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Ursulines and St. Ursula celebrate centennial year

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Nov. 24, 2010
By Eileen Connelly, OSU 
CATHEDRAL DEANERY — A century of faith, integrity and courage was recognized Nov. 21 as the Ursulines of Cincinnati and St. Ursula Academy brought their 100th anniversary celebration to close with a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains. Hundreds of alumnae, members of the academy board of trustees, faculty, staff, students, parents and the Ursuline Sisters filled the cathedral for the Mass, at which Archbishop Dennis M. Schnurr presided. 

“This is certainly an occasion for us to rejoice in the ministry of the Ursulines of Cincinnati and the formation of young women that St. Ursula Academy provides,” said Judy Wimberg, a 1958 graduate of the academy and its current president, at the start of Mass. “We are proud that the charism of the Sisters is intertwined with the mission of the academy. We are proud that for a century St. Ursula has been committed to excellence in education steeped in the Ursuline core values.” 

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While the Ursuline presence has long been strong in the archdiocese, the congregation’s roots actually date back to 1535 when, in Brescia, Italy, St. Angela Merici began a new kind of religious life for women considered radical in her time. Her original vision for her followers was a company of women who chose not to live the traditional form of religious life enclosed in a convent and separated from the world. Rather, they lived and worked among the people, combining contemplative prayer with active service to those in need. St. Angela’s company, placed under the special patronage of St. Ursula, spread throughout Europe and to the Americas in 1639.
In 1845 Mother Julia Chatfield and her 10 companions arrived in Ohio from France. Under Mother Julia’s leadership, the Ursulines brought education to rural Brown County. Twenty Sisters traveled to the city from Brown County in 1910 at the request of then-Archbishop Henry Moeller and were charged with educating the children of a new wave of immigrants to the area in parish schools.
They established their community in Walnut Hills with St. Ursula Academy founded in 1910 to educate students in grades K-12. 
The former Holy Name School in Mt. Auburn was the first parish school staffed by the Sisters, followed by the former St. Monica in Clifton Heights. Over the years, the Ursulines also educated at Nativity, All Saints, Our Lady of Visitation and St. Francis de Sales. In 1960, in order to accommodate continued growth at the academy, the Sisters purchased the R.K. LeBlond estate in Mt. Lookout, which had been willed to the archdiocese of Cincinnati, and established St. Ursula Villa grade school. 
While still committed to education, the Ursulines’ ministries have expanded to include pastoral ministry, community health and outreach, adult education, Catholic communications and school counseling. 
Over the past century, the history of St. Ursula Academy has been intertwined with that of the Sisters. From the original 63 students, the school has grown to serve between 650 and 700 today and its campus has grown from less than an acre to nearly 10 acres with state-of-the-art facilities that include a gymnasium/convocation center and a student center.
The high school sponsored a full year of events to mark its centennial. The celebration kicked off last February with an assembly featuring alumnae guest speakers. A gala dinner, a family-friendly homecoming celebration and   public gathering on Fountain Square were also part of the year. 
Philomena Mastronardi Miller, who graduated in 1939, recalled how the example of the Sisters and the lifetime of values they instilled touched the students. “Times were tough when I was in high school,” Miller said. “We were still in the depression and a lot of people were out of work, but being at St. Ursula is just a happy memory. Our teachers were great and the subjects were interesting. The Sisters were good to us so kind and helpful and taught use the importance of service to others.”
Liz Bower Curran, a 1996 graduate, was thrilled to return to her alma mater as a religion teacher in 2001. 
“I was so excited to come back because of the experience I had as student,” she said. “I felt challenged by the teachers, but also cherished. That’s what I try to continue with my students and I hope they feel it.” 
Senior Betsy Emmert said the past year has been one of excitement for her and her fellow students. “We’ve really enjoyed being able to learn about St. Ursula’s history, about the founding of the Ursulines of Cincinnati and what so many our alums have accomplished. We’ve realized how much we have to be proud of and to be grateful for,” she said. 
After the Nov. 21 anniversary Mass, the celebration continued at St. Ursula with the unveiling of a commemorative statue of St. Angela. 
 “We have such a sense of gratitude for all the blessings God has given us over 100 years, for all of the women that have been part of our community and the privilege of serving so many dedicated and loyal lay members of the church who are carrying out the ministry we began 100 years ago,” said Sister Mary Jerome, a 1963 St. Ursula graduate and general minister of the local congregation. “This year of celebration has been and opportunity to look ahead and see how we can continue the work we began 100 years ago in different ways, but in the same spirit.”
Added Sister Margie Efkeman, who graduated from the academy in 1964,  “As in the celebration of my own jubilee, it has been an occasion to look back at the gifts God has bestowed upon us and through us throughout our Ursuline history, to give thanks and to reach out. As Ursulines, we stand on the brink of a new era.  I believe we are poised to move together with joy into the future.”
Sister Elizabeth Lang, a 1951 academy graduate, spent much of her religious life and ministry at St. Ursula, and although now retired, is the school’s official “grandmother in residence.” 
Her office, across from St. Ursula’s chapel, is a welcoming place for faculty and students as they stop in for conversation and a piece of candy.
 “St. Ursula has been part of my life for 60 years,” Sister Elizabeth said. “I’ve been part of a group of women who have been dedicated to the work of God on earth and the work of the archdiocese. It’s been a loving, caring environment in which I have had the opportunity to serve God, develop my own spiritual life and develop some wonderful friendships in community and with lay men and women who have dedicated so much of their time to carrying out our mission. They’ve been a real example to me.” 
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