By Mindy Gordon, Archivist
The following is from the Winter 2022 issue of VISION.
As a Sister of Charity of New York, Sr. Noreen Sugrue has shared her creative skills as a teacher, artist and archivist throughout her endeavors. Born in New York City in 1942, she entered the Sisters of Charity on September 8, 1959, joining her sister Mary, Sr. Ellen Maria, who entered in 1955. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the College of Mount Saint Vincent and a master’s degree in education from Columbia University.
Sr. Noreen taught elementary grades from 1962 to 1968 and art classes from 1969 to 1973, including one summer term in Appalachia. For more than ten summers, she was an art teacher at the New York Foundling, and at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Manhattan, she taught sculpture to nurses as a form of relaxation, and craft courses to patients. Sr. Noreen illustrated note cards representing the Congregation’s virtues of humility, simplicity and charity for use by the Community.
In 1973 Sr. Noreen became the assistant archivist for the Congregation at Mount Saint Vincent and worked with Community historian Sr. Marjorie Walsh, the author of the three-volume Sisters of Charity of New York, 1809–1959. When Sr. Marjorie retired in 1975, Sr. Margaret Dowling, then president of the Congregation, appointed Sr. Noreen as archivist.
For her first assignment, she was asked to recommend a new storage location for the Community records. Sr. Noreen enthusiastically suggested the empty carriage house, now Boyle Hall, one of the three original stone buildings on the Mount Saint Vincent campus. Employing her artistic skills, she became architect and general contractor during the renovation. She contributed the final blueprint for the new archives and museum, including temperature control in the storage room and museum, and handicap access to the building’s first floor and lower level.
Sr. Noreen was then tasked with centralizing the archival materials stored in Founder’s Hall and the Le Gras administration building on the campus in the newly renovated space. Gathering over 175 years of Congregation history, she created an inventory of the many documents—bound volumes and photographs—and placed the materials into new acid-free folders and boxes. Simultaneously, she produced a subject index card system that included the locations of the boxed materials. Sr. Noreen relied upon the assistance of Sr. Olive Marie Hickey, who typed the subject index cards that became the foundation of the organization of the materials.
At the beginning of her term as archivist, Sr. Noreen attended training sessions at the Historical Institute in Ohio. She later recalled, “I enjoyed this because they were very strict about how to do things, and I appreciated it; you worked hard to achieve new skills.” Sr. Margaret Dowling expressed her appreciation to Sr. Noreen by sending her a card each year during her Presidency until 1979, thanking her for her dedication to successfully completing the project.
During this time, Sr. Noreen started a group with Brother Dennis Sennett, SA, to focus on archival procedures for Catholic communities in the metropolitan area. She also provided consultation to assist new archivists. In gratitude for her time, the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor donated and installed the metal shelving in the new archives at Boyle Hall.
At an archives workshop she attended at the New York Monastery of the Holy Name Federation of Poor Clares in 1980, Sr. Noreen shared her thoughts on maintaining the archives. She stated, “The people are the riches. You have remains of a relationship with God; you are going to be dealing with what is holy, and it’s up to you to make it a living word. It is a privilege to be an archivist; you have been entrusted with the holiness of your community and must find the best ways of sharing it with your sisters.”
Sr. Noreen presented original papers at several annual meetings of the Society of American Archivists, wrote a monthly history column for the Congregation’s in-house newsletter, and taught the spirituality of Elizabeth Ann Seton and Vincent de Paul to novices. Sr. Noreen continued as archivist until 1986. She then transitioned to providing services to the retired Sisters at Mount Saint Vincent Convent and at Convent of Mary the Queen, Yonkers.
During her tenure as custodian of the past, Sr. Noreen was an agent of the future, laying the foundational organization for the continued development and preservation of the Archives of the Sisters of Charity of New York.