Sisters of Mercy convent set to close

St. Catherine Convent, located on Tyler Lane across the street from Assumption High School, served as the hub of activity for the Sisters of Mercy in Louisville. It will close at the end of January 2018. The Sisters of Mercy came to Louisville in 1869 to care for wounded service men at the old Marine Hospital in Portland. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer

St. Catherine Convent — located at 2169 Tyler Lane — will close at the end of January 2018.

The convent, located across the street from Assumption High School, is used as a retirement home for three Sisters of Mercy, said Sister Justina Heneghan, who lives in a house next door to the convent.

Residents Sisters Agnella Leis and Joyce Rohmann will move to the McCauley Convent in Cincinnati. Sister Alicia McGinty, who served as director of the old Mercy Montessori School, will move to the Mercy Convent in Nashville.

While the local convent is set to close early next year, Sister Heneghan noted that six Sisters of Mercy will still live and serve in Louisville, as will eight associates.

The convent is  “part of a much larger part of who we are. The retirement services are closing here, not the presence of the Sisters of Mercy in Louisville,” Sister Heneghan said in an interview at her home Dec. 4.

The Sisters of Mercy remaining in Louisville are: Sisters Paulanne Diebold, Diana Newton, Justina Heneghan, Martha Leis, Johnette Wiedmar and Corinne Burt.

The decision to end the retirement care program and ultimately to close the convent came after much prayer and consideration, Sister Heneghan said. In 2014, sisters who required full-time nursing care were moved to Cincinnati.

The St. Catherine Convent was the hub of activity for the sisters located in Louisville, Sister Heneghan said. It was the place to gather for large meetings or celebrations.

Its closure is “right for the stewardship of the community. The spirit in which you let go is a witness to how to let go of dear things,” she said.

For the nearly 150 years of the Mercy presence in Louisville, sisters have lived in “St. Catherine Convent,” though it has moved to different locations throughout the city.

Prior to the Tyler Lane property, Sisters of Mercy lived in a  convent attached to the old Mercy Academy on East Broadway. When Mercy built its new campus on Fegenbush Lane in 2007, the sisters moved to the present St. Catherine Convent.

The latest convent used to be called the Assumption Convent and was occupied by sisters who ministered at Assumption High School. The Sisters of Mercy continue to sponsor both Assumption High School and Mercy Academy.

The adjacent house, 2181 Tyler Lane — where Sisters Heneghan, Diebold and Newton live — was used at various times by Assumption, including its art department. It was also home to Mercy Montessori School from 1966 until it closed in 2007.

Sister Deborah Kern, a member of the congregation’s community leadership team, said it would be “impossible to calculate the contribution of the Sisters of Mercy” to the Archdiocese of Louisville.

“When one considers all the students who received a strong Catholic education in the tradition of Catherine McAuley, the scope and depth is breath taking,” she said.

While education has been a large part of the sisters’ work in Louisville, they first came here from St. Louis in 1869 to care for wounded service men at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Portland.

The Sisters of Mercy began serving in education — a ministry still carried on to this day — at the invitation of Bishop William George McCloskey, according to “In Love and Mercy: A History of the Sisters of Mercy in Louisville, Kentucky 1869-1989,” written by the late Sister Mary Prisca Pfeffer.

The sisters ministered at various parish schools, including the old St. Patrick at 17th and Market streets; the Cathedral School, St. Charles at 27th and Chestnut streets; St. Paul on Jackson Street; Holy Cross on Broadway; St. Aloysius on Payne Street; St. Aloysius in Pewee Valley, Ky.; St. Athanasius and St. Basil.

Their first convent was in a rented property at 403 Jefferson Street. Seeking a more permanent location, the sisters purchased a house in 1872 at 535 South Second and named it St. Catherine Convent. By the turn of the 20th century, the sisters purchased a new property on East Broadway.

The following year, in 1901, a new school building for the “Academy of Our Lady of Mercy,” more commonly known as Mercy Academy, which had been opened in 1885, was built next to St. Catherine Convent. The school and convent would remain at that location until 2007.

At the request of Archbishop John A. Floersh, the sisters opened Assumption High School at the corner of Bardstown Road and Tyler Lane in 1955.

Since the sisters’ arrival in Louisville in 1869, they have ministered in the following areas: high school education, hospital ministry, elementary school education, child care, housing ministry, archdiocesan agency ministry, parish ministry, special education, preschool education, college education, jail ministry and religious formation.

“The sisters always went where the needs were. They looked at the needs and asked ‘how can I fill that?’ ” said Sister Heneghan, who served as a school teacher and principal, as a pastoral administrator and worked in personnel at the archdiocesan level.

The sisters will hold three events in January to mark the closing of the St. Catherine Convent: a Mass at the convent celebrated by Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, a retreat day for the sisters led by Father Bob Ray and a prayer service.

“It’s hard to see something go away, but at the same time you know it’s the right thing. Everything has a beginning and ending but it’s hard to be at the ending part. There is a sadness but also a graced time to let go of something so dear,” said Sister Heneghan, 80, who has been a Sister of Mercy for 62 years.

The Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas has 2,755 vowed members who serve in more than 200 organizations that work with those in need in the U.S., Central and South America, Jamaica, Guam and the Philippines. The Sisters of Mercy — South Central Community, which is headquartered in Belmont, N.C., is present in 18 states including Kentucky, the U.S. territory of Guam and Jamaica.

Assumption High School has purchased the St. Catherine Convent property. The school has not yet announced how it will use the space.

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