Sister Emma Cecilia Busam, OSU: “A great gift to us all”


Sister Emma Cecilia Busam retired as archivist for the Diocese of Owensboro in 2009. Since 2011 she has served as assistant to the archivist at the Motherhouse.

Sister Emma Cecilia stands next to the display of the Owensboro Diocese’s three bishops, Francis Cotton, Henry Soenneker, and John McRaith.

If something happened in the Diocese of Owensboro, Ky., Ursuline Sister Emma Cecilia Busam wants to know about it.

It’s not that she’s nosy. It’s her job to capture the important moments and preserve them for all of history.

Sister Emma Cecilia has been an archivist for 26 years, first for the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph, and now for the 32 counties that make up the diocese in the western part of Kentucky.

She’s also been a teacher and principal, a musician, artist, and world traveler.

“She has a zest for life that few people have,” said her friend Sue Robert, of Evanston, Ill. “She comes to visit me every year, and she wants to do everything. She wears me out, and I’m 15 years younger.”

The two met at a workshop a few decades ago, and they still talk on the phone almost every night. When Robert was having health problems a few years ago, Sister Emma Cecilia was always present with encouraging words, cards, and prayers, Robert said.

“We always go to Chicago, and visit the Art Institute, the museum, Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and botanic garden,” Robert said. “We just go.”

Sister Emma Cecilia’s longtime friend Sue Robert joins her outside the Art Institute of Chicago in June 2008.

Sister Catherine Barber worked on the Maple Mount Archives staff for a year in 1997, and is one of Sister Emma Cecilia’s card-playing friends. “She’s a very interesting person. She’s an artist, and her flare was very evident in her archive work,” Sister Catherine said. “She’s a wonderful friend. She loves to share her experiences.”

Living with the past

Sister Emma Cecilia spends most of her days on the lower floor of the Catholic Pastoral Center, near St. Stephen Cathedral. She is surrounded by glass cases featuring displays of the diocese’s three bishops, and other information from monasteries and convents, parishes, organizations, and various artifacts reflecting the history of the diocese. Over her desk is a framed needlepoint motto saying, “Walk Humbly With Thy God,” made and given to her by former volunteers Claudine Blandford and Jewell Brown.

In an adjoining room are shelves full of documents and maps that chronicle the diocese that began in 1937. Down the hall is another office with photo albums, historic clothing, and other artifacts.

Before she had formal archival training, Sister Emma Cecilia accepted the invitation to be the archivist and museum curator for Mount Saint Joseph in 1983, following a 38-year career as a teacher and principal. “I was told to learn how to do it, and do it right,” she said.

After contacting the state archivist for advice in 1983, she applied for and received a $20,000 grant to begin organizing the Mount’s archives.

“Prior to that we didn’t have an archive, just a collection of papers,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. “Sister Eugenia Scherm (who wrote “Born to Lead”) did some organizing, and Sister Francesca Hazel arranged a lot of Fr. (Paul Joseph) Volk’s documents,” she said. Fr. Volk is the founder of the Mount Saint Joseph Academy and recruited the Ursuline Sisters to this area.

“The leadership council became aware of the need for a community archive,” Sister Emma Cecilia said.

Religious groups are some of the best at preserving their important documents. “When the country was preparing to celebrate its bicentennial (in 1976), they could only find records in monasteries, convents, and churches,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. “That’s when archives really began in monasteries and convents.”