The Ursuline sisters showed up in southwestern Ohio in 1845 and began to teach and to construct a massive building for their convent and boarding school.
My own Methodist family's connection with them began with my great-grandmother's desire for piano lessons when she was a young girl in the 1890s. It was her husband who started the business that would become one of our small town's four grain dealers, and it was through business transactions with the sisters and their farm that our connections were solidified.
I spent my seventh-ninth grade years as a boarding student at the school.
In my family's history, those three years were fairly insignificant; other relationships expanded and continued far beyond my time and role as a schoolgirl. My grandparents and my father developed fast friendships with the sisters, solidified by their mutual interests in nature, education, and the arts. When the small college one of the sisters had founded for the education of new sisters opened to the public, my father became a board member. When my grandfather died, two of the sisters conducted his funeral service in his living room; when my grandmother died twenty years later, one of them led the service in which I participated in their small chapel.
In the history of the Catholic Church, my three years there represented not even a fraction of a drop in a bucket. The changes wrought by Vatican II were sweeping the church. Mass became somewhat intelligible to me as the language was switched from Latin to English, and the younger sisters either vanished altogether from convent life or began to dress like the rest of us. Forty-plus years later, I think that perhaps the latter was the greater change. The drama was not that many women left, realizing that at 17 and 18 they had made promises they no longer wanted to keep in the face of a world opening to other opportunities. The drama was that so many stayed, discovering ways of sustaining complete and lifelong commitments to God in a contemporary world no long bound by the exterior trappings of the late Middle Ages.
In my personal history, those three years left an indelible mark. I've written about it here, so I won't belabor the point, other than to say that the last time I was with Ursulines in person was on October 30, when two of them made the eight-hour round trip to attend my ordination service. In many ways, the wheels for that service started to turn all those decades ago when I was a twelve-year-old in a navy blue skirt and white blouse surrounded by women who turned their humor and intelligence and wisdom and energy into service to God all day, every day.
I missed this past Saturday's school reunion, but the Facebook pictures have popped up, including this one of a magnificent quilt made by I know not whom. It's a wonderful reminder of the dedication of generations of gifted women in a small corner of Ohio.