Prayer cards and novenas were also part of the box that included a statue of the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba. (Courtesy photos)

By Kathy Cordes 
Diocesan Archivist

This story begins in La Havana, Cuba, with a wooden crate marked ‘fragil’ and an artifact inside, laying on wood straw with authentic, possibly human hair. I had never seen anything like this. It looked to be the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus, standing on top of ocean waves, three men in a boat with several angels. Intriguing! In the same box, was an enormous amount of prayer cards and novenas. Fascinating!

Sr. Christina Hernandez, SCTJM, chancellor immediately recognized and began to read — Una hermosa imagen de la Madre de Cristo apareció flotando sobre las aguas de la bahia de Nipe en los primeros aňos del siglo XVII. Yo Soy La Virgen De La Caridad!

This is the Virgin of Charity from Cuba. Wow! My research reveals this ‘Maria’ holds a beautiful story. Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre is the patroness of Cuba and one of the most important symbols in Cuban culture and the Roman Catholic Church. Amazing!

But why is it in the diocesan archives? How do we determine what should be in the archives? What happens when we decide to keep an item?

Determining if a collection belongs in our diocesan archives requires many accession or inventory steps. After the initial research of an object, the following is a short synopsis of the process and is an inventory of and for history:  Research to determine the provenance of an artifact. What is the history behind it? Where did it come from? Who owns it? What will be the goal of owning this artifact? Does it belong in a parish or on display in our archives? Is it important to our diocese and/or the history of our church?

Is this object authentic? This statue did not come with a certificate of authentication but the history and names associated with the date.

Catalog the object. Typically, archives use a trinomial numbering system.  The number assigned Our Lady ‘Maria’ is 2021.16.1 — the year the artifact is collected, the grouping I assign to statues, and the succession number. In this case, the first item of group 16 in the year 2021.

Photograph and enter all historical and documented history in our computer system which is museum/archival software called Past Perfect. Retains all history, itemizes artifacts and objects.

The goal: clean, restore and paint. Our chancellor, Sr. Christine would like to display this in her office.

Coming full circle, from Cuba to Rapid City: if only Maria could tell us of her voyage and all those who have prayed over her in the last century. One of those prayers is from Sister Gabrielle (St. John the Evangelist, Rapid City, 1975): I beg your intercession so that we may be granted the joy of being together in Heaven! Amén.

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