Paola Ursulines seek merger, plan sale of campus
by Joe Bollig
PAOLA — It was a hard decision, but the Ursuline Sisters of Paola believe it was the right one.
After 113 years of service and ministry in northeast Kansas and other states, the Ursulines are asking for a merger with the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky., and plan to sell the Paola convent and its 25-acre campus.
The Ursulines plan to leave the Paola campus no later than 2010, even if a buyer is not found. They will leave sooner if a buyer can be found. Some Sisters will remain in the area, but most will move to the western Kentucky community.
The Ursulines will retain two buildings on the property: one which houses their chaplain and another which is leased to the Lakemary Center. The center was founded as a school for mentally handicapped children, but is now an adult residence.
The decision ultimately came down to the numbers, said Sister Kathleen Condry, the community’s superior. At its peak, the Paola Ursulines had 135 members. Today, they have 24, of which 18 live in their large administration building. The Sisters’ median age is 78, and the youngest Paola Ursuline is 53.
“As we look to the future, we want to have our house in order,” said Sister Kathleen. “We want to plan ahead, so we can continue to minister and not make our ministry just caring for a facility. It has become increasingly difficult to do that.”
After a long period of declining numbers that started in the early 1960s, it became increasingly clear in recent years that the community had to make some decisions. About three or four years ago, the possibility of merging with another congregation was put on the table.
“We went into discussions, first with our own Sisters, about [whether we should] entertain the notion of a merger, and we talked to the Ursuline Sisters of Mount St. Joseph in Maple Mount, Ky. [near Owensboro], because we seemed compatible with that group of Sisters,” said Sister Kathleen. “They’re in a rural area, and they’re more like us than the Ursuline groups located in cities. It’s also the closest Ursuline motherhouse.”
There’s another connection as well. Both the Kentucky and the Kansas communities were founded by Ursuline Sisters from the Louisville, Ky., motherhouse, which in turn, was founded by Ursulines from Straubing, Germany.
The Mount St. Joseph Ursulines will hold a chapter meeting in July, during which they will vote on the merger. Sister Kathleen expects it will pass and anticipates a merger taking place on Jan. 27, 2009. In the meantime, the two communities will share financial and material holdings information.
Early on, the possibility of keeping the 64,000-square-foot Ursuline administration building open after the merger was discussed, but it quickly became clear that this was not viable.
“It was going to be increasingly difficult to keep this house open and to spiritually merge with that community if we continued to remain so separated,” said Sister Kathleen. “So, we thought it would assist the merger, and make more sense, to begin to plan to move out by 2010.”
In addition to the Sisters, other entities are based on the Paola campus, and their future has not yet been determined. An auditorium was donated to the city of Paola as a community center. The large administration building, which was constructed in 1926 and renovated in 2002, houses the PACA food pantry for the poor and the Lakemary Service Center. Monica Hall, the infirmary built in 1968, is leased to the Miami County Extension Office.
The Ursuline Sisters arrived in Paola in 1894. They founded Ursuline Academy that same year. Later, they founded Ursuline College, a two-year women’s teacher-training institute. The college closed in the 1950s and the all-girls academy in 1971.
The Ursulines have served as teachers and school administrators across the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. They have also served in parish ministries throughout Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and California.
St. Angela Merici founded the Ursuline order in 1535 in Brescia, Italy. Its primary mission was the education of girls and the care of the sick and poor. Ursulines came to North America in 1639, where they taught Native American children in Quebec.