The urgency of our work

As the semester comes to a close, I have begun to reflect on the SisterStory independent-study course. At Aquinas College, Dr. Dunham Strand, Professor Chamberlain, and Sister Barbara Hansen worked with my fellow classmate, Marissa, and me to take what we had learned throughout the course and apply this knowledge in a reflective final project. For my final project, I focused on the urgency of collecting oral histories, particularly of family and women.

At first, I was primarily focused on the family aspect of oral history. My Great Aunt Jan was a wonderful, inspirational woman whose oral history I wish I could have personally heard. The collection of my Great Aunt Jan’s travels -- she was a world traveler and made it to six of the seven continents, as well as to all 50 states in the United States -- are a small consolation to the missing memories, conversations and knowledge my family wishes they would have captured.

She continues to inspire my wanderlust, even five years after her passing. When I reread the postcards she sent from her travels or admire the items she sent back from her adventures, I wish she could be with me on my travels or at least to advise me on travel with her tips, tricks and abundant experience.

Another aspect I yearn to discuss with her is our family history, especially since she had just started to scratch the surface of this information in her research.

Through an interview with my father, I developed a new understanding of the barriers my Great Aunt Jan broke through in both her professional career and in her personal life as a single woman traveling the world. This reminded me of the urgency of collecting oral histories of women. I am extraordinarily thankful to have had the privilege and honor of collecting Sister Bernice’s oral history. There is a great urgency in collecting these oral histories, as they share more than just the facts of events; they reveal the memories. I am eager for others to experience Sister Bernice’s memories she has been gracious enough to share.

About Sarah Toppen

Sarah Toppen is a Junior at Aquinas College, where she is studying Political Science and Women's Studies. After taking "Women in American History" at the same time as "American History," she became passionate about including women's narratives in historical accounts and teachings. She has furthered her passion towards helping women through her advocacy internship with the Nothing But Nets Campaign, United Nations Foundation during Summer 2017. Sarah is excited to experience her faith in a new light. During the Spring of 2018 she was paired with Sister Bernice Garcia, OP; a Dominican Sister.