Sister Paula Diann Marlin, archivist for the Sisters of Mercy, may have fallen into the profession by a stroke of fate, but it has quickly evolved into her passion. Read on to see what Marlin has to say about working as the lone arranger of a religious collection. SAA: How did you become involved with the archives at the Sisters of Mercy? PDM: I worked at Mercy International Centre in Dublin, Ireland, from October 1998 through October 2000. The house was started by Mother Catherine McAuley in 1829 as a shelter for homeless women and children. She founded the Sisters of Mercy there in 1831. In 1994, it became a retreat and heritage center full of wonderful artifacts dating back to the organization’s founding.My favorite assignment as a team member was to give heritage tours to visitors from around the world. A visiting community leader from the States asked if I would be interested in becoming an archivist. I said yes, and a month later I was interviewed and offered the archives position at the central office of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas in Silver Spring, Maryland. I attended the Modern Archives Institute at the National Archives in Washington, DC, for basic training. After that, Sr. Mary Felicitas Powers, a retired archivist, spent time showing me how to translate theory into practice. She was an excellent and encouraging mentor. SAA: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received for working as a lone arranger? PDM: Sr. Mary Felicitas told me to follow my instincts. She saw me as a person who loved our community’s history and who had good instincts about what was needed to help preserve our heritage. SAA: What’s the most interesting piece you’ve come across during your time at the Sisters of Mercy? PDM: There are many interesting items in our archives, but my favorite is probably the Trinidad collection from 1944 to 1955.Our sisters managed a hospital, infirmary, and clinics at a leper colony in Trinidad, British West Indies. On three occasions, I have done major research for someone seeking information about the leper colony.The last request was from Amy Moran, who was writing a children’s book and wanted to know about everyday life in the colony. Her essay was one of eight finalists in last year’s I Found It In The Archives! Contest. SAA: If you could spend time with one historical figure, who would it be and why? PDM: I am fascinated with Mother Teresa Austin Carroll (1835–1909), who was a woman ahead of her times. She was an excellent teacher and musician. She founded more than thirty schools, consoled wounded soldiers during the Civil War, and nursed yellow fever victims in several epidemics.During the little spare time she had, she wrote a biography of McAuley (1866), based on worldwide correspondence with Sisters who had known the foundress personally.She compiled stories of Mercy foundations throughout the world in four volumes of the Annals of the Sisters of Mercy (1881–1895), also based on correspondence. Through these writings, she helped to keep alive the same spirit and traditions among Sisters scattered across four continents. Projects to help the poor were financed by proceeds from her articles in journals and periodicals and other books she wrote, edited, or translated from French. Obituaries praised her life of charity and compassion, her efforts for schools and justice for all, and her distinguished scholarship.
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