‘With the Sisters, it Feels Like More Than a Job’

Archivist offers peek into role at Providence

From an orphan’s report card to the details of a Sister’s mission abroad, Veronica Stienburg has history at her fingertips.

In speaking with Veronica, it’s clear she has a passion for both history and her work as archivist with the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston.

“I’ve always been interested in history and people’s stories,” Veronica says.

“I’ve always been interested in the heritage field.”

She studied art history and completed her Master’s degree in archival studies.

Prior to joining the Sisters of Providence, Veronica worked for the Archives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto. The opportunity to work for the Sisters in Kingston as the sole archivist appealed to Veronica.

“It just felt like a good fit. With the Sisters, it feels like more than a job. I do get very passionate about it.”

She’s fascinated by the impact religious orders have had on Canada and the impressive contributions of women in particular on healthcare and education — neither of which are well-known aspects of the country’s history.

At Providence Motherhouse, Veronica works in the basement where the archives and her office are housed. It’s a climate-controlled environment with records stored in acid-free folders in acid-free boxes. Her work encompasses appraising the information that flows into the archives to see if it’s archivable, processing that information, storing it and making it searchable.

“It’s sort of like a library but in an archives you’re dealing with unique information. In a library you’d have books but in an archives you have documents and records.”

Kingston possesses the archives of the entire congregation. The Sisters had missions across the country, in the United States and in Guatamala. They still have one in Peru. The archives contain documents supporting all of those missions.

Veronica archives both corporate records and information about the lives and works of the Sisters.

One part of being an archivist is outreach and she’s invested a lot of effort into making the Sisters of Providence’s website more accessible.

For instance, when a sister dies, a necrology is written and Veronica has access to those mini-biographies dating back to 1870. Transcriptions are now posted online as are photos when available.

“I often do get genealogy requests from people who have a Sister in their family tree,” she notes.

There are also orphanage records as the Sisters ran an orphanage in Kingston from 1861-1964. She receives requests from the public about those.

A few years ago, two sisters who had been in the orphanage as children reached out to Veronica as they were interested in any information she may have about their childhood. While detailed information is often limited, in this case, Veronica was able to retrieve a few of the women’s report cards. “That was quite special for them and for me as well to be a part of that.”

Through her work, she clearly receives varied, numerous requests. While most of the asks are internal, for those public inquiries she receives she does her best to point people in the right direction.

Looking to the future, the Sisters of Providence are moving forward and developing Providence Village. The archives will eventually move to a new permanent location in the community.

“I feel very passionate about that and the importance of that,” Veronica says. “I have an emotional investment in the Sisters and their history.”

Veronica will continue to archive the stories and contributions of the Sisters of Providence.

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