By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
In an effort to continue to be good stewards of their resources on Lexington Road, the Ursuline Sisters of Louisville are making some changes for the future.
The sisters announced in late February that administrative offices of the Ursulines — including the community’s leadership team, advancement, communication and support staff — will relocate to the Motherhouse. The move is effective April 1.
Sisters who currently reside in the Motherhouse will move to assisted living apartments or houses in the communities where they serve.
While the relocation of the sisters is symbolic, said Sister Janet Marie Peterworth, president of the Ursuline congregation, it does not signify the end of the Ursuline Sisters in Louisville. Far from it, Sister Peterworth said.
“We are trying to heed Pope Francis’ call to be good stewards of our property,” she said in an interview at her office last week.
The large structure visible from Lexington Road — known as the Motherhouse — has housed Ursuline Sisters since it was built in 1917.
“It’s gotten to be too big. Just like any couple that are empty-nesters, we don’t need this much space anymore” to house sisters, Sister Peterworth said.
Currently, 17 sisters live in the approximately 63,600-square foot building. About
7,600 square feet of that space houses the chapel.
There are currently 63 Ursuline Sisters, 30 to 35 of whom are engaged in active ministry in the Archdiocese of Louisville.
Around the world and particularly in the U.S., Sister Peterworth said, congregations of both women and men religious constructed large buildings to accommodate a major influx of vocations that especially grew after World War II.
By the 1960s and 1970s the Ursulines numbered about 600, with about 70 living in the Motherhouse.
The Motherhouse became the formation house for novices, postulants and junior sisters. It retained that purpose until about 15 years ago, when the process to enter the community shifted from large group formation to one-on-one formation, she said.
Today, the Ursulines no longer actively cultivate new vocations. But Sister Peterworth said the community is still open to welcoming women interested in the charism and way of life of the Ursulines, set forth by St. Angela Merici, foundress of the Ursulines.
“Women today have many choices around ministry. They do not have to adopt a particular lifestyle. Decades ago, if you wanted to teach in Catholic schools, you became a sister because that’s who taught in our Catholic schools,” Sister Peterworth noted.
The Motherhouse now houses sisters who can no longer live by themselves or can no longer stay at parish houses, but who aren’t in need of full nursing care, Sister Peterworth said. But that arrangement has become expensive.
In 2016, the Ursuline leadership team hired a consulting firm to conduct a study of the congregation, particularly its use of the Motherhouse. The sisters also conducted an energy audit to measure the energy needs and efficiency of their buildings.
The results of those two studies served as a guide for the congregation’s next step.
“We’ve been looking at this for about seven or eight years. We have to hire out for food services; sisters used to do that. We have to contract housekeepers; that used to be done by novices,” said Sister Peterworth.
Those mounting costs coupled with an ancient boiler heating system proved too costly to justify, she said.
“All of those are really practical reasons. The building is not elder-friendly. It just comes down to a stewardship issue,” she said.
Some of the members of the congregation who now live in the Motherhouse will move to Twinbrook Assisted Living, an assisted living community with studio apartments located off Dutchman’s Lane.
Others will live independently in neighborhoods among the people they serve. Sisters requiring full nursing care will continue to be cared for at Nazareth Home Clifton.
“Even though we will be paying to live there (at Twinbrook), it is less expensive,” Sister Peterworth said.
Having space to pray was important to the sisters as they looked at moving away from the Motherhouse and its chapel. But that need was easily answered.
“Before we even asked, the staff at Twinbrook offered us use of one of the rooms that used to be a chapel. It will be an interdenominational chapel with a quiet space where the sisters can pray together,” she said.
Following Easter Week services, which will be celebrated at the Motherhouse Chapel, the Ursuline’s priest chaplains will begin celebrating Masses in the chapel at Twinbrook.
The chapel in the Motherhouse will continue to be used as a worship and gathering space by the sisters, associates, Sacred Heart Schools, the Angela Merici Center and Mass of the Air.
One notable change is that there will no longer be daily Mass at the chapel following the April 1 move. But the Mass of the Air will continue to be filmed in the chapel.
The sisters look at the move as the beginning of a new ministry of sorts, Sister Peterworth said.
“We are looking at this opportunity to go to the assisted living facility as being involved in a whole new ministry. We will take our values and stories and turn those into a new ministry,” she said. “I have found that the sisters are very excited about that as a possibility.”
Last year as part of the Motherhouse Chapel’s centennial celebration, the sisters started a fund to preserve the chapel for future generations. The sisters seek to raise $3.5 million over five years that will be put in a permanent trust to “preserve the beauty for our feast days, for our schools and for artistic endeavors,” said Sister Peterworth.
Sister Peterworth added that no matter where the sisters live the Ursuline ministry continues in their activities.
“Through these activities, the charism will live on. The Gospel will be preached,” she said.
Most sisters who are engaged in active ministries live in the neighborhoods where they serve, just as St. Angela Merici wanted, Sister Peterworth noted.
In addition to the Ursuline administrative offices, the Motherhouse will also house some offices for the Sacred Heart Schools system, including the president and support staff.
With all the staff members relocating to the Motherhouse, the building will be teaming with activity, Sister Peterworth said.
Most of the offices moving into the Motherhouse are vacating Brescia Hall and Sacred Heart Model School’s junior high classes will be moving in.