Wish You Were Here reflects the value of postcards as tools for learning about the past, with images drawn from Manuscript Group 213, Postcard Collection, Pennsylvania State Archives.

“Scene from typewriting room window. Much enjoyed on hot days during typewriting period (much more so than the typewriters),” wrote Josie Johnson to a Miss M. L. Elliott of Detroit, Michigan, on the front of a postcard dated July 30, 1908. The back of the card indicates that Johnson was a student and Elliott a teacher.

The postcard depicts a landmark in St. Marys, Elk County, in northcentral Pennsylvania. German Catholics from Philadelphia and Baltimore, Maryland, established the settlement in 1842, which they named Sancta Marienstadt, or St. Marys Town. They intended to develop an agrarian economy similar to that of their native Germany.

In 1843, the settlers invited the Reverend Alexander Cvitowitz (1806–1883) of Baltimore’s Most Holy Redeemer Parish to provide spiritual guidance. Ambitious and visionary, he built a sawmill and a cluster of buildings for a school, church, monastery, and convent. He recruited nuns from Notre Dame who remained until 1849, when the Redemptorist Mission withdrew. They were followed by nuns from the Benedictine convent of Saint Walburga, Eichstadt, Germany, and monks summoned by Boniface Wimmer (1809–1887), a German monk who in 1846 founded Saint Vincent Archabbey, the country’s first Benedictine monastery, in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. At St. Marys the sisters organized a school, which became noted for its advanced teaching, and established the first Benedictine convent in the United States. The convent serves as the order’s motherhouse.

The penny postcard Johnson sent to Elliott shows St. Mary’s Church, completed in 1854, on the right and St. Joseph’s Convent, erected in 1860, adjoining it at the rear. The buildings are part of a sixteen-acre compound included in the St. Marys Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Other buildings and structures in the complex include St. Benedict’s Academy (1868), a chapel (1886), bakery and laundry building (1907), shrine to St. Walburg (1926), and a convent and chapel (1933–1934). Also located on the property are a cemetery and Lake Benito, a large pond.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission adopted “William Penn’s Legacy: Religious and Spiritual Diversity” as its annual theme for 2011.