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Ursulines mark centennial with building of Habitat House

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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

By Mike Dyer and Eileen Connelly, OSU

ST. FRANCIS DE SALES DEANERY — Community outreach and service to others have been a tradition for the Ursuline Sisters of Cincinnati for 100 years, so when the idea of sponsoring a Habitat for Humanity house developed nearly two years ago, it was a natural fit.
Sister Mary Jerome Buchert, general minister, said the house is a meaningful way to celebrate the congregation’s centennial while also doing a good deed for the Walnut Hills area where the religious order was established locally in 1910.

“In thinking about our 100th anniversary, we wanted to do something to give back to the community,” Sister Mary Jerome said.

Marissa Woodly
Marissa Woodly, development director for Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity, and Ursuline Sister Margie Efkeman, offer their good wishes on a board that will be incorporated into the construction of the house. (CT/Colleen Kelley)

When the Sisters first moved to the Cincinnati area from Brown County to staff parish schools at the request of then Archbishop Henry Moeller, they were essentially homeless, she explained. Capt. John Conway, a resident of Walnut Hills, was generous enough to offer the Sisters the use of his summer home until they could secure permanent housing.
“It is fitting for us to donate the funds for another family to have a home in Walnut Hills because of the kindness shown to us,” Sister Mary Jerome said. “This has been our home for 100 years, and we have a close bond with the people. We are committed to the stability of this neighborhood.”
Members of the Ursulines of Cincinnati, Habitat for Humanity representatives and dozens of volunteers, students, parents and alumni from St. Ursula Academy, founded by the Sisters in 1910, attended the kickoff for the St. Ursula ­Jubilee House on April 17. The Sisters have donated $80,000 to the project, covering the cost of all building supplies and main systems needed to complete the house, located at 2821 Preston Street.
Marissa Woodly, development director for Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity, said the Ursulines have made a “huge commitment” to the project.
According to Woodly, there are five aspects to consider when preparing for construction of a Habitat house. They include land, a family for the house, funding, volunteers and construction site leadership.
There are expected to be 400 volunteers working on the house over five months, according to Sister Mary Jerome. Woodly said she expects 15-20 volunteers each work day. They will labor rain or shine on the home, which will have four bedrooms and a drive-in garage.
When completed, the home will belong to single mother Christine Campbell and her three children, Ephinity, 16, Eyziraha, 12, and Ezyontae, 10. To qualify for a Habitat home, the Campbell family had to meet a variety of criteria and will put in 500 hours of “sweat equity” alongside the volunteers on the construction of their home. Cincinnati Habitat will sell the home to the family with a 0 percent, 20-year, interest-free mortgage payable to the organization.
“We want to be sure they are on track to be economically self-sufficient,” Woodly said.
“Buying my own home means a stable foundation for me and my kids, and it’s just so exciting that I get to help build something that will be mine for the first time when everything is brand new,” said Campbell. “I believe this is my time to be blessed with building and buying my own home.”

Sister Mary Jerome said she has been impressed with Habitat for Humanity. “They have built many houses, both in Cincinnati and around the world,” she said.
The Sisters, as well as many students, parents, faculty members and graduates of both St. Ursula Academy and St. Ursula Villa will be participating in the construction of the house. Students too young to swing a hammer will help with landscaping, providing lunch and fundraising. Sister Mary Jerome said there is a “family spirit” at both schools that will undoubtedly carry over to this project.
“We are really excited about it,” Sister Mary Jerome said.
Woodly said spring is the busiest time for a “flurry of kickoffs” for Habitat for Humanity houses. She said the organization is building or renovating 14 houses this year. The schedule included the start of three houses on April 10 and three on April 17.
Sister Mary Jerome said the building of the Habitat house will be an opportunity for the Ursulines to return to their roots. Thanks to Capt. Conway’s early generosity, the Sisters quickly became entrenched in the local community. Two Victorian mansions were purchased on McMillan Street to house the convent and St. Ursula Academy. The school opened its doors with 63 students in grades one through 12. The Sisters also staffed many area parochial schools, including St. Francis DeSales in Walnut Hills; Holy Name in Mt. Auburn; and St. Monica in Clifton. As St. Ursula Academy expanded the Sisters bought an estate in Mt.  Lookout that had been willed to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Archbishop Paul F. Leibold formally blessed the new property on Jan. 2, 1961, with seventh and eight graders starting class at St. Ursula Villa the next day.
According to Sister Jerome, the Ursulines could have moved their entire operation — both the convent and academy – out of Walnut Hills in the late 1960s and early 1970s when a benefactor offered a large piece of property in the eastern part of Cincinnati.
But, she said, “we chose to remain a stabilizing force in an urban area of Cincinnati — Walnut Hills.”
“We feel blessed that the Ursuline Sisters chose to partner with Cincinnati Habitat and the Campbell family to build a home in honor of their centennial anniversary,” Woodly said. “They are truly role models for our community and value the lessons of giving selflessly to others in need, and we are honored to be part of their continued efforts to improve lives while molding our community through education and service projects such as this.” 

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