New Materials Back from Conservator: U-Matic Tapes

Shortly before the COVID-19 crisis brought so much of the world to a halt, some good news came to the Daughters of Charity Archive.  We can now make available – at least when everyone gets back to the office and we are completely available to researchers again – three pieces of audio-visual material in digital format which we have never been able to before.  Thanks to our work with ColorLab in Rockville, Maryland, we can provide access to some of our U-matic tapes, one of the earliest versions of videotape which did not require the complicated equipment of open-reel film.  Effectively, U-matics were a giant VHS with a tightly wound reel of film inside.

In addition to no longer having equipment to play these tapes, these tapes had fallen victim to sticky-shed syndrome, or “shredding.”  The glues meant to hold the magnetic tape to the plastic base attract moisture, which makes the tape sticky and causes it to deteriorate as it crosses the mechanical portions of the cassette.

The solution to this condition is “baking,” which is exactly what it sounds like.  By baking the tape to a high temperature, it can be made dry enough for long enough that it can be converted into a digital format.

The tapes cover three different subjects:

  • The first is an episode of United States Catholic from November 1928, featuring a ten minute segment on the United State Public Health Service Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, staffed by the Daughters of Charity, better known as the National Hansen’s Disease Center – the treatment center for the disease colloquially known as leprosy.
  • The second is a program on Mother Seton, which ran in the half-hour on Buffalo local television before her canonization aired live.
  • The third is a celebratory Mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago celebrating the recent canonization of Mother Seton, featuring Father Edward Riley, CM; Father Thomas Burn; and Father Phillip Dion, CM.
Blurry still from the stationary camera at the celebratory mass at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Chicago

For more information on preservation and conservation of U-matic tapes, see

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The Death of Vincent and Louise

The year 2020 marks 260 years since the deaths of both founders of the Daughters of Charity, Saints Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac.  Louise had had bouts of serious ill health for much of her life, but the year 1660 saw her receive unction – or last rites – twice in the same year.  In her final days, she met with the earliest members of the Daughters and with the lay members of the Vincentian family at the time, the Ladies of Charity.  The priest who was by her bedside reported her last words; when he issued his apostolic pardon, she responded simply with “Yes.”  She died mid-day on March 15, 1660.

Vincent was ill himself at this time, so ill that he could not be at Louise’s side as she lay dying.  For the last months of his life, he was confined to the Paris Motherhouse of the Vincentians on Rue de Sèvres.  In July, he managed to give two conferences to the Daughters of Charity on the virtues of their foundress.  Unable to talk at length, Vincent instead let the assembled Daughters talk of Louise’s ability to raise her mind to God, to never complain of her ailments, of supporting sick Sisters, her willingness to perform the tasks that others would consider work for servants, her love and concern for the members of her community, and, of course, her humility in her service to the poor. 

Before Vincent began to move to the matter of electing Louise’s successor, he added a final admonishment to the Daughters:  “Courage!  Dear Mademoiselle Le Gras will help you.  She has been present for all that we’ve said.”

In Louise’s las months, when she had heard of Vincent’s illness, she sent him notecards with some of her home remedies.  By August, he could no longer make it to the chapel for Mass, either as a celebrant or congregant, even on crutches.  At last, after members of his community pressed and pressed him, he finally allowed himself to be carried to Mass each day.

On September 26, 1660, Vincent received his last rites and blessed the priests of the Vincentians and the Daughters of Charity for the last time.  He passed away on the morning of the 27th seated in a chair by his fireplace.

Representation of Saints Vincent and Louise around the deathbed of Sister Marguerite Naseau, the first to enter the community of the Daughter of Charity. Image painted by an early Daughter

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The Ventures of the S.S. Umbria & S.S. O.B Jennings

By Nathaniel Bentz, Mt. St. Mary’s University Class of 2020, Archives Intern/Guest Contributor

My name is Nathaniel Bentz and I am a senior undergraduate student of Mount St. Mary’s University with a history major and English minor; this is my second semester interning at the Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives. During my first project of this Spring 2020 semester, I am processing and numerically labeling documents from Sisters during their service in World War One. I have come across a report about a daring battle and recovery from a German submarine attack. The document transcribes reports of crew members from the attacked oil tanker, known as the S.S. O.B. Jennings, mentioning the first signs of the attack, maneuvers and actions taken to escape the torpedoes and get the crew onto the life boats, interactions with the enemy after the surprise attack, and the events occurring after their rescue and safe return to ally territory.

The Sisters’ service was predominantly on the Italian front of the war. The creation of this report is interesting because—even though the report was typed around late August. The entire document is typed by the captain of the steamboat, S.S. Umbria, Capt. Thomas C. Myers M.R.C., which rescued the soldiers from the bombarded oil tanker. Following Capt. Myers’ transcribed reports of the S.S. O.B. Jennings crew members, he offers an extensive summary about the trip before and after they encountered and rescued those of the S.S. O.B. Jennings; the summary broke down the events day-by-day with some broken down into exact hours. The first crew member of the S.S. O.B. Jennings interviewed is Thomas McCarthy and his statement contains some interesting details about the attack itself, “The first thing [sic] noticed was a torpedo which passed 5 feet astern. A battle ensued continuing two and one half hours with submarine out of sight range 9 miles. Exchange fire, hit the Jennings 15 to 20 times, an explosive shell striking the engine room and causing surrender at 11:15 A.M.”.

Such a siege made by the German submarine sounded impressive—but fortunately there was only one fatality.

The events that occurred next were suspenseful: the Captain of the defeated S.S. O.B. Jennings was able to narrowly escape capture by the German soldiers by disguising himself as a civilian. According to the report, “As the submarine came alongside the German officer asked for the Captain of the Jennings, but was told that he was dead, the Captain having donned civilian attire”.

This daring opportunity for escape did not seem like it would work too well, given that the crew of the S.S. O.B. Jennings was cornered in the sea by their armed enemy with only lifeboats as safety. McCarthy’s report concluded bittersweet; the German submarine decided to record the condition of the S.S. O.B. Jennings following up with more torpedo-firing as the crew of the S.S. O.B Jennings were being rescued by the S.S. Umbria.

The next report was told by a soldier by the name of Fred Lebern, who offered a similar report in comparison to McCarthy’s, but with the addition of, “I, being in charge at the time, ordered the helm a starboard, which brought the vessel parallel to the course of the torpedo, causing to pass 5 feet astern”.

This extra detail is fascinating in knowing how close of a call the S.S. O.B Jennings was in at the beginning of the surprise attack by the German submarine. Lebern’s quick thinking was able to both alarm the S.S. O.B. Jennings of an attack while also alarming others to maneuverer the vessel just to the point of barely dodging the power of a torpedo. The other details before and after this command were the same as McCarthy’s report.

The final portion of this typewritten document is a report by a crew member of the S.S. Umbria (presumably by Capt. Myers himself). The detail is strong, covering main moments of the vessel’s whole trip from the state of New York to their destination in Italy. Near the very beginning of this report is the detail about discovering the stranded men of the S.S. O.B. Jennings, hearing their stories and examining their injuries before they were shipped back to the United States. What caught my attention was a small detail in this portion of the report, before the ship sailed it is reported that “Officers and Enlisted men of Unit 102 came from Gen. Hospital No. 2 Baltimore [along with] …the Nurses and Sisters of Charity”.

Even before they arrived in Italy, the nurses were witnessing war and seeing, firsthand, the power of their enemy. After this highlight, the rest of the report goes into detail about the drills they were running, which islands they saw, and which allied ships they sailed near. One of the more interesting details involves seeing allied ships, “we were told [it] was Spain and that we could soon enter the harbor of Gibraltar. It was indeed a beautiful sight. The harbor was filled with ships from all nations of the Allied and Neutral powers, ships of all kinds”.

In the middle of day-to-day life in a Nurse Corps, full of rule changes and regulations, such a sight to describe helps in showcasing how different this document is in comparison to the rest of the invaluable documents of 1918: telegrams and letters regarding pertinent rule changes and enlistments. All documents of this collection are important because they allow researchers to recognize the routines and responsibilities of roles in World War One that most do not initially think of: the role of the nurse. Also, this collection highlights an important moment in world history, and given this, it emphasizes the dedication the Daughters of Charity has on their mission of caring for others in need no matter the setting.

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