Archivist brought congregation’s history to life
By Denise Baran-Unland Correspondent February 24, 2013 5:18PM
Sr. Lourdes Boyer SUBMITTED PHOTO
Updated: March 26, 2013 6:06AM
No matter what information she needed, Sister Lourdes Boyer, general secretary for the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate in Joliet, always counted on Sister Marian Voelker to provide it, no matter what.
“She could quickly tell me the name, the place and the date,” Lourdes said, “but she’d also quickly add, ‘Let me check that.’ Five minutes later, she’d be back saying, ‘I was right.’ I don’t know how her brain absorbed and held onto all that information. Her expertise was fabulous.”
As archivist, Voelker collected past and present information on all the sisters from the congregation’s inception and maintained an updated file on each one. Voelker tracked noteworthy accomplishments and celebrations in the media concerning the sisters and wrote summaries on each sister’s activity for each year and stored that, too.
Voelker also compiled statistics (which she could provide within seconds), cataloged items in the congregation’s archives and even notified the sisters of important upcoming events so they could have adequate time to prepare appropriate celebrations.
She was a contributing author for a book about the congregation’s founder Mother Alfred Moes, helped the University of St. Francis organize its history, gave presentations across the county on the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate and helped set up archives for other congregations.
Yet, Voelker never felt she was compiling a static collection of facts but a living history of the sisters’ contributions and legacies. Each sister’s story, Voelker felt, gave clearer and greater insight into the ways one lived out her deep faith.
“No matter if the sister lived, died or moved away from us, I feel that we know each other,” Voelker had written in 1997. “Archives are alive for me. This is certainly not a paper job nor is it a dreary job. Each day brings its own excitement, each day a renewal, each day the hope of our challenging futures as Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate.”
Ever since Voelker, the sixth of 10 children, was growing up near the banks of the Mississippi River and seeing its rapid social and economic changes, she has loved history. After spending 15 years in teaching and administration ministries for parish schools in Illinois and Ohio and because Voelker believed all school children should have access to well-stocked libraries, Voelker used that love to earn her master’s degree in library administration.
Voelker later worked in a variety of library settings, including the College of St. Francis (now University of St. Francis) in Joliet, the Joliet Public Library, the Will County Jail and the congregation’s motherhouse. In 1975, Voelker became the archivist for the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, a role she fulfilled until her death on Feb. 9 at the age of 77.
Near the end of Voelker’s life, someone had requested the name of a sister that had taught history many years ago at St. Procopius High School in Chicago. Boyer found the names of three for fitting the time period but could not narrow down the precise one.
So Nan Nagle, director of mission advancement for the congregation, brought those three names to Voelker and read them to her. Voelker could not speak, but three times she signaled the correct name with a firm squeeze of her hand.
Contact Denise M. Baran-Unland at 815-467-5249 or