Rosemont College near Philly produces 6 fascinating oral histories

Emily Siegel is a 23-year-old alumna of Rosemont College in Rosemont, Pa., now serving as an archives assistant in its library. Last fall she supervised the SisterStory oral history project on campus, guiding six Rosemont students who were “enthralled” by the Catholic sisters they interviewed, according to Emily. Here’s what she had to say about SisterStory.

What attracted you to this oral history project?  

Prior to even knowing about the SisterStory project, I was aware of the growing desire within the Digital Humanities community to collect oral histories from lesser-known members of society. I was eager to take part in the project because I think it’s important to record the histories of American Catholic sisters due to their integral roles in U.S. history as activists, teachers, healthcare professionals and beyond.

What did you make of the oral-history training you received last summer at St. Kate's?

I thought the training was a fantastic experience. By the end I felt assured of my understanding of oral histories and had the confidence to teach others the project’s general purpose as well as other elements like knowing how to set up and manage the technology part.

Can you tell me more about how this project relates to your personal and professional interests?   

Personally, I have always had an interest in almost anything historical and finding out information that can usually only be captured by one-on-one interactions, like hearing a personal experience from my grandmother. Professionally, as an archives assistant I see it as my duty to not only preserve historical facts and information but to also share it with anyone willing to learn about it. While I have not always had a specific interest in storytelling myself, I have always been interested in story-listening and can see the necessity to collect histories from otherwise unrecognized individuals.

Which sisters were interviewed for the project?

Sister Mary Bryan, Sister Gloria Coleman, Sister Jeanne Marie Hatch, Sister Carol Ann Knight, Sister Catherine Quinn and Sister Joanne Sullivan. All of the sisters are members of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, which founded Rosemont College.

What kind of bonds have you noticed being forged between the students and their sisters?

The students have been enthralled by their sisters. Although there were a few cases where the students were a little nervous about meeting with their sisters on a regular basis, where their focus shifted from nervousness related to their interactions and more to the logistics of completing an oral history. It seems with each class a student would arrive with a story to share about their new relationship. One of our favorite anecdotes is that of Brittney and Sister Gloria. Brittney had been applying to med school this past semester and shared every step of the process with her sister. When she went to visit Sister Gloria to share the good news of being accepted, women Brittney had never even met were coming up to congratulate her. It was clear that Sister Gloria had been sharing Brittney’s story with her friends.

Have you also noticed bonding among the students?  

Rosemont is a small community, with about 597 undergraduate students, so all of the students had pre-existing relationships from being in class and campus activities together. However, it was clear that they became more connected and were happy to lean on one another and lend support when any obstacles came up. At one point, when Allison recommended two groups swap technical partners due to scheduling conflicts, the thought of separating was just dreadful to them. It was a pretty great moment to see how, even among established friends, new bonds and attachments formed through SisterStory.

What have you learned from this project so far?   

This project has encouraged me to appreciate my community even more than I already did. Not only was I able to learn more about the lives of the sisters who participated, but I also gained a newfound respect for their accomplishments and a hope for the Society’s prosperous future.

What’s special about Rosemont College?   

Rosemont College is a great niche community right outside of Philadelphia that welcomes individuals from all walks of life. It’s an inviting place that captures you with its sincere spirit of goodness and harmony. Rosemont is definitely a community that I am not quick to leave – I came here as an undergrad in 2010 and started my job here right after my graduation in 2014.

What made Rosemont a good fit for the SisterStory oral-history project?

Rosemont’s community was a perfect fit for the SisterStory project because the foundation of the college rests on the backs of the SHCJ Sisters who founded it more than 94 years ago. Students who took part in the project had the opportunity to better understand the community that surrounds them while also learning more about American sisters’ contributions to our nation’s history.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I would like to give a big thank you to everyone at St. Kate’s for taking the time to educate and provide support on a project that is, as I see it, essential and precious.

About Christina Capecchi

Christina Capecchi is an award-winning journalist from Inver Grove Heights, Minn. She is the author of the nationally syndicated column “Twenty Something,” which appears in more than 50 Catholic newspapers across the country. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, America, The Chicago Tribune, The Star Tribune and The Pioneer Press. She also provides contracted editing and writing services. She holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a bachelor’s from Mount Mercy University.