Seeking to Learn From the Past

They came seeking to learn from the past.

One came wanting to learn about St. John’s University’s approach to issues of diversity in its early days. The other came to understand the role of Vincentians as they tried to spread the gospel in China facing a different culture as well as the hostility of a rising Communist party. Recently, the Ducournau Archives hosted two researchers for extended visits. Dr. Susie Pak Associate Professor of History at St John’s University, and Dr. Harney, Assistant Professor of History and Chair of Asian Studies Program at Centre College in Danville Kentucky.

What they had in common here in Germantown was not only the realization that the past could shed light on the present and the future, but that there were treasures in our Ducournau Archives.

The importance of holding on to memories

As I reflected on such visits, I thought of the two things.

My first thought was how often we take memories for granted… until we lose them. Natural disasters, the vengeance of wars, thoughtless neglect let so many memories be swept away. Of course, there is the dreaded loss of memory we name Alzheimers. When afflicted, a person loses not only connections to his or her past but also who they are in the present.

My second thought was the joy of discovery when we are able to reclaim and relive memories. I think specifically of my wonder as I walked through the Museum of the American Revolution. There was so much I had not known and much to celebrate anew as I experienced artifacts from those times.

The ministry of the Ducournau Archives in Germantown, Pennsylvania 

Its very name teaches us. Bro. Bertrand Ducournau, C.M., served as the first secretary of St. Vincent de Paul. Without his efforts at recording the words of St. Vincent we would know little this man who shaped not only his times but our times as well.

Generations of archivists have walked silently in Brother Ducournau’s footsteps. They have been a magnificent gift to us, and whether or not any of us ever had the honor of hearing them speak, they have kept our memories alive for the times we recognize our need to reclaim them. Over the decades and indeed centuries there have not been many, but they have been a critical link for us.

So we thank Rev. John W. Carven, C.M., Provincial Archivist, and Ms. Honey Jane Rodgers, Associate Archivist, for this vital and often overlooked ministry to the Eastern Province. For more information visit CMEAST.


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