Sister Vivian Ivantic, left, and Sister Virginia Jung, right, sit below old photographs of the monastery.
“If you don’t know history, you’re bound to relive it and make the same mistakes that were made in the past,” declares Sister Vivian Ivantic, OSB. She certainly knows her religious community history. She has worked in the St. Scholastica Monastery archives since 1978. She officially retired at the age of 103 and Sister Virginia Jung, OSB took up the role of Community Archivist in 2016.
The archives began when Sister Genevieve Harrison was commissioned to write the community history up through 1961. Her book, Where There Was Need, remains a treasured part of the monastic library. When Sister Vivian began work as the Community Archivist, the Prioress handed her a banker’s box of information that had been used to write the community history book and told her she could use the room where the Sisters previously made altar bread. Today, the archives stretch across two rooms and two large closets.
Sister Virginia notes that archives “are essential for the community because they tell us who we are.” She also notes that the materials are helpful for young Sisters’ formation, for Benedictine scholars, and for the local community in the Rogers Park/West Ridge neighborhood of Chicago.
A portrait of Mother Theresa Krug, OSB, the fourth Prioress of our community, in the archives.
The archives include a broad assembly of community history. There are portraits of the early community leaders and a set of spoons that survived the Great Fire of Chicago in 1871. Boxes contain graduation programs from the schools that the Sisters sponsored and photos that the Sisters have taken over the years. One of Sister Virginia’s favorite items includes black and white photos of children who attended religious education summer schools that the Sisters coordinated in Colorado. “You can tell there are lots of Latino kids and that’s exciting to me because I spent so many years teaching literature from the southwestern United States,” notes Sister Virginia who worked as a Spanish teacher at St. Scholastica Academy, Chicago.
While there were no formal archives in the early years of the community, there were Sisters who did keep track of information. “There is a tiny pamphlet-size book where I learned where we taught at the beginning,” remembers Sister Vivian. She recalls, for example, Sister Rose Brehm who was born in Germany and came to this country when she was 1 year old. She joined the Benedictines and helped start a school, at that time called a "seminary", for young women in northwestern Illinois and went on to help found schools in Colorado.
Sister Elizabeth Kohl, pictured above, in her biology classroom sometime between 1974 and 1975
There are many Sisters whose work deeply influenced the history of the community. Sister Virginia remembers Sister Elizabeth Kohl who taught biology at St. Scholastica Academy in Chicago. She had many interests including botany and birds. “It was very contagious and inspiring to others…. She, along with Sister Suzanne Zeller, established a very strong science program that carried on.”
Sister Vivian fondly remembers Sister Imelda Fisher who deeply impacted her life and so many others when she served as Prioress between 1921 and 1941. Sister Vivian entered the community during those years and recalls, “We worked hard despite hunger, lack of resources, overwork, trying to educate to the best of our ability….” But regardless of resources, Sister Vivian believes that it is what the community did that mattered, calling it a “rich, rich background.”
Indeed, thanks to Sister Vivian and Sister Virginia's work with our archives, generations to come will know of the rich history of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago.