“Working in the Archives of the former New Orleans Province increased my personal spirituality. Most people view an archive as a place for storage: boxes, letters, papers and books. It is so much more.” –Joan Gaulene
Joan Gaulene: Caretaker of the Mission

by John Fitzpatrick

Jan. 28, 2019 - A conversation with Joan Gaulene is like suspending time. Once the stories begin to flow, the hours pass in the blink of an eye.

Ms. Gaulene served as the curator of the former New Orleans Province Archives from 1997 through 2018 – all as a volunteer. Her “tenure” there began as a detour, but became a ministry, a true labor of love.

“The New Orleans Province Archives houses many treasures; one of the greatest is Joan,” said John Armstrong, SJ. “She is modest about her contribution, but she has played a crucial role to preserve and organize the materials that make up the history of the men and works of the province.

“If it had not been for her tireless and meticulous work, it is not possible to calculate what might have been lost.”

Ms. Gaulene first met the Jesuits between her junior and senior years of high school. She planned on attending college in Maryland. Her parents had different ideas. They persuaded Ms. Gaulene to visit Loyola University New Orleans, where she met Fr. Bernard Tonnar, SJ.

During their interview, Ms. Gaulene spoke of how she might pursue a degree in education, which was her mother’s choice for a young woman at the time. Father Tonnar said, “That is all well and good, but what is it that you really want to do?”

Ms. Gaulene confided that her true desire was to become a journalist. Father Tonnar took the time to review the coursework she would need to do to complete a degree in journalism. As she recalls, “He could see that I had a desire beyond education, and even though it wasn’t very common at the time for a woman to pursue a degree in that field, he encouraged me to follow my heart.”

Ms. Gaulene entered Loyola University New Orleans in 1953.

Some years later, she reconnected with the Jesuits when she became director of university relations at her alma mater. Her president was James C. Carter, SJ, who she credits as the most influential of the three Jesuit presidents she would work with during her communications career.

“Father Carter never lost sight of the core mission of Jesuit higher education and nurtured that dedication in his staff,” Ms. Gaulene said. “It’s easy and very satisfying to do a job when you understand and embrace the goals of a vision.”

Nine years later, her career took her to Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles. There she worked with two Jesuit presidents and her public relations skills were stretched into crisis management after the on-court death of a basketball player. She retired from Loyola Marymount on the Feast of St. Ignatius in 1996.

However much she enjoyed her career, Ms. Gaulene’s heart remained in her native New Orleans. She was born and raised in New Orleans’ Third Ward and attended St. Joseph’s Parish School. She remembers with great fondness that it could take an hour to get home from Mass. She explains, “In those days, Tulane Avenue was lined with homes, and as we walked by, Mom would stop and say hello to a dozen or so friends and neighbors. It was a great place to grow up.”

Joan Gaulene in New Orleans Province Archives
Joan Gaulene inspects collections in the former New Orleans Province Archives

Upon her return to New Orleans, Ms. Gaulene was quickly recruited to teach part-time in Loyola’s Communications Dept. The classes were “History of Mass Media” and “Communications Writing.” She loved being in the classroom.

One day while walking across campus, she encountered former New Orleans Provincial Thomas Clancy. He inquired about her future, and Ms. Gaulene told him of her plan to become a full-time volunteer at the new National WWII Museum that was due to open in 2000. Father Clancy asked her to consider working with the New Orleans Province archival collection for a couple of months. 

As she says, “He was very diplomatic and asked me to simply lend a hand as they would soon be receiving many boxes from Grand Coteau, Louisiana. He said I was the best person for the task because I ‘spoke Jesuit.’ I offered to help out for a while, and here we are nearly 21 years later!” For her spirit of philanthropy and dedication to the preservation of Jesuit history, Ms. Gaulene was recognized by both the former New Orleans Province and Loyola University. During her time at the Archives, Ms. Gaulene served five provincials and cared for countless books, papers and records. 

She recently oversaw the transfer of the New Orleans archival collection to the new Jesuit Archives & Research Center in St. Louis. She freely admits to some sense of loss as the collection was cataloged, boxed up and moved, but considers their new location every archivist’s dream. 

As she explains, “Working in the archives of the former New Orleans Province increased my personal spirituality. Most people view an archive as a place for storage: boxes, letters, papers and books. It is so much more. The history of the Society of Jesus is in the archives. I think back on the wonderful Jesuits I have known and served. And now, so many others that I never met but know from the records of their inspiring lives in the Society. They are all very special, and I was privileged to be part of preserving their stories.”

John Fitzpatrick is the provincial assistant for advancement for this province.

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