by Cori Hilsgen
This past June, the St. Benedict’s Monastery oratory and archives flooded. Prioress Sister Michaela Hedican noticed the problem when she went to the oratory to pray at about 4:30 a.m. on June 21.
She notified physical plant assistant director, Chris Eisenbacher, who came with his crew to help.
The monastery maintenance crew and ServiceMaster came early in the morning to clean up all the water. As soon as they were given the OK to enter the area, many other people also pitched in to help.
The damage was extensive and included water and mud on the floor, and soaked and broken ceiling tiles which fell on equipment or dripped water in many areas.
Monastery archivist Sr. Mariterese Woida said various teams of nuns and lay staff worked hard to salvage, carry, organize and direct to try to rescue as much as they could of the past 150 years of history of the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict.
Food service director Becky Terwey helped vacuum up water and provided a snack cart for the workers. Lunch and coffee were also provided for helpers.
The Midwest Art Conservation Center in Minneapolis, of which the department is a member, was contacted for advice. They advised documents be spread out to dry and extra items be put in the freezer if they didn’t have room to spread them all out.
Many carts and empty spaces were used to move materials that were in danger of getting wet. Wet materials were moved into a large room where tables were set up and covered with clean newsprint so items could be spread out. Some things were put in the dining rooms and other things were put on carts and put into the freezer until the nuns had the space and time to deal with those things.
Other tables were set up in the living quarters’ empty bedrooms which had air conditioners and fans to store dry boxes.
On June 22 things were moved out of the dining rooms to some of the “set up” spaces. Because of storm damage, the tunnel, which had been flooded, was not available for use. The nuns formed a brigade and handed things up to the sidewall to be loaded onto carts and moved.
The Development and Communications departments offered to share space and vacated two offices for the archives department to use. That allowed the archives department to work from the two offices until they could move back into their office space again.
During the restoration time period, whenever information was needed, the nuns had to search a variety of rooms for the information they needed until helpful volunteers Pat Royer and Cleo O’Boyle inventoried the items to make it easier to find information.
“It was great having the list so we would know which room to go to in order to find the exact materials needed,” Woida said.
Woida said they are very grateful for all of the volunteers.
“A wonderful group of volunteers has been reporting regularly to help move things back and now to process items and find their proper storage place,” Woida said. “Volunteers also kept up with their other regular tasks as much as they were able, especially if they were able to do them on computers. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
Some of the restoration work required for the archives department included replacing the wall board at the base of all of the walls, replacing ceiling tiles and refinishing the ceilings, replacing new carpeting, rewiring and other things.
What made the salvage and restoration of the archives even more interesting and challenging was the department is adding the holding of archives from the two monasteries that recently merged with them. Those include St. Bede’s Monastery from Eau Claire, Wis. and Mount St. Benedict’s from Ogden, Utah.
Woida said the department began moving items back to the archives in October and moved their offices back in November. Phones and computers are once again connected, but there are still many things that need to be processed.
Besides Woida, 11 other nuns and 13 volunteers also serve in the archives department.