to give the key to the State Department for the President to present it as a gift, however, we had to “deaccession” the key. As Provincial Archivist, I’m just the curator of the collections – the Daughters of Charity, Province of St. Louise, actually own everything in the archives. So the State Department presented us with a Donor Form, which I prepared and sent off for the Provincial Visitatrix, Sr. Louise Gallahue, to sign. In addition to acknowledging donation, the agreement also expressly stipulated that were there some change of plans and the key not be given to Pope Francis, it would be returned to the Archives. Only when that document had been completed and received was the key legally no longer part of our collections. The final step, then, was to change our records to show that one of the two keys labeled as items 1-3-#266 [“keys to the original doors of the Stone House”] was donated to the State Department. This will show to archivists (and researchers) in years to come that the Provincial Archives once possessed TWO keys to the original doors of the Stone House and what the disposition of one of those had been. The second key will go into the Shrine Museum to replace its predecessor.

The overall implications of the gift are more numerous than one can count. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s name has been mentioned in the national press and in almost every Mass and religious ceremony at which the Pope presided. The Daughters and Sisters of Charity who follow in her works have been highlighted as continuing her wonderful legacy. And the story of her roles as wife, mother, and widow now give refreshed meaning to Catholic family life. Ah, but to the archivist who was lucky enough to attend that first confidential meeting and to navigate the legal steps of this once-in-a-lifetime property transfer – wow! Just wow!


Filed under Elizabeth Ann Seton, Emmitsburg, Francis, Popes

DCs and the 19th Amendment

(Text from Provincial Annals of October 6, 1920 used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The following October, Sisters of the Emmitsburg Province received these instructions from Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop of Baltimore:

October 6
A Circular from the Director is received today, worded as follows: “It is the wish of His Eminence, Cardinal Gibbons, that all the Sisters in Maryland, but especially those in Baltimore should register as voters. Registration does not impose the obligation of voting, but is necessary in order that one may vote at Preliminaries and on Election day. In conformity with the wishes of His Eminence you will please register at this time. In regard to voting, you will receive instructions later, etc. etc…. ”
(Provincial Annals, October 6, 1920)

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Filed under Emmitsburg, U.S. History

August 19, 1945: End of World War II.

(Passage from Provincial Annals, August 19, 1945 used with permission of the Provincial Archives)

On August 14, 1945, Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces, ending the hostilities of the Second World War. President Harry Truman proclaimed August 19 as a national day of thanksgiving for the end of the war. In Emmitsburg, Father Francis Dodd, C.M., Provincial Director, said the prayer below to the Sisters on that day. It is recorded in the Emmitsburg Province Provincial Annals.

August 19th. Second Mass, a High Mass for thanksgiving for Peace and to remember the dead who sacrificed their lives that we might be protected. Father Dodd sang the Mass after which we had Exposition all day closing with Holy Hour from 4:30 to 5:30. Father gave a very inspiring talk during the Holy Hour.

Extracts from Father’s Sermon at the Holy Hour

Today has been set aside as a day of Thanksgiving by our President, to thank God for Peace and also to be a Prayerful Memorial to our Hero Dead. This proclamation from a man who from the very beginning was not afraid to being God’s name into his message to the people. My dear Sisters, we have sought God in our need and the greatest military leaders have been those of the Sisters who have prayed to Almighty God to give victory followed by a changeless and lasting peace. We have prayed to our Divine Savior to grant this peace; we have called upon our Savior, King and Center of all hearts, to give this peace, and as we thank Him today; let us not forget that peace can be only a true and lasting peace when it comes from union of our hearts with the sacred heart of our Savior. We forget this because of our selfishness. Our neighbor has duties to God as well as we but we forget the teachings of Our divine Lord. Now let us strive more earnestly to love these teaching and live by them.

While this peace is for our land, we know that in many places the defeat of the common enemy has opened the way of civil strife. We want to beg our Divine Savior to draw all hearts to His own heart and to teach them as He alone can, how peace can be procured and preserved … He prayed for His enemies so we must ask God to forgive those who have offended, only sons among us but among all nations. Our hearts cannot meet in the heart of Christ while they harbor bitterness towards anyone. We will have peace only when our hearts beat as one with the heart of Christ.

Actual fighting has indeed ceased but there are great problems to solve by those in authority. But the mind of man is not sufficient to solve all problems that will be presented. Beg our divine Lord to give grace and light that they may have the courage to act with justice, that they may have charity for all people …

We cannot forget our debt of gratitude to those who have struggled so valiantly; who have made the great sacrifice of life for us. It is for us to pray for the repose of their soul … We also owe a great deal to those who are living, working and suffering the sorrows of separation from their loved ones, we ought particularly to pray for them now … Pray that the peace that is now being negotiated be founded on charity; that it may be enduring; that it may be a peace which will be a benefit to Holy Mother the Church, that she may spread all around and teach all nations to love our Savior and to find in love for Him charity and love, one for another, and that the coming of His Kingdom may grant us peace.”

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Filed under Emmitsburg, World War 2