The Archives Department is excited to share our Story Map entitled “Somewhere in the West: The Historical Geography of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters” focusing on our Michigan pioneer predecessors. Story Maps are produced through an online application that combines text and images, and can include maps and other elements, to tell stories in a creative and interactive format.

Our Story Map began as a collaborative project between our archivists and a geospatial analysis class led by Dr. Mary Clinthorne at Aquinas College.

Archivists for DSGR and Dr. Clinthorne began working early in the year to plan the project. Megan McElroy OP and Jen Morrison visited the Aquinas class to deliver an overview of the history and culture of the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids and discuss how archives and old records are organized and used. Students truly engaged with the story of our Sisters.

The next step was a group visit by the students to our archives on campus so they could examine materials to use in presenting the history of our early Michigan missions. Unfortunately, the spread of the COVID-19 virus necessitated the cancellation of in-person classes at Aquinas College and the closing of Marywood to outside visitors. The project moved forward, however, because some of our book-length histories are available electronically, and due to the efforts of Michael Ellen Carling OP who scanned and emailed primary sources to the students. Once the Marywood campus reopened to staff, our archivists were able to regain access to the collection and complete the project.

Incorporating early photographs with information from historic annals and other primary sources (including the diary of a Sister born in Quebec a year after the American Civil War ended), our Story Map depicts how our predecessors first came to Michigan. These true pioneers forsook basic human comforts and set out in boats and buggies into the largely unsettled woods of the lower peninsula to be of service to the children and families in these new parishes. The work was hard and the conditions so poor that Sisters literally risked their health and even their lives on these missions. In doing so, they fulfilled the dying vision of Mother Augustine Neuhierl who saw a vast field somewhere in the West dotted white with Dominican habits.

We hope you enjoy the Story Map here  and would welcome your feedback.