Eyes on the Past and Future

Sr. Mary George O'Toole '51

Sister Mary George O’Toole holds the keys to the College’s history – quite literally. Since stepping down as the College’s vice president for sponsorship and mission integration in 2010, she has taken the position as the College’s archivist. 

“I first served as the VP for SMI in 1999,” she says. “I realized that nobody was keeping anything on the history of the College. I began to think that we really ought to be preserving it. Oh sure, there were pieces of history in some files. They were there, but they were never collected. I asked then-president Dr. David House about creating an archive, and he said it was a wonderful idea.” With the final approval of the Board of Trustees, it was recognized that the College needed and would create an official archives. “For 10 years I worked in a temporary space as archivist,” says Sister Mary George, “while at the same time I was the VP for SMI.”

“Memories are being revived because of the materials.”

—Sister Mary George O’Toole

In 2010, a dedicated space was assigned on the first floor of Saint Joseph’s Hall where there is an office for working and a separate room housing the archive materials.

Sister Mary George collects College items with vigor but also discretion. “Materials I collect are from different areas of the campus,” she says, “that others believe and I concur have lasting value.”

The decision process for admitting materials into the archives is guided by its mission “to collect, arrange and preserve documents and memorabilia which directly reflect the history and the development of the College as it evolved from its beginnings at the Portland campus to its present day location in Standish, Maine.” Accepted items are categorized two ways: as official records (like maps, meeting minutes, presidential correspondences) and as unofficial records (like photographs, news clippings, and student, staff and faculty materials). Sister Mary George has to make sure these items are properly labeled and identified before they are even considered for the archives. Otherwise, she, the “decision maker,” can reject their admittance.

Sr. Mary George O'Toole in the archives room

Sister Mary George O’Toole ’51, Ph.D, Hon. ’90 implemented the managing structure for the archives, designed by Abraham Schechter, a member of the Wellehan Library staff from 2001 until 2005.

Behind the heavy, wood door separating her office from the archives room, Sister Mary George passes through the carefully stacked, organized holdings. “Paper, folders, boxes. Everything needs to be acid-free,” she says. There’s a lot to see; it’s hard to enumerate without using the inventory directory. From the president’s office alone there are 44 boxes.

“I’m thrilled to be working in the archives,” she says. “I am meeting once again people I know or knew, and memories are being revived because of the materials connected to certain events.”

One of her favorite holdings is the large box containing materials from the 2012 centennial celebrations. She carefully takes this box from its place on the shelf and brings it into her office. She removes a three-page listing of every item in the box: the scarf, DVDs of photos and videos, printed materials, and more. It’s a year’s celebration of a century all carefully packed and labeled in a box no larger than two-by-three feet long and just inches high.

As the College’s archivist, Sister Mary George is working with the truth: the College’s history. As much as she is connected to the materials, she maintains a level of professionalism that those who know her would expect.

When she began her transition from VP to archivist, she told Saint Joseph’s College Magazine that teaching sociology on campus was her most loved contribution. There is no doubt that Sister Mary George loves her role and was meant for it.  “When students come back to their 25th reunion and other occasions, they’ll want to see things about their time here.” For that, we all owe Sister Mary George our thanks.