By Diana Hernandez
January 15, 2014
Most at Dominican know how active the sisters continue to be on our college campus, but people may not realize how involved sisters from the Dominican order were in Europe during World War II.
Throughout the war, the Dominican Nuns of the Perpetual Rosary wrote a set of chronicles between 1943 and 1945. During World War II, several sisters lived in a convent in Rome, Italy, which was occupied by Germany for a certain period of time. The sisters experienced many hardships living in Rome during the war, including the bombing of Rome, witnessing Jewish females being captured by the Germans, facing food scarcity and aiding injured soldiers.
“What I was really interested in was the Rome foundation and the chronicles from 1943-1945 that discussed the war when the Germans invaded,” Cassie Vazquez, Project Archivist from Dominican’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science, said. “To me, it’s like a detailed novel of what went on every day.”
The Chronicles of Rome 1943-1945 are in progress of organization and are being preserved in the Sr. Nona McGreal Center located in Dominican University’s Magnus Arts Center. The McGreal Center houses the history of the U.S. Dominican family, holding accessible archives and collections. Sr. Janet Welsh, O.P., director of the McGreal Center, encourages students and the community to reach out to the McGreal Center to keep the history of Dominican alive.
“In the 1943 chronicle, they keep talking about the bomb sirens, [how] they keep hearing them and have to get out of bed and find safety,” Vazquez said, mentioning how detailed the sisters were in writing the chronicle. “They could see the fire and bombings outside their convent windows.”
“They went through an awful lot of hardships during the war,” Sr. Colleen McNicholas, O.P., volunteer for the McGreal Center, said. “I was very impressed with what they went through.”
Many volunteers help the McGreal Center with the organization project of the chronicles.
“We are so careful, the papers are fragile,” McNicholas said. “Some of the material we go through goes back to the 1920’s.”
“I work on preserving these documents, because a lot of these documents are very fragile,” Vazquez added.
At the time, American citizens in Rome were viewed as enemies. McNicholas and Vazquez explained the sisters’ experiences from the chronicles and the mentioning of fascist Italian leader Benito Mussolini’s fall.
“The sisters were in the monastery because there were American soldiers right outside their doors,” McNicholas said.
“Once the Germans left, they hung an American flag outside their convent gate.” Vazquez added. “They talked about the scarcity of food during the war time and were pained by the fact they actually saw Jewish women and girls being taken away.”
The McGreal Center is open to undergraduate and graduate students who want to write a research paper on the history of the Dominican Order of Preachers. The archives date back to as early as 1789. Welsh commented on the resources that the McGreal Center’s home website offers.
“It can function as a practical place for any students who aspire to learn a degree, master’s degree with specialization in archives,” Welsh said. “A friend of mine once said to me, ‘If you forget your past, you lose your future.’”