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

She became a member of the Society of American Archivists in 1983, and in 1994, that group honored her with the Sister M. Claude Lane Award, for her significant contribution to the field of religious archives. Later in the 1980s, a sister from another religious community in SAA asked Sister Emma Cecilia if she were willing to help other congregations start their archives. Thus, she became one of the founding members of the Archivists for Congregations of Women Religious. She is also an active member of the Kentucky Council on Archives, the Owensboro/Daviess County Historical Society, Association of Catholic Diocesan Archivists, and the local Stamp Club. She is a certified archivist.

Part of Sister Emma Cecilia’s responsibilities as an archivist is maintaining some historical vestments, such as these.

In the 1970s, every bishop in America was asked to hire an archivist for his diocese. Fr. George Hancock is listed as the diocese’s first archivist from 1976-78, but there was never any space designated for the office, and the post was vacant from 1978 until 1991. In January 1991, Sister Emma Cecilia was hired by Bishop John McRaith, through Fr. John Vaughan, the chancellor at the time, while maintaining her job at Maple Mount.

Sister Emma Cecilia credits always having great volunteers for her ability to handle both archives. Her current volunteers with the diocese are Bob Cinnamond, a professor at Brescia University, and Brett Mills, who has a master’s degree in history. Claudine Blandford, a volunteer for 10 years, calls Sister a “marvel.”

“She’s very intelligent and studied hard,” Blandford said. “She absolutely loves the work.”

Blandford and Jewell Brown helped with organizing and filing materials, and answered genealogy requests. Blandford still takes Sister Emma Cecilia to lunch at times. “She’s a sweetheart,” Blandford said.

After a sabbatical in 1999, Sister Emma Cecilia decided in 2001 to retire from her job at the Mount. “I knew the diocesan archives needed more work, and the community leadership said I could spend more time there,” she said. “Community archives are not under canon law, but the diocesan archives are.”

Sister Emma Cecilia receives the Sister M. Claude Lane Award in 1994 from the Society of American Archivists for her significant contribution to the field of religious archives.

When she began working with the diocese, it had official papers from Bishops Francis Cotton and Henry Soenneker, but they were in no order, and thus unusable. Now, 18 years after she started, it is an Archive and Record Center, a place where she gets regular calls and e-mails from researchers, genealogists, clergy, the media, the diocesan staff, and other qualified archivists seeking information.

“She really got our archives up and going,” said Bishop McRaith, who retired as Owensboro’s third bishop on Jan. 5 after 26 years. “She loves the work of archives. She’s educated herself very well,” he said. “Her great dedication to her work and her church are her greatest assets. She’s been a great gift to us all along.”

Growing up

Sister Emma Cecilia grew up in Owensboro, one of five children born to John William and Mary Cecilia (Bryan) Busam Sr. (pronounced “Boo-sahm”). Her parents met in Cannelton, Ind., a small Ohio River town that today is a 25-minute drive from Owensboro. John’s father worked there as a lithographer in a prosperous cotton mill, and the father of Mary Cecilia — known as “Sis” — was a foreman at the mill.

“Daddy and Uncle Frank owned and operated a paint and wallpaper store, which still exists in Cannelton,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. “They did what we’d call today ‘interior decorating.’” They were offered a job decorating the first department store in Owensboro, McAtee’s.

“Uncle Frank had a family, so Dad took the train to Owensboro each week until he finished the job,” Sister Emma Cecilia said. “By the time he finished, he had many jobs lined up, so he and mother decided to move to Owensboro.”