A significant portion of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield's archives have found a home in Elms Alumnae Library.

Alumnae Library Director Anthony Fonseca and SSJ Archivist Sherry Enserro in the newly established SSJs archive room in the library's basement.

SSJ Archives Find Sanctuary at Elms

When the Sisters of St. Joseph needed a safe place to store a significant portion of their archives, Alumnae Library Director Anthony Fonseca knew Elms would be the perfect sanctuary.

“The solution seemed obvious: offer to make it possible for them to keep their intellectual history intact for future generations,” Fonseca said.

The SSJ administrative offices moved from the Mont Marie motherhouse to the former Our Lady of Hope Church on Carew Street in Springfield in October, and space was at a premium in the new location. So SSJ Archivist Sherry Enserro reached out to Fonseca for help housing approximately half of the order’s collection.

Rather than simply merge the SSJs’ collection into that of the Elms, Fonseca — in consultation with President Mary Reap, IHM, Ph.D., and VP of Academic Affairs Walter Breau, Ph.D. — offered to take the records “on loan.”

“What that means, from the SSJs’ point of view, is that when they are able to house the archive again, they can simply reclaim it,” Fonseca said.

This is definitely a wonderful arrangement for us,” said SSJ Archivist Sherry Enserro. “It’s convenient because we’re close, and also because the sisters are so connected to the college.

Last fall, Fonseca cleaned out a room in the basement of Alumnae Library that was used for storing microfilm, paintings, and various odds and ends.

“It took me two weeks, but I never once stopped to question if it was worth it,” Fonseca said. “My respect for the sisters was too great for that, and I felt that it was the least we could do for our co-founders.”

“We are pleased and proud to be able to make this space available for the SSJs,” President Reap said. “These records are significant not only to the history of the sisters, but to the history of Elms College as well.”


This entry from Mother Berchmans' diary entry for October 28, 1927, includes the line "College of Our Lady of the Elms to be established." (Image courtesy of the SSJ archives)

Having the records at Elms also benefits the college, Fonseca said.

“Any creditable college archive prioritizes gathering whole collections whenever possible. You usually see this in the forms of papers or letters from an author or historical person. In our case, housing the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Springfield brings more eminence to the library and therefore to the college.”

The records now housed at Elms include early records of the Catholic schools in Holyoke, Pittsfield, North Adams and other locations.

“Probably the most Elms-related items here are Mother Berchmans’ diaries from the late 1920s,” Enserro said.

Those diaries include this entry from October 28, 1927: “College of Our Lady of the Elms to be established.”

The help from Elms reaches beyond mere storage space, too. Fonseca has also been invaluable for providing advice on record digitization, Enserro said. Since 2013, Fonseca has been working to digitize the Elms rare books and archival collection using exterior partners like Digital Commonwealth and the Boston Public Library, as well as in-house flatbed scanners.

The Elms space is intended to be a short-term solution, “but as long as space doesn’t become an issue, I am fine with the collection being ‘on loan’ for as long as need be,” Fonseca said.