Preserving The Past With Digitization

Preparing for Our Centennial Celebration

One hundred years of academic excellence—an achievement the University of Saint Mary is already planning to celebrate in a big way. Many of you know the university’s storied history traces all the way back to 1858 when Mother Xavier Ross, foundress and first mother of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth, was invited to “come north” by Bishop John Baptist Miège of Leavenworth. Mother Xavier, standing barely five feet tall, took the offer—and she, along with five Sisters, two Postulants, and an orphan, began their trek from Nashville to St. Louis by train on Nov. 1, 1858. From St. Louis, the group would go by boat up an ice-filled Mississippi to their new “home.”

“Look forward to the good that is yet to be.” – Mother Xavier Ross, SCL

Landing in Leavenworth on Nov. 11, 1858, the group would begin their mission to serve and evangelize to the people of this land. This mission fueled the establishment of orphanages, schools, and hospitals—and for decades, it would continue to guide the acts of charity the Sisters poured into.

Every year, Saint Mary celebrates Founders’ Day, and the pioneering spirit of the fearless five Sisters who began writing our university’s story—while marking 1923 as our school’s birth. From a junior college of just a handful young women to a well-regarded university of over 1,300 young men and women from over 45 states and multiple countries, the University of Saint Mary has grown in ways our Founders never dreamed of—all the while, staying true to our mission to contribute to the well-being of our global society.

Thousands of alumni pepper the world—stretching from China to Africa to England to the States—and this Fall, an incredible project kicked off to honor our shared past, given our upcoming centennial anniversary. De Paul Library staff and students are tirelessly working to digitize alumni memorabilia, photographs, and published work. This project will provide access to the collections digitally, while also preserving the fragile materials securely in a climate-controlled repository—which had not been done in the past.

A five-year timeline prioritizes resource types to be archived (photographs, scrapbooks, bound materials), with estimated hours informing the duration of time each type will take. Photographs are the first to be digitized, varying from large format negatives to colored prints in multiple sizes. The digitization process follows a six-step guide, informed by the standards aligned with the Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association for College and Research Libraries, beginning with proper cleaning. Both work-study and service-learning students have dedicated hours and hours to the effort already—with hours and hours still to go.

Two  graduate students (also Saint Mary alumni), Jacob Hayes, U’14, and Mackinley Morgan, U’18, are leading the charge on digitization under the direction of Danielle Dion, director of De Paul Library. Both student workers and service-learning students in the library are taking the reins on the first step of digitization— cleaning and sleeving the photographs prior to each picture being scanned by Jacob or Mackinley. Using a scanner and Photoshop, over 500 photos (of 52,000) have already been scanned and stored on our digital collection site, JSTOR FORUM (stmary. edu/AlumniCollections). The end goal is to properly attribute a year and title to each picture, allowing visitors to search and sort by keywords—but for now, the two graduate students are naming the images and records using context clues, like fashion trends, calendars hanging in the background, or construction happening on campus.

“Pictures are so powerful,” explained Mackinley. “I have truly enjoyed taking on this project, and having the opportunity to see our history up close.” A few of Mackinley’s favorite photographs include the following:

Fun Facts!

Estimated Linear Feet of Photographs – 29 Linear Feet
Boxes of Unprocessed Photographs – 13 BOXES (each box holds 4,000+ images and parent negatives)
Estimated Hourly Project Completion – 6,317 Hours

De Paul Library received a grant for $4,000 from the Northeast Kansas Library System to purchase photograph and negative archival sleeves to protect these original images, along with archival boxes to properly store the sleeved photographs and negatives after being digitized. Following the digitization of more than 52,000 photos, the archiving team will shift to scrapbooks and bound books. Together, the estimated hourly project completion equals nearly 1,600 hours.

Planning for Alumni Collections exhibits will tentatively begin in 2020, along with the development of “finding aids,” which will assist both library staff and the public in finding a piece (or pieces) in the archive. Along with the centennial exhibits, once the library is transformed into the Archbishop James Keleher Learning Commons, a history wall will adorn the entrance, and Special Collections (recently unveiled as Le Beau Special Collections and University Archives, honoring long-time recently retired provost Dr. Bryan Le Beau) will display and house the archived memorabilia.

This is just the first step (and it’s a big one) in looking back at our 100 years of history. Without a doubt, the alumni collections digitization project will help the Saint Mary family celebrate how far we’ve come by taking a close look at our past. “This is a unique opportunity for all of us to actually see our growth,” explained Dr. Kyle Anthony, USM assistant professor in history. “Our students working on this project are more interested in these pictures than I would have ever thought. They recognize some of the places they see captured—and are amazed with how things have progressed over time. Many of them seem to have developed this greater appreciation for our story as a university, which is pretty special to see.”

The countdown is officially ticking to 2023. Centennial celebration details have yet to be set, but without a doubt, every member of the Saint Mary family will be invited—including you. You’ve helped write this 100 year-old story; you’ve helped tell our story; and most importantly, you’ve helped keep our Saint Mary mission alive!


We would love to add your memorabilia to Alumni Collections. If you’re interested in donating your Saint Mary memorabilia, please submit your donor form at You’re also welcome to get in touch with Danielle Dion, director of De Paul Library, at or 913-758-6111.


LeBeau Special Collections


LeBeau Special Collections

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