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Lois Wolfrum Papers

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS443

Scope and Contents

The Lois Wolfrum Papers (2 boxes, 1.0 linear feet) span 1970 to 2004 and contain correspondence between Lois Wolfrum and Rev. Eugene L. Watrin, SJ, a Jesuit priest stationed in Nepal for over fifty years, and between Lois Wolfrum and Penny Williams Yacoub, an artist and illustrator who lived in Lebanon and Tunisia during the 1970s and 1980s. Also included in the collection are printed materials by, or relating to, Fr. Watrin and Nepali life, as well as extensive records of Penny Williams' artwork and published materials. The Wolfrum papers provide a personal perspective on recent events of Asian history, such as the opening of Nepal and its subsequent modernization, the "Westernization" of traditional cultures like that of Saudi Arabia, the Lebanese Civil War, the introduction of democracy to Central Asia, terrorism in the Middle East, and the massacre of Nepal's royal family in 2001. The bulk of the collection consists of letters from Fr. Watrin. Known to Nepalis as the "bicycle priest," Watrin was one of the first Jesuits assigned to Nepal after the Hindu kingdom opened to Christians in the 1950s. The letters vividly describe the efforts of Watrin - and others - to provide basic education and medical services to some of the world's poorest people, as well as presenting a sympathetic but knowledgeable portrait of Nepali village life during times of intense political unrest. Watrin witnessed the bloody internal war waged between the Nepali monarchy and Maoist rebels, the powerful "Movement to Restore Democracy" that forced the monarchy to accept a parliamentary system in 1990, and the horrifying massacre of ten royal family members - including the king and queen - by Crown Prince Dipendra in 2001. Additionally, Watrin traveled to Saudi Arabia almost every Christmas from 1970 to 2001 to privately celebrate Mass with Western businessmen and Filipino immigrants who lived there. These annual trips to Saudi Arabia show the vulnerable and sometimes dangerous place non-Muslims occupied in Saudi culture. The Wolfrum papers also contain a substantial number of photographs of Fr. Watrin, Nepali villagers, dedicated volunteers, and many of his supporters - Hillary Clinton, U.S. and British Ambassadors, and the King and Queen of Nepal. Lois Wolfrum's correspondence with artist Penny Williams Yacoub comprises the second part of the Wolfrum papers. While mostly personal in nature, the Williams-Wolfrum letters are particularly concerned with the Lebanese Civil War and a rapidly changing Saudi culture. As a resident of Beirut, Lebanon, Penny Williams was forced to leave for Tunisia when the war's first wave of sectarian violence ripped apart the city in 1975. Despite Wolfrum's advice to stay away, Williams returned in 1977 and continued to live there until the 1990s. The friends' correspondence also provides glimpses of how Western ideas and the force of industrialization eroded the traditional Saudi culture each tried to capture in their work: Wolfrum in her slide presentations and Williams in her art. Finally, the collection contains a substantive amount of Williams' drawings and illustrations in books, magazines, cards, short stories, and calendars.

SERIES SYNOPSIS: The Lois Wolfrum Papers are divided into 8 series, as described below. SERIES 1: Correspondence from Rev. Eugene L. Watrin, SJ, to Lois Wolfrum. SERIES 2: Correspondence from Lois Wolfrum to Fr. Watrin. SERIES 3: Correspondence from Others to Lois Wolfrum, concerning Fr. Watrin. SERIES 4: Printed Materials by, or relating to, Fr. Watrin. SERIES 5: Correspondence from Penny Williams to Lois Wolfrum. SERIES 6: Correspondence from Lois Wolfrum to Penny Williams. SERIES 7: Printed Materials by, or relating to, Penny Williams. SERIES 8: Photographs.


  • 1970 - 2004


Conditions Governing Access

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are solely responsible for determining the copyright status of the materials being used, establishing who the copyright owner is, locating the copyright owner, and obtaining permission for intended use.

Biographical Note

Lois Wolfrum was a long-time employee of Aramco, the Arabian American Oil Company. Beginning in 1956, Wolfrum worked in Aramco's Government Relations department based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. In 1960, she moved to the company's New York City office and then found employment with an international investment firm based in New York. Wolfrum later returned to Saudi Arabia with Aramco, and by 1970, she found her niche developing educational programs for Saudi Arabian and American employees - a project she continued long after she left Aramco. After returning to the U.S., Wolfrum split her time between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Spokane, Washington. She passionately pursued the education of Americans on Saudi culture, in the hope that education and understanding could ease the increasingly tense relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. After several research trips to Saudi Arabia, Wolfrum produced a slide/sound and video presentation entitled "An Introduction to Saudi Arabia," which has been used by Aramco, schools, libraries and other corporations. (Source: "Lois M. Wolfrum - Spokane, Washington," Aramco ExPats

Rev. Eugene L. Watrin, SJ (1920-2004) was a senior Jesuit priest stationed in Nepal. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Watrin was an honor student and a celebrated athlete. He attended Xavier University, and entered the Jesuit novitiate at Milford, Ohio, in 1939. After receiving his MA in 1947, Watrin was assigned to a three-year teaching job in northern India, where he was ordained a priest in 1952. In 1955, he was one of a select group of Jesuit missionaries invited by the King and Queen of Nepal to open and run schools in the "mountain kingdom." He began his lifelong career in Nepal as a teacher at St. Xavier's School in Kathmandu, and later became principal. Some of his first students would later become diplomats, award-winning authors, and Nepal's Chief of Army. In 1988, he founded St. Xavier's College, and spearheaded fund-raising efforts to build two state-of-the-art classroom buildings. His efforts in the region also turned the Godavari Alumni Association (alumni of St. Xavier's) into a powerful force for social change, helped thousands of Nepali villagers have access to decent medical care, and founded the Nepali chapter of Habitat for Humanity. A close friend of the late Queen Aishwarya and King Birenda of Nepal, he was selected by Nepal's Prime Minister to recieve the 2001 annual Social Service Award. He also served on the advisory boards of numerous charitable organizations, as well as Nepal's Fulbright Committee. Fr. Watrin was almost legendary among locals as the "bicycle Priest," who, until he was 82, traveled almost exclusively by bicycle. In early 2003, Watrin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent extensive chemotherapy in the U.S., but returned to Nepal in November 2003. Fr. Watrin died on February 29, 2004 in Kathmandu. (Source: "Immediate Release from the Chicago Province of Jesuits, 3/1/2004" Box 2, Folder 41, The Lois Wolfrum Papers) Penny Williams Yacoub was a Canadian freelance artist and illustrator. Williams began her artistic career at the Ontario College of Art studying graphics. During the summer, however, Williams would perform in the Stratford Shakespeare Theatre Festival in Stratford, Ontario. After graduation, she continued to work full-time in the theatre, winning a Tyrone Guthrie award to study theatre in London with the Old Vic Theatre Company. After two years, Williams moved to Beirut, Lebanon to pursue work in Islamic art. Tracing her interest in the Middle East to contact she had with Lebanese and Syrian families in Toronto, Canada, Williams' work is particularly concerned with Arab jewelry and more traditional aspects of Islamic culture (like the khanjar, the traditional dagger of Oman). Williams also made her living illustrating readers for teaching English to Palestinian children. Lois Wolfrum and Penny Williams became friends in Saudi Arabia in 1971, while Williams was on assignment for Aramco World Magazine's special issue entitled "The Arab Woman - An Untypical View." Williams continued to illustrate articles for Aramco World, and produced an entire calendar for them in 1973. Her largest works are her book "Paper Dolls of the Middle East" and the storybook "Amina and Mohommed's Special Visitor" (later adapted to a play for elementary schools). In the 1990s, Williams married and returned to the U.S. (Source: Joan Sherwood, "Penny Williams: Art is her Life," undated, Box 2 Folder 89, the Lois Wolfrum Papers; and "Graphic Portrait of Qatar by Penny," July 1975, the Gulf Mirror, Box 2, Folder 77, the Lois Wolfrum Papers).


1 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Lois Wolfrum, 2005, 2008.

Lois Wolfrum Papers
Erin C. Stewart
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057